A lot of dog owners don’t know that they need to regularly clip their dog’s nails, and often the only time that this happens is when the dog goes to the vets or for a groom. Nail clipping is a minor, but important aspect of caring for your dog and stems from the lifestyle we lead with our pets. When dogs spend all day outside and active, their nails are gradually worn down on various surfaces and there is less of a need for trimming. However, nowadays, pet dogs spend a good deal of time inside on soft surfaces where there is less opportunity for their nails to be worn down naturally.
But why do we need to trim their nails?
Often we see dogs with nails that are too long and this can actually cause problems for them walking. When dogs nails are so long that they touch the ground, they exert force back into the nail bed, therefore putting pressure on the toe joints. This compromises the dogs weight distribution and natural alignment, and over time this can cause gait issues through the entire leg and back as the dog tries to compensate for nails taking on additional pressure.
This can leave your dog more susceptible to injuries and can even make walking and running difficult and painful. In extreme cases, overgrown nails can curve around and grow back into the pad of the dogs foot causing a lot of pain for the dog and needing veterinary treatment. These issues can be dramatically improved by cutting back long nails and regularly trimming them.
So how do we make sure our dogs nails are kept at the right length?
A dog's nails should never be longer than their pad as it sits on the floor. If you imagine your dogs paw flat on the floor and the nails curl from above each pad. The nail should never be touching the floor but should stop just above the top of the pad to ensure it never interferes with the dog walking. If they are touching the floor, you know it’s time for a trim.
So if you think your dog’s claws need a trim it’s important to make sure you know how to do it as you can easily hurt and injure your dog if you do it wrong. Equally, some dogs can be worried about having their nails trimmed and it will only exacerbate things if you are equally as unsure about what you are doing.
In essence, you need to take a small amount of nail off of the end of each claw with your clippers. Dogs have a blood vessel in their claw called the "quick," and if you take too much nail off at once you will cut the quick, which will be painful and cause a lot of bleeding. It is therefore important to trim your dog's nails gradually. If your dogs claws are white, you’ll be able to see the quick quite clearly as it will go from white to pink the further back you go. If your dogs nails are black, you’ve got to be a bit more careful. Therefore, rather that cutting a big chunk off of the nail all at once, it is best to trim them little and often. The more you trim them the more the quick will recede and you will be able to keep the nail shorter. We clip our dogs claws every 5-7 days to ensure they are kept short and well maintained. We take a small amount off every time so that they never reach the edge of their pad and interfere with their gait.
In addition to trimming nails with a clipper, it is also possible to file them down with a tool called a Dremel - a handheld electric sander. This is obviously a slower process than clipping the nail, but it means that you can shorten them gradually without fear of cutting the quick.
What if my dog isn't used to having their nails trimmed?
The first step to maintaining a good nail length is for your dog to be comfortable with having their legs picked up and their paws touched. If you are unable to do this without your dog getting worried, you will struggle to trim their nails! When doing so, be sure to touch/hold their nails as you would if you were cutting them so that the feeling becomes familiar.
You then want to get your dog used to having the clippers or Dremel near their nails, before taking it slowly and trimming a small amount off of the nail. Using treats can help to make it a positive experience and to teach your dog to be comfortable having their nails trimmed. We like to trim our dogs nails in a comfortable place at home, and we take our time so that it doesn't become overwhelming. If you cut your dogs quick by accident you will know about it - your dog will likely yelp and pull away, but don't panic! The bleeding will likely make the wound look a lot worse than it is. The nail should stop bleeding on it's own, but you can also use something called styptic powder, which stops bleeding by contracting the blood vessel. In the absence of this, corn starch, flour and baking soda are all known home remedies. It is super important to keep calm and continue with trimming your dogs nails after this so that they don't learn to fear having their nails trimmed.
If a dog has a particularly bad association with having their nails trimmed, or they are in pain due to their nails being poorly maintained, it can be helpful to use a muzzle in order to be able to trim their nails safely. The more their nails are trimmed the more comfortable they are likely to feel and the less worried they will be.
If you’re worried about doing your dogs claws yourself or would like to be shown how to, let us know and we will be happy to help out!