Please note that some posts contains affiliate links & I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links Find out More

Nailing Pet Claws: How to Trim A Pet’s Nails

by | Jul 13, 2023 | Cat Behavior & Care, Dog Training & Care | 2 comments

FTC noticeWonder how long should a dog’s nails be? Do you know how to trim dog nails or trim cat claws? Pet nail trims and clipping cat claws can cause angst for pets and people alike. Magic and Bravo both had jumbo-size nail claws and paws. Shadow’s nails are much smaller but used just as effectively to hold down toys, scratch himself, pounce on grasshoppers, and paw-pat (or paw-pound!) everything of interest. Karma-Kat’s claws and paws, even smaller, work just as well for his size. Whether big and blunt, or small and sharp, pet claws need nail trimming to stay healthy.

I trim Karma’s claws every week. And while I certainly could trim Shadow’s nails easily enough, I take in to our veterinarian every month for a pedicure. That way, he gets to visit the staff (and sometimes Doctor Clay), get pets and praise, and know that the vet visits are a normal, regular part of his routine.

how to trim pet's nails

Cat claws need trims, too.

Why Trim A Pet’s Nails

Most active dogs allowed to run outside naturally wear down the nails to a manageable length. Outside dogs may not need frequent nail trimming. However, dogs that spend most of their time inside–like Shadow–often require monthly or more frequent claw trimming attention. Even cats who hone nails on scratch objects benefit from regular claw clipping sessions. In my experience, the smaller the pet, the more quickly claws grow. Learn why declaw surgery isn’t a good idea, and all about cat scratch training here. By relieving cat stress you also can reduce illegal clawing.

Over-grown dog nails and cat claws can become caught in bedding and carpets and may split or tear. My old lady Seren-Kitty had that happen! She hung her dew-claw on bedding (thank goodness I work at home and immediately found her). She split the nail to the quick! Outside dogs also can split nails. Magical-Dawg tore his dewclaw from rough-housing and chasing in the field.

Dog claws

Neatly trimmed dog claws keep paws healthy.

When Do Nails Need Trimming?

Keeping the toenails trimmed keeps them healthier. It also helps reduce inappropriate digging some dogs are prone to indulge. Dewclaws on the inside of the lower leg need particular attention since they never contact the ground and can grow longer, or even into a circle and grow INTO the flesh.

Dog nails at their longest should just clear the ground when the dog is standing. If you hear him “clicking” over the linoleum like a tap-dancer, he needs a trim. Overgrown nails cause the foot to spread or splay and can even curl and grow back into the dog’s flesh.

Most cat claws won’t “click” when very long. Healthy cat claws at rest will retract into the toes leaving soft-looking paws. But old cats and some kitties suffering metabolic disorders like hyperthyroidism develop thickened claws that don’t easily retract. When Seren-Kitty grew very old into her late teens and early twenties, she couldn’t care for her claws through clawing and nibbling. Her old cat claws became so thick, she couldn’t retract them, and also “clicked” when walking on hard surfaces.

Your groomer or veterinarian can trim a pet’s nails at routine visits. We did this with Bravo, so he got used to visiting our vet staff and enjoyed interacting with his medical team.


how to trim cat's nails

how to trim a dog's nails

How to trim a dog’s nails.

Pet Nail Trimmers, Files, and Pet Persuasion

But it’s easy enough to clip claws yourself. I’ve trimmed Shadow’s claws from the beginning, as well as Karma-Kat’s claws regularly. Choose a convenient and SHARP clipper for the best results.

A variety of commercial nail trimmers are available with scissor-action or guillotine-style to cut the dog’s toenails and cat’s claws at the proper angle without splitting or crushing the nail. For small claws (like cats), human nail clippers also work well to snip off the sharp hook end. Choose the tool that you feel most comfortable with.

I’m a big fan of the Zen Clipper, sized for tiny to jumbo claws. The design helps prevent cutting too close or catching fur during trims. The scissor design makes it easy to handle. Cat version handles little claws, while a larger adjustable Zen Clipper works on small to large dog claws.

Cats smooth off rough edges after trims on scratching posts. But dog nails may need to be filed after trimming. Use an emery board, or a nail file available from a pet supply store to smooth the edges and keep them from getting caught in the carpet.

You can also explore using a nail filing/grinding tool that many professional groomers use. That also requires teaching pets to tolerate the noise and sensation, as well as paw handling required for all pet nail care.

Much easier to trim a Rottweiler’s nails when the dog willingly offers a paw.

Preparing for Clipping Claws

Many pets dislike having their paws handled. So I recommend gently handling paws as soon as a new pet arrives. Partner paw handling with favorite treats to associate toe touches as a positive experience.

