Tips for Trimming Your Pet's Nails at Home

Posted by Stacey Venzel

Learn how to properly trim your pet's nails.

House pets often need their nails trimmed if the nail isn't getting filed down on the outside pavement. If you hear the clickety click of your dog coming down the hallway, he is probably due for a nail clipping. If your cat is easily scratching you and getting snagged in your clothing or the furniture, it is probably time to bust out the clippers. The same is true for rodents, lagomorphs, mustelids, birds, and sometimes even reptiles.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you plan to clip the nails at home. Once you build trust with your pet, it is easy to do. It also prevents the stress that many animals have from visiting the vet for just a nail trim. Plus, it will save you money!


Here are a few things to follow if you are the at-home nail clipping type:


A myriad of nail trimming tools are available. For rodents, cats, rabbits, ferrets, skunks, turtles, hedgehogs, and birds, regular nail clippers work but they crush the nail, as your pet will tell you with squeaks and squawks. Therefore, special pet nail scissors are ideal, especially with dogs.

These scissors have a small indent in them to fit the nail and reduce pressure. In return, this makes your pet more comfortable. Different sized clippers fit different sized animals, so be sure to purchase the appropriately sized model. If the tool becomes dull, replace it! Don't try to clip toe nails with a tool that needs sharpening. It snags nails and becomes unpleasant for both you and your pet.

Dremels can also be used to grind and shape nails, most often used with birds and dogs. Dremels are a good alternative to clippers or scissors in pets who show fear or aggression with the typical tools. A nail file can sand down rough edges, too. The nail should be cut at a 45-degree angle, not straight on. Don't forget the dew claws on dogs or extra digits on six-toed cats!

Shears For Cutting The Nails Of The Dog

The Quick

The outer part of the nail that you are clipping off has no feeling. However, underneath the nail is the quick, a vein that can get nicked and cause a blood bath. It is easy to accidentally cut into the quick, and you'll feel like it's the end of the world if you do.

However, you can use a few home remedies to stop the bleeding. Cold ice slows down blood flow. Additionally, flour or corn starch packed onto the site of bleeding can clog the flow. The best option is styptic powder, which stops hemorrhaging almost instantly when you dab the toe nail into the powder. Just leave any of these remedies on the bloody spot until the substance wears off on its own.

The quick is easily visible in white-nailed animals. Those with black nails can be trickier, and so it is wise to snip away a little at a time. You can estimate where the quick will be based on how long the nails are. The longer the nail, the longer the quick, and the closer it is to the tip of the nail.

In black nails, you'll see a gray dot appear. In white nails, you'll see a pink dot. Do not cut any further than this or you will cut into the quick.

Secret Piggies
Secret Piggies

If you allow your pet's nails to grow too long, the quick continues to grow out with it. To quickly get your pet's nails back to a healthy, normal length, you would have to cut far into the quick. This could lead to heavy bleeding in your pet's nails and is not recommended. Instead, patience is required.

You will have to clip a little bit at a time, sacrificing small pieces of the quick as you do so. Essentially, you will have to make the nail bleed a little at a time, trimming frequently, such as once a week instead of once a month. As you do so, the quick will begin to recede. Though this practice requires some effort and patience on both the part of the pet and the owner, it is less painful for your pet in the long run.

If you were to try to clip off a large part of the quick all at once just to get to the desired toe nail length, your pet is unlikely to trust you the next time you come at him or her with the nail clippers.

Pet Restraint

For well-behaved, trusting dogs and cats, you might be able to get away with the pet in a sitting position, handing you one paw at a time to clip. Uncooperative dogs can be laid on their side, backs against the restrainer's knees, with the legs pinned down, front legs together and back legs together.

Cats can be done in the same way but scruffing may need to be employed. A "cat burrito" with just a paw at a time sticking out is also an option. Because cats can retract their claws, you can get the nails to stick out by lightly squeezing the paw.

Alexander/Flickr CC
Alexander/Flickr CC

Birds are difficult to trim with one person. Toweling them can make them feel more secure and keep the wings from flapping around, especially if you are attempting to cut the avian's nails alone.

For rodents, holding the animal against your chest and trimming one foot at a time is doable with one person, but it does take some practice as well as a non-squirmy animal. Ferrets are usually too wiggly and require one person to hold and one to clip.

Rabbits must have extra care taken because if they kick too hard in their efforts to avoid the situation, they can throw their back out. For this reason, a cradling technique can help calm them down and keep them protected. If you're new at clipping, have one person focus on protecting the rabbit's body and the other person maneuver the clippers.

A turtle clipping is usually a two-person job since the animal can retract its limbs. However, it is important to note that many species of turtles naturally have long nails for digging and mating purposes. If provided the right habitat, the nails might look long, especially in aquatic turtles like red-eared sliders, but this does not necessarily warrant a nail clipping.

See how easy it is to trim your pet's nails at home? Give it a try. Remember, clipping the quick happens even with groomers and vets, so don't get down on yourself if you accidentally snip a little too much.

Pets are forgiving creatures, especially when treats and head scratches are involved. Keep rewards on hand to make nail trimming a positive, bonding experience!

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Tips for Trimming Your Pet's Nails at Home