Exciting February 2021 Update: I am launching a new, affordable, in-depth, at-your-own-pace “How To Dremel Your Dog’s Nails” online master course! Packed with expert instructions, videos, and more! If you’d like to be notified when the course is ready, subscribe here (just to get a single email when the course is ready):
Dremeling dog nails is a fantastic alternative to the traditional method of clipping. It is not surprising that many dogs react poorly to nail clipping. Even if you do not cut painfully into the quick, the motion of clipping still pinches the sensitive nerves inside of the nail. Dremeling is a great way to maintain healthy nails and to lessen stress for everyone involved. You don’t have to be a professional to do a good job, but, there are some important steps involved in properly Dremeling nails.
Choosing a Dremel
- Speed/RPM: Ideal dog nail grinding happens at between 10,000 – 15,000 RPM (a.ka. it’s speed -the sanding drum’s rotations per minute). Anything RPM lower than 10,000 RPM will be too slow, and anything higher than 15,000 is TOO HOT and will cause too much heat to generate as you Dremel. If you are new to Dremeling, it is ideal to start out at 10,000 RMP. If you have questions about models and RPM, please comment below, I am happy to help!
- Corded, or Cordless? I prefer cordless. Cordless is less tricky for you to maneuver, and much less disruptive to the dog. Just remember to re-charge your cordless Dremel battery about once every 2 weeks.
- Cheapest Dog Nail Dremel: Dremel’s Pet Model. This cordless model has two speeds to chose from: 6,500 or 14,000 RPM. The slow speed is under 10,000, which is too slow for dog nail Dremeling, making the faster speed it’s only useful speed. Ideal nail Dremeling happens between 10,000-15,000 RPM, making this model’s speed of 14,000 on the faster end of that spectrum. Please note if you are a tentative beginner, this speed can be a little fast. I have gone through a few of these for travel purposes because they are cheap and I wouldn’t mind if I lost one. They don’t have the best battery life and they die after about 2 years in my experience. These do the job just fine, but if you want to save money over time, the below models will last longer (the below models cost around 2.5x the cost of the pet model).
- Favorite Dog Nail Dremel: Dremel 8050 Micro. This Dremel has two perfect settings for dog nails: “10” (10,000 RPM) or 15 (15,000 RPM). “10” is good when you are starting out; go to “15” if you want a little more (safe) speed. I highly recommend the Dremel 8050 Micro cordless model for both newbies and seasoned dog nail Dremelers! This model is ridiculously light weighing in at a ounce lighter than the cheaper model, and boasts ideal speed settings. For dog nail purposes, it offers two perfect speed settings: 10,000 and 15,000. 10,000 is perfect when you are staring out or even as a pro if you want a nice speed, and 15,000 is good when you have a lot to trim or just experienced. If you are thinking about Dremeling your dog’s nails, I suggest spending a bit more and starting with this model or the one listed next. This model wins for being light over the next one listed, so this one is my personal favorite pick for newbies. In my experience this model is extremely durable.
- Most Adjustable Dog Nail Dremel: Dremel 8220. This cordless model is one of the only ones that has an actual “sliding scale” of speed (5,000-35,000 RPM), with minute adjustments available to your exact liking. This means if you are a nervous Dremeler at first, you can slide the speed to your comfort level! Here is a picture of where to hover on this model for Dremeling dog nails. I started out with this Dremel and loved it. It is heavier than the other two listed above, but the adjustability in speed is unparalleled. In my experience this model is extremely durable! I sold mine to a friend who is a professional dog groomer.
- Sanding Bands, 60 Grit, Dremel product #408 (1/2″ diameter): This is the drum you will use to shorten the nails. It is a courser grit. Replace once a month.
- Sanding Bands, 120 Grit, Dremel product #432 (1/2″ diameter): This is the drum you will use to smooth out the nails after shortening them with the courser grit first. These are essential for going over each nail one last time to smooth them out. No more scratched flesh or couches from dog nails! Replace once every month – 2 months.
- Dremel Ez-Drum Mandrel, Dremel product #EZ407SA. This inexpensive part makes switching between the two types of sanding bands a breeze. This tool (shown below) allows you to swap out sanding bands instantly. It doesn’t come with the Dremel kit, but almost all hardware stores carry it in the rotary tool / Dremel section.
- Safety Glasses, to keep dust out of your eyes.
- Dust mask or respirator, if you have asthma and/or are sensitive to dust.
- If you are nervous about grinding your dog’s nails down too much, a focused headlamp will be an invaluable tool for Dremeling — and for walking your dog at night! My all-time favorite is the Petzl headlamp.
Miles is a dog that absolutely cannot stand having his nails clipped. I cannot emphasize how passionately he used to fear nail clipping! No amount of food or training could convince him to tolerate nail clipping. It was terrible. With training, however, he is completely content to relax while I Dremel his nails. This is because I introduced the tool slowly and carefully, and because I use it properly.
Because you will be using this tool once or twice a week for the rest of your dog’s life, it is critical for both you and your dog that there is no fear or force involved. For many dogs, the whirring sound of the Dremel can be suspicious at first, and understandably so! If you train your dog that the Dremel isn’t a scary thing long before you use it on their nails, there is a much greater chance it will be a tool they won’t mind for life. Please work with a experienced trainer who uses “force-free” methods if you are unsure of how to approach this task — update — see the beginning of this post!!!