With youngsters, trim just the tip of the nails every week. If they don’t need it, simply touch the claw trimmer, and make the clipping noise, so he knows it’s not painful or scary. Create a routine from the beginning as part of grooming care. What he learns to accept as a puppy or kitten predicts tolerance as an adult. This is particularly helpful with large-breed dogs like my Magical-Dawg German Shepherd or Mastiff breeds like Bravo who handle more easily while puppy-size.

Choose a location where you can easily handle your pet. I sit on the floor to trip Shadow’s dog claws. For Karma-Kat, we trim nails on the bathroom vanity, where he gets treats–already a positive association.

All the nails don’t have to be done in the same session. If you’re having difficulty getting the job done, finish the other toes later. Aim for one or two nails at a time, once a week, and you’ll have all four paws finished within a couple of weeks.

trim cat claws

Gently press the cat’s paw to express the claw, then snip the end.

How to Trim a Pet’s Claws

It’s helpful to have two pairs of hands during nail trimming, one to steady the paw while you handle the clippers. A wiggling pet makes it more likely you’ll catch the hair in the trimmer (painful!) or “quick” the nails, cut into the living vessels that feed the nail bed, and cause them to bleed. If you do happen to quick a nail, use a styptic pencil or corn starch and direct pressure to stop the bleeding, or rake the claw through a bar of soap.

When the nails are white or clear, the pink quick is visible and makes it easy to avoid the danger zone. However, dog toenails are often dark or opaque and hide the quick. So clip off only the hook-like tip portion that turns down. This is especially important if the nail has overgrown because the quick will grow further down, too. The same goes for cats—simply snip off the needle tip. Tipping the nails will prompt the quick to draw back up, so you can trim a little each week until reaching the proper length.

nail trim

LickiMats can be smeared with a soft treat to keep pet’s focussed. The red dial on the adjustable Zen Clipper lets you size the clipper opening to your pet’s nail. And the smaller size Zen Clipper (in my hand) works great for cats.

Bribes Are Legal!

I’m a big fan of “LickiMats.” There are several kinds available, and work to distract and reward the dog or cat for tolerating grooming or other hands-on attention. Smear something the pet loves on the licky-mat. Peanut butter works great for Shadow-Pup, and Karma-Kat loves cream cheese or smelly canned food. While the pet licks, you can clip one or two nails, wait a day or two, and repeat.

Practice patience. Don’t hurry. Nails stay in good shape ass long as all the nails get trimmed every two or three weeks.

Always reward your dog or cat for enduring a nail trim. Reserve a special treat he gets only after a successful nail trim, and soon you’ll have your pet begging for a pedicure. So, do you trim your pet’s claws? Do tell!

YouTube Button

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!




  1. Crystal

    My cat has long tails and she even chews them. I’m afraid to cut the nails because I don’t want to cut the nails to far. Is there a special trimmer that might show me where to cut?

    • Amy Shojai

      Hi Crystal. Yes, most cats chew their nails, and it almost looks like they’re “picking” their teeth! I just updated the post with a couple more illustrations/diagrams to help with your question. Also, the trimmer that I mention, Zen Clipper for cats, has only a small opening. So you slip the tip of the claw in that opening, and only snip off the end of the claw. It gives you a pretty good guide on how much to trim. You also should be able to see the “pink” in the nail and avoid that.



  1. Dog Digging Disasters: Why Dogs Dig & How to Stop ExcavationsAMY SHOJAI'S Bling, Bitches & Blood - […] the impulse to kick up dirt? Does digging keep your dog’s nails in good shape or do they need…
  2. National Love Your Pet Day: 15 Ways How Pets Show LoveAMY SHOJAI'S Bling, Bitches & Blood - […] legal scratch and potty opportunities encourage kitty to love you in more appropriate ways. Keep cat claws trimmed to…
  3. Cat Fight: 10 Tips for Stopping & Preventing Cat Fights & Cat AggressionAMY SHOJAI'S Bling, Bitches & Blood - […] at least one of the cats either has very poor inhibitions or seriously wants to kill the other cat.…
  4. Neatness Freaks: Why and How Cats GroomAMY SHOJAI'S Bling, Bitches & Blood - […] outdoor cat he should stay inside. They may also increase scratch behavior to reduce stress. Keep cat claws trimmed…

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Recent Posts

Top 5 Dog Exercises to Keep Fido Fit and Strong for Life

It’s time to get physical! Love it or hate it, exercise is just as important for your dog as it is for you. I walk on my desk treadmill every day to keep my joints loose and muscles toned. The Pet Health Network notes that obesity can lead to future health issues like arthritis, heart and breathing issues, and can even take two years off your dog’s life!

I love sharing pet health tips from other pet professionals. But always check with your veterinarian about your own dog’s specific issues, to make sure they stay happy and healthy. Here are my top five fitness tips for dogs.

Dog Taste Buds: What Flavor Do Dogs Love?

