Just like our fingernails and toenails, our dogs’ nails grow constantly. Our pets tend to spend a lot of time indoors – compared to their wild ancestors whose nails will have worn down naturally when running, hunting etc. Walking your dog on roads and pavements, rather than softer surfaces like grass or sand, may help to wear them down a little, but this may not be enough to keep them as short as they should be. 

Therefore your dog’s nails need trimming to prevent them becoming too long. If they get too long and reach the ground, this can be quite painful for your dog. It results in a backwards force or pressure going back into the nail bed. This can make it uncomfortable and difficult for your dog to walk, causing a change in gait and potential joint problems.

What happens if they aren’t trimmed?

If allowed to get too long, nails can start to curl back around on themselves. They can even penetrate the footpads on the underside of the feet. Long nails are also more prone to breaking or getting caught in things, causing the outer nail casing to rip. This is very painful, and will require veterinary attention. In some cases, this will involve your dog needing sedation to allow the broken nail case to be removed, and for the foot to be cleaned and bandaged. They will often need a treatment course of anti-inflammatory painkillers, and sometimes antibiotics.

Dogs have nails on each toe, but they also have dew claws which are found on the inside of their lower leg. Most dogs just have them on their front legs, but some dogs will have them on their back legs too. The dewclaws don’t touch the floor and so never get worn down, so do need trimming more often. 

How to trim your dog’s nails

If your dog hasn’t had their nails trimmed before then they may find it a strange experience, so: 

1: Prepare!

It’s important to get them used to having their feet touched from a young age. This can be done during play, using praise and treats as positive reinforcement while you touch and move the toes. Try clipping one nail at a time to get them used to it gradually. Feeding treats or (xylitol free) peanut butter from a slow feeder/lick mat is a great trick to keep them occupied while you gently lift each paw to trim their nails. 

2: Get someone to show you how

If you’ve not trimmed a dog’s nails before you may like to bring them to your vet practice where one of the nurses can show you how to do it. If your dog has very hairy paws then it may be a good idea to give their fur a trim so you can see the nails easier.

3: Be careful!

On the inside of each nail, is an area of soft tissue including blood vessels and nerves. This is called the quick, which we want to avoid when trimming their nails! If your dog has white or clear nails this can be easy to see, as a pink coloured tissue inside the nail. However, if your dog has black nails then it won’t be visible. In dark coloured nails, it’s best to trim a small amount at a time to avoid catching the quick, which will be painful for the dog and cause the nail to bleed. When you start to see a lighter softer spot in the middle of the nail you are trimming this means you are close to the quick and should stop cutting. How much to trim will vary between different breeds, and even different dogs depending how much exercise they do. As a general rule of thumb is that their nails should not be able to touch the ground. You shouldn’t be able to hear your dog tapping as they walk on hard or tiled floors.

If your dog has very long nails, the quick also becomes very long, so sometimes you can catch the quick and make it bleed even just by trimming a small amount. Trimming them regularly, to just below the quick, will cause the quick to recede. It may take a few months to get them back to a healthy length.

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