How to trim dog nails that are overgrown and why it’s important.

How to trim dog nails that are overgrown and why it’s important.

Image above by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay .

Are we ready for our pedicure?

In this post we’re going to look at how to trim dog nails that are overgrown. We’ll learn how to identify and cut to the quick on your dog’s nails. Should you use dog nail clippers or a dog nail file? What to do in the case of extremely overgrown dog nails and even a gentle approach on how to restrain a dog to clip it’s nails. Trimming your dog’s nails at home doesn’t have to be a stressful affair for either you or the dog and it definitely becomes easier with practice. Two pairs of hands are better than one and make sure you have a bag of treats at the ready.

Let’s get going.

Probably the best place to start is to explain the dog’s nail structure, what is ‘the quick,’ why is it important and how to cut to the quick.

1: What is the quick?

Since this article is about how to trim dog nails that are overgrown, you might be wondering, what on earth is ‘the quick?’ Quite simply, the quick is the soft, pink tissue (in dogs with white nails) that you can see inside the nail. This tissue contains nerve tissue and a blood vessel so it’s vitally important that you recognise this feature before cutting your dog’s nails. If you cut this it can cause a lot of distress to your dog and also will lead to bleeding so tread carefully. If you don’t snip enough off the nail the first time you can always go back and trim some more. Little by little is the key. If you have a dog with black nails then this feature is more difficult to recognise but it’s still possible to trim your dog’s nails at home.

This video below from Dr Buzby at ToeGrips goes through the process for dog’s with black nails in detail.

2: How to cut to the quick.

The most important thing here is, go easy. Especially on your first attempt. It’s better to take the cautious approach and just cut off a little then look at the nail and reassess if you need to make another cut. Alternatively, you don’t need to cut to the quick. You can file down to it. With our dog we’ve tried using both nail clippers and a pet nail grinder. We prefer to use the pet nail grinder every time. We’ll talk more about choosing a pet nail grinder or nail clippers in the next section.

Always hold the paw quite firm and if you hold close to the nail you’ll help to avoid any twisting or excessive vibration. Cut off a little of the nail and then reassess. Keep checking after every cut until you get close to the quick (the pink tissue part of the nail in dogs with white nails.) Once you get close to the quick it’s time to stop and move on to the next nail. The key is to take it slowly and always check after each cut to see where you’re at.

how to trim dog's nails that are overgrown black nails
Finding the quick on black dog’s nails can be a little more tricky. Image by ulisesbeviglia from Pixabay

Side note: What do I do if I cut into the quick?

The first thing to do is not panic. Dogs feed easily off our emotions and if you start to get anxious, stressed or worked up, so will your dog. Try to reassure and calm your dog and if they’ll take it, offer them a treat. Styptic powder (UK link)  (US link here) can help to stem the bleeding. Not everyone has styptic powder in the home (I know we don’t) so are there any alternatives? Yes there are. General purpose flour or baking soda can do a similar job. Although not quite as effective they’re better than nothing. Dip the affected nail into some flour/baking soda by cupping some in your hand and then apply pressure with a dressing or clean towel. Your dog may flinch away, this is to be expected. You would likely do the same if someone applied pressure to an open wound. Keep the pressure on for about 20 minutes and then inspect the wound. If the bleeding persists after 20 minutes it might be a good idea to contact your vet. If this happens, it’s best not to proceed with cutting the other nails for today. Give the dog a day or two to rest and then when you try again take things much more slowly.

3: Pet nail grinder or pet nail clippers?

Should I purchase a pet nail grinder or pet nail clippers? The good news is, you can have both on one tool. We use this Wahl combi tool available on Amazon.UK. Amzdest in the US offer a similar product. Although we have used the nail clipper part, we tend not to now and only use the grinder. We’ve found this one to be more than suitable for our French Bulldog but there are lots of options on the marketplace. What you go for comes down to personal choice and it really depends on what you’re more comfortable with. Also, it’s important what your dog is more comfortable with. Try both out and see what works for you.

5: How to deal with extremely overgrown dog nails.

You may find yourself in the unfortunate situation where you are faced with extremely overgrown dog nails. Maybe you’ve taken a dog in as a rescue. Maybe you’ve adopted from someone who hadn’t perviously been taking care of the dog’s grooming needs. Whatever the case, extremely overgrown dog nails can be uncomfortable and even painful for your dog. This should be addressed ASAP. With long nails it’s probably best not to approach first with a pet nail grinder and instead take off the bulk with a set of pet nail clippers. Take off a comfortable amount and then finish off with the pet nail grinder or clip further if you’re confident in doing so.

