One common nail trimming mistake many pet parents make when it comes to trimming dog nails is using the wrong tool for the job. For example, sometimes it can be tempting to consider using home scissors ✂️.
There are many reasons why you should never ever trim dog nails with scissors or any other tool other than a dog nail clipper. I discuss them all in this post. The truth is, using plain old scissors to trim your fur baby's nails is one of the worst grooming mistakes you can make.
Longer nails can scratch up floors, catch on carpet, and damage surfaces. Moreover, they force your pup's toes to bend upwards, reduce traction and comfort, and can be painful over time.
On top of that, longer nails are more prone to breaking or cracking, which can lead to pain and even infection. What’s even worse is that when left untrimmed for a long period of time, your dog’s nails can curl in toward the paw and actually pierce the skin causing your pup pain and increasing the risk of infection.
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For starters, a pair of scissors is generally meant to cut through something flat. For that purpose, they put pressure on one edge of the surface they are cutting. Whether it's something like paper or something thicker like cloth or leather, scissors cut on a more horizontal plane.
This is fine for flat surfaces, but it's ineffective on thicker or more rounded surfaces. If you've ever looked at your dog's claws, you know that they're closer to tubes than to flat surfaces like your own nails. For a more comfortable experience, it's a better idea to apply even pressure across the nail rather than on a horizontal plane.
Scissors Aren't Sharp Enough
Another problem with scissors compared to pet-designed nail trimmers is that by comparison, they tend to not be very sharp. Pet nail trimmers are used only for a few minutes every few weeks – or however often you need to trim your fur baby's nails – as opposed to something like household scissors, which are used much more often.
If you've ever used a pair of nail clippers for a long time without sharpening or replacing them, you know how unpleasant it can be using them compared to using a new pair.
This is because, even with human nails that don't have an internal quick, dull clippers can pinch and pull unpleasantly. You need a lot more force to press down and cut through a nail when the clippers are dull, and if you're using a scissors-style nail trimmer on your own hands or feet, it's easy for them to twist or break a nail instead.
When scissors get dull, several things happen.
The individual blades have a harder time cutting through a material or surface, and become more prone to pinching and tearing rather than cutting cleanly.
Notches, bends, and divots in the blades make the cutting surface less smooth, which can put uneven pressure on the nails or other surface you're cutting.
Older scissors can fall out of alignment and end up unable to cut at all.
All of this can result in painful attempts – and failures – to cut through a nail, either your own or for your fur baby. This is one of the primary reasons we always recommend owning dedicated pet nail clippers.
Scissors Aren't Precise
Scissors can give you a lot of fine control with pressure and aim, when you're able to hold the surface you're cutting and maneuver it around. If, on the other hand, the object you're trying to cut is:
Has a mind of its own
…you're going to have a much harder time cutting it. And hey, guess what meets all of those qualities? That's right; your fur baby' and their nails.
Your canine companion may not enjoy having their nails trimmed, or their paws held, and the sight of scissors might cause even more anxiety. Sometimes it's already hard enough, to get your pet to tolerate grooming, but it's even harder if you're fighting with a moving target to cut something as sensitive as nails.
Scissors Can Crack Your Dog's Nails
Dog nails are not flat like human nails; instead, they're more like tubes. These tubes are hard on the outside but softer on the inside, and have a central "quick" made up of a nerve and blood vessel that keeps the nail healthy and growing.
As dog nails get longer, the quick grows along with it. When you trim your fur baby’s nails, the quick will recede away from the tip. This is why you should trim your fur baby's nails frequently; so you’re less likely to cause pain by nicking the quick. Consistent small trims help keep it pushed back rather than pulled forward.
The problem with a tube-shaped nail is that, with plain scissors, it doesn't cut cleanly. Instead, uneven pressure is put on the edge of the tube shape that can potentially squeeze more than cut. This issue can be exacerbated if the tool you're using isn't sharp enough.
If you've ever put pressure sideways on a brittle tubular object (like a plastic tube), you know what happens: it cracks, breaks, or shatters.
With a dog's nail, the same can happen. Squeezing the nail from the side like scissors do, especially if the scissors are dull, is more likely to put pressure on it in a way that cracks it. This crack immediately injures the quick and can leave it exposed to further damage, pain, and even infection.
Worse, a cracked nail needs care to help it heal. Just like a small crack in a car windshield can expand and grow if further pressure is applied, so too can the crack in a dog's nail. You need to protect the nail until enough of it has grown out that you can trim off the cracked part without issue, and prevent additional damage from occurring. If bleeding occurs, makes sure to have a natural styptic powder option handy.
What Makes Dog Nail Trimmers Different from Scissors
There are actually two kinds of dog nail trimmers.
