Nail Grinder

Q. I’ve seen nail grinders for dogs on sale on TV. Are these safe?

A. They are if they're used properly, and if your dog has been trained with praise and patience to accept having his nails shortened in this way. While nail grinders may be new to “As Seen on TV” territory, grinding nails instead of clipping them has long been common among breeders and competitors in dog sports and dog shows. In fact, well before the idea of a dedicated canine nail grinder became reality, people used rotary grinding tools such as the Dremel to trim canine claws (in fact, some still do).

Why Nail Grinders Are OK

One advantage of grinding over clipping is that it can be easier to avoid the quick with a nail grinder, since you’re taking off just a tiny bit of the nail at a time. You can usually spot the quick before you hit it, unless your pet has dark or black nails.  Finish the nail by smoothing the edges.

Grinding can make the nails painfully hot, so make sure when you shorten nails with a grinder, you’re not holding the tool against the nail for more than a second or so at a time. It’s a gentle press-release-press-release movement, removing the excess nail in tiny, tiny increments. But even with this careful approach, grinding your pet's nails goes quickly!

Teach Your Dog to Love the Grinder

In the early stages of training, just let your dog see the grinder, and then praise and treat. In a later session, turn the grinder on and praise and treat. Praise and treat your dog progressively, allowing the grinder to get closer to a paw and to briefly touch a nail tip. The first time you grind — which may be several sessions after the first introduction of the grinder — be happy with working a little with just one nail. And don't forget to praise and treat!

Be sure to either clip the hair of longhaired dogs or hold it back so it won't get wound in the shaft of the grinder. (One trick is to take an old pair of pantyhose and push the nail through to keep the fur out of the way.) Support the dog's toe, but don't squeeze too hard. Grind across the bottom and then carefully in from the tip of the nail, smoothing rough edges as you go. If you do this weekly, the quick will recede and you'll be able to maintain short nails on your dog with ease.

By the way: Count me as another veterinarian who prefers not having pets brought in for nail trims. As my colleague Dr. Patty Khuly points out, when pets are brought to the vet's office for long-overdue nail trims, they begin to associate the discomfort with visiting the veterinarian. Creating a situation where pets feel stress at the very sight of the veterinarian isn't helpful when they really do need our medical expertise. Either manage your pet's claws at home or have a groomer take care of them regularly.