How to trim your pet's nails

Trimming Your Dog or Cat's Nails


For many of us, a mani-pedi at a spa or salon is a luxurious treat. There’s nothing like sitting back and having someone pamper you! But for most cats or dogs, having someone work on their nails is something to be tolerated, not celebrated. Even still, it’s an important part of your pet’s regular care. Most pets won’t wear down their nails or claws naturally in a home environment, which can lead to problems if they aren’t trimmed regularly.

Without regular care, a cat’s claws can grow into the pads of their feet causing pain, infection and lameness, a particular problem for older cats. Well-trimmed claws are also less likely to damage people, other pets, clothing and furniture. Dogs with short nails make less noise walking across hardwood floors and are less likely to get a nail caught or broken when out running.

“If the nails are not cut on a regular and periodic basis, the ‘quick’ will grow as well,” reminds Dr. Chip Coombs, Chief Veterinary Officer at Pets Plus Us. The quick is the internal part of the nail, made up of the nerve, blood vessels and connective tissue. “If you keep the nails short with regular trimming, the quick will also remain short,” he points out. This will allow you to keep the nails short more easily without cutting into the quick.

Below you’ll find some helpful tips about how to trim you cat or dog's nails safely.

Set yourself up for success

If your pet is a puppy or kitten, you have a great opportunity to teach them from an early age that it’s okay for you to handle their paws. Every day – at least six times, if you can manage it - pick up each foot and gently squeeze each paw. Take 15 to 30 seconds and then release – nothing else. Give your pet a treat after each session to help them associate the activity with something pleasant. Do this for the first six months of your pet’s life and you will have set the stage for an easy transition to trimming. “The major challenge for cutting nails is that the pet panics when its foot is ‘trapped’ when held still by an owner,” says Dr. Chip. “The result is that they are constantly pulling it back, making the toenail a moving target.” By introducing your young puppy or kitten to the process early, your pet will feel confident about allowing you to handle their feet.

The tools

There are several types of trimmers on the market, but the most common are the guillotine style and a scissors style. Both are effective choices, but the guillotine style is probably the easiest for dogs. You may also want to have some silver nitrate and cotton balls on hand in case you accidentally nick the quick. Silver nitrate is available at your pet store.

Mani, pedi or both?

“Dogs usually have all four feet done,” says Dr. Chip. He recommends the same for indoor cats, but you may choose a different strategy for outdoor cats. “An argument could be made for just doing the front feet,” says Dr. Chip. “If an outdoor cat had to flee a predator, it would more readily be able to climb out of danger with nails that were not trimmed short.” If you have a polydactyl cat – meaning, your cat has extra toes – it is especially important to locate and trim all the claws. Same for dogs with dewclaws. “This is the claw most likely to get caught and torn, particularly with dogs that spend time in the woods or long brush,” says Dr. Chip. 

The trim

Help your pet understand there’s nothing to worry about. Choose a time when your pet is feeling relaxed and take them to a quiet area in the house where there are no distractions, like other people or pets.

Hold each paw firmly as you work and push on the pads lightly to make the nail stick out. This is especially important for cats, whose claws retract when not in use. If your pet struggles or makes a fuss, relax, reposition and start again. You may only be able to do one or two claws per session at first. Trim the nail at a 45-degree angle, being careful to avoid the quick. If you accidentally cut the nail too short and it bleeds, don’t worry. A quick dab with some silver nitrate will stop the bleeding quickly. Finish the nail trim by giving your dog or cat a treat and offering lots of praise.

How often should you trim?

It may be tempting to wait a few weeks between trims, especially if your pet isn’t happy about the task. It’s actually easier to do it more often because you’ll only need to take off a little bit each time. The process becomes more difficult if you have to clip a larger amount. A quick check and small trim every one to two weeks should be all your pet needs. By checking your pet’s paws frequently, you’ll also be able to spot any cracks in their pads, as well as any debris that has gotten stuck around the nails or in their fur. 

Tough customers

You’ve been patient, gentle and consistent, but your pet still turns into a squirming bundle of angry fur every time you try to go in for the trim. Don’t feel bad.  Some cats – and dogs, too – just don’t take well to having their nails cut. An experienced groomer can manage this task for you, and your vet can help too. Your pet may never be thrilled about their regular pedicure, but staying on top of their nail care will mean happy and healthy feet for years to come.

You can make nail care part of your pet’s regular check-up at the veterinarian. Nail trims are covered under the Pets Plus Us Wellness Care Pet Insurance Plan.