How to Trim Dog Nails That are Overgrown

How to Trim Dog Nails That Are Overgrown

It’s so easy for dog nails to grow too long too quickly. It’s important for dog parents to understand the hazards overgrown dog nails can pose. As a dog owner, we’re pretty sure most of you have had wrestling matches with your pooch come time for nail trimming. It’s quite a tough ordeal and we understand the dread and trepidation leading up to it from your dog and you. Unfortunately, dog nails need to be trimmed, and we’re here to tell you how to trim dog nails that are overgrown with some easy tips and tricks.

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Are Long Dog Nails Dangerous?

Are Long Dog Nails Dangerous?
mage by Nature_Blossom from Pixabay

Before we get into the trimming, let’s address the dangers of nails that are overgrown. The first obvious issue is the mobility issues overgrown nails can cause. The proper length for dog nails should be a few mm from the quick. You don’t have to be as strict as measuring your dog’s nails each time, so a better gauge is to make sure the nails do not touch the ground when your dog is in a standing position.

Over time, overgrown dog nails can cause health issues and result in a splayed foot and tendon problems. Only in severe cases will the overgrown nails cause serious issues, but long nails on your dog will be uncomfortable, to say the least.

Another little-known fact to many dog owners is a dog with overgrown nails will possess a longer quick. What’s a quick you ask? That leads us to the next section.

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What’s the Quick?

The quick of the nail is an amalgam of nerves and blood vessels that reside inside the nail or the shell. On dogs with clear nails, the quick is clearly visible as a pink center. For dogs with black nails, the quick will not be visible through the shell.

Similar to our nail bed, the quick is where your dog can feel pain if you cut their nails too close to or on the quick. A problem for dogs with overgrown nails is a longer quick, which will require trimming overgrown dog nails more frequently. As you gradually cut your dog’s nails, you will encourage the quick to recede slowly. There will then be more leeway for your dog’s nails to grow before it touches the ground and requires less maintenance.

For overgrown quicks, we would suggest trimming once a week, even if it’s just a little bit each time to coax the quick back to an appropriate length.

What Should I Use?

What Should I Use?

Luckily for pet owners in this day and age, there are various tools on the market for trimming your dog’s nails. You have your pick over nail clippers, which can be further divided into sub-sections, and the nail grinder. You also have a newer invention to break onto the scene – a dog nail filer. Let’s take a look at each of these tools in closer detail.

Guillotine Nail Clippers

True to the name, guillotine nail clippers resemble the medieval method of beheading – don’t worry, no one will lose their heads with this dog nail trimming tool. The guillotine is debatably the easiest tool to use. It consists of a lever that you put pressure on and the blade will come down much like the device it’s named after and trim off the overgrown part.

Scissor Clippers

Scissor clippers are the more intuitive type and function like regular human scissor nail clippers. It would take equal pressure on both blades to come together to lop off the extra overgrown nail. You would insert the white part of your dog’s overgrown nails into the curved center, so your accuracy is key.

Nail Grinder

A nail grinder is suggested by vets and trainers alike for dogs that are fearful of nail trimming. Instead of clipping off an entire section in one go, a nail grinder goes at the cuticles with more finesse. It’s a gradual tool that will slowly grind down the excess nail, which also allows for more precision. There are even different drill bits with various textures suited to harder or softer nails.

The maintenance of a nail grinder will demand more attention than clippers and it could cost you more in the long run due to the constant part replacement. However, it’s a safe option for dogs that are consistently resistant to clippers.

Nail Filer

The newest invention to grace the nail trimming market is the nail filer. They are a bit like the nail filers we use but on a much larger scale. In fact, they are the size of a small iPad or laptop with sandpaper-like material covering the surface. Basically, it’s a giant nail file.

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Its function is similar to a nail grinder, but instead of bringing the tool to your dog, it’s the other way around. You will need to train your dog to trim his own overgrown nails by scratching at the surface vigorously. With enough abrasion, your dog’s nails will shorten the longer he scratches.

The large nail filer is not only effective against trimming overgrown dog nails, but they are an excellent finisher for after trimming your dog’s nails. Dog nail clippers tend to leave very rough edges that can hurt a lot on your skin. If you encourage your dog to scratch at the filer after nail trimming, it can help smooth out the edges.

How to Cut Your Dog’s Nails

Now let’s take a look at how to trim dog nails that are overgrown with the least amount of trouble for both parties.

Set the Mood

It’s vital for your dog to feel comfortable before, during, and after the nail trimming. To do this, you need to set the mood so to speak. If your pet is already fearful, the acclimation and desensitizing to the nail trimming will take time. Start by keeping calm when you set up the nail clipping station.

Don’t make a sudden movement to grab him and restrict him, because that can aggravate the trauma. Start by taking out the clippers or grinder slowly and calmly. Bring it over to your pet and let him examine it. If he runs away, place it on the ground and encourage him to come and inspect it, showing him that the tool means him no harm.

