White dog with paws in owner's hand
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What's the best way to cut puppy's nails?

By Nick Whittle Author

Updated on the

Most owners are able to keep their puppy happy, well fed and vaccinated, but some of us are inclined to forget small details which make a big difference. Learn how to cut a puppy’s nails, and why doing so is as important to her as diet and health.

Your puppy’s claws (her ‘toenails’) are growing all the time. If you don’t clip her nails they will grow long enough cause her discomfort and pain when she walks.

Many dog owners are apprehensive about cutting their dog’s nails because they don't want to hurt their dog or because the dog moves around too much.

However, if you can do it by yourself nail clipping becomes a bonding moment, a lesson of trust and it will also save you some money. A dog with claws that are too long could be at risk of the following:

  • Causing infected scratches of a human
  • Causing scratches to flooring and furniture
  • Hurting herself when she scratches
  • Catching a long nail and ripping it from its root
If not cared for your puppy's nails become infected  © Pixabay

Before you begin

Make sure you have everything you need to hand. Pick a moment in the day when you are not in a rush and when the puppy is relatively subdued (after a ‘clean’ walk would be ideal).

If at all possible you should also consider doing this when there are no distractions for you or your dog; the last thing you want is to be in the middle of clipping her nails and she runs off to play with someone.

Now find a comfortable seat and place your puppy onto your lap. If her size makes this impractical wait until she is lying on her bed and sit next to her. In order for her to trust you with this part of her grooming you should not just launch at her nails.

Puppies are nervous of new objects and if you approach her with something she has not seen before she will be wary for ever after.

Once you are both relaxed and she is accustomed to the clippers you are ready to begin. You should aim to clip her nails once a week and only use professional nail clippers. Do not use anything designed for humans! Our nails are a different shape and are less dense than a dog’s. You will end up splintering her nail if you do this.

Getting started

If you want to take things slowly for your puppy’s sake why not clip the very tips of her ‘nails’ to begin with? Just take off 1 mm from the end of each claw. In this way she will get used to the sensation and the occasion. When you are ready to do things properly, follow the series of steps below:

  1.  Hold your dog’s paw in your hand. Don’t hold her forearm because she may flex her wrist just as you are about to cut a claw (similarly, when doing her back paws, avoid holding her thigh because she will flex her hock).
  2. Choose which claw you are going to cut and hold the toe firmly between the thumb and forefinger.
  3. Holding the nail clipper in your other hand position the teeth of the clipper around the nail.
  4. When you are certain you have correctly placed the clippers (see below) cut the nail.

Position of the clippers

Important: the nail bed or ‘quick’ is packed full of nerves and blood vessels. It runs from the root of the nail and can often stop only millimetres from the end of the claw. To cut into this would be a mistake. Not only would it be very sore for the dog but it would also make her toe bleed.

Some dogs the nail bed will be obvious: the hard claw crust turns into a lighter and pinker tissue just before the skin of the paw. Dogs that have black claws this nail bed is harder (or impossible) to spot.

Therefore you must aim to place the cutting edge of the clipper outside the rough ‘notch’ that is found on the underside of the claw, and angle the cut of the clipper towards the puppy’s paw. If in doubt, just cut the very tip of the nail.

If the puppy tries to pull her paw away from you, be assertive with a ‘stay’ command and re-position your clippers.

When you make the first cut praise her or give her a treat. If she is becoming too panicked by the experience give her time out (if she struggles too much you may accidentally injure her).

A quick recap

  • Pick a calm time and a comfortable seat
  • Hold the dogs paw and gently squeeze the toe to extend the nail
  • Of a dog with clear nails determine the extent of the quick and avoid cutting into it
  • Of a dog with black nails find the ‘notch’ at the bottom of the claw
  • Cut the tips of the puppy’s nails to begin with to get her used to the process
  • Praise your puppy for her patience!

Regular exercise will help to stem the growth of your puppy’s nails but there is no substitute for a proper session of nail cutting. Avoid making the process scary or uncomfortable for her because that will only make her dread the next time.

If you cut her quick by accident apply some pressure, use styptic powder and wrap the paw in a bandage. If you are not confident about your ability to avoid the quick then you will have to ask a professional groomer or vet to do the puppy’s nails for you.

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