How to Trim Dog Nails That are Overgrown

Dog paws with black nails
Trimming black dog nails can be intimidating for many dog owners, but with patience, they can be trimmed safely.

It can be a daunting task to trim overgrown dogs nails, but if you follow this simple guide, you will be able to do so safely and without frustration!

Many people worry that they will accidentally hurt the dog when trimming its nails and cause the nails to bleed. However, the fear of hurting the dog during a nail trim is one of the reasons why so many dogs have overgrown nails in the first place.


The truth is, the more often you trim your dog’s nails, the lower the chances will be that the nails will become overgrown in the first place. If you do not let your dog’s nails become overgrown, the nails will be far less susceptible to bleeding issues during trimmings.

Why is it Important to Trim Your Dog’s Nails Regularly?

Not only is a long and overgrown dog nail more prone to bleeding during trimmings, but a long nail can also be uncomfortable and frustrating for your dog because it can make it difficult for the dog to walk properly.

This discomfort is particularly evident in senior and geriatric dogs, as the dog’s overgrown nails can reduce its stability by making it difficult to get proper traction. Dogs suffering from arthritis can have a difficult time walking if their nails have been allowed to grow to the point that they reduce the amount of traction the dog gets with each step.

In dogs of all ages, overgrown nails can also snag and catch on various objects in the dog’s environment, including carpets, cracks in cement, and vegetation. Torn nails can be extremely painful for the dog, and, in many cases, they can lead to infections.

How Can We Help?

To help dog parents trim their dog’s overgrown nails, as well as prevent the issue from recurring in the future, we are going to go over everything you need to know about dog nail maintenance.

We will explain what you can expect as a dog owner when your dog’s nails become overgrown, some useful tips and tricks you can use to trim overgrown nails, what you should do if you accidentally trim your dog’s nails too short, and some tips you can use to keep your dog’s nails healthy and strong.

Why Do Overgrown Dog Nails Bleed When You Trim Them?

dog nail structure anatomy isolated on white background

To understand why trimming your dog’s nails can cause them to bleed, it is important to understand the anatomy of a dog’s claw. Each claw has a small blood vessel that grows inside the nail. As the nail grows, the blood vessel within grows with it.

This blood vessel is known as the quick, and it is why the claw can bleed if it is trimmed too short. There is also a small nerve within each claw bundled closely with the blood vessel. The blood vessels and nerves are surrounded by the nail, which is made of keratin.

This outer layer of hard cells is what we know as the nail. In addition to being useful for digging and scratching, the nail protects the blood vessels and nerves that grow inside of it. As the nail grows, the tip will grow sharper and, after it has reached a certain length, it will begin to curl inwards.

This curved tip of the nail is what you should aim to trim when you clip your dog’s nails. If you trim too much of the nail tip with your nail clippers, you can also cut part of the blood vessel and nerves within the nail, causing the bleeding that can occur when trimming dog nails improperly.

Because the nerve grows so close to the blood vessel, in some cases, the nerve can also be clipped when the blood vessel is accidentally cut. As you would expect, this can be very painful for your dog, which is why some dogs will yelp and recoil when their nails are cut too short.

If it is severed or nicked, the blood vessel within the nail can bleed for a significant amount of time, which is why so many dog owners become very alarmed when it happens. Fortunately, the bleeding will stop on its own, and almost every dog will recover without serious complications. In most cases, it will take several minutes for the bleeding to stop but once it has come to an end, the blood vessels and nerves will recover and eventually grow back.

If you did clip the nail and expose the nerve, your dog might be sensitive on that particular toe and foot for a week or so; however, once the nail has had an opportunity to heal and regrow, the dog should be completely fine to put pressure on that limb once again.

How Do I Trim Overgrown Dog Nails?

close up of veterinarian cutting dog nails with nail trimmer

The main trick to trimming overgrown dog nails is to practice patience!

Trimming overgrown dog nails usually is easiest if you are willing to take the time to repeatedly clip very small slivers off of the nail until you get to the point where you can almost see the tip of the quick.

If you believe that you are approaching the tip of the blood vessel, wait a few days, then go back to the nail and trim off another sliver. This strategy can take a few weeks, but the slow and steady approach is worth your time if you want to avoid your dog experiencing any pain and bleeding.

Training the Quick:

Given that the blood vessel will grow out in length with the nail, the longer you allow your dog’s nails to grow, the longer the blood vessel will be when you go to do trimming. In other words, you are far more likely to cut the blood vessel and cause bleeding if you are trimming overgrown nails.

If you want to avoid the risk of cutting the blood vessel by trimming overgrown nails, you will be happy to learn that you can train the blood vessel to shrink. Training the blood vessel back is fairly simple. All you have to do is clip the nails on a more frequent basis. The more often you trim your dog’s nails, the shorter the blood vessel will be.

Once you have successfully trained the blood vessel to shrink back, you will need to trim the nails less frequently.

My Dog Hates Nail Trims! What Can I Do to Make Trimmings Easier?

The most common reason why it is difficult to trim dog nails is that many dogs do not want their feet touched. If the dog does not like having their feet handled, they will most likely recoil when you attempt to trim their nails, which is particularly common with dogs with a negative experience with nail trimming in the past, like a clipped nerve or blood vessel.