Like we said, this process will take time, and can even take a few days to a week. Once he is okay coming over to the clippers, you should reward him with a treat. The next step is to take the clippers in your hand and touch his nails with it. Your dog may show some resistance at first, but remember to take it slow and reward him adequately. The key is to get your dog to associate the tool with delicious treats.

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The Hold

If you have a good dog that won’t resist nail trimming, then you can attempt to take on the job yourself However, for a dog that’s still getting used to the idea of trimming overgrown dog nails, you may need some help from a friend or family member. A comfortable dog will struggle less, but to make sure there are no accidents, you want to lock down the position that’s comfortable yet secure.

The holder should slip one of their arms between the front legs and grab the abdomen with their palm up. The other arm should come underneath your dog over the hind leg and come under the abdomen to the other side of your dog.

Brown dog with long nails
Image by PublicDomainPictures from Unsplash

This position is safe and secure and gives you enough maneuverability to adjust your dog into a standing position or on your lap depending on which is easier. Always make sure you measure correctly and do not attempt to do it blind – maintain a clear view of the nail.

Grab ahold of one of your dog’s paws, locate a toe, and press down gently to extend the nail out. Some vets and groomers suggest bending the paw back and cutting from that direction so your cut can better contour to the shape of the nail. Each way works fine, as long as you and your dog are comfortable with it.

Find the Quick

Before you apply the pressure, make sure you have located the quick and have measured a good few millimeters away from it. It’s very easy if your dog has clear nails, all you need to do is avoid the pink center. For dogs with dark nails, the task will take longer.

Start Cutting

Once you have done all the above steps, it’s time to start cutting! For clear nails it’s easy, but to trim black or darker overgrown dog nails, you have to do it little by little. Snip off a few millimeters at a time and inspect the center of your dog’s nail after each cut at eye level. The quick can be identified as a dark spot at the center of the nail. Once you start to see it, don’t cut the nail any further.

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You can leave your dog’s nails as is after the cut job because taking them out walking on concrete or asphalt can help smooth the freshly trimmed nail. Other owners may want to smooth the nails that are overgrown with dog nail grinders. The process is the same, except with a slower application giving you more flexibility.

In the beginning, we would suggest rewarding your dog after every toe, but as he gets used to it you can shower him with praise and treats after the job is done.

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What if You Cut the Quick?

Close up view of tan puppy during nails trimming time
Image by Lydia Torrey from Unsplash

Accidents happen, and sometimes you will cut your dog’s nails too short and cut the quick. It’s okay, don’t panic, although it will take some time to get your dog to accept nail trimming again.

You can purchase styptic powder from the groomer or pharmacy that acts as blood clotter to stop the bleeding. Cornstarch will work as well if it’s an emergency. If the bleeding is more severe, you may have to apply slight pressure to help cease the bleeding.

Remember to comfort your dog as he is most definitely in pain and shower him with love, praise, and treats. Give your dog a break for a few days before you start to trim his nails again.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you cut a dog’s nails that are curled?

Curled nails are a side effect of severely overgrown dog nails. The process for cutting your dog’s nails that are curled is the same as regular nails, but we would advise you to do it in minute intervals. Snip a little bit of your dog’s nails at a time until you get to the desired length. You can also snip away at it until the nail is no longer curled, and then lop off the rest in one clip.

Will a dog’s cracked nail heal on its own?

Cracks can happen to a dog’s overgrown nails if it’s left unattended. Sometimes the nail can chip, break, tear and snag. A cracked nail isn’t life-threatening, but if it’s untreated it can get affected. If it’s not serious, you can just trim the dog’s nails, stop the bleeding and allow it to heal on its own. In more serious cases, you will have to take your pet to the vet.

From there, the vet will clip off the hanging nail if there is any, disinfect the area to prevent infection or treat the already infected toe, bandage the wound, and maybe prescribe some antibiotics or pain meds.

Can I put Neosporin on my dog?

A small amount of Neosporin is acceptable to treat your pet’s wounds. Just apply it gently with a cotton swab to the area in question. Do not let your pup lick the Neosporin. You can prevent licking by putting a dog cone on your pup for as long as the wound needs to heal.


The best way for how to trim dog nails that are overgrown is to not let them get out of hand in the first place. Never let the nails touch the ground when your pooch is in a standing position. Trim dog nails frequently to prevent the quick from growing long as well. Remember to create a tranquil environment for trimming your dog’s overgrown nails to get him used to this routine task.

Did You Know?

The dew claw, or the claw near your dog’s ankle will also need regular trimming. Don’t forget about this hidden digit when you trim your dog’s nails.

Expert Tip

Before you trim your dog’s nails, we would suggest doing some rudimentary grooming and trip the fur covering your pet’s foot so you can have a clear view of the nail.

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