And the fourth and of course not least important, you will want to make sure you have natural styptic powder readily available before you even trim the first claw.
In this very comprehensive post I discuss everything dog claw trimming.
From how to find the quick in black or white dog nails, to claw anatomy to how much to trim to what to do if you accidentally cut the quick. If you are just skimming this article, this is the one section you should not miss. Spoiler alert, it comes with a nice bonus 🐶.
Also, if you are more of a visual type of person, this post is packed with lost of illustrations to aid with the visualization of explanations.
Looking for more dog care guides? No problem, you can either scroll down all the way to the further reading section or visit my blog. Spoiler alert, it is packed with resources 😁.
Editor's Note:'How to find the quick when trimming black or white dog nails' was originally written in 2021. We update this post periodically to reflect changes in techniques, new recommendations, and because I am always learning new things! Happy learning and sharing.
So, how do you find the quick to avoid hurting your dog and making future nail trims more more difficult?
When you trim your fur baby's nails, you'll be exposing the pulp, but not the quick. So, when you look head-on, you should see an outer ring of nail and an inner circle of pulp.
The outer ring of nail will usually be white because the freshly cut nail will display melanin-free coloration until it wears down. The pulp will still be dark.
If you see a target or bullseye-shaped spot in the center of the pulp, that's the quick. You're just on the verge of cutting too deep and should leave that nail alone.
How Deep Should I Trim My Dog's Nails?
Trimming all the way to the quick is too deep. It's painful, it can bleed, and it can expose the nerve and blood vessel to infection.
Obviously, that’s something we want to avoid.
On the other hand, if you don't trim enough, the nail will grow out, and the quick will grow with it.
Then, the next time you trim your fur baby's nails, the quick will stick out further, and you won't be able to trim as much. This can lead to longer or even overgrown nails.
So the less frequent you trim your dogs nails, the longer the quick will get and the higher the risk of cutting into it every time.
If as a result of an overextended quick your dog has to walk around with the discomfort of overgrown nails, a practical fix to this dilemma is filing your dogs nails a little bit every few days for about a few weeks.
This will cause the quick to recede which in the end will help you keep your dogs nails shorter.
Once you get your dog's nails to a comfortable length you can stop the frequent filing sessions and just focus on trimming regularly to avoid the over extension of the quick from occurring again.
For dogs with white or light-colored nails, it's easy to avoid the quick. After all, you can see it!
White nails are actually mostly clear, so you can see through them. The pink you see near your pup's toe is the quick. Check the illustration below.
As long as you avoid clipping too close to that pink bit, you'll be fine.
Those of you who have a fur baby with black nails, on the other hand, have a much harder time.
Black nails contain melanin, which tints them. It's not harmful or cause for concern, but it does make nail trimming much more difficult.
With that tint, you can't see the quick.
The goal is to trim the nail down to the pulp.
By exposing the pulp, the quick will naturally recede, and the exposed pulp turns into more nail. This keeps the nail short but still healthy.
It's also better to trim small amounts more frequently than to wait longer between trims.
Again, if you trim every couple of weeks, you will keep your fur baby's nails shorter, and the quick will stay receded, making it easier to keep up with.
"How often and how much nail to trim is very individual and will depend largely on how fast a dog's nails grow and the surfaces the dog typically walks on. Getting into the habit of checking your dog's nails every 1-2 weeks will be helpful to establish a routine and get your dog used to his paws and nails being touched." – American Kennel Club.
Sensitivity Test: Give the Nail a Squeeze
To test sensitivity, you can give the nail you're about to trim a slight squeeze on the sides of the nail, right where you're about to cut.
Since the nail portion has no nerves, your fur baby shouldn't react, so you can feel confident you can safely trim that bit of nail.
If, on the other hand, your fur baby pulls his or her paw away when you squeeze, it means you've put pressure on a nerve. If you were to clip at that point, you would likely hit the quick.
Be careful not to squeeze too hard!
Dog nails are resilient to damage from digging and walking, but the sideways pressure of squeezing can still break the nail and expose the quick.
It does you no good to avoid trimming too deep if you're exposing the quick another way!
Trim Bit by Bit
Dog nail trimming can be a stressful experience for both you and your fur baby, but trying to rush it is likely to make everything that much worse.
