The Importance of Dog Nail Trimming

by Sydney Hess

Learn more about the ideal nail trimming schedule for dogs, and what can happen if you put it off.

Dog nail maintenance often sneaks up on dog parents, and overgrown nails can easily go unnoticed or be ignored for significant periods of time. Nail trims bring a lot of stress to dogs and their humans, which often leads to putting off the dreaded task for even longer. 

Dog parenthood doesn’t come with a handbook, so many have no idea how often their dog should be getting a mani-pedi. Keep reading to learn more about the ideal nail trimming schedule, as well as information on the unfortunate side-effects of putting off your pup's trip to the nail salon. 

Start them young.

While trips to the nail salon can be a relaxing activity for people, the experience is quite the opposite for our canine friends. Getting a young dog used to their paws and nails being handled early on will lead to significantly less stressful nail trims for years to come. Help them learn that people touching their paws will lead to praise and rewards! Adopted adult dogs can be a bit tricker to convince, but consistency and positive experiences are key. 

How does a dog's lifestyle affect their nails?

While lifestyle and breed can contribute to your dog's nail schedule, generally all dogs will need their nails trimmed every 4-6 weeks. In a perfect world, every dog could get their nails done every 1-2 weeks, but that isn’t realistic for most owners. Dogs who live a more sedentary lifestyle will likely need them trimmed more frequently, whereas dogs who are very active can usually go a bit longer in between trims. Running on hard surfaces like cement will naturally wear down the nails, so dogs who are constantly on the go may need less maintenance compared to their couch potato counterparts. 

Tips for DIY Nail Care 

If you decide to try and trim your dog's nails yourself, be sure to get the proper tools and do your research. Not all nail trimmers and dremels are created equal, so you’ll want to check that you’re getting the right size for your dog. Small nail trimmers on large nails will put a lot of pressure on the nail and cause unnecessary discomfort for your dog. It is also important to remember that dogs are energy readers. If you are nervous about the nail trim, your dog will be too! Jerky movements with clippers can lead to a quicked nail and an unhappy dog, so if in doubt– call up your local groomer or vet. Nail trimming and/or grinding typically runs between $15-$30, so luckily this service is pretty affordable for most. 

1. All About Quicks

In every dog nail is a blood supply called a quick. The quick can easily be identified as the pink cone-like shape in white nails, but it can be difficult to see in black nails. Quicks have nerve endings, making it a sensitive spot to be blindly clipping through. If you’ve ever quicked a dog, you know that it is not a pleasant experience for either party. When nails are left to grow for long periods of time, the quick will grow out with the nail. Long quicks make it more difficult to get a dog's nails nice and short, plus they increase the chances of quicking the nails. If you get behind on your dog's nail maintenance and their quicks grow out, don’t panic! Quicks can recede with time and regular trimming, thus making the overall nail shorter. 

2. Trimming vs. Grinding

Nail grinding in replacement of or in addition to trimming is ideal. Grinding will get the nail as close to the quick as possible, while lowering the risk of quicking a dog or cracking the nail. It will also make the nail more smooth, so you don’t get scratched up every time your dog jumps to greet you. While grinding is preferable to just a trim, not all dogs will tolerate nail grinding. The process takes longer than trimming, and the sound of the dremel is enough to scare some dogs off. Patience and consistency can help your dog work their way towards a nail grind, even if it is just one nail at a time.

Pictured below is the difference between uncut nails, trimmed nails, and dremmeled nails.

3. Nails and Joint Health Go Hand-in-Hand

Keeping your pup's nails short is essential to the long-term health of their joints. When a dog’s nails overgrow and begin to touch the floor, the natural resting position of the foot will change. Long nails cause the toes to spread out, and every step puts more pressure on the foot and leg joints. Long-term nail neglect will cause joint pain, and worst-case they can cause a permanent splayed foot, arthritis and damage to the foot tendons. 

4. Look Out for Embedded Nails

If nails are neglected for extreme periods of time, the nail can curl around the toe and embed itself into the pad of the foot or the pad of the dew claw. While it seems like this level of neglect would be rare, groomers and vets see it more often than they should. The dew claw is the most commonly embedded nail, as this nail is not naturally worn down by walking and is also often hidden by fur or hair. 

While nail trims bring a varying level of stress to dogs and their humans, they are necessary to a dog's overall well being! When in doubt, consult a dog groomer or vet about how to best incorporate your dog's nail regime into your schedule. 

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