How to Care for Your Dog’s Nails

September 21, 2019

How to Care for Your Dog's Nails

When it comes to grooming your dog, many owners feel confident in the brushing and bathing. But the grooming chore universally avoided among many dog owners? Clipping your dog’s nails.

Often caring for your dog’s nails gets pushed off because of owner anxiety, dog anxiety, or (most often) a mix of both. I’ve admittedly gone to trim my dog’s nails and accidentally cut too far down into the “quick” or nail bed. This is at the base of their nail and is filled with blood vessels and nerves. One cut too far and you will be dealing with profuse bleeding.

But my goal here isn’t to scare you! Let’s talk all about dog nail care.

How often to cut dog’s nails? When is the best time to clip your dog’s nails? How to trim dog nails when they’re scared? What are the best tools to trim dog nails? You’re going to be a dog manicure master.

How often to cut dog’s nails?

Unlike knowing how often to brush your dog to prevent shedding, or even getting a human haircut to avoid split ends, there is a lot of variation in how often to cut your dog’s nails. This is because their nail length and growth will vary based on lifestyle.

In fact, dogs that have a lot of opportunities to run, play and walk on varied surfaces may never really need their nails clipped. The general wear their nails receive from being active in different environments will keep their nails short naturally. In these cases, you may literally never need to trim your dog nails (hooray!).

Dogs that receive more limited exercise due to age, health, or any other reason, might have nails that need very regular trimming. Senior dogs often need their nails clipped more often because they aren’t as mobile as their younger counterparts and are more prone to painful ingrown and splitting nails. They also may already be dealing with pain associated with dog arthritis in their feet and legs that is exacerbated by long nails.

Furthermore, your dog’s anatomy will impact how often they need a trim. For example, if your dog has an intact “dew claw”, that is a single claw higher up the leg, this one claw may need more regular trimming because it doesn’t come in contact with the ground.

For dogs that do need regular trimming, aim to cut them every 1-2 weeks so that your dog is kept comfortable. When it comes to dog nail clipping, it’s better to remove a small amount regularly, then wait for the nails to be so long you are lodging off a large amount and risking cutting into the quick.

How to know when your dog’s nails need to be cut?

  • You hear them click, click, click when they walk on hard surfaces, such as hardwood floors, tile or sidewalk
  • You can see their claws sticking out over their pad
  • You can see their claws touching the ground when standing

How to trim dog nails when overgrown?

Once you’ve determined your dog’s nails need clipping, here are the steps to a safe and effective trim. If this is your first time, you may benefit from having your vet, a groomer, or experienced dog owning-friend teach you how to properly trim your dog’s nails in person. Once you know how to do it, it won’t be a big deal, but it can be a bit overwhelming!

  1. Leading up to the day you plan to trim, handle your dog’s paws and toes regularly. Get them used to the sensation of having their feet touched to desensitize the experience. If you have a puppy, it’s recommended to start this from the beginning. But this can even help with older dogs
  2. Have the right tool ready. You want a sharp, scissor-style clipper like this one. Many feature a “safety stop” to prevent you from cutting too far down your dog’s nail
  3. Get down on your dog’s level and hold their paw firmly. Take off small amounts of the nail at a time, cutting at a 45-degree angle
  4. Usually, you will be able to see a visible notch in your dog’s nail. This notch is where the quick begins. This notch is a great visual cue of where it’s safe to cut to
  5. If your dog’s nails are excessively long, cut a small amount off every few days. This allows the blood supply in the quick to recede after each trimming, allowing you to get the nails shorter without cutting into the quick
  6. After trimming, you can smooth out the cut with an emery board or nail grinder if desired
  7. Give your dog lots of praise and special treats for a job well done!

What to do if you cut your dog’s nail too far?

Cutting your dog’s nails a bit too short and hitting the quick will result in significant bleeding. You will feel awful, but remember your dog will certainly survive and has probably experienced worse!

If you do cut your dog’s nail too far down, you’ll want to apply pressure immediately to stop the bleeding. To plug up the opening, you can put the nail into corn starch, flour, or use a bar of soap.

When to seek professional help with your dog’s nails?

For some owners and dogs, it is easier and safer to save nail trimming for the professionals. If you’ve had numerous unsuccessful attempts at trimming, or feel stressed and anxious about the task your dog will sense this too.

Some dogs have extreme anxiety surrounding nail trimming and will become aggressive and unsafe towards their owners as soon as they see the clippers. In these situations, it is best to schedule a vet appointment for nail trimming. In extreme cases your vet may sedate your dog for safe nail trimming.

Additionally, if you your dog’s nails appear to be injured, have grown excessively long, are dangling from a tear, or are causing your dog noticeable pain, a professional opinion and trim is suggested.

Now you’re ready to keep your dog’s nails trimmed

While rarely any owners favorite task, you now know how to care for your dog’s nails. Keeping their nails trimmed means they will be more comfortable and less prone to nail injury. It will also keep your hardwood floors and sweaters from getting scratched and snagged 😉

In short, you want to have the right tools on hand, trim conservatively, and don’t hesitate to seek out professional help when in doubt!



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