Cutting too much, too fast, can break the nail or cut to the quick.
That's because you can never reliably estimate how deep the quick is. As the nail grows, the quick recedes, but different dogs – and even different toes on the same dog! – will recede at different rates.
Therefore you need to spend time trimming slowly, bit by bit.
Basically, you want to cut no more than 1/6th of an inch of nail with each clip. Clip and check, clip and check.
If you see nothing but white, you're still trimming just nail and haven't reached the pulp yet.
If you see a circle of black ringed by white, you've reached the pulp and have trimmed enough.
How to Keep Your Dog Nails Short Without Clipping?
As discussed above, clipping your dog’s nails can be stressful for both of you.
If nail trimming is causing too much trauma to you and your fur baby, we’ve got you covered. There are a few things you can do to avoid having to put your pup through a pawdicure session.
The goal is to help your dog keep short and healthy claws to avoid the trimming part. Smart, right?
Take regular walks on concrete or pavement.
Use a scratch pad. Learn how to train your dog to file their nails on a scratch pad here.
Train your dog to dig in hard rough material.
Use a nail file. Take advantage of snuggling tv time to file those nails a little bit at a time.
How Long Should Dog Nails Be?
The specific ideal length of a dog’s nails will vary with size and breed.
While there's no hard and fast rule to calculate optimal dog nail lengths, there are some rules of thumb you can follow to determine the optimal comfort length for your pup.
Your dog's nails should not touch the ground when standing on a level surface.
Your dog’s nails should extend just enough to be seen, but they should not go past the paw.
Your dog’s nails should not scratch you when s/he paws you for attention.
Your dog should not slip on the floor.
Your dog’s nails should not have splinters.
Your dog’s nails should not curl.
Your dog’s nails should not make a clicking sound on the floor.
Your dog should not seem like s/he is uncomfortably walking (tip toeing, limping, etc.)
Any deviation from the guidelines above are an indication that your dog’s nails are not at optimal comfort length and that a nail trimming session is in order.
Can Long Nails Hurt My Dog?
Yes, long nails can hurt your pup. The incidence of nail chipping, tearing, splitting, and breaking is more common in long dog nails. Long claws also cause dogs to put pressure on the wrong parts of their feet which can be painful and uncomfortable.
Maintaining a less than optimal comfortable dog nail length (long nails) can have negative implications on your pup's overall health.
“In a dog with long nails, the neurologic signals from the toenail touching the ground are interpreted by the brain as an inclined ground surface. This abnormal compensatory posture results in excess weight shifting onto the hind legs, overloading those joints.” - Two Hands Four Paws
Most pet parents don't realize how damaging long nails can be to a dog’s body and overall health.
Stop and reflect on this for a minute; imagine how you would be forced to walk if your toenails were so long that they touched the floor every time your stepped forward.
Would that cause you to redistribute the weight on your feet for every step? How about pain? Do you think your feet would also suffer from deformities over time?
Over the long term, such redistribution of weight on your feet would very likely result in several other issues caused by an improper weight balance.
Long nails will have a similar impact on your dog’s feet as well. Deformities of course are one of them.
Over time these deformities will also impact the bones and joints in the pasterns, which affects the bones and joints in the elbow, which in turn affects the bones and joints in the shoulder and so on.
Here are some long-term consequences of long dog nails:
Undue stress on joints
Posture and gait imbalances
Over activity of the hip flexors
Degeneration of the ligaments, tendons, and joints.
Keep Your Pawdicure Tools Sharp
One of the biggest problems many pet parents face when nail trimming is using the same dog nail clippers for years.
Just like scissors or knives, dog nail clippers dull over time with use.
Dull dog nail trimmers hurt the process in several ways.
They pinch more than cut, which can crack your dog's nails and break them instead of cutting through them. They also require more force to use, which can be painful for your fur baby even if you haven't hit the quick.
They make ragged cuts, which can abrade the pulp and make it harder to tell how deep you've cut your dog's nail, which means it's more likely that you won't notice and will clip too deep.
Unfortunately, using a dog nail grinder can have a similar problem; the abrasive grinding can make it difficult to tell if you've reached the pulp.
