person trimming dog's nails

More Than a Mani/Pedi: The Importance of Trimming Your Dog’s Nails

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Trimming dogs’ nails is very important for more reasons than just avoiding the annoying clicking on the floor. When your pup is young, overgrown nails can lead to broken nails, especially in a drier climate. With mature dogs, untrimmed nails can cause decreased traction, affect mobility, and even cause pain. 

A dog’s nails should be trimmed every 2 weeks depending on your pup’s growth rate. At the very least, they should be trimmed every 4 weeks. That frequency may seem like a lot, but the more you trim them, the less you have to trim off. I find this actually decreases the risk of quicking (cutting into the quick) your pup. Bear in mind that quicks grow as nails do. As a result, leaving nails unclipped for extended periods will mean significantly longer nails (even following a clip), because you cannot cut the nails back to their previous length without hitting the quick.

You should start nail trims early, as soon as you get your new puppy, or right around 8 weeks. Just take off the tips initially to prevent quicking them so it’s not a negative experience. Make nail trims a normal thing that your puppy is used to, expects, and knows they have to behave for. 

Tips for Trimming Dogs’ Nails

If nail trimming is distressing to your pet, there are a few things you can try for troubleshooting. 

  • Make sure your clippers are sharp.
    • Carefully test the blade edge like you would any other edge.
    • The blades may need replacing every few months. 
  • Try changing the way you apply the clippers.
    • If you usually have the blades on the top and bottom of the nail, try placing them on the sides of the nail. 
  • If the clippers don’t suit, try a Dremel. The noise and vibration take a little getting used to for most dogs, but some greatly prefer it to the clippers. 
  • Nails soften if soaked in water.
    • Try trimming nails after bathtime or let your dog stand in a few inches of water in the bathtub for about 15 minutes. 
  • Sedatives may help.
    • Ask your vet for a prescription if needed, but it means a sedated day when your pet needs a nail trimming.
  • Most groomers and vet clinics offer nail trimmings for a small fee. Sometimes you need reinforcements; don’t be afraid to ask and get on the schedule.

Side Effects of Untrimmed Nails

Broken Nails

Broken nails are more than a pain to tease ladies about. When a dog’s nails break, they usually split up the nail toward the toe and can cause severe pain and be a risk for infection. If the nail fragment comes away, the exposed quick is quite painful on its own, and every time they bump anything with it, it’s even more painful. The same holds true for split nails that don’t break off, but they can be harder to detect if they are not bleeding. With a split nail that hasn’t broken away, it shifts around every time it contacts a surface, causing trauma and pain. In both cases, the exposed quick is at risk for infection, which can work up into the nail bed and the toe. This can cause abscesses needing surgical relief and even destruction of the bone in severe cases that may require amputation. 

Broken nails need to be cut back above the split in the nail to prevent the crack from returning and continuing to climb up the nail. This procedure involves deliberately cutting through the quick, which is extremely painful and requires sedation (there’s a reason that pulling nails is used as torture) and coagulation. Oftentimes the nail has to be cut back to the skin, which can affect regrowth. The nail may not regrow, or it may grow back unusually. Most likely, it will just take a few weeks to grow back normally. While it regrows, it must be watched like a hawk because it will be at risk for infection during this time. 

Mobility Issues

In older dogs, you can see extremely long nails — so long that they can affect your dog’s ability to walk. If the nails are too long and the first thing to touch the floor, they can inhibit traction and make it even harder for old dogs with arthritis or other orthopedic impairments. Nails can get so long that they alter how the dog’s foot sits on the ground, causing discomfort and even resulting in arthritis over time. 

Ingrown Nails

Ingrown nails are also a concern. In severe cases, I have seen nails come all the way around 360 degrees and back through the top of the toe. I don’t need to mention how excruciating this is, especially in weight-bearing digits. Ingrown nails are most common in dew claws, as they don’t contact the ground or anything to abrade or wear on the nail. 

When in Doubt, Ask Your Vet

Trimming dogs’ nails can certainly be a challenge, but it is much easier if you start early and make it a simple, positive process that happens regularly. Keeping up with it will also help you avoid painful conditions for your dog that may be very expensive to remedy. If you need help or guidance, just ask. Your vet and their technical staff are all experienced in this area and would be happy to teach you. Trimming dogs’ nails is one of the most common demonstrations clients ask us for, especially with black nails where you can’t see the quick. If you decide it’s beyond you, just bring them in for a visit. We’d be happy to fix them up with a mani/pedi with a medical eye.

Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center in Palmer is Alaska’s only comprehensive animal hospital. We are available by appointment, in addition to accepting emergencies and walk-ins. With CT, MRI, and Ultrasound available on-site, our facility provides advanced treatment options for your pet. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Dr. Paige Wallace

Dr. Paige Wallace is the Urgent Care Coordinator at Tier 1 Veterinary Medical Center. Born and raised right here in the Mat-Su Valley, Dr. Wallace received her education and veterinary training through her service in the United States Army. She served as a Captain with the 218th Medical Detachment Veterinary Service Support, under the 62nd Medical Brigade. Dr. Wallace has extensive experience treating trauma cases in remote areas and with limited resources, bringing a wealth of knowledge and think-on-your-feet experience to the Tier 1 VMC team.