How to Sedate a Dog for Nail Clipping (Tips & meds to calm her down)

Last Updated: April 12, 2023

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Trimming your pup's nail's is an important, yet often overlooked grooming task. While overgrown nails might seem like a benign issue, they can get out of hand pretty quickly! It's not just a cosmetic concern. Unclipped nails can cause injury, irritation, and eventual infection. Plus, the longer you wait to trim those nails, the more difficult the task becomes!

For many dogs, nail-clipping is nothing more than a minor annoyance. They don't necessarily like it, but they get used to it. For some dogs, however, it's a terrifying experience they fight tooth and nail to avoid!

That's where sedation comes in.

Dog that needs to be sedated for nail clipping

It's not ideal, but some canine companions need sedation and calming products to sit through a nail trimming session. Sedatives are typically reserved for extreme cases of anxiety and aggression.

Many rescue dogs or those that have had bad experiences in the past have a hard time overcoming their fears, making sedation a necessity.

If you want to learn how to sedate a dog for nail clipping, here is some important information you need to know.

Why Nail Clipping is Important

It's not uncommon to see dogs walking around with their nails dragging on the ground. Many owners neglect this important grooming task. It's just nails, right? What harm could it do?

Well, overgrown nails can cause a litany of problems in the future. You see, canine nails grow in a curved pattern. If left untouched, the nails will eventually circle back around and dig into the footpad.

Not only does this cause immense pain for your pooch, but it can also increase the likelihood of injury. All it takes is one knick to break the nail. This could lead to sharp pain, irritation, and eventual infection. Nail infections are particularly nasty. The infection could spread to the toe bone. In severe cases, dogs may require amputation of the toe entirely!

That's not all.

When you neglect to cut your dog's nails, the blood vessels and nerves will elongate, too. Have you ever heard of someone cutting their dog's "quick?" Chances are, it was a traumatizing experience for both dog and owner!

The "quick" which is the pinkish bundle of blood vessels and nerves under the nail, is highly sensitive. When cut, it's difficult to stop the bleeding. Furthermore, cut quicks are prone to serious infection.

The "quick" can overtake long nails and require careful intervention to shorten again. Once it gets long, it's impossible to shorten your dog's nails in one session.

The only way to prevent it from growing longer is to keep your pup's nails short. Ideally, they should be above the bottom of your dog's foot. If you hear clacking when your pooch walks, they're already too long!

Is Sedation Really Necessary?

sedated dog cartoon

In some cases, sedation is an absolute necessity. That said, it's not as common as many people think.

Vets will often recommend sedation is extreme cases where the dog poses a threat to itself and the groomer.

Dogs that are poorly trained and poorly socialized will often have trouble with nail trimming. The same can be said about dogs who might have had rough experiences in the past. If the dog's "quick" was cut previously, that will often have an effect on dogs, too.

That doesn't mean that you're a bad pet parent! Many rescue dogs do through tough situations that are hard to overcome. Teaching your dog to stay calm during the nail trimming process takes time. But in the meantime, your pup needs to have their nails cut somehow!

Dogs can become overly aggressive and violent if they do not like being touched. When you add loud trimmers or sharp tools into the mix, it's a recipe for disaster. Whoever is cutting their nails is at risk for bites or full-on attacks. Meanwhile, your dog could injure themselves trying to get away.

This is when veterinarians will recommend sedation. Oftentimes, it's the only solution.

How to Sedate a Dog for Nail Clipping

There are several methods to sedate and calm a dog. You could utilize strong prescription drugs, over-the-counter products, and all-natural solutions.

The right choice for you will depend on your dog's aversion to the process. Prescription sedatives should only be used in severe cases of anxiety or violence.

An Important Note

You should never rely on sedation alone to calm your dog down. It's supposed to be a last-ditch solution when all other methods fail.

As an owner, you must work hard to get your dog comfortable with the process.

