Why Caring for Your Dog’s Nails is an Important Health Issue

Failing to keep your dog’s nails at the proper length can cause discomfort, pain and even permanent damage to your dog’s feet, legs and back.

As a dog walker, I have seen a lot of paws with nails that desperately needed to be trimmed. I’ve seen dogs slip and slide on floors and I have seen dew claws hanging and bleeding. I decided to learn more about the importance of nail trimming and how caring for your dog’s nails is an important health issue.

I am neither a veterinarian nor a medical professional. The information in this article has been researched and sourced at the end of the post if required. All safety and medical issues or questions regarding your pet’s health or symptoms should always be brought to the attention of your veterinarian for clarification, assessment, advice and treatment.

I discovered that it is just as important as having his regular check up, his heartworm medication and his flea and tick treatments.  Failing to keep your dog’s nails at the proper length can cause discomfort, pain and even permanent damage to your dog’s feet, legs and back.

How often should you trim your dog’s nails?

A general rule for trimming your dog’s nails is to do it every four weeks.  Having said that, different dogs have different needs.

Dogs who walk a lot, especially on concrete, will wear down his nails naturally.  It may be months before he needs a trim, whereas dog who spends most of his time in the house or only going out into the back yard will not have the same wear on his nails.  This dog may need his nails cared for more frequently.

How do you know when it’s time to trim your dog’s nails?

One of the best ways to know when it’s time for a doggy manicure is by inspecting the nails when your dog is standing.  The nail should not be touching the ground.  You should be able to see a space between the nail and the floor.

The best ways to know when it’s time for a doggy manicure is by inspecting the length of the nails. These nails are too long and require a trim.

Another clear indication that it’s time for a trim is when you can hear a clicking noise when your dog walks on the floor.  If you can hear them coming because of the tick tick tick on the floor, you should break out the nail clippers, or if you prefer, head off to your groomer.

If you have slippery floors, a dog will lose his grip when his nails are too long.  You will notice him slipping when running on the floor, trying to stop or going around corners.  If you notice your dog is having trouble keeping his balance when walking on any smooth surface, check his nails to be sure they haven’t grown too long.

Always check the front and back nails. Often the back nails will be much shorter than the front. This is because dogs walk by pushing off with their hind legs.  The back feet are subjected to much more wear and tear when the dog pushes forward from the back legs.

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How is it dangerous if you don’t trim your dog’s nails?

If you let your dog’s nails grow too long, the nail begins to touch the floor.  When this happens, the toe is pushed upward and your dog’s step is changed.  This puts pressure on every part of the foot and leg.  The tendons are stretched and the bones are forced into an unnatural position.  When your dog’s step is changed it can cause leg, hip and back pain.  If nails are regularly left too long, the foot, leg and spine can become permanently damaged.

Another way that nail growth can harm your dog is when they get so long that they begin to curl.  A nail left to grow can actually curl under the foot and grow back into the pad of the foot.  Aside from the obvious pain this would cause, the difficulty it would create for your dog to walk and the permanent bone and tendon damage that would develop, the nails can cause serious infections in the foot. Removal at this stage can cause mild to significant bleeding and, if infected, drainage.

You would be best to have your vet remove a nail that has grown into a pad as it may be necessary to stop the bleeding or sterilize the open wound.

Why it’s Imperative that you trim your dog’s dew claws

Dew claws don’t touch the ground, so they can’t cause any damage, right?  Wrong.  Dew claws are very vulnerable.  They are often left out of a nail trim and become curled as described above, but they can also get caught on things when your dog is walking or playing.  If the dew claw gets ripped off or broken, it will cause a lot of pain for your doggo.  There will probably be significant bleeding.  It can become infected, so a trip to the vet for a thorough inspection is strongly advised.

The best way to prevent damage to dew claws is to keep them trimmed short enough that they don’t get caught on anything.

Clipping your dog’s nails

Many dogs do not like having their nails trimmed.  It can become a struggle if you are unable to get them to relax.  If this is the case with your pup, you may want to have the trim done by a groomer or at your vet’s office.

If you decide to trim your dog’s nails on your own, be sure to use proper nail clippers for dogs and NOT HOUSEHOLD SCISSORS!!!

Clipping Light Colored Nails vs. Black nails

Dogs with light colored nails are less difficult to do on your own.  You can clearly see where the white part of the nail ends and the pink part of the quick begins.  If you cut the quick it will be painful for your dog and it will bleed. Always stay on the white area. If you are uncomfortable or your dog is moving too much, find a groomer or a vet to do the job.  They are very experienced and you can avoid an unpleasant situation for our dog.

If you do try it on your own, be sure to have Styptic Powder close by. Should you accidentally cut the edge of the quick, you can apply the powder to stop the bleeding. Your dog will, however, still experience the pain

Black nails are much more difficult.  You cannot see the quick and it is much more difficult to avoid it.  There are nail clippers on the market now that have an LED light that allows you to see the quick.  The vet or a professional groomer may be your better option with black nails, but if you choose to do it yourself you may want to try the LED Clippers.

There is one other tool that will help if you are concerned about cutting the nails too short, or the dog moving quickly and having an accident occur.  It’s called a dremel.  It is a rotating file that grinds the nail down until it’s the length that is best for your dog. It does not hurt the nail or the quick. Your dog may take a few trims to get used to the feeling, but it can really help to reduce the risk of cutting a quick. 


The more frequently you trim your dog’s nails, the shorter the quick will be.  If your dogs quicks are already long, you can shorten them with frequent trims.  The quick will begin to recede and you will be able to cut your dog’s nails shorter. This will make them easier to maintain and your dog will be comfortable walking.

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