Painless Pet Pedicures: Your Complete Guide to Clipping Claws

Have you considered clipping your pet’s claws but filed it under “All too difficult”?

If you’ve clipped your dog’s nails and ended up with a trail of bloody paw prints, you’ll know it’s trickier than it looks. However, all it takes is a little knowledge and the right equipment to

Anatomy Lite

Before picking up a pair of clippers, understand the anatomy of your pet’s nails to avoid the blood-splattered floor scenario.

Our pets’ nails have a living core or “quick” made up of blood vessels and nerves, which is protected by an outer tube of horn. Whilst the quick barely grows, the outer horn gets longer quickly, and it’s the latter that needs trimming when a nail grows too long.

How do you avoid cutting the quick?

First, know the quick extends down into the nail, so NEVER cut a nail flush with the toe.

Now, check if your pet has clear nails. If he does; great. Look carefully and you’ll see the rosy glow of the quick’s blood vessels. The quick is shaped like a tapered triangle, so avoid the hidden pointy part by cutting 2 mm below the last bit of pink you can see.

If your pet has dark nails; bad luck. Try looking for a single light-coloured nail to get a feel for where the quick ends. Otherwise, use a pair of sharp clippers to nibble back the tip a couple of millimetres at a time. After each cut, check for crumbly white horn at the centre of the nail, which is a sign you’re close to the quick — and stop.

Clip Art

The art of clipping means cutting the nail as short as possible but without catching the quick. This is all about angles and holding the blades perpendicular to the nail; It’s also OK to cut parallel to the pad.

An overlong claw pushes the toe back or rolls it to one side, which is painful and strains the joints. If you trim the claw and it pushes against the ground, then it’s still too long. Your aim is to be able to slide a piece of paper between the nail and the floor. However a word of caution about very long nails.

Long nails have longer quicks than short nails. If it’s been a while since your dog had a pedicure, they’ll have long quicks which bleed easily. Rather than cut the nail back in one session and have a blood bath, use a course emery board and buff a bit off the tip every day. This gives the quick a chance to contract and avoids the distress of making it bleed.


Many pets hate having their feet touched, but by making toe-time fun, you can teach your dog to accept claw clipping.

Sounds far-fetched? It’s just a matter of working on this every day and as he accepts each new touch, move down towards the toes. Top tips include:

  • First, walk the dog to burn off excess energy
  • Sit the dog on a step with his paw near the edge
  • Touch the leg somewhere the dog doesn’t mind. Tell him how utterly brilliant he is and give a reward.
  • Next session, move down an inch. Reward his co-operation.
  • Once he accepts this new touch, move down another inch.
  • When you reach the paw, push the fur back from the toe. You got it… reward his paws-ome behaviour
  • Touch the nail. Give him a treat for being the best-boy ever.
  • Buff the nail tip with an emery board. Another treat in the bag.
  • Gently clip to tip of his nail. Reward him big time so he looks forward to the attention.

Ones to Watch

Depending on how quickly the nail wears down, some pets need their nails trimmed more often than others. Check your pet’s nail every week, since overgrown nails are painful and can grow into the pad.

Pets to watch include:

  • Elderly dogs and cats
  • Animals recovering from surgery or illness (and exercising less)
  • Dogs walked mainly on grass with little pavement work
  • Dew claws (as they don’t wear down!)

Get Help If…

Remember, you don’t have to be a hero. If you are uncomfortable clipping claws then get help from your dog groomer or local vet nurse. Ask nicely and they’ll show you what to do.

Also, a nail that’s grown into the pad is a job for the vet. Removing the nail is painful and the pet may need antibiotics.

Remember, talking to your pet-peers on jackopaw, or in real life.

Right Tools for the Job

Success depends on having the right tools for the job. You wouldn’t paint a wall using a toothbrush, just as you wouldn’t cut a Labrador’s nails using human nail nippers. For large dogs, plier-type nail clippers work best. Also, make sure the blades are sharp as dull clippers crush rather than cut. Ouch!

Pet shops rarely sell a wide enough range of clippers, especially for larger dogs. If you can’t find the appropriate tool for your pet, speak to your vet who can order in the right ones.

A Nick in Time

You did everything right…and still hit the quick. Don’t panic but be prepared.

Stop the bleeding by rolling a styptic pencil over the quick. Alternatively, press the nail into a bar of soap to form a plug. If the nail continues to bleed, phone your vet. On rare occasions excessive bleeding can be a sign of lungworm infection and this needs urgent treatment.

So there we have it, with a little time, patience, and preparation you too can become a nail-cutting ninja and master the art of painless pet pedicures.