The first kind is known as the guillotine clipper. These trimmers have a circular hole that you put around the nail and adjust toward or away from the paw to the specific point on the nail you want to cut. When you squeeze the handle, a blade slides in from one side, pressing into the nail, which itself is trapped between the blade and the edge of the hoop.
Guillotine clippers have one cutting blade, which is designed to put even pressure on the dog's nail that it's clipping. The sharpness of the blade helps it cut through the nail without issue. The design of the clippers means that they're easy to position and won't slip out of place. Additionally, they only have one cutting blade, so you don't have to worry about blade alignment as much. In order for this clipper to work properly the blade needs to be kept sharp.
The second kind of dog nail clipper is known as the "scissor-type clippers," but it's not your regular pair of scissors. It works in a similar way, but there's one critical difference.
With a pair of scissors, you have two long, straight blades with a shorter handle giving you more maneuverability at the cost of leverage for the cut. This is because simple materials like cloth and paper aren't difficult to cut through.
Scissor-type clippers are the opposite. They have much shorter blades, which are curved into a half-circle in opposing directions and longer handles for leverage. Like a guillotine clipper, you put your fur baby's nail into this circle and squeeze it to cut. However, where a guillotine clipper puts pressure from one side against a hard surface, a scissors-type clipper puts pressure on both sides evenly.
Scissor-type clippers need a little more maintenance since there are two blades, but they provide more even pressure on both sides of the nail. As long as they're kept sharp they are even less likely to break or crack your dog’s nail than even guillotine clippers. That said, for longer nails, guillotine clippers can have a hard time threading around them.
Should You Cut or Grind Your Dog's Nails?
Some of you pet parents out there are cringing at our lack of mentioning nail , grinders. Other than cutting, another way to keep your fur baby's nails short is to use a grinder, which is essentially a mini sander.
Grinders have both benefits and drawbacks. They're fast, and they don't put pressure directly on the nail, so they don't usually risk cracking or breaking a nail. Some dogs with especially brittle nails might be at risk, but healthy dogs are not.
Grinders don't put pressure on the nails, but they do cause a lot of vibration. Some dogs don't like this vibration, while others prefer it over a scissor-style cut. It all comes down to the personality of your fur baby.
Grinding can also be noisy, with the whine of the small motor and the sound of grinding nails. There's also a scent involved that you and your pup may find unpleasant. All of this can make a grinder a less desirable way of keeping your dog's nails short.
Tips for a Better Nail Trimming Experience
Now let's take a moment to discuss ways you can make nail trimming easier on both you and your furry friend.
First of all, choose the right tool for the job. As mentioned above, we recommend the Clawper Pro, but if your dog prefers a grinder over a clipper and isn't scared of the sound or vibrations, that may be a better option for you. You may need to try several different options before you find one that they'll tolerate.
We also recommend trimming your fur baby's nails fairly regularly. Most dogs will fall into the every 2-4 week range. It all depends on how quickly your dog's nails grow and how much they wear them down walking on concrete and other hard surfaces.
Frequent trimming is important to help keep the quick pushed back. If you take your fur baby to the groomer every other month and you wait for them to do the trimming, the quick is likely to extend, and only a small amount of the nails will safely be able to be trimmed. Meanwhile, more frequent trimming helps alleviate these issues.
We also recommend trying out some conditioning. As we describe in our post about training your dog to accept having their nails trimmed, one great thing you can do is start using treats, playtime, toys, and other rewards to encourage positive reinforcement of good behavior during nail clipping. By training your fur baby to tolerate having their nails trimmed in expectation of a reward, you make it a lot easier on yourself every time you need to get it done.
Some dogs will be adamantly opposed to having their feet handled or their nails trimmed. This can be a difficult situation because many people may want to go for restraint or use force, which will cause more stress for your pup, and make future trimmings even more difficult.
One final tip is to pick up a set of our Clawper Pro nail trimmers and let us know how you like them by entering the Clawper Challenge. In doing so you can be entered to win a gift card to give your fur baby a whole bunch of treats, toys, and gifts to spoil them rotten.
Dog nail health is holistic health. Keeping your fur baby's nails trimmed will help prevent everything from infection and pain to joint problems, walking problems, and other health issues that might arise. After all, it's not just a matter of avoiding scratched floors and clicky footsteps. All you need to do is figure out which method works best for your furry pal.
Now let's turn to you: our readers! What kind of process do you use when trimming your furry friend's nails? Is there a specific method that your dog prefers over others? What works for you, and what doesn't? Be sure to leave all your thoughts and stories in the comments section down below!
One more 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, 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 30K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).