Furthermore, true sedation is not something you should attempt on your own. If done incorrectly, you can cause irreparable harm to your dog. It's a dangerous and complicated procedure.

Always speak to your vet before using any of the following sedative products. Whether it's prescription-strength or all-natural, you need to consult with your vet to make sure that it's the right choice for your dog.

Only a qualified vet can determine the best course of action for your dog. The last thing you want to do is injure or kill your dog over their nails. In extreme cases, you can have your vet clip their nails. They have the tools and know-how to get it done safely.

Now that we have that out of the way, let's look at some common ways to sedate a dog for nail clipping.

Sedation with Prescription Drugs

True sedatives are only available as a prescription drug, so you must go to your vet for this option. There are several drugs that can induce sleep or put your dog in an extreme state of calm.


Diazepam is the generic name for Valium. This is a controlled substance that's heavily regulated. Technically, it's not FDA-approved for canine use. However, veterinarians are qualified to prescribe it. It's used for many issues, including stress.

It may be a good choice for extremely anxious dogs. But as always, consult with your vet. They're the only ones that can administer it.

There are some negative aspects of Diazepam. For one, it's incredibly powerful and doesn't interact well with some other drugs. If your dog is already on medications, you run the risk of unwanted side effects.

Secondly, Diazepam is habit-forming. That's right: dogs can become addicted to Valium just like humans! There are special techniques veterinarians will use to wane dogs off of the drug or prevent addiction-like symptoms from occurring in the first place.


Typically used to calm dogs down before and after a surgical procedure, Acepromazine is another strong drug that should only be administered by a professional.

It's sometimes used to help dogs with anxiety, making it a suitable option for nail clipping.

Like Diazepam, Acepromazine has some potential side-effects. It could cause allergic reactions in some dogs. It might also have negative interactions with some medications. The good news is that it's not as addictive as Diazepam.

Over-the-Counter Options

Over-the-counter drugs are ones that you can get at your local pet store or pharmacy. Generally considered to be a bit safer than prescription drugs, they're easier on your dog and have a lower risk of negative side effects.

That said, just because they're readily available doesn't mean that you should just give them to your dog willy nilly! We can't stress this enough: always consult your vet before you provide drugs of any kind.


waggedy Calm Stress & Anxiety Relief Melatonin Dog Supplement, 60 Count

Melatonin is more of a supplement than a drug. It's frequently used with veterinary supervision for dogs that have anxiety or trouble sleeping.

The unique thing about melatonin is that it naturally occurs in the body. In supplement form, the hormone is made synthetically. But, it offers many of the same benefits as the melatonin in your pup's body.

Melatonin isn't going to work for all dogs. It's known to have some adverse reactions to other prescription drugs. Dogs that are pregnant and young puppies should avoid it as well.

You can get melatonin from a wide variety of sources. Many dog-focused companies produce melatonin treats, making it easy to give your dog the proper dosage. But of course, talk with your vet first.


Benadryl for dogs

Benadryl is an antihistamine that works wonders for allergies. Treating allergic reactions is the drug's main job. But, sedation is a positive side effect.

There are some negative side effects that you have to be wary of. Benadryl can cause high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and even glaucoma.

Make sure that you check with your vet to see if it's safe for your dog. You can also ask about proper dosing to ensure that your pup isn't taking too much.

Natural Alternatives to Sedation

Ideally, you would avoid drug-based sedation altogether. If your dog is fussy about getting their nails cut but don't resort to extreme behaviors to avoid it, natural products may work better.

These products are much safer for you to use. They come with fewer potential side-effects.

They will not fully sedate your dog. Rather, they provide a calming effect that will make the process more manageable.

Casein Supplements

Vetoquinol Zylkene Behavior Support Capsules Small Dog & Cat Supplement

Casein supplements are a great alternative to drug-based products. They contain natural proteins found in canine milk. You can find many supplements on the market that go under different brand names. Just make sure that the main active ingredient is Casein.

The supplement does wonders for balancing your dog's behavior. It reduces anxiety, makes them calm, and helps avoid any extreme emotions.


