Of all of the jobs we stopped outsourcing since the coronavirus pandemic hit, cutting our dog's nails just might be the most stressful. After all, it’s the rare pup that eagerly responds to a claw clip the way we humans might enjoy a relaxing pedicure. And because it requires broaching their tender paws with blades, it makes having a scared and squirmy subject all the more fraught.
That’s why procuring the right tool for the job is an absolute necessity—whether that means a super-sharp set of scissors, smooth, efficient guillotine clippers, or a gentle, low-intimidation dog nail grinder, like a Dremel.
Plier-type scissors are the most traditional style. And if that’s the variety you choose, you can’t do better than the ultra-durable Epica Professional Nail Clipper(available at Amazon). After extensive testing to find the best dog nail clippers, we found it cleanly cuts through even the thickest nails in an instant. And a clearly delineated safety guard ensures you don’t nick your dog’s quick—the delicate cluster of nerves and blood vessels, that appears as a dark circle just beyond where the pure, nerve-free nail ends.
But it’s not the only excellent option on the market.
Here are the best dog nail clippers we tested, ranked in order:
Epica Professional Pet Nail Clipper
Resco Original Guillotine Nail Clippers
URPower Rechargeable Pet Nail Grinder
Boshel Dog Nail Clippers
Dremel 7300-PT Nail Grinder Kit
Safari 770045 Professional Nail Trimmer
GoPets Nail Clippers
Millers Forge Professional Nail Clip
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The king of clippers, these simple scissors don’t look much different compared to similar clippers, but this model manages to surpass them across the board. Their main strength is, well, strength. While most of our other contenders easily snipped the 1/8-inch dowel we used for testing, this one sluiced through the 1/4-inch with ease. That’s why it’s also long been our personal preferred pick for our own dog, whose long, black nails are practically impenetrable. The semi-circular blades surround the nail, allowing you to see precisely where you’re cutting, and a quick guard prevents you from going too far or deep.
The rubber coated handles are comfortable to hold and squeeze, an easy to manipulate safety lock keeps them closed when not in use, and the set comes with a lifetime warranty. Not too shabby for a clipper that only costs $10.
The actual inventor of the guillotine-style clipper, U.S.-based Resco has been in business since 1937. They’ve remained an industry leader since then (often used by vets and groomers), and If any clipper could woo us from our long-term relationship with Epica, it’s this one.
It cuts so fast and cleanly, our pup barely registered the pressure, making what could otherwise be a stressful, drawn-out job a two-minute snap. Available in multiple sizes (there’s even a specialized option for tiny pets like ferrets and lizards), the clipper is properly proportioned for any job.
A powder coat offers a no-slip grip and added comfort. Replacement blades are available, and Resco also offers a lifetime warranty—no wonder the American company has stood the test of time.
Available in multiple sizes
Downward pressure may be uncomfortable for some dogs
I’m Sarah Zorn, and I’ve reviewed dog products, developed pet-friendly recipes, and written animal rescue stories for outlets like Rachael Ray Every Day and Animal Fair magazine for over a decade. This means that my 10-year-old hound mix, Rowdy, is truly living his best life, as official house recipe taster and product tester. That said, he’s a much happier customer when mom is testing food, than testing nail clippers.
To make sure we did some heavy-duty testing without subjecting our own pup to constant nail clips, we used each clipper to cut 20 pieces of both 1/8- and 1/4-inch dowels, assessing how comfortable the clippers were to hold, and how much effort it took to make the cuts.
We analyzed the build quality, if there were any special features (especially safety features), and how useful they were, as well as evaluated the overall experience.
Finally, we took our top picks and used them to cut our own dogs nails before determining the winners.
What To Know About Buying Dog Nail Clippers
There are several different types of dog nail trimmers we evaluated for this guide.
Scissors: The most common kind of cutter, these plier-style tools have steel blades that snip off bits of the nail when the handle is squeezed. Ideally, they also contain a quick stop guard, to keep you from slicing into a nerve.
Grinders: This electric option uses a rotating, emery board-esque wheel, as opposed to a blade, to gradually grind bits of nail off.
Guillotines: Like the name suggests, these clippers feature a hole that the nail fits through. The handle is squeezed to descend a blade that chops the nail off vertically, as opposed to horizontally.
Since this is a cutting tool, it goes without saying that the blade should be high-quality stainless steel, resistant to dulling, bacteria, and rust. And while special features are nice (such as emery boards tucked into the handle!) safety is of utmost importance. The biggest danger to your dog is accidentally cutting into the nail's quick, so make sure the clipper has a quick guard, as a failsafe against overcutting.
What Type of Clipper is Best for My Dog?
The most important thing dog owners can do when selecting the right clipper is to make sure it's the right size for the dog; small clippers won’t stand up to the density of a large dog’s nails, while a large clipper may be clumsy and aggressive against the tender nails of small or medium-sized dogs.