The good news is, even if your dog hates having its nails trimmed, it is possible to train the dog to tolerate and even enjoy the experience!

First, start with rewards that distract the dog as you are trimming the nails. The reward does not have to be anything special, as you can simply use the dog’s preferred treat. If your dog is opposed to nail trimmings, try a new type of treatment that will get their attention.

Smeared peanut butter works really well, as the dog can spend quite a while licking it up. If you spread the peanut butter out thinly on a dinner plate, the dog will have to spend more time licking at it, which means you will have more time to trim the nails while the dog is distracted.

As you would expect, some dogs are easier to distract than others, so, depending on your dog’s attention span, you might not be able to trim all of the nails in one sitting. In cases where the dog is particularly resistant to having its nails trimmed, and you cannot distract them with treats, you will have to work slowly and build gradual habituation.

Train your dog not to be scared of nail clippers by just touching the clipper to their feet and giving them a small treat when they allow it. When they become more comfortable with the clippers being near their feet, you can graduate to trimming a single nail. Provide a treat every time you trim one of the nails. You can progressively increase the number of nails you trim while decreasing the number of treats you provide.

What Happens if I Do Not Trim My Dog’s Overgrown Nails?

If your dog’s nails are allowed to remain overgrown for a long period, the nails can become brittle and unhealthy.

The nails will be far more likely to split, snag, or catch. As mentioned earlier, there is a good chance that these long and brittle nails are also causing your dog a significant amount of discomfort.

So, not only are overgrown nails more likely to tear and cause injury, but they also interfere with the traction the dog would get when the paw pads make contact with the ground.

Again, when dog nails become severely overgrown, they will curl underneath themselves. If your dog’s nails are allowed to get to this point, you will probably hear the repetitive “ticking” sound the nails make with each step. If you can hear this sound when your dog walks on a hard surface, the nails have grown far too long, and there is a good chance they are interfering with the dog’s ability to walk.

In severe cases of overgrowth, the nails can even cause the dogs to slide while they walk or to put excess weight on the back of their paws to avoid walking on the nails. Over time, this adjusted way of walking can lead to serious posture issues. Not only is it very uncomfortable for the dog to walk this way, but it can also be very dangerous for senior dogs that are already suffering from arthritis.

Some other issues that can occur when nails become severely overgrown can even require an appointment with a veterinarian. Such instances can include ingrown nails, meaning the nail has grown to the point that it has curled into the paw pad, which can be incredibly painful for the dog and even lead to bleeding and infection.

Injuries of this nature will require veterinary care and, in some cases, even treatment with antibiotics. If you believe that your dog is suffering from an ingrown nail, you should reach out to your veterinarian for advice.

My Dog is Afraid of Nail Clippers, are There Other Options?

Some alternatives to standard nail clippers include instruments that file rather than cut the nails. Dremels, or nail grinders, might be an option that your dog will tolerate more than a nail clipper. These instruments grind the nails down rather than cut through them. It is still possible to cut nails too short using grinders and dremels, but it is less likely than it is when using nail clippers.

What Should I Do If My Dog’s Nails Bleed After I Cut Them?

If you have accidentally caused bleeding while trimming your dog’s overgrown nails, do not panic. It is a common occurrence that is bound to happen if you trim your dog’s nails regularly.

One tip to help reduce bleeding is to invest in a good-quality coagulant product designed for dog nails. These are often in the form of a liquid-filled Q-tip or a medicated powder. You can apply either form directly to the tip of the bleeding nail, and they will help clot the blood and stop the bleeding.

You may need to apply pressure with a gauze square or some tissue as you wait for the blood to clot. In cases where the bleeding is slow but does not seem like it will stop, apply a temporary bandage to your dog’s foot to help apply pressure on the wound. The bandage should never stay on your dog’s foot for much more than half an hour.

If your dog’s nail is still bleeding after half an hour has passed, it is recommended that you contact your veterinarian for further advice.

What Should I Do If My Dog’s Overgrown Nail Has Torn?

If your dog’s overgrown nail has snagged or split, it is recommended that you take them to the veterinarian to have the injury assessed. Your dog might need to have part of the nail professionally clipped and removed. Depending on the length and the severity of the injury, your veterinarian may prescribe pain medication or antibiotics.

What Are Some Things I Can Do to Keep My Dog’s Nails Healthy?

It is important to keep your dog’s nails short and trim by giving the nails frequent trimmings. Frequent nail trimmings will prevent ingrown nails, overgrowth, and the various nail injuries that can occur when a dog’s nails have grown too long.

The strength of the keratin cells that make up the hard outer portion of the nail depends on the overall health of your dog, you should also make sure your dog is eating a nutritious and balanced diet. If your dog’s nails seem overly brittle, speak with your veterinarian about potential dietary adjustments and nutrient supplements you can use.

Final Words

While nail trimmings can be intimidating if you have never done them before, the more often you trim the nails, the better it will be for you and your dog. If you have a young puppy, you can do yourself a favor and get the dog used to having its feet touched from a young age.

Remember, the pain you could potentially cause by trimming your dog’s nails too short is worth the risk when you consider the alternative. Overgrown nails can put your dog in a significant amount of pain and discomfort, as well as a heightened risk of injury.

Help your dog live a healthy and comfortable life by trimming its nails safely and regularly!