How to Cut a Puppy’s Nails

Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 5/9/20242-4 minutes
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Puppies have many adorable features (see: floppy limbs and big, round ears).  

What’s less adorable is when their nails become long and scratchy. 

Once your young canine companion’s claws grow long, you (and your floor) may know it, due to unpleasant scratching. Not to mention—your dog might also start to experience discomfort.  

Left unchecked, long nails can make walking painful, as they may catch on rugs and other objects. In extreme cases, nails can grow in a circular shape back into your dog’s paw pad, causing pain and possibly even an infection. 

Like choosing the right dog food, grooming your pet can keep them healthy and happy. Even if you outsource trimming to a professional groomer, however, understanding when and how to cut puppy nails will help you provide better care. 

How Long Should a Dog’s Nails Be?

A general rule of thumb is a dog’s nails shouldn’t extend past their paw.  

It’s best to keep them a couple millimeters from the quick, also known as the vein in the nail that feeds the nail bed.  

For dogs with lighter nails, the quick may appear as a pink line coming from the base of the nail. It can be harder or impossible to see in canines with darker nails.  

If you can’t see the quick in your pet’s nails, you can always ask your veterinarian or a groomer for guidance with trimming.   

How Often Should I Trim My Puppy’s Nails?

It’s not uncommon for your puppy’s nails to need trimming every three weeks or so. How fast they grow, however, depends on the individual dog.  

Environmental conditions can also play a role. Dogs who go for walks on pavement or concrete need to have their nails trimmed less often, as their paws brush against hard surfaces. 

Regular exercise is another good way to help keep your puppy's nails shorter for longer periods of time.  

Trimming nails should be part of a regular grooming routine, along with brushing, bathing and maintaining dental hygiene.   

Tools for Cutting Your Dog’s Nails

If you’re curious how to clip a dog’s nails yourself, you’ll want to explore trimming tools. 

Dog nails differ from humans’ in shape and strength, so remember to use tools designed specifically for them when trimming.  

Also choose a tool appropriate for your pet’s size.  

Scissor-style trimmers are good for puppies and toy breeds, while guillotine-style trimmers are suited to small- to medium-size dogs. For large and giant breeds, plier-style trimmers apply more force to cut larger, stronger nails.  

A grinder is another option. As the name suggests, this tool evenly grinds the nail down. It may be a good choice if your pet is averse to clippers, but its sound and vibration can scare some dogs. 

If you use trimmers, don’t forget to replace the blade once it becomes dull.  

Preparing to Cut a Dog’s Nails

If you’re wondering about how to cut puppy nails, here are some things to keep in mind before you start: 

  • Puppies can get skittish around new objects and experiences. To lower your dog’s fear or excitability, introduce them to the process early after bringing them home. Massage and play with their feet, and show them the trimmers, perhaps while offering treats.
  • Ask your veterinarian or groomer for a recommendation for a good pair of clippers (or a grinder) to use.
  • There’s always a chance you might accidentally cut their nails a little too short, snipping the quick. Be prepared by having some styptic powder on hand.   

How to Clip a Dog’s Nails

Ready to start clipping? Follow these tips to make the experience as smooth as possible.  

  • Gently hold and squeeze your puppy’s paw, which will help extend the nail.
  • If possible, locate the quick before you trim. Again, if visible, it will be a pink line (do not cut this). If you can’t see it, ask your veterinarian or a groomer for instructions before you start clipping.
  • Wait until your puppy is still before you make a cut.
  • Start conservatively. It’s better to cut a little twice than cut too much and hit the quick.
  • If you cut a nail and it bleeds, immediately apply some styptic powder and a small amount of pressure to the end of the nail.
  • Your puppy probably won’t be used to being held in a position like this, so make sure to offer praise for holding still and being a trooper.
  • Take breaks if your pet is anxious. It’s okay if all their nails aren’t cut in one sitting; trimming usually isn’t an emergency situation.       

If you still have questions about how to cut puppy nails or how long a dog’s nails should be, talk to your veterinarian.  

For more guidance on grooming and other important topics, visit our Pet Expertise page for tips from our pet experts.  

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