Jackson Galaxy Solutions Stress Stopper Pet Solution

Who doesn't love a bit of aromatherapy? Essential oils are pretty popular these days for relaxation in humans. Many of those oils will provide the same benefits to your dog.

Lavender oil, in particular, is quite effective. The scent can calm your dog and help them settle down when it's time to clip their nails. Just rub a bit on the back of their neck. That should do the trick!


Herbsmith Herbal Blends Calm Shen Tablets Dog & Cat Supplement

You can find a ton of herbal supplements, liquid drops, or sprays on the market. Some herbs, such as Dorwest and Scullcap, are proven to tone down nervous behavior.

They can put a stop to over-excited behavior and reduce anxiety levels. Usually, these herbs are added to foods. Depending on the form they come in, you might provide them as a treat or mix it in with their daily meal.

Whatever the case may be, get the all-clear from your vet and follow the directions on the packaging.

Pheromone Calming Sprays

Finally, you can try pheromone sprays. Available at most pet stores, these sprays contain the same types of pheromones that canines mother produce to help puppies.

It's a comforting pheromone that can help your dog feel safe.

Tips for Calming Your Dog Before Clipping

Resorting to drugs should be the last resort. You're going to have to clip your pup's nails throughout their entire lives. So, you must do your part to teach your dog that the grooming task is no big deal!

This can take some time, but it's well worth the work. The goal here is to get your dog so comfortable with the process that they will just sit still and provide their paw.

Here are some tips to help you get to that point.

Tire Them Out

Here's an old trick that can make a huge difference. Before you trim your pup's nails, go for a long and vigorous run! Take some time to play with your dog and wear them out.

If they're tired, they'll be less inclined to put up resistance.

This might seem like a bit of a trickster way to get the job done, but it's highly effective. When your dog is tired, they have no choice but to lay there. When you finish the job without any issues, it shows them that there was nothing to be scared of all along.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is always a must. You can time and time again to force your dog to sit still. But you're not going to get anywhere unless you make the grooming process a positive experience.

Never yell at your dog. Take a deep breath, count to ten, and do whatever it takes to stay calm. The last thing you want to do is create some sort of negative attachment to nail-clipping. That will only make things worse!

Talk to your dog calmly. When you finish a nail, praise them for being good! After you're finished, provide plenty of love and some tasty treats to reward them for their bravery.

Before you know it, your dog will have no issues.

Trim Their Nails Frequently

If you only trim your dog's nails every couple of months, getting them comfortable is going to take years! You should trim your dog's nails every couple of weeks.

Frequent trimmings provide more exposure and more opportunities for them to conquer their fears. Plus, it ensures that the nails stay in good shape. With frequent cuttings, the "quick" will stay short, which minimizes the risk of pain and irritation.

In between clippings, consider walking your dog on a hard and rough surface. A concrete driveway or sidewalk works well! The rough ground will naturally file the nails down, leaving less work for you to do during the trimming. As a result, you get the job done quickly and efficiently.

Use the Appropriate Tools

Last, but certainly not least, you need to use the right tools! Cheap tools are only going to pinch the nail and cause harm.

Invest in a high-quality pair of clippers that are sharp. You can also use a grinder for more precision. Grinders are great for rounding off the nails. They also avoid that sudden cut, which might be more comfortable for your dog.

Whatever you use, give your dog some time to get comfortable with it. Grinders can get loud, which could startle your dog even more. Let your dog investigate the item before you jump right in and start clipping.


Sedating your dog to clip their nails is effective. But, you should always try natural alternatives and training first. If your dog is having problems sitting still, talk to your vet. They can determine if sedation is the right choice for you.

Also read: Tips and Meds to Calm your Dog Down


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About the author 


Steve is a writer with over 10 years of experience in dog training and nutritiion.

His goal is to educate dog owners about the ins and outs of canine behavior as well as keeping up with the latest scientific research in the field.