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How To Trim Dog Nails That Are Overgrown

Key Takeaways

  • Ideally, dogs’ nails should not be left overgrown as this can be really painful for them especially when they put weight on their paws doing different activities. In worse cases, long nails can cause deformations in legs and even injuries.
  • To trim overgrown dog nails, you first need to get your dog relaxed then trim only a tiny bit at a time, making sure you follow the natural shape of the nail.
  • Always look out for and avoid the quick. If you accidentally cut it and your dog’s nail bleeds, use styptic powder as first aid.

A quick answer on how to trim dog nails that are overgrown: Follow the shape of your dog’s nail and cut in a slightly angled direction. Cut only a small portion at a time and remember to avoid the quick. Repeat this regularly until you get the ideal nail length.

Trimming my dog’s nails isn’t exactly my most favorite part of being a dog owner. The problem is that most dog owners don’t know how to clip a dog’s nails. So once I learned this and trained my dogs to get used to being groomed, everything is a breeze. A lot of dog owners get tense when they get the clippers out, and the dog picks up on the tension. Consequently, the experience can be unpleasant for the dog and the owner—which is why my number one advise with practically anything about dogs is to keep calm.

Did you know that overgrown dog nails are uncomfortable for our furry friends and can even cause health problems? When your dog’s nails are long enough to be tapping on the floor, they can put pressure on the dog’s legs and feet, making it uncomfortable to walk. If the nails aren’t trimmed, they can eventually cause a dog’s feet to be deformed or cause injury to the tendons.

Pet parents need to be careful when trimming their dog’s nails. You can’t simply clip off the nail at any point. Dog’s nails have blood vessels and nerves at the center of the nail, which is referred to as the quick. When the dog’s nails are growing, the quick grows too. When the nails are overgrown, the quick grows longer. The way to clip the nails is to cut the tip a little at a time. Each time the nail is shortened, the quick recedes. After initially trimming your dog’s nails, repeat the process about once a week. Cut off a tiny bit of the nail each time. Here are some helpful hints when trimming your dog’s nails.

Getting Your Dog Relaxed

If your dog hates nail trims, you first need to train them. Most dogs don’t like to have their feet touched and get stressed when they’re having their nails trimmed. The owner can make the process easier by helping their pet to get over their fear of dog nail clippers or grinders. 

Dog relaxing on owner's lap.

If you’re using nail clippers, let your dog investigate and sniff them. Give your dog a treat. Repeat this process for a few days and reward your dog. The concept is for your dog to associate nail trimming and its tools with treats. The process is a little different with a dog nail grinder. Some dogs don’t like the noise of the grinder. It may take longer for your dog to get acclimated to the sound of the grinder. Turn the grinder on. When your dog investigates and doesn’t run off, offer a dog treat.

Correct Position For Nail Trimming

The best time for nail trimming is when your dog is relaxed. Some dogs cooperate more with a second person to help hold them during the nail trim. Another person can keep the dog distracted while you’re trimming the nails. If your dog is small and is comfortable being handled, you may hold the dog on your lap while you’re cutting the nails. 

You should always make sure you have plenty of light to work by. When you’re ready to start trimming, hold up the dog’s paw and keep it close to the body to prevent pulling away. Gently squeeze the dog’s paw, lifting one toe from underneath to separate it from the other toes before clipping. 

Find the Quick

It’s essential not to start trimming the dog’s nails until you find the quick. It’s easier to find the quick on dogs that have nails that are light-colored. The quick looks darker than the outer portion of the nail and is usually a pink color. On dogs with dark-colored nails, the quick may be more challenging to locate. Start by trimming a tiny portion of the nail at the tip. When more of the nail is cut, a small section in the center that looks pink/grey will be visible. On some dogs, the center point might be a circular, black spot. Don’t trim any further because you could cut into the quick. 

Trimming the Nail

When you’ve found the quick of the nail, you’re ready to trim your dog’s nails. Trim a tiny bit of the nail and look at it to make sure you aren’t too close to the quick. Follow the shape of the nail and cut it at a right angle. Use a fast, steady motion when trimming the nails. If you hesitate, your dog may sense you’re tense and react accordingly. The most effective way to trim the nails is a quick motion to one nail, then praise your dog for being cooperative. Take a break if your dog is getting restless. 

Black dog's nails.

Patience is a Virtue

Some dogs may sit quietly while their nails are being trimmed. However, others may try to pull away. If this sounds like your dog, be patient. You may have to clip one nail at a time—especially with a dog’s overgrown nails. Then do another one the next day. If your dog wiggles and tries to get away, it’s probably best to stop after trimming one nail. Praise your dog and offer a treat. The next time it will get a little easier. When your dog gets accustomed to nail trims, it will be part of your routine. 


When The Quick Gets Cut

Accidents happen. When trimming overgrown dog nails, the quick can inadvertently be cut. If you should cut into the quick styptic powder will stop the dog nail from bleeding. Take a deep breath, praise your dog for remaining calm and give treats. Taking a break for the remainder of the day is a good idea. It gives you and your dog time to calm down and relax.  


1. How do you trim severely overgrown dog nails?

When a dog’s nails are too long, it can cause injuries. The nails can split and bleed. For your dog to be healthy, the nails should be trimmed regularly. Even if your dog’s has severely overgrown nails, you can cut them to make walking more comfortable. Keep your dog restrained. Bend the nail away from the pad of the foot to have enough room to trim. Make sure the trimmer is in front of the quick and squeeze off a small section of the dog’s nail. Keep cutting until the nail clears the floor when your dog is walking.

2. What do you do if your dog’s nails are too long?

When your dog’s nails are too long, the process of trimming them goes more smoothly if you and your dog are relaxed. Cut a small amount from each nail, and don’t forget about the dog’s declaws. If your dog gets agitated, do one or two nails the first day. Repeat the process until all the nails are trimmed to a reasonable length and your dog can walk normally. After cutting all the dog’s nails short, you can smooth them with an electric trimmer. 

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

One of the realities of being a dog owner is that dogs don’t like to get their nails trimmed. Dog powers are less than thrilled about the process too. However, it’s something that has to be done. The sooner your dog gets accustomed to having a nail trim, the easier it is on both of you. If your dog hasn’t had a nail trim in a while, the nails can grow to the side or inward and cut into the paw pad. 

When a dog’s nails get so long and they start to curl, they can cut into the pad. The longer they get, the more difficult they are to trim. Trimmers that have a scissor-type design are easier to get into the tip of the curled nail. Start trimming as close to the tip of the nail as possible. Keep trimming until the nail isn’t bent under. 

Stop trimming when you get close to the quick to avoid any accidents. If the nail has gotten embedded into the paw pad, you may be able to wiggle out the tip of the nail from the paw pad. Once the tip of the nail is out of the paw pad, clean the area with an antiseptic that’s safe for use on pets. An alternative to antiseptic is to use hydrogen peroxide to clean the area. 

When To See A Veterinarian

When the nails are trimmed, if a portion of the nail is embedded into the dog’s paw pad, schedule a visit with your vet. It’s essential to take your dog to the vet if you notice any bleeding nail or signs of infection.

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