Classic scissors can be found in both small and large sizes, and are almost always equipped with quick guards, but if your pet jerks their paw when you’re trying to cut, it could definitely provoke accidentally cutting too much of the nail (or worse!).
A grinder offers a gentle, less abrupt way to both shorten and buff your pet’s nails, although you may have to do some work to acclimate them to the buzzing sound.
And a guillotine is quite effective on small dogs or even cats, although animals may be uncomfortable with the rough downward pressure.
How Do I Use Nail Clippers?
There are definitely wrong and right ways to clip. If used incorrectly, there’s a chance you can inflict unintentional damage on your dog. Since all clippers work differently, it goes without saying that you should carefully read and follow all instructions that come with your model’s manual. Also, consulting with a professional first — such as a vet or groomer — to ensure best practices certainly doesn’t hurt. That said, the general process essentially goes like this:
For All Clippers: Help the dog into a position that they’re most relaxed and comfortable in, where you can easily access their paws without them wriggling (this is often on their side). If possible, it’s best to have two people on hand when trimming your pet's nails; one to do the actual clipping, and one to hold their attention (such as distracting them with treats), and keep their body still and contained.
Locate the quick of your dog’s nail. This is much easier to see on white nails instead of black. Either way, this is the lighter colored circle that appears in the nail, partway down the nail bed. It is a bundle of nerves and vessels, and will bleed and cause pain if you nick it, so avoid this at all costs. Many clippers come with quick stop guards, but it’s best to just clip tiny bits of nail at a time, to avoid going too far. You’ll want to trim to within approximately 2 millimeters of the quick. If you nick the quick and it bleeds, staunch it quickly with styptic powder.
Don’t forget to trim your dog’s dew claws if they have them. It’s the fifth long nails on the inside of the paws, attached by loose skin. Also trim the claws on all four paws, but know that the nails on the front paws are generally longer (and require more cutting) than the claws in the back.
Scissors: Grasp the paw firmly in your non-clipping hand, without twisting any part of the dog’s body in an uncomfortable/unsustainable way. Making sure the toe you’re working on is well separated from the others, place your scissors at a right angle to the toenail. Snip away bits of the nail at a time, with the goal of eventually cutting back as much of the nail as you can before coming within two millimeters of the quick.
Grinders: Since these are pretty difficult to use incorrectly (you just press the wheel to the nail to take off bits at a time), the most important step is to acclimate your dog to the sound and sensation first. With the power off, lightly touch the tool to their nails. Then turn the power on and give their paws a massage (with your hands, instead of the tool). The aim is to get them to equate the sound with a non-threatening experience.
Guillotine: Place the claw inside the stationary ring, holding the clipper perpendicular to the nail. If you hold it parallel, the nail may shatter or splinter. Face the cutting blade towards you, not the dog, which will help keep it from slicing too far towards the quick. Squeeze the trimmer handle to extract the blade.
Other Dog Nail Clippers We Tested
Urpower Rechargeable Pet Nail Grinder
Using oscillating emery boards to gently grind instead of cut, and emitting little more than a gentle buzzing sound (which is much better than the Dremels that can sound like jackhammers), the URPower is a great option for dogs that are skittish about manicures. In fact, our boy stayed totally calm during use, instead of jerking his paw away — another point in the safety column, as it’s that kind of action that often leads to accidents.
That said, we’d mostly recommend this for small, tender-nailed dogs, or for refining or filing the nails edge after cutting with a more efficient tool.
In the end, though, the URPower was no match for our dog’s quadrant of impressive, solid claws.
This highly established power tool company was the first to repurpose their signature item for cutting dog’s nails. And they clearly take that task every bit as seriously as they do heavy duty construction projects.
This kit is no joke. It comes with a variety of sanding drums, bands, and accessories, for swapping in and out for an optimized and effective claw-cutting experience. Which is to say, the grinder isn’t exactly usable straight out of the box. There’s some potentially confusing set-up involved, and you need to charge it for 2.5 hours first.
It’s also quite bulky—which can be uncomfortable for the owner when it comes to extended use—and very loud; so it’s possible your dog could balk at the sound.
Available in small/medium and medium/large sizes, the Safari can accommodate a range of nail types, and the stainless-steel double blades seem reasonably sharp and durable for such an affordable cutter.
However, our hands quickly cramped during use, and we found the various locking mechanisms difficult to maneuver.
GoPets Nail Clippers: While we didn’t actively dislike anything about these traditional scissors, we felt the performance simply didn’t fit the price (around $30, three times the cost of our top pick).
If you decide to purchase these, make sure to select the right size for the job. The small didn’t accommodate our ¼-inch dowels.
Sarah Zorn is a food writer, cookbook author, and product tester for Reviewed, Wirecutter and the Food Network. She regularly contributes to outlets such as Saveur, Esquire, and Civil Eats, and has very much passed her food obsessions down, as her beloved rescue hound, Rowdy, regularly deglazes his kibble bowl.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.