Labrador with black nails about to be trimmed.

How To Cut Black Dog Nails & Find The Quick

Cutting your dog’s nails can be a challenge in the best of times. The trickiest nails to clip are black ones. This is because it’s much more challenging to find that pink fleshy part of the nail - the quick - if you can’t see it clearly. Dog nails with black keratin shells obscure that critical part of the nail anatomy which makes accidents and injury more likely.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through our process of how to cut black dog nails with confidence.

Black dog paw.

What You Need When Cutting Black Dog Nails

Time

There is such thing as a quick brush of your dog’s fur or inspection for ticks. However, you cannot rush clipping or grinding your dog’s nails. Not only will rushing stress out your dog, but it’s also a recipe for injury. Make sure you have plenty of time to do a thorough job of cutting your dog’s nails.

A willing helper (if possible)

If you can get the assistance of another person to hold your dog in place as you work on their nails, the process will be much simpler. This isn’t essential but certainly a bonus. 

Dog nail clippers and/or a dog nail grinder

Find the best pair of dog nail clippers or dog nail grinder for your dog. Take into account your dog’s size and tolerance for noise when you make your selection.

Styptic powder

Styptic powder is a coagulant powder that vets use to stop bleeding. Hopefully, you won’t need it but it’s good to have a tub on hand in case you accidentally clip too far. You can get styptic powder from most pet care stores or online. 

A soft brush (not essential)

You can use a soft brush when grinding dog nails to blow away the nail filings. This makes it easier to see what you’re doing. Not at all essential but can be useful.

A face mask (if possible)

If you are using a dog nail grinder, the nail filings and fine powder will fly into the air. It’s not healthy to breathe in the debris from your dog’s nails. So grab a face mask (we all have one now) before you get to work to protect your airways.


How To Cut Black Dog Nails: Step by Step

Step 1: Positioning Your Dog

Most articles will suggest that your dog can be positioned in front of you or beside you as you cut their nails. For cutting black nails, they need to be in front of you. You need to have a direct, face-on view of the nail you are clipping. This will become relevant later.

This is where your helper comes in. If you have help, position your dog in front of you and have your helper sit beside them, holding their body gently and petting them. This reassures your dog and keeps them calm. Cutting your dog’s nails is much simpler if your dog is calm.

Step 2: How To Find The Quick On Black Dog Nails

A quick primer on dog nail anatomy: There are two key components you need to be aware of before you start hacking at your dog’s nails. The first part is the keratin shell. This is the hard, black-coloured outer shell of the nail. The second part is the quick. That is the interior, pink fleshy part of the nail that connects the nail to the paw. When cutting your dog’s nails, you want to avoid the quick because it will hurt if you nip it. It’s like cutting into your cuticles - ouch!

The quick is harder to find if the keratin outer shell is black or brown. So, how do you find it?

Grab your clippers and make one small clip on the first nail. Make sure you hold your dog’s paw firmly before you make the cut.

Once you’ve made the cut, look through the nail. If the nail appears white-ish, then you’re still in the safe zone. As you clip closer to the quick, the inside of the nail will appear black. That black dot is the top of the quick. Sometimes it’ll appear pink if you’re very close to the quick.

Step 3: Start Drilling Or Clipping

Cut or drill down the nail in short spurts. Use the tool at a 45 degree angle. Stop when you see the black dot. If you see a pink dot, definitely stop. The nail is sufficiently short by then.

“I want you to picture a very dirty old bathtub with "bathtub rings." There are similar rings on the outside of black nails. You should cut at the bottom of the "ring" closest to the tip of the nail.” - Willow Mattox, for Pet Helpful (1)

Step 4: Reward Your Dog


Some dogs are more sensitive about having their nails clipped. Some have ticklish paws and are very uncomfortable with the whole thing. It’s important to keep the nail grooming experience a positive one. You can do this by giving your dog treats and praise as you clip one nail at a time. Your helper can be the designated praiser too.

Repeat the process for each nail individually.


What To Do If You Cut The Quick

Accidents do happen! If you accidentally cut the quick, the most important thing is to keep your dog calm and stop the bleeding.

We have written an entire guide on how to stop your dog from bleeding using styptic powder or other homemade remedies.


Final Thoughts: Don't Be Scared To Cut Your Dog’s Nails

Many dog owners avoid cutting their dog’s nails out of fear of hurting them. You feel that responsibility tenfold if your dog has black nails and it’s harder to find the quick.

But don’t be scared. We hope this article helps you to have more confidence grooming your dog If you’re still in doubt, contact your vet for personalised advice.

FAQ

Is it bad to cut your dog’s nails?

No, cutting your dog’s nails is generally not harmful to them. While you can make mistakes and accidentally cut too far, nail care is not a bad thing for your dog. Try to avoid cutting your dog’s nails too often. Only cut them when you need to.

Is it better to clip or grind black dog nails?

It very much depends on how confident you feel. Generally, it’s best to have a pair of clippers just to take the head of the nail off to reveal the black dot inside. From there, you can decide whether to use a grinder or a clipper to shorten the rest of the nail.

How often should you cut your dog’s nails?

Your dog may have fast-growing nails or slower growing nails depending on a myriad of factors. This includes their nutrition, genetics and exercise levels.


Generally, your dog’s nails should not be dragging on the ground. So you should trim them often enough for them not to tap on hardwood floors. (2) Most dog owners get away with clipping their dog’s nails every 1-2months.

References

  1. Mattox, W. May 3, 2021. “Lessons From a Groomer: Nail Clipping, Ear Cleaning, and Baths”. Pet Helpful. Retrieved January 3, 2022. https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Grooming-Lessons-from-a-Real-Groomer-Lesson-5
  2. Nicholas, J. September 21, 2020. “How Often Should You Cut Your Dog's Nails?”. Preventive Vet.  Retrieved January 3, 2022.  https://www.preventivevet.com/dogs/how-often-should-you-cut-your-dogs-nails
Olivia De Santos

Olivia is a professional writer and animal lover. She loves spending time with her Podengo and Flat Coated Retriever, and writing pieces to help people to be better dog owners

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