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How To Trim Dog's Nails Quick With A Dremel

Updated on January 18, 2011

Dremel To Groom Nails

Nail Grooming Tips

Before we get started, I am not promoting the Dremel, and I am not a veterinarian or veterinarian technician. I am a pet owner. I have no veterinary training and nothing in this article is to be taken as veterinary advice. I will not assume responsibility for any damage that you might cause to your dog's nails, if you decide to try my nail grooming tips. Evaluate my methods and decide whether to try them (or not) at your own risk.

I've been using a Dremel to grind my sheltie's nail for several years. Fortunately, I've received instructions and hands-on help from a breeder and groomer friend. You can also ask your veterinarian to help you with this procedure.

Why Use a Dremel Instead of Clippers?

First, filing or grinding is more comfortable to your dog than the guillotine-type clippers. You can get dog's nails shorter and smoother by filing, without pinching or causing pain in the quick. (The quick is the living flesh inside a dog's nail.)

Guillotine-type clippers cut through the hard shell of a dog's nail with squeezing pressure. Personally, I do not like guillotine clippers because you can, easily, cut into the quick of the nail. Cutting into the quick causes the nail to bleed, and is very painful for your dog.

If a dog's nails are not kept short, the quick grows towards the end of the nail, and causes pain in the small joints of the paw. When this happens, the toes of the paw begin to point inward (or outward) to relieve pressure from the nail tips. The paws look similar to arthritic fingers.

White or light colored nails are the easier to trim than dark nails. The pink vein of the quick is visible in white nails, but you cut blind when trimming dark-colored nails. To get nails shortened, several small clips are necessary, and hopefully, you won't cut into the quick.

If you properly use a Dremel, your dog will not experience pressure on the quick within their nails. As you slowly grind towards the quick, you can actually see 'inside' the nail. Grinding around the quick helps it to recede and you can get shorter nails, over time. The closer you manage to grind to the quick (without cutting into it), the more it will continue to recede. When you finish grinding, be sure to smooth the corners and rough edges, the nails won't gouge or scratch when your best friend paws for attention.

My Trusty Dremel

I use a Dremel Multi-Pro cordless two-speed unit to file my sheltie's nails. This unit has low and high speed settings, although, rarely do I opt to grind at a high speed setting. Always use short bursts of grinding (stop and start). Grinding causes friction, friction creates heat, and this will be painful for your dog.

The Dremel has several sizes of grit bands. I choose to use the medium sized grit band for my shelties (120 grit, or 1/2 inch grit band). There are other grinders available, but I have not used them and can only talk to my experience with the Dremel.

I have used the guillotine-type cutters (once) on my shelties, but the experience was not plesurable for either of us! They would pull their paws away, and one even jumped up and insisted she was leaving immediately, if not sooner! I suspect they may have had painful experiences with this type of clipper, so I opted for the Dremel.

Safety Tips

If your dog has a longer coat, be careful, you don't want the fur to get caught in the spinning head! The fur gets wrapped around the grinding head and will be ripped out! Fur can be protected by putting your dog's paw in an old pair of pantyhose, push the nail through the hose, and then the nail can be filed safely.

Having another pair of hands available to hold the tail away from the drill, when filing the back paw nails is always welcome. This is especially true if your dog has a long or bushy tail. My shelties, of course, have full fox-like tails and tend to tuck them between their hind legs while I use the Dremel. To my embarrassment and shame, the tail fur, of my one sheltie, got caught in the spinning head of the Dremel, and, luckily, the tool stalled and stopped. But I had to cut the fur loose from the grid bit! Shame on me!

Pieces of the nail can fly off while you grind, and wearing eye protection is a good idea. And, if you have long hair, seriously consider pulling it up and out of the way! Just like your dog's fur, your hair can get, also, caught in the rotating head of the Dremel.

Quick-stop styptic powder and Vaseline should be kept on hand when doing your dog's nails. If you should grind too deep and cut into the quick, the styptic powder will stop the bleeding and subdue the pain. Rubbing some Vaseline on the nails after grinding, makes them shiny, so it's just a vanity thing.

Introducing your dog to the Dremel

As with most first impressions, introducing your dog to the Dremel is no different, and you get just one change to make a positive introduction.