You can practice putting your dog in “Dremeling” position for short periods of time while giving them treats before you introduce the Dremel. In combination with Dremel training, your dog will realize that the sound and vibration of the tool, along with this position, are routine, and not at all scary.
For a medium or small dog, I recommend that you place the dog belly up on your lap, or on their side on a comfy dog bed. A large dog can be laid on his or her side on the floor in front of you, ideally on the couch or on a dog bed.
Turn your Dremel on, and set it to to between 10,000 and 15,000 RPM (again, if you are unsure what this means, comment below). Hold up one paw, carefully push any fur away, then select a nail, With your free hand, hold fur away from the nail. While supporting the nail between your fingers, touch the sander against the nail for 1-2 seconds, and then retreat. Never leave the sander touching a single spot on a nail for more than two seconds, and never apply pressure. The goal is to smooth little sections off, while never putting enough friction on the nail to generate any heat. That is why using a Dremel that has variable speeds is very handy for the safety and comfort of the dog, because the slower the speed, the longer it takes to build friction, and the more control you have over ensuring the process never creates any heat, or sands the nail down too fast. As long as you never put pressure, and you gently and briefly smooth the sander along the nail, and never remain in one spot more than a second or two, you will do just fine. The best way to Dremel nails is to focus on one paw at a time, rotating between all of its toes.
When to Stop Dremeling
Over time you will learn exactly when to stop sanding. A sure indicator of when to stop is when you begin to see a little white dot in the center of the tip of the nail. Also, the tip of the nail will start seeming a bit softer – and less dry and flaky. That is because you are entering the “living” part of the nail. That little white dot is the beginning of the quick. The first time, don’t do too much. You can always try again in a few days. If you don’t see a little white dot, but you get too close to the quick, your dog will lightly flinch. Stop sanding if your dog shows sensitivity, as this is an even clearer indication that the nail is finished.
Finishing The Nails
When you are finished Dremeling all of your dog’s nails (bottom left), the final two steps are:
- Smooth the nails with your 120 grit sanding band: Swap out your coarse 60 grit sanding drum for your 120 grit sanding band (see supplies list at the start of the article for details). Then quickly smooth the undersides and ends of the nails. This will remove any flaky bits and keep the nails from cracking.
- Oil the nails: The final step is to rub a thin layer of olive or coconut oil over each nail. Doing this seals the nail. Applying a little bit of olive oil prevents the nail from cracking, makes it very smooth, and lastly prevents the nails from absorbing nasty stuff outside. If you Dremel properly and moisturize the nails afterwards, you also won’t have to worry about your dog’s nails leaving marks or scratches anywhere!
How Often You Should Dremel
Over time, not trimming dog nails often enough can lead to all sorts of health problems. Every single part of your dog’s body depends on, and is affected by his feet. Nails that aren’t clipped often enough will to grow longer quicks over time. This means, if your dog goes for periods where his nails are on the medium/longer side, the live part of the nail will also longer, and that is the part that you cannot cut. Not regularly trimming your dog’s nails leads to them being longer, long term.
For most dogs, Dremeling once a week is a good schedule of how often to trim. If you can manage it, I like to Dremel twice a week.
How often you Dremel really depends on how fast your dog’s nails grow, and how often she is running around on rough surfaces, which also can aid in wearing down the nails. For this reason, avoid Dremeling your dog’s nails right before strenuous activity. The soft part of the nail can be a bit delicate for the first few hours after Dremeling.
Additionally, say you’ve just discovered Dremeling, and your dog has a longer quick area than he should. I have found that if you Dremel on a schedule of around every 3-4 days, you can actually get the quick to retreat over time. With this sort of frequent trimming, you will need to be diligent and to trim every 3-4 days on a strict schedule. Once the nails have reached the desired length, you can go back to regular maintenance 1-2x weekly trimming.
Advantages of Dremeling Dog Nails
One great advantage of Dremeling your dog’s nails is that if you introduce the process slowly and positively, the likelihood that your dog won’t mind it is much greater than the alternative of nail clipping. I know this because my own dog Miles is extremely sensitive, and couldn’t have his nails clipped, and he is now very accepting of having his nails Dremeled (see below video).
If you Dremel using the instructions here, it is great because it is:
- Not painful for the dog
- Very difficult to cause your dog’s nails to bleed
- Easier to train the dog to relax than other nail trimming methods
- The one method that results in smooth nails that won’t crack of scratch people, floors, or furniture
Being able to trim your dog’s nails yourself doesn’t just save a huge amount of time and money, it will also lead to keeping your dog’s nails a healthy length and ensure that your dog will not be terrified or in pain.
- Stay between 10,000 and 15,000 RPM for the speed of your Dremel.
- Touch the Dremel to the nail to sand for 1-2 seconds, retreat, touch again, repeat.
- Never put pressure on the nail when sanding.
- Never leave the sander on the nail for more than 1-2 seconds at a time.
- After trimming the nails with your 60 grit sanding band, swap it out for your finer 120 grit sanding band, and smooth the undersides and ends of the nails to finish them.
- After Dremeling your dog’s nails, finish them by rubbing olive or coconut oil over the nails to seal them and prevent flaking/cracking.
- Dremel on a schedule to maintain healthy nails (depending on the dog, that will be once a week or twice a week).