It’s worth noting that a dog in this situation may also be in some amount of pain and sensitive around the foot area. Especially if the nails have started to curl back on themselves and are digging in to the skin. Be extra gentle, have lots of treats on hand and keep reassuring the dog as you go.

anxious french bulldog
Does the sight of the nail clippers have your dog making for the cat flap? Image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay

6: How often should I trim my dog’s nails?

There’s no real hard and fast answer for this. How quickly your dog’s nails grown can vary from breed to breed and it also comes down to their routine. If your dog exercises a lot on concrete then you’ll probably find that the nails wear down naturally. On the flip side, if you live on the beach, the soft sand isn’t something that’s going to naturally file your dog’s nails. Our dog walks on concrete a lot and we only have to trim her nails about once every six weeks but it’s completely possible that you dog might need a trim every 2-3 weeks. Just keep an eye on the nails and the distance between the quick and the tip of the nail. If the nails start to curl around back on themselves they are definitely overdue.

Side note on the dewclaw.

Unless they’ve been previously removed your dog will likely have small claws on the inside of the leg just above the paw. This claw is called the dewclaw and usually doesn’t wear on the ground so it might need trimmed even when the other nails don’t. Some breeds also have them on the rear legs. Don’t neglect these are they can easily become overgrown and curl back into the leg. This can cause bleeding and discomfort for your dog. We trim our dog’s dewclaws regularly with the grinder but be sure to hold it close to the nail and firm to avoid any snagging when trimming.

7: How to restrain a dog to clip it’s nails.

I should really put ‘ How to gently restrain a dog to clip it’s nails.’

So it gets to that point and it’s time to get the pet nail grinder out. The whirring noise alone can be enough to make your (usually extremely dormant)  pooch convince itself it’s an all time champion Whippet as it sprints for the back door. Staying calm is the key .For the first time you don’t even need to cut the nails properly. Try easing them in with just a slight trim of one or two nails followed by a treat and then finishing the session for the day. Once they see it’s nothing to be worried about and have your trust you can build it up.

Another idea is to do a couple of nails on each paw at the front. Next time maybe a couple on the back. The time after you can do the remaining nails. After a few occasions you should be able to do them all in one sitting. If you haven’t had the dog since it was a puppy it’s important to remember that they may have had a bad experience previously. It’s up to you to gain their trust with this.


8: Why is it important to trim dog nails that are overgrown.

So now that you know how to trim dog nails that are overgrown, it’s probably worth explaining why it’s important to trim your dog’s nails on a regular basis. Obviously and as mentioned earlier, extremely overgrown dog nails can be uncomfortable and often painful for your dog. Nobody wants that. Aside from that, trimming your dog’s nails regularly has it’s own benefits. Wether it be with a pet nail grinder or nail clippers, regular trimming can actually help to keep the quick in check as it recedes. If you don’t keep on top of your dog’s nails, the quick section can grow over time which means it can be more difficult to get the nails back to a suitable length.

As with everything else, if you’re not comfortable with the procedure, hire someone else. There are plenty of dog grooming services out there who will do this for a reasonable fee and it’s always good to support local businesses. If you have friends with dogs, ask for recommendations and shop around until you find a price and a standard that you’re happy with.



french bulldog sleeping
All of this can be hard work. Image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay

Final notes on how to trim dog nails that are overgrown.

If this is the first time you’ve tackled to job of trimming your dog’s nails you might find the that whole thing was more stressful for you than it was for the dog. The important thing is to take your time, don’t rush and only do what you’re confident doing. You’ll always make better decisions when you’re both calm and confident. This means you can even do just a few nails for your first session and then try again tomorrow if you feel it’s too much.

We’ve found that it’s better done as a two person job so if you have another set of hands available, use them. We do it with one person holding our dog and the bag of treats, the other does the trimming. If you’re dog doesn’t like the clipping, consider using a suitable pet nail grinder. If you are clipping, too little is always better than too much.

Finished? Make yourself a nice cup of tea and put your feet up, you’ve earned it. ;o)

Hopefully this post has helped to show you how to trim dog nails that are overgrown. Thanks for reading and if you’d like to contact us you can use the contact form here. 


Other dog grooming related posts:

Why is my dog’s nose dry? Our crusty dog nose home remedy.

Do French Bulldogs shed? How to deal with French Bulldog shedding.

Although The Perfect Frenchie is a blog which pertains mainly to French Bulldogs and French Bulldog care, many of the posts are applicable to dog care in general.

Some other posts that may interest you:

French Bulldog cost (it’s not just financial.) Should I get a French Bulldog?

Wallmart dog beds. A roundup of dog beds for every budget.


Header image courtesy of: Image by Alexandr Ivanov from Pixabay


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