Reducing the Quick: How to Manage Overgrown Nails in Dogs

When I first brought home my new dog from the shelter, I was filled with joy and anticipation. But as I watched her stumble around the house, my heart ached. She was clearly uncomfortable – her nails, once neglected and now overgrown, were causing her considerable discomfort. I knew I had to help her, but I also knew I had to do it right. After all, trimming a dog’s nails isn’t just a matter of aesthetics, it’s a matter of health and comfort.

If you’re dealing with a dog’s overgrown nails, you’re in the right place. I’ve learned a lot by helping my own dog, and am here to provide guidance on how to slowly and safely reduce the length of your dog’s nails. 

Understanding Your Dog’s Nails

The Anatomy of a Dog’s Nail

To safely trim your dog’s nails, it’s essential to understand their structure. A dog’s nail consists of the shell (the hard outer part that you can see) and the quick – a sensitive area that supplies blood to the nail. The quick is usually easy to spot in dogs with light-colored nails but can be challenging to see in dogs with darker nails. Cutting into the quick can cause your pet discomfort and can lead to bleeding.

Overgrown nails can cause a variety of problems for dogs. For starters, they can make walking uncomfortable or even painful. Overgrown nails can also change the way your dog walks, leading to joint and bone problems over time. And, of course, long nails can lead to accidental injuries to both your dog and anyone they might jump on. In severe cases, long nails can even curl back and grow into the paw pad. Therefore, regular nail trims are essential to maintaining your dog’s health and comfort.

When it comes to trimming your dog’s overgrown nails, slow and steady wins the race. It’s better to trim a tiny bit off regularly than to cut too much at once and risk hurting your dog.

The Right Tools for the Job

Just as a painter needs the right brushes, managing your dog’s nails requires the right tools. The most commonly used tools are guillotine-style clippers, plier-style clippers, and grinders.

Guillotine-style clippers work by inserting the nail through a hole and squeezing the handles to lower a blade that cuts the nail. Plier-style clippers work like scissors and are generally more suitable for larger dogs with thicker nails. Grinders, on the other hand, gently and gradually file down the nail instead of cutting it.

Whichever tool you choose, make sure it’s sharp and in good condition. Dull or damaged tools can cause pain and are more likely to split or crush the nail rather than cut it cleanly.

Trimming Your Dog’s Overgrown Nails

Step 1: Prepare Your Dog

Before you begin, it’s crucial to help your dog feel relaxed and comfortable. Start by gently touching your dog’s paws and nails for a few days before your first trimming session. This will help your dog get used to having their paws handled.

When it’s time to trim, choose a quiet, well-lit area where you both can be comfortable. Have some treats on hand to reward your dog throughout the process.

If your dog is particularly anxious, consider asking someone to help you by holding your dog and providing comfort and reassurance while you trim the nails.

Step 2: Trim Gradually

When trimming overgrown nails, the most important thing to remember is to trim gradually. This is especially crucial if your dog’s nails are so long that the quick has lengthened. In these cases, you’ll need to trim a small amount of nail every week. This will encourage the quick to recede, and you’ll be able to shorten the nail further each time.

Hold your dog’s paw firmly but gently and trim off a small amount of the nail at a time. If your dog has light-colored nails, stop when you see a pale oval in the cut surface of the nail – this is the start of the quick. If your dog has dark nails, stop when you see a dark dot in the middle of the cut surface.

Step 3: Soothe and Reward

After each nail is trimmed, give your dog lots of praise and a treat. This will help make the experience more positive for your dog. If at any point your dog seems too stressed or anxious, stop and try again another day. Remember, this is a gradual process and there’s no need to rush.

If you accidentally cut into the quick and your dog’s nail starts to bleed, don’t panic. Apply some styptic powder or cornstarch to the nail to help stop the bleeding, and comfort your dog. It’s a good idea to have these on hand before you start trimming.


Learning to trim your dog’s nails and gradually reduce the quick can feel daunting at first. But with the right tools, a calm and patient approach, and plenty of treats and praise, it’s a skill that any pet owner can master. Remember, the key to reducing the quick and thus shortening your dog’s nails over time is to take it slow and steady. You’ll be trimming a small amount off the nail every week or so, which will encourage the quick to recede over time. It’s a gradual process, but with patience and consistency, you’ll see results.

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