Getting a dog properly groomed is one of the most important tasks for pet owners: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends bathing your dog at least once every three months, though some breeds may require more frequent maintenance, including brushing, blow drying and teeth cleaning. While some grooming essentials like haircuts and ear cleanings should be left to the professionals, there are several basic grooming needs that you can do at home, including giving your dog a nail trim.
Cutting your dog's nails may seem intimidating at first, but experts told us it’s generally safe and easy to do it at home as long as you pay attention to your dog’s behavior and use the right nail trimmers.
“Many dog owners learn to cut their pet’s nails. However, this depends on your comfort level and your dog’s behavior during a nail trim,” said Gabrielle Fadl, director of primary care at Bond Vet. “If you’re unsure or if your dog struggles a lot, it’s probably best to seek help or guidance from a veterinary or grooming professional.”
When you’re new to nail trimming, it can be overwhelming to find the right equipment and make sure you’re doing everything right. We consulted experts about what to consider when trimming your dog’s nails at home and the safest way to do it. We also compiled some top-rated nail clippers to consider based on expert guidance.
Types of dog nail trimmers
The most important thing to consider when trimming your dog’s nails is how you feel when using a trimmer: “Make sure you are comfortable holding and operating [it],” Fadl said. The type of nail clipper you use can make a big difference depending on how your dog responds to it — some dogs may feel scared or uncomfortable with certain types of clippers, so it’s important to gently introduce them to it and test out different types to see how they feel. Our experts broke down the different types of trimmers to consider below.
Benefits: Scissor clippers are the most commonly used since they are typically comfortable and more straightforward, according to Allie Akhmarova, owner of house call grooming business Posh Groomer.
Drawbacks: These clippers require you to use your own hand’s force to cut through the nail, which experts told us can affect precision — make sure to keep your dog’s paw as steady as possible to avoid cutting the quick of the nail (more on that below).
Benefits: This type of nail trimmer features a hole to put your dog’s nail into and a blade that cuts the nail using manual force, which can help make a good, straight cut with minimal effort, according to our experts.
Drawbacks: Though effective, guillotine clippers are not easy to use, according to Akhmarova. “[This is] the one type to avoid, in my opinion — I, as a groomer with a decade experience and having trimmed thousands of nails, find them cumbersome to use,” she said. It can also be hard to gauge how much nail you’re cutting off, which can result in injury.
Benefits: Nail grinders equip a rotating head to grind the nail down, according to Fadl — this can be a less stressful option if clipping feels intimidating since it files off a small amount of nail at a time.
Drawbacks: Though a nail grinder can be great for first-time nail trimming, the main downside is that some may find their dogs “get scared by the noise,” Fadl noted.
Dog nail trimmers to consider in 2022
When it comes to choosing the right tool for your pet, Fadl said to consider your dog’s size and comfort level. “Dogs come in all different sizes, so make sure the trimmers are a good fit for your dog’s nail size — not too big or too small,” Fadl said.
With our experts’ guidance in mind, all of the following scissor-type nail trimmers we compiled are highly rated and include safety stops to avoid accidentally cutting the quick (a vein in the core of the nail), as well as ergonomic handles for comfort and a secure grip. We also included a nail grinder below, which experts say can be a less stressful option if you’re new to nail trimming. In addition to the nail clippers we recommend, Akhmarova said that most scissor-type nail trimmers from large retailers like Chewy and Amazon usually work well.
These scissor nail clippers are made with sharp stainless steel blades to cut thicker nails on medium and large dogs, according to the brand. The built-in safety stop can help prevent you from cutting your dog’s nails too short, and the locking switch on the handle can help you store the clippers safely, Boshel says. The clippers also come with a nail file that’s stored inside the handle.
Akhmarova personally uses the Aussie Dog Nail Clipper — “they are small, precise and cut through like butter,” she said. These clippers have high-quality stainless steel blades and are great for both large and small dogs, according to the brand.
Safari’s dog nail trimmers can help you avoid over-clipping your dog’s nails and protect the quick thanks to a safety stop on the side, the brand says. Made with durable stainless steel and designed with a non-slip handle for a steady grip, the clippers come in two sizes: small/medium and medium/large. The trimmers also boast a double blade with a tension spring to help you make a more precise cut, according to the brand.