With practice, you can learn, but it takes time and a patient pup.
Make sure you choose the right nail trimmer for the job!
"You should regularly check on the blades of your dog's nail clippers to see that they are fine. The importance of monitoring the blades increases even more once you have sharpened them. This is because the clipper is now more likely to become ineffective. Once it reaches that stage, you should simply replace it." – Patch Puppy.
While you can always sharpen your nail trimmers yourself, a new set of durable dog nail clippers like the Clawper Pro equipped with 3.5mm stainless steel blades and a built in claw file can be both very effective and a great investment in your dog’s well-being.
Keep in mind though that it's often better to simply replace them when they get dull.
Be Prepared for Accidents
Word of caution: do not start a pawdicure session without making sure you have styptic powder within reach and ready to be applied. Make sure to pick one that is organic and avoid those that contain benzocaine as your dog may be allergic. There is also the risk of developing a kind of anemia known as methemoglobinemia. In general, in addition to bezocaine, we advise pet parents to avoid at all cost styptic powders that contain toxic chemicals such as Aluminum Chloride and Ferrous Sulfate. Which are very common in most commercially available styptic powders. Read the ingredients on the product label to make sure they do not contain these or any other harsh chemicals. These chemicals will make it into your fur baby's vital organs quickly.
Sometimes you just don't see the pulp when you're trimming. Sometimes your fur baby jerks or moves at the wrong moment.
Sometimes your tool slips, and you clip too far or your are using the wrong dog nail clipper.
Oh no! Now your fur baby is in pain, their nail is bleeding, and you're feeling guilty about hurting them.
When this happens, the most important thing is to not panic.
It's a simple and common mistake, and you shouldn't feel bad for making it. After all, you are just doing what you think is best for your fur baby and that is helping them keep healthy paws.
Make sure to keep handy a bag of your dog’s favorite treats to calm and reward your fur baby for their patience during this difficult time.
Watch this short video on how to treat a dog's bleeding nails just in case 😊
"If the toenail is cut too short, you can use a styptic pencil containing silver nitrate to stop blood flow, although many animals object to the styptic pencil as much, or more, than toenail cutting. The black end of the stick is held to the bleeding nail and gently rotated until bleeding stops." – Washington State University.
Don't try to immediately get back to nail trimming.
The trauma of hitting the quick will be made worse by trying to wrestle your fur baby back into trimming, especially if they already have anxiety about the process.
Take care of the bleeding, then let your canine friend go about their day. You can try again the next day.
Your fur baby's dewclaw is on the inner side of the front feet and likely not on their back feet.
Don't worry if that's not true for your fur baby, though! Genetics can play a part, and some dogs have no dewclaws, while others might have double dewclaws.
The dewclaw is usually not in contact with the ground, so it grows more smoothly and isn't worn away like normal claws.
This means you need to pay special attention to keeping it trimmed back so it doesn't become ingrown.
"Dewclaws are essentially the thumbs and big toes of the dog world. They are not directly equivalent to the human structures, of course, but they are similar. Looking at a dog's front foot, the toes that are in contact with the ground while standing correspond to our pinky, ring finger, middle finger, and index finger. The dewclaw is the "thumb." The same is true for the canine hind foot, with the dewclaw being the 'big toe.'" - PetMD
For dogs with longer fur, you should also consider keeping a pair of scissors or hair clippers in your grooming kit. Trim back the fur around the nails.
This serves two purposes; it helps keep your fur baby's toes cleaner, and it lets you have a clearer view of his or her nails when you're trying to trim them.
If you keep all of this in mind, and you spend the time you need to train your fur baby to deal with or even enjoy grooming, you'll be able to trim even the darkest nails with the ease of a pro.
Again, it does take practice, but once you get it down, you'll have a much better experience, and so will your fur baby.
As usual, we are always happy to hear from our readers. Please share your comments and questions below. Have you ever accidentally cut your dog’s nails too short? How did you stop the bleeding?
One last thing, if you are feeling like getting a little special something for your fur baby that is unique, made right here in the USA, 100% pup and cat safe, USDA certified organic and brought to you by a US company, check out Toe Beans online pet supplies store!
K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer (https://www.amazon.com/author/kmariealto), and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 45K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).