Save Money by Trimming Your Dog’s Nails

Learn how to trim your dog’s nail like a pro using a grinding tool.

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Q. Our 7-year-old Harrier has very thick, hard nails. The groomer uses a nail clipper and follows with a grinding tool on her nails. Since we are currently financially challenged, I am interested in grooming our dog's nails myself. Can you please give me explicit directions on how to properly use a grinding tool?

A. The chore of trimming a dog’s nails, whether with a trimmer or a dremel (grinding tool), can be challenging, depending upon the dog’s personality and your own confidence and skill. But since your big boy is already used to both procedures at the groomer’s, I see no reason why you can’t perform this necessary task yourself.

As you know, this handyman’s staple is primarily used to sand, grind and cut wood, but dog show folks have long used it to trim canine nails as well. Available in several sizes, one advantage it has over guillotine- or pliers-type nail clippers is that it leaves the nail edge smooth and rounded rather than sharp enough to cut the owner. (This happens a lot in grooming salons when exuberant pets greet their owners at pickup time.)

Grinding tools come with several different detachable tips. We use the round sandpaper drum mandrel attachment, about ½-inch wide, but if working on a toy breed, you could use the ¼-inch instead. For small dog breeds like these, a cordless rechargeable model would do just fine. Do not use grinding stone attachments when working with pets. They grind the nail down too fast and get hot very quickly.

To grind your dog’s nails correctly, you need to know nail anatomy. The nail grows out from the base and has three different portions: the hard, curved outer shell; the darker, somewhat softer tissue in the center; and the quick, the vein inside which will bleed and cause pain if nicked by cutting or grinding too closely. Nails grow downward in a curved arc, and the quick inside grows along with them. If they are not trimmed regularly and become overgrown, unfortunately that elongated quick will need to be cut to get the nail length back where it should be -- but this is a job for a vet and should be done under anesthesia. When neglected and grown too long, they can impede the dog’s gait, permanently deform the foot, and curl around to puncture the pads, causing painful wounds that usually become infected.

Ideally, nails should be short enough that they don’t click on the floor. Show folks trim them extremely short, but active everyday pets need a little traction as they go about their daily adventures. On most, the front nails will grow longer than the rear nails because dogs tend to “push off” from their rear, naturally wearing them down. Trimming or grinding the nails every two weeks should keep them adequately short, but if you are looking to recede the quick, doing it on a weekly basis would work best.

When using a dremel on your dog's nails, start by taking off the curled tip until it’s flush with the nail’s underside. Then go straight across the surface, evening it off until you reach the meaty center portion. Lastly, round off the sharp corners to leave the dog with a smooth and beautiful nail. You don’t need to do each one start to finish because your sander may get too hot. Instead, work on one paw at a time, going back and forth until you have filed them all. In spite of your loving care and good intentions, accidents will sometimes happen. You might cut the quick and cause it to bleed, so it’s wise keep styptic powder on hand. Of course, in the case of protracted bleeding, you would need to call your vet.

If your dog is fussy about having his nails clipped, introduce it by handling his paws on a daily basis. Get him used to the noise of the tool so it won’t spook him, and offer lots of happy talk and tasty treats as you desensitize your pet. Start with only one nail at first. Be patient. It doesn’t matter if you get it ground down as much as you’d like while you are both in the training phase.

Hold each nail lightly but not too tightly, stabilizing it as you work so the vibration of the grinder won’t make your pet uncomfortable. Pushing slightly on the underside of the pad will extend the nail for easier grinding.  Hold back paw hair – if it gets caught up in the spinning drum, it will get yanked out and cause pain, undoing all your desensitizing efforts. Never apply pressure to the grinding head, allowing the friction of the sander do the work. Again, keep it on the same spot only for a few seconds so it won’t get too hot and burn your baby.

When your handsome hound lets you do this while he’s lounging on the floor or resting his head on your lap, you can also relax and feel proud!

Not sure about using a grinder? Find out how to clip your dog's nails with nail clippers, How to Trim Dog Nails.


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thomas   pocahontas, Virginia

11/14/2014 3:19:25 PM

my dog had a thumb nail, I call it. its the nail that's on there leg. it had grown all the way around and into the other side, this is not good for the dog. I wanted to take her to the vet, my wife told me that we can do this. I was very scared to. well we did it. we first cut the nail right in the middle, now there were 2 sides hanging she did not yelp, but bleed a little bit. when it stopped we then pulled the nail out from the other side, she did not yelp. bleed a little and then quit. gave her a treat and she is very happy now.

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Sue - 9210   three oaks, MI

6/25/2014 12:17:43 PM

In response to Ruth, I don't think the vet should have done something you asked them not to...it's not like it was life-threatening!!

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Ruth - 98376   Woodbine, GA

5/1/2014 4:22:56 AM

My dogs nails needed done but was afraid to do them for fear of cutting to short so took him to the vet had to have surgery on his ear and was very upset when he came back to me. Made it very well known that only wanted the ear done nothing else once it was better would have them do the nails but only one procedure at a time. Yeah well they sure don't understand or know what one is because when he came could not understand why was having trouble walking and was crying when doing so. Noticed that his nails were so short that you could see the white and red in them and where we live at the dew think that's what it is was cut back into the fur. I was always told that they should be longer than that in case he had to protect himself. Sure can't this way. It has been 10 days and he is finally running and playing and now he goes back in today and I am very upset and want to say something about getting permission to do that procedure when it was done did not have my permission to do so let alone cause him to have that much pain is very much uncalled for but have to wait to make sure he is okay and done so able to go to someone else who is a little nicer and not so rude and rough with him. Am I wrong about the nails?

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