Do dogs have taste buds? Yes! But do dogs care about taste? Again, they clearly have flavor preferences. Of course, we know some of the odd and nasty weird stuff dogs eat—I really do need to record an Ask Amy about why dogs drink out of the toilet—but do they actually taste such things? How dogs taste remains a mystery in many ways.

Dogs taste sense mirrors that of humans, one reason your dogs beg for yummies from the table. For young dogs, smell of the food seems to trump taste. With some dogs, dirty socks might be a flavor enhancer . . . Read on, to learn what tastes dogs love, hate, and more!

How to Promote Cat Purrs for National Cat Health Month

February is National Cat Health Month. In the past, I’ve also written about the CATalyst Council declaring September to be Happy Healthy Cat Month, dedicated to finding ways to keep kitty companions happy, healthy and purring all year long. Keeping cats healthy should be the focus all year long, don’t you think? After all, they offer all kinds of health benefits to us.

Cats love us in countless ways, and we want to return the favor. All cat “parents” want to keep their felines healthy and happy, and I’ve updated my list based on what Karma-Kat demands and I know he needs. Check out the CAT-egorical Enrichment info! In the comments, please let me know which ones you already do — or share some feline favs from your furry crew!

National Love Your Pet Day: 15 Ways How Pets Show Love

At my house, I see how pets show love every day. If you wonder, how do I make my cat love me, it’s easy! February 20 is National Love Your Pet Day, but Valentine’s Day comes in just a few days. At my house, pet love happens EVERY day. Whether you love your pet with special attention, treats and toys or lap snuggles, pet love has become a given in our pet-friendly society.

In mid-2020, we multiplied our pet-love quotient by welcoming Shadow-Pup into the house. He arrived at a time when we really had no plans for another pet and struggled with the reality of dealing with Bravo-Dawg-s cancer (sadly, he lost his battle, but his love lives on). And Karma-Kat welcomed the pup, too–but for Bravo, the added attention/distraction helped enormously as he went through scary treatment, losing a leg, dealing with pain, and more. So I’m adding another way pets show love–by showing up when you need them!

Valentine’s Day: Pet Danger Advice

I’m often interviewed by media about various cat behavior and dog training issues, and of course, Valentine’s pet dangers top the list this week. Pet hazards are common when our normal routine goes out the window, so pet parents are vigilant around the holidays. Refer to this post about Easter dangers for pets.  And don’t forget that pet safety issues for Christmas are similar to those for Valentine’s Day but it’s always good to refresh our watch list.

Spoil Your Cat: How to Show Cats You Love Them

Cats are great actors and try to convince pet parents they’re already purr-fectly healthy and happy. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s a good time to think “outside the litter box” and find special ways to love your cat.

Recently, I’ve received a boatload of emails with product suggestions for spoiling cats with healthy fun. So check out some of the offerings–and in the comments, add suggestions of your own! Then share the blog far and wide to spread the kitty love!

Pet Music Therapy? The Sound of Success!

Pet music therapy can help solve dog and cat behavior problems as well as offer physical therapeutic benefits. Our pets are attuned to sound and are incredibly sensitive to noises, including music. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, some pets with “stranger danger” issues are in for a rough ride. Pet music therapy can help. Read on for more tips.

Carbon Monoxide Danger for You and Your Pets

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas. It’s a natural by-product of fuel combustion present in car exhaust and improperly vented furnaces, space heaters, water heaters, fireplaces, and tobacco smoke. It can quickly kill people as well as their pets. Children and pets have died in as little as 15 minutes inside running cars while parents shoveled snow outside the vehicle, unaware of the blocked tailpipe.

Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself…and your pets.


I’m delighted to announce the release of the 2024 edition of COMPLETE CARE FOR YOUR AGING CAT. This book, when released, received multiple awards from the prestigious Cat Writer’s Association. I got the rights back after the first edition, published by New American Library/Penguin Books, and released an updated version first in 2010, and again in 2017. But the latest 2024 version offers the most comprehensive revisions and updated material.

Learn more–and how to get deep discounts on the Ebook, Paperback, and Hardcover editions!

6 Easy Fresh Breath Tips & How to Brush Doggy & Kitty Teeth (Without Getting Bit!)

Do you brush dog teeth? How about brushing cat teeth? The AVMA sponsors National Pet Dental Health Month every February to help prevent pet dental problems.

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats show signs of oral disease by age 3.

But it’s never too late (or too soon) to get your pets’ pearly whites checked out by your veterinarian. Often the doctor has some great tips for keeping cat teeth clean and dog breath at bay, including how to brush doggy teeth.

Does the thought of brushing dog teeth make you cringe, roll your eyes, whimper, slink away–and feel guilty? You’re not alone. But once that puppy-sweet breath morphs into curl-your-eyebrows stench, it’s long past the time to address that stink-icity.

Visit Amy's Website

Amy Shojai CACB is an award winning author.  You can find all her publications and book her to speak via her website. 

On Demand Writer Coaching is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to