How to Trim a Dog's Nails without Clippers

Easy
10 - 20 Minutes
1 Month

Introduction

Dog needs their nails clipped just like you and I do. Without maintaining your dog's nails, they can grow long enough that dew claws grow in a curve and can end up digging into the skin on your dog’s legs. Nails on toes can split or become so long that they get snagged on carpets or vegetation. In addition, long toenails can interfere with your dog’s tractions on slippery floors. 

The problem is, when clipped with clippers, it is possible to cut the nails too short, cutting the quick of the nail, which is very painful. Some owners and dogs are extremely anxious about the nail clipping process. If a dog has had his nail cut too short in the past, the dog can be anxious and uncooperative having his nails cut, which can make the job difficult and increase the owner's discomfort clipping nails. There are alternatives to using clippers to cut your dog nails which include nail files and Dremel type tools. Dogs that are active outside and are frequently on hard terrain or able to dig often do not need their nails shortened as often as dogs that do not have outdoor access. Working dogs and farm dogs may rarely need to have their nails addressed, as they are shortened naturally from activity.

Dog's Perspective

Dogs may not like having their nails clipped, and alternatives to clipping, like nail files and motorized Dremel-type tools may provide a preferable alternative. Because clippers can cause a crushing sensation, and holding each nail for a moment while the cut is being made can cause anxiety in your dog, filing may be a viable way to simplify the job. Filing can also create an unpleasant sensation, however, as you still need to hold your dog’s toe and the action of filing can feel strange to your dog. Getting your dog used to the sound of a motorized tool and the feeling of having their nails filed, and associating the sensation with treats or other positive reinforcement, may make nail filing a more pleasant experience for your dog.

The Dremel Tool Method

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Scissors
Dremel
Step
1
Acclimatize to sound
Obtain a specialized motorized nail grinder or Dremel tool from a pet supply store or veterinarian. Run the tool next to your dog to get him used to the sound of the tool. Give your dog treats while acclimatizing them to the sound to create a positive association.
Step
2
Trim toe hair
Trim the hair around your dog’s toes and nails to create better access to your dog’s nails and so that hair does not become caught in rotating tools.
Step
3
Pick up paw
Have you dog sit or stand while you pick up each paw to trim nails, or have your dog lie on his back so you can access his paws. If necessary, have an assistant hold your dog.
Step
4
Separate toes
Hold each paw and press gently between the toes and paw pad with your thumb and index finger to spread toes and access nails.
Step
5
File
Insert the toenail into the motorized tool and activate the tool to file each toe nail down. Be careful not to file too short--many tools have a guide to prevent owners from filing nails too short. If your dog is just getting used to the process, start by doing only one nail at a time and then give your dog a break. Check the tool frequently to ensure that the friction does not result in overheating at the nail filing site.
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The Manually File Method

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Scissors
Nail File
Step
1
Use hard file
Obtain a hard metal, ceramic or glass nail file. Specialized nail files are available from veterinary or pet supply stores that are appropriate for manually filling your dog's nails. Manual filing is time-consuming and may need to be done regularly to maintain appropriate nail length.
Step
2
Trim hair
Get your dog used to having his paws and toes manipulated. Trim excess hair from between the toes
Step
3
Access paws
Have you dog sit or stand while you pick up each paw to trim the nails, or have your dog lie on his back so you can access his feet. Bring in an assistant to hold you dog if necessary.
Step
4
Separate toes
Gently spread the toes with your fingers to safely access the nails.
Step
5
Manually file
File each toenail with the manual file. Watch to make sure the site does not become overheated from friction. Do not file into the quick. Manual filing is time-consuming, however, if your dog is adverse to clipping and Dremel tools, it may be a viable alternative.
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Caution & Considerations

  • Friction from filing can result in heat--be careful tools do not overheat.

  • Even while filing nails, it is possible to shorten nails so that the quick of the nail is compromised. Be aware of where your dog’s nail quick is located.  It is easier to see on light colored nails then dark or black nails.

  • Get your dog used to the sensation of filing. Start slowly, file one nail at a time and only for short periods of time to prevent creating a negative association.

  • Get your dog used to the sound of motorized tools before using them so as not to frighten or startle your dog.

  • Read all instructions for motorized tools prior to use to ensure safe operation.

  • Restrain or have an assistant hold your dog if he is liable to move during the process, to prevent injury.

Conclusion

If you or your dog is uncomfortable with the use of nail cutters, the good news is there are alternatives. Many pet owners prefer the use of a motorized nail file or Dremel tool that is often less stressful for dogs, as it eliminates the pinching sensation associated with clippers. Manual filing is time-consuming, but for an extremely anxious dog, it may be a viable alternative to clippers or motorized instruments. Remember that your dog needs maintenance of his nails just like you do, and that torn and split nails can result in pain and injury or infection.

Success Stories and Grooming Questions

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