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Can You Cut Dog Nails With Human Nail Clippers?

can you cut dog nails with human nail clippers

Can you cut dog nails with human clippers if you don’t have proper dog nail trimmers handy? Of course, keeping our pet’s claws in check is part of basic dog grooming and maintenance. But sometimes we misplace our trusty dog nail clippers or perhaps our dog has developed a bit of a phobia of them.

In these cases, we may be looking around for something around the house for something we can use instead. Our own nail clipper, nail file, scissor, or even a wire cutter may seem like a solution for a dog’s overgrown nails. The trouble is that clipping a dog nail is really a tricky business.

So let’s look at the options and discuss what’s safe for your dog.

Can You Cut Dog Nails With Human Nail Clippers?

No, human nail clippers are not suitable to clip your dog’s claws. Simply, our clippers are designed for flat nails not much thicker than a few sheets of paper. Meanwhile, a dog claw is thick, hard, curved, and cone-shaped.

Dog nail clippers are properly shaped for the curve of a dog’s claws and strong enough for a quick, clean cut. But our clippers won’t fit over most dogs’ nails, and if they do, they can crack and damage the nail due to being the wrong shape.

They may also apply painful pressure to the “quick” or the hub of nerves and blood vessels inside the claw.

But what could happen if you use human clippers anyway?

Risks of Using Human Nail Clippers On Your Dog

For a large dog, human nail clippers simply won’t be effective since it will be impossible to fit much of the nail in our clippers. You may be able to trim little edges off, but this makes for an uneven surface and shape that can lead to jagged edges and cracking.

You want to protect the integrity of a dog’s natural shape, and keep the surface whole and smooth. Using the wrong clipper can cause cracks, especially in older dogs with brittle nails. Dogs with immune problems including allergies, diabetes, and endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism are also at risk of nail problems.

Even if you don’t damage the quick, nail damage and trauma is the leading cause of infections. This can include protozoal or fungal infections, but in rare cases, they can contract a bacterial infection so bad, your vet may need to amputate a toe.

And yes, overzealous, or improper nail trimming can lead to these infections. You can read more about this in “why is my dog’s nail turning black?“.

Even if you have a small dog and you can fit a human clipper over their nail, the shape of the clipper will squeeze the quick in a way that specialized dog guillotine clippers are designed not to.

The pressure from two flat surfaces will be far more painful for the sensitive quick inside the nail, and just make nail trimming a far more unpleasant experience for your dog than it needs to be.

Can I File My Dog’s Nails With A Human File?

Technically, dog nail trimming can be done with a human nail file, but the larger or harder your dog’s claws are, the less effective it’s going to be. In theory, a nail file or an emery board are fine to smooth out and polish a rough patch if you are giving your dog a detailed manicure.

It’s not unknown for pet parents of prize-winning Bichon Frise to buff their nails with a human nail kit for the perfect canine pedicure.

Human nail files may also be okay for a young puppy with soft nails, or toy breeds with tiny nails. If you use it, make sure to only clip the very tip of the nail, and don’t get close to the quick.

In the event, that nail trims do lead to cutting the quick, be sure to have styptic powder ready to stop the bleeding and disinfect the nail. Also, see our article on how soon is okay to walk a dog after cutting the quick.

The trouble with tools like nail files is that most dogs do not like their paws and nails being handled too long. So, unless you have an exceptionally patient and well-trained dog, a human nail file is simply going to take too long to avoid a wrestling match trying to keep your pup still.

Another aspect is that the grit on a nail file or emery board is made for the softer human nail, not the canine claw. For most dogs, you’ll wear out the grit on the file before you wear down the claw.

You may have some luck using an electric nail file. But in that case, it’s better to invest in hardier nail grinders. It can take a bit longer to get a dog used to these though, because of the mechanical whirring and slight vibration.

If you want to know exactly how to use a grinder or clipper to trim nails at home, especially those tricky black nails, you can see our complete guide to cutting a dog’s nails at home.

How To Cut Dog Nails Without Clippers?

The best way to keep your dog’s nails trimmed without clippers is to walk and exercise them regularly. A professional groomer knows if you walk your dog or not based on the condition of their nails. Dogs who go for a long daily walk or run on hard ground, such as asphalt, naturally wear their nails down to a safe length.

Of course, this will not eliminate the need to care for your dog’s paws and nails. You will still need a clipper shaped in the guillotine style for the dew claw. You can also use dog grinders to wear down and polish any uneven bits since cracks and damage can lead to infection.

Even with tons of walking, they may still have a few long nails that need trimming as not all the nails may reach the ground evenly.

In addition, older dogs, or dogs with a health condition, may not be able to exercise enough to wear down their nails naturally. You can use a human file for jagged bits, or for smaller dogs who are happy to let you work on their paws for an extended period.

Is It Better To Cut Or Grind Dog Nails?

Cutting a dog’s nails with the correctly-sized dog nail cutter is much quicker and more efficient than grinding. It also avoids the problems of dogs who don’t like the feeling of a grinder against their nail. If you simply want to give your dog’s nails a quick cut, using a clipper is best, as it is quick and efficient.

The PawSafe trimmer has the added benefit of a LED light that can shine through your dog’s nail to help see the quick.

On the other hand, while it may take longer, a nail grinder smooths away the nail, avoiding splintering or cracks, and making it easier to avoid the quick. It leaves your dog with a more polished nail surface. A grinder is a good option if you want a perfect finish on your dog’s paws or to handle problem areas on the nail.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can You Cut Dog Nails With Scissors?

Scissors are not safe to cut a dog’s claws. Absolutely never use these. The issue is that normal household scissors are both the wrong shape, and typically too blunt to make a smooth cut. Scissors:

  • easily slip from the point you were trying to cut, potentially hurting your dog.
  • Are too weak (and blunt), meaning they squeeze painfully squeeze the nail before cutting.
  • typically damage the nail by splintering or cracking it.

Can You Cut Dog Nails With Wire Cutters?

Wire cutters are not Ideal for trimming your dog’s nails. the problem is the shape. Wire-cutters are flat-edged without the hollow in the guillotine-style dog clippers. This shape puts unnatural pressure on the claw, encouraging breaking and cracks in the keratin.

Some owners swear by wirecutters because they do not make the clicking noise that dogs can become afraid of. They are also built-for heavy-duty cutting, so they can cut the toughest nail of the largest mastiff. However, it is better to spend time desensitizing your dog to clicking noises, than risk a cut that damages the nail and potentially leads to infection.

Final Thoughts

If you’re wondering how to cut dog nails with nail clippers, the answer is don’t. Our nail clippers are just not built for the job and will either be ineffective or may damage the structure of the nail. Nail damage can lead to infections, or bruising in the nail bed.

The best dog nail clippers are built to accommodate the natural shape of a dog’s claws and are also strong enough to clip a nail swiftly. This makes the process quick and easy and prevents causing your dog undue stress. Alternatively, you can try an electric nail grinder, if your dog is comfortable with the sensation.

Scissors are dangerous and a definite no-no. Wirecutters are best avoided. Nail files can work, but will take much longer. They can be ineffective on large, hard nails.


Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.

Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

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