Depending on a dog's temperament and sensitivity, the introduction may need to take place over several days or even weeks. Get your Dremel out and let your dog sniff it. Touch it to a paw without turning it on. Then turn it on and let your dog get used to the sound. Once this is going well, have your dog lay down on its side, and touch the Dremel to a nail. Treats and praise help in this endeavor.

The first time you actually use the Dremel, grind just one nail and end the session with a treat. Several tries, throughout several days, will get your dog used to the sound and feel of the Dremel.

Grinding Nails

Nails have three basic parts: (1) the hard outer shell, (2) the meaty area between the shell and the quick, and (3) the quick of the nail that will bleed if it's nicked or cut.

The outer shell is made up of old growth and has no feeling. The meaty area is new growth in transition from the quick to the outer shell. The meat not as hard as the shell, and is not living flesh, like the quick. The quick is alive with nerve endings and blood supply. I can't stress too much, that cutting into the quick will hurt your dog! The quick stems from the base of the nail, narrowing as it gets to the meaty and dead areas of the nail.

When grinding or clipping the nail, the outer dead shell is brought closer to the quick. The goal is to get and keep the quick as far back from the hard outer shell as possible.

Grind or Clip At The Correct Angle

Grind the nail tip perpendicular to the floor by holding the Dremel straight up and down. This way you can remove more of the hard nail and get closer to the quick without nicking the living tissue. Look at the position of your dog's paw and nail while they are standing. Then hold the Dremel perpendicular (using the floor and ceiling as your guide), and you'll see how to angle the cut.

When you grind, check the nail often! Begin by lightly grinding straight across the underside of the nail. This will remove any rough edges. Then begin to grind off some of the top of the nail (from nail tip to the top outside of the nail). Then begin to grind vertically (re-read about the correct angle, above)!

As you grind the tip of the nail, you will begin to see a two-textured arch, like an upside down “U.” This is the hard outer shell and the meaty area underneath. As you continue grinding, the hard shell will get smaller and the meaty area bigger. When you see a tiny white pin-point center in the meaty area, you are approaching the quick! At this point I stop filing the center area and clean up the nail edges.

I don't take my dog's nail as far back as some people do, and you won't find instructions about those techniques here.

Rules of the Nails!

  1. NEVER, ever press the nail into the grinding head or vice versa! Let the speed of the spinning grinder and the friction of the grit band do the sanding. Applying pressure will press on the quick, cause the nail to get hot, and give unnecessary pain to your dog.

  2. NEVER keep the Dremel in one spot longer than three seconds! And, never grind for more than three continuous seconds. Alternate between nails, and allow each one to cool before continuing to drill. Repeat the sequence until you have all the nails done on one paw. The goal is to shorten the nails, not give pain to your dog!

  3. ALWAYS support the toe and nail of the paw you're working on. Grinding creates vibration, and your dog will be more comfortable is you lessen this effect. Also, holding the toe gives you better control to prevent accidental grinding on the fur or paw pads.

  4. It's easier to maintain short nails, than to restore them back to short. Once nails are allowed to grow long, you may never get the nails back without “quicking” them (cutting into the quick). Personally, I think it's cruel to intentionally cut into the quick of your dog's nail and and hurt them. Your dog will lose its trust, and shy away from nail grooming. Groming nails every week or two can maintain proper nail length.

It's important to pay attention to your dog's nails, just as you do yours. Healthy maintained nails allow your dog to run, jump and walk without pain in the tiny joints of the paw.

Before using a grinding tool to shape your dog's nails, you can practice on a plastic item or a steak bone. Or, just get advice from your veterinarian.


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    • ivori profile imageAUTHOR

      Barbara Eisenberg 

      6 years ago from Titusville

      The top of the line Dremel should be fine, and most I've seen have low, medium, and high settings. So you could start out with the low setting until you get the feel for using it - as well as getting your dog used to the sound. In fact, I never use the high setting on my dog's nails.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Hi Jessie, Great job with the post. I have a question, I am looking after reading your post on buying a dremel but was looking at the top of the line 8200 as the link below shows, so I could use on my doggies nails and use it too in the house or hobbies. Do you think its too powerful for there nails? Obviously this comes down to the person doing it but taking that i am a super careful person.




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