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You're probably not trimming your dog's nails enough, even if you go to the groomer — a vet weighs in

If you're not cutting your dog's nails, you (or a professional) should be.

Close up of veterinarian's hands cutting nails to an adult dog, Woman's hands cutting nails to a labrador retriever dog
How often you should cut your dog's nails will depend on how much time they spend outside or at the groomer. (Getty Images)

Not too long ago, no matter where my dog was in my apartment, if I couldn't see him, I could hear his little nails tapping on my hardwood floors. But as cute as that was, my vet recently told me that I actually shouldn't be able to hear him. My dog goes to a professional groomer every four weeks, but during a recent checkup with his doctor, she mentioned his nails were too long, and that if I didn't stay on top of trimming them, it could pose a problem in the future.

While I trusted the groomer and his regular walking schedule to take care of his nails, I learned I needed to take matters into my own hands — or after a while, he may actually need to undergo surgery to cut his nails. Since I, of course, want to avoid putting him under anesthesia and having him endure any pain (and those vet bills!), I had to learn how to give him a safe and proper manicure at home.

Not sure how to or how often you should cut your dog's nails? Dr. Whitney Miller, DVM, MBA, DACVPM, the Chief Veterinarian at Petco, gave us the rundown.

🐶 Trim your dog's nails every 2 to 4 weeks

You'll know your dog's nails are ready for a trim when you hear them clicking on the floor when they walk. Dr. Miller says, "Most dogs will need their nails trimmed every two to four weeks, depending on their age and how often they walk on sidewalks, pavement or other rough surfaces that can wear down their nails naturally."

Yes, walking your dog outside on rough surfaces can help file down their nails naturally, but Dr. Miller notes that it's not a replacement for regular trims.

"Trimming your dog’s nails regularly is an important part of their whole health," she explains. "Dogs with nails that are too long are prone to discomfort, cracked, split or broken nails, irritated paws and even infections that can spread elsewhere in the body."

She added that, "if left for a very long time, unclipped nails can cause pain for the pet with every step, make it difficult for a dog to walk and run, and cause irreversible damage and deformities to a dog’s paws or legs."

If your dog's nails are curling down, red at the base or seem to be irritated, Dr. Miller says you should contact your vet ASAP to help.

✂️ Use the right nail clippers

Before you attempt to cut your dog's nails, Dr. Miller says to make sure you have the right tool: A sharp set of pet nail clippers that are correctly sized for your dog. "Some of my favorites are Well & Good Scissor Clippers and Guillotine Clippers," she advised.

These nail clippers are like scissors, but with a special blade for cutting nails. They also have an ergonomic rubber safety grip.

$12 at Petco

You don't have to apply as much force to cut with guillotine clippers as you do with regular ones. However, they're not as strong, so they're not ideal for dogs with very large or thick nails. These types of clippers are best for small or medium-sized nails.

$12 at Petco

🐾 Make your dog comfortable

If your dog is a little anxious, ease them into cutting their nails by holding and applying pressure to their paws, then "bringing the nail clipper into the room with you to let them sniff it while holding it close to their paws."

"Once your pet is comfortable with their paws being held and having the nail clipper nearby, try cutting one nail at a time and rewarding with a treat, working up to comfortably cutting all of them," Dr. Miller says. "If your dog is scared, try going even slower with each step, making sure to give lots of treats and reassurance along the way."

One really important thing to keep in mind while cutting your dog's nails, however, is that you'll want to avoid cutting too close to the quick.

💅 Avoid cutting the 'quick'

"The center of a dog’s nail is called the quick, which includes veins and nerves," Dr. Miller says. "It's similar to the cuticle of a human nail as it's where the nail grows from. Because it contains blood vessels and nerves, cutting the quick can be painful for your dog and may cause bleeding."

Here's how to find it: On dogs with white nails, it's black or pink, and you can see it through the nail. When you place the nail clippers over your dog's nail, look for it and make sure you don't cut too close to it.

However, for dogs with dark nails, the quick isn't visible from the top of the nail — you'll have to look underneath to see it. "The underside of your dog’s nail should show two distinct areas: Near the tip is a triangle-shaped hollow area, followed by an area filled with gray or white. The triangle at the tip of the nail is the part you can clip — avoid the gray area which contains the quick," Dr. Miller says.

"With all nails, a good practice to avoid hitting the quick is to trim off bits of nail, working your way shorter until you see a hollow area with a black dot at the center of the nail. This indicates the shortest point a dog’s nails should be cut, regardless of what color the nails are," she says, adding "For any nail trimming at home, it is important to have styptic powder on hand to help stop bleeding in case the quick is trimmed."

This styptic powder can help stop bleeding fast from cutting nails or small nicks and cuts on your pet.

$13 at Petco

💈 Consider grinding or filing your dog's nails

If you're too nervous to trim your dog's nails at home, try a nail grinder instead. It's like the electric files nail salons use.

"Nail grinding clippers are a great option for pets and pet parents who are new to at-home nail clipping," Dr. Miller said. "Dog nail grinders slowly wear away at the nail to remove excess length. Because of the more controlled process, a nail grinder often helps avoid nicking the quick, though it can be a slower process."

Additionally, if your dog has long hair, you'll want to make sure you don't get their fur caught in the spinning nail grinder.

This rechargeable nail grinder has two modes — low and high — so you can start slow. It also has three different ports for different-sized nails, making this a grinder you can use on all pups, big and small.

$20 at Amazon

👍 Enlist professional help if you need it

All in all, Dr. Miller said scissor clippers, guillotine clippers and nail grinders can all be used to trim your dog's nails at home every two to four weeks, as long as your choice of tool is the right size for your pet. But no matter which tool you choose, both pet and pet parent should be comfortable using it. Otherwise, there's no shame in visiting a professional for a nail trim — the small fee will be worth it in the long run.