What Is the Angle to Cut a Dog's Nails?

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Keep Fido's nails short to reduce damage to your home and furnishings.
Keep Fido's nails short to reduce damage to your home and furnishings. (Image: Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

Reduce the hassle of trimming your dog’s nails by first getting the dog used to having its feet handled. Touch and lift each paw, followed immediately by giving the dog a treat. Do this for several days, then choose a time when your dog is tired or sleepy and a place that is calm and quiet to do the actual nail cutting. Have styptic powder or stick ready in case you cut into the quick.

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Types of Nail-Cutting Tools

Get the best results with a cutting tool designed for canine use. These dog nail trimmers come in two styles. The scissor style opens from a central pivot and has a blade on each side of the trimmer. The other type of nail trimmer is called a guillotine style. The dog nail is inserted into a stationary hole at the top of the trimmer, and when the handles are squeezed, a blade slides up to cut the nail. A third option is to use a small hand tool with a rotating sanding attachment to file your dog’s nails.

Reasons to Cut

Trimming your dog’s nails reduces the amount of nail extending beyond the toes, thus reducing the amount of snagging and scratching — on you or other surfaces — your dog can do. Trimmed nails benefit dogs because they walk on their toes rather than the soles of their feet. Overgrown nails cause discomfort by forcing the dog to shift its weight backwards, putting stress on ligaments, tendons and bones. Long-term misalignment of your dog’s posture can lead to damage to the skeleton, joints and connective tissue.

Cutting Toe Nails

The pink, innermost nail layer, called the “quick,” contains nerves and blood vessels. Take care to cut only the outer layer of hard fibrous protein, called keratin. Put the nail tip between the blades of a scissor-type trimmer and cut at a right angle to the nail’s length. Hold guillotine-style trimmers perpendicular to the dog’s nail with the screws facing the dog. Insert the nail tip in the hole and cut the nail off straight (blade at right angles to nail), from top to bottom or bottom to top. Offer treats to make the experience a positive one. Do not cut the quick. If you do, stop the bleeding with styptic and halt the trimming process for the day.

Remember the Dewclaws

Dewclaws are located on the inner side of the leg above the rest of the toenails. Some dogs have their dewclaws removed when they are very young, while certain breeds, such as great Pyrenees and chows, sport double dewclaws on their back legs. Because these nails never touch the ground, they must be trimmed even if your dog wears down the rest of his nails through regular activity. Untrimmed dewclaws can grow into the leg’s flesh, creating a target for infection. Trim dewclaws by cutting straight across (at right angles to) the nail’s length.

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