These nail clippers have a double plier-style design for use on dogs of various sizes and a spring-loaded cutting mechanism that helps you make a clean cut on the first try, according to the brand. They also have a built-in safety stop that can be moved into position when desired to prevent overcutting nails, and they equip a lock to stay closed for storage and maintenance purposes, Millers Forge says.
The Zen Clipper is designed with a fully adjustable blade that controls the amount of nail being cut, allowing you to use the same clippers for different sized dogs, according to the brand. To change the size of the blade, you can simply use the trimmer’s thumb wheel — it adjusts the blade from 2 millimeters at its narrowest setting to 11 millimeters at its widest.
These nail clippers feature an adjustable safety guide that lets you adjust the cutting depth depending on the size of your dog, the brand says. They have durable stainless steel blades and a thick textured handle to grip while you’re cutting, which Furminator says is covered in antimicrobial plastic to decrease germs and bacteria from building up.
If you’re on the market for a nail grinder instead of a scissor clipper, this cordless option from Dremel lets you choose between four speed options and has an ergonomic design for accuracy and comfort, according to the brand. It also comes with a clear nail guard attachment, which allows you to trim the nail at a 45-degree angle in a more controlled manner, Dremel says.
How to safely cut your dog’s nails
One of the most common mistakes people make when cutting their dogs’ nails is getting frustrated — you should never punish your dog if they don’t want to have their nails cut or don’t cooperate with you, said Dr. Douglas Kratt, a veterinarian and past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. If it’s challenging to cut your dog’s nails at home, it's best to take them to a professional like a groomer or veterinarian.
Our experts noted that you should be mindful of a vein in the core of the nail called the quick, which contains the blood vessels and nerves. If nicked, the quick can bleed considerably. Since some dogs have longer quicks than others and it can be difficult to locate on the nail, cutting it happens often during at-home grooming sessions.
“The best way to avoid [nicking the quick] is to only trim a little bit at a time [and] check the nail after trimming just the very tip to see if it’s hollow or if you can see any tissue inside,” Fadl explained. “If you’re close to any tissue, stop. If it’s completely hollow, you can probably take a little more.”
Fadl also recommended looking at your dog’s toenails before you start cutting. If they’re clear, you can usually notice the quick pretty easily, which looks like a pink area at the center of the toenail. Dark toenails on dogs can be more challenging, but you can look at the shape of the nail to get an idea of where it is. “Generally, the quick is in the thicker, straighter part closer to the skin — you should only trim the thinner tip that starts to curl,” Fadl said.
If you do accidentally cut your dog’s quick, there are some home remedies to use on the bleeding nail. Certain products like styptic powder can help stop the bleeding and reduce any pain, according to Akhmarova.
How often should you cut your dog’s nails?
Most dogs only need their nails trimmed about once a month, although this varies from dog to dog depending on a variety of factors, including nail growth rate, lifestyle and overall health, according to Fadl. For example, dogs that get plenty of exercise or go on a lot of walks (especially on concrete) tend to wear their nails down, so they may need their nails cut less frequently. Dogs’ nails also grow at different rates, so what’s right for one dog may not be right for another.
Expert tips: Keeping your dog comfortable during a nail trim
To ensure your dog is comfortable with nail trimming, it’s important to get them used to it slowly. Fadl recommended just touching and playing with your dog’s paws at first, which helps desensitize them to having their paws handled. “If they allow it and seem comfortable, offer praise and treats,” she said. After doing this for a few days, Fadl suggested handling the toenails, then graduating to trimming the tip of just one or two nails. “Always offer praise and treats to make it a pleasant experience [and], if possible, have someone else distract your dog with attention during the nail trim,” she added.
Kratt noted to “jackpot” your dog while you’re cutting their nails to get them more accustomed to it. “Jackpotting” is an animal training technique in which you give them a reward like special treats or food when they exhibit a desired behavior like staying still or letting you hold their paws while you’re cutting their nails. Kratt suggested giving your dog a treat they don’t get every day, like peanut butter (without artificial sweetener) or cheese. He said rewarding dogs with one of these more infrequent items allows them to focus on the food rather than their nails being cut.