Once you hear those nails clicking along on the floor, it's time to trim your dog's claws. Long nails change the angle of a dog's foot, leading to painful foot problems. Grinding down your dog's nails with a rotary tool is the easiest and safest way to keep your dog's nails trimmed, according to professional dog groomer Renee Rice, of 4 Pawz Pet Grooming in Sedona, AZ.
Grind it, don't clip it
Rice recommends using a nail grinder to trim a dog's nails, especially on older dogs or large dogs with dark nails: "By using a rotary tool, especially with dark nails, I know I'm not going to split it like you could with a clipper. When dogs get a little older, just like us, their nails get more brittle. So that's a higher risk of having a nail fragment break off, and then you've got a vet bill."
Most dogs don't like the feel of a normal nail clipper as it squeezes and slightly rotates the nail as it cuts. "Once you clip the nail too low, it cuts through the quick – the part where the blood comes through," says Rice. "Once that happens, they're pretty much done with nail clipping for the rest of their life."
Rotary nail grinders provide a better alternative, according to Rice. "I can get the nails trimmed closer and make the ends rounded with less chance of them splitting. For the dog, it's more of a tickle feeling. They tend to get more used to it and develop more trust with the whole process."
Lose the cord
Although any nail grinder can do the job, you'll definitely want one of the cordless variety. You will already have your hands full with keeping your dog steady, keeping his leash or another tether out of the way, and holding her paw at the correct angle for a trim. You don't need a long cord to worry about getting tangled up in things.
Although grinders with cords are generally more powerful, some of the latest generations of cordless rotary tools are actually stronger than corded tools of yesteryear. When shopping for a pet nail grinder, look for revolutions per minute (RPM), which tells you how fast the grinding barrel spins.
Pet nail grinders should have a range between 15,000 to 35,000 RPM for most dog nails. If your small dog's nails are white, a grinder below 15,000 RPM could provide satisfactory results. Keep in mind that the lower the RPM, the longer it will take. However, faster isn't always better: using a tool above 35,000 RPM will heat up quickly, risking injury to your pet.
A multiple-speed grinder lets you adapt your nail grinding to accommodate your pet's nails, your skill level and your dog's temperament. A small dog with light nails won't need as much grinding power as a big dog with thick, dark nails.
The speed also determines how fast you can get the job done. "I prefer to use a higher speed," says Rice. "At a lower speed, it just takes longer. Dogs have the attention span of about a 2-year old child. On smaller dogs, it doesn't matter so much, but on larger dogs with thick, dark nails, it's going to take a bit longer."
One of Rice's favorite nail grinders is the Hyper Tough 8V Max Cordless Rotary Tool, Non-removable 1.5 Ah Battery with Charger, 40 Piece Accessory Kit & Plastic Storage Case, which has five speeds ranging from 5,000 to 30,000 rpm . The rotary tool also has a light at the base which lets you see exactly what you're doing with your dog's nail. "It works really well with the light nails because it's easy to see where the quick actually is," said Rice.
Keep it cool
Rotary grinders use sanding bits designed to file your dog's nails down quickly. However, the nail filing bits on typical rotary grinders heat up while you're trimming your dog's nails, causing discomfort or even burns. Make sure to just touch the blade of the bit to your dog's just for a second or two at a time to prevent your pet from getting too uncomfortable from a hot tip.
Groomers Best Friend Diamond Rotary Nail Grinder for Dogs is designed to stay cool and uses specially-shaped diamond bits that trim away the underside and edges of your dog's nail at the same time. The tool also prevents getting your dog's foot hair tangled up in the machine, which can be painful and frightening for your dog.
The rotary grinder comes in two sizes: one for dogs under 30 pounds and one for dogs over that weight threshold.
Begin with basics
If you're a little nervous about grinding your dog's nails, get a nail grinder like the Dremel 7760-PGK 4V Pet Grooming Cordless Kit that has a guide that prevents mistakes. The grinder's clear cap has a 45-degree paw guide to reduce the chances of getting down to the quick. "This Dremel with the lid would be good for a beginner trimming their dog's nails at home because it guarantees that you won't go down too far," said Rice.
Ask your groomer to show you the best way to grind your dog's nails. Like Rice, she might offer nail trims with no appointment needed at a very nominal cost. That can eliminate any anxiety around nail trimming for both you and your pet.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.