Skip to main content

You may not pay attention to your dog's nails much until they start clicking on the floor, reminding you that perhaps it's now time for another nail trim. 

Whether your dog likes them or not, those "nail trim pedicures" are very important, so it's ultimately time well invested working on making them a more pleasant activity.

 Your dog's nails are more than just protrusions extending from him paws, dog nails play several important functions and paying close attention to them is important as they are also predisposed to problems. So today, let's discover more about a dog's nails, their function and possible signs of trouble.


Introducing Your Dog's Nails!

We are long and sharp, make a clicking sound and come in different colors, who are we? You guessed it, your dog's nails! 

We are that curvy part that you find at the end of your dog's toes, and just like your nails, we are made of keratin - a special protein made of dead cells, but wait, don't let the word "dead" fool you, we are actually well alive!

We have several nerves and blood vessels within us, which compose your dog's "quick," that area that makes your dog startle and yelp in pain if you accidentally happen clip through it during a nail trim.

While humans also have a "quick," in humans the quick stops at the finger tips while in dogs the quick extends into the nail which makes it particularly vulnerable to being accidentally clipped.

Variety is the Spice of Life!


There are no general rules of "thumb" when it comes to our numbers and colors. 

Normally, each toe has one nail. Humans typically have five fingers and five toes (if you're wondering, that makes you pentadactyl, by the way), whereas, the average dog has only four toes in both the front and back paws. 

This means there are four of us in the front paws and four of us in the back paws respectively.

Dogs who have extra digits though, like the amazing Norwegian ludenhund have more of us compared to the average dog.

And when it comes to colors, we often reflect the color of the surrounding skin. In dogs with white fur, we may therefore be white, whereas in dogs with dark fur, we tend to be black (which makes it more challenging to identify the quick) and in some cases, we can even be multi-colored as seen in the picture.

Did you know? Fossil evidence shows that animals that have a reduced number of digits are mostly cursorial animals who were required to maintain high speeds for long distances, explains John Buckwalter, Emeritus of Biology at Alfred State College.

 Cursorial animals are known for having long limbs, shortened digits and reduced number of toes. Dogs for example have four toes instead of five as in humans, and horses (cursorial grazers) have only one (the hoof is simply the distal phalanx of the 3rd digit).

We Provide Traction...

What's our purpose in a dog's life? We have several functions. Mother Nature really crafted us with dogs living in a natural setting in mind. She probably never expected that dogs would end up living in people's homes with all their modern features.

Indeed, if you take a close look at your dog's nails, you may notice that they're shaped like cleats purposely crafted to dig into earthen terrains.

"When was the last time you saw a dog slipping around while playing on dirt or grass?" questions veterinarian Dr. Julie Buzby. 

So it's not surprising if dogs nowadays as domesticated companions have a hard time "getting a grip" on totally unnatural surfaces such as tiles, linoleum and hardwood floors.

And Torque..

dog dewclaw

Yes, providing traction when running over uneven surfaces is what we are there for, but there's more. Even those dewclaw nails that many people think have no function at all, actually have a function.

If you are planning on having a puppy that will later on compete in the sport of agility or the perfect working dog you have always dreamed of, you may want to give chopping off those dewclaws a second thought.

Dewclaws help support Rover's lower legs, and when he makes those swift tight turns as seen in the sport of agility, it's thanks to his dewclaws that torque is prevented and the dog's leg is saved from twisting and sustaining other injuries, explains veterinarian and rehabilitation specialist of performance-related injuries, Dr.Christine Zink.

Scroll to Continue

Discover More

Screenshot 2022-11-29 200314

Scotland's "Suicide Bridge," Where Dogs Jump Off

As odd as it may sound, there is a bridge located in Scotland from which hundreds of dogs have jumped off, giving this bridge a bad rap.

Screenshot 2022-11-28 134639

Why Does My Dog Yawn When I Kiss Him?

If your dog yawns when you kiss him, you may be wondering what's up with this behavior. Discover why dogs yawn and what it means.

Spleen Cancer in Dogs

Different Types of Pain in Dogs

There are different types of pain in dogs and differentiating one from another can help you better understand your companion.

We Help in Digging Up Treasures...

Mother Nature also provided us so to help dogs unearth certain "treasures." Whether your dog is digging to uncover roots from your favorite plants, an old, a hidden bone or the hiding spot of some sort of critter living underground, for sure us nails help accomplish these determined canine's goals!

We may have been particularly useful to certain dogs breeds with a history as "diggers" such as the terriers and doxies, the digging dogs par excellence.

For instance, in dachshunds, we have been crafted to grow particularly strong and quite fast so to compensate for the wear and tear associated with this dog breed's predisposition for digging, explains Stephanie Cimmarusti, in the book "Everything You Need To Know About Your New Mini Dachshund Puppy."

And We Also Provide A Grip!

bone dog

Some dogs are particularly "pawsy" compared to others, using their paws do perform several actions, but all dogs at some point or another in their lives may find a use for us when handling items or putting their paws to "good use."

Whether your dog is holding down a bone, trying to open a door or pawing to get a toy from under the couch, let's face it, we come extra handy in helping dogs "get a grip" and reaching their objective. 

Dogs are quite determined pooches and it's quite comical when we see them put us to use!

When Things Go Wrong

We may seem strong and tough, but we are also prone to several problems. Annoying bacterial and fungal nail infections may affect dogs too. 

Bacteria may affect us when we get injured, so if you notice a broken nail or some other type of injury, make sure to keep us clean and well disinfected, or in complicated cases, ask your vet to take care of us to prevent annoying infections.

You may also want to make sure we heal well, considering that when a dog's nail is chronically infected, it may lead to permanent defective nail growth, explains veterinary dermatologist Dr. Patrick Hensel.

Sometimes, we can also become affected by cancer, in particular squamous cell carcinoma, mast cell tumors and malignant melanoma of the toe. If you notice any changes in our appearance, such as a damaged nail or a toe nail falling off a swollen toe, consider that this can be one of the first signs of trouble, according to the Veterinary Cancer Place. So when in doubt, see your vet at once.

On a brighter side, consider that fungal nail infections are less common in dogs than in humans. When we are infected by fungus, you'll likely know pretty soon, as we'll often exhibit a brown-red discoloration with a waxy brown-red seepage. I know, yuck! And sometimes, dog owners are quite baffled when they see their dogs growing what looks like an "extra nail." No, we don't grow out of no where, in reality, this often turns out being a cutaneous horn, which is caused by a papillomavirus.

As seen, we are are quite important to your dog! However, let's face it, dogs are often not walked as much as they should, they rarely are allowed to dig to their heart's content and they live indoors for the most time walking on soft carpets and grassy areas. This gives us little opportunity to wear down.

Long nails are not a cosmetic issue, but rather a health one. If we are allowed to grow too long, your dog's gait will be thrown off badly which can ultimately affect his joints in the long run, and we may even break, split or even curl and embed in your dog's paws, ouch! So please take good care of us, and don't forget to teach your dog to like having his feet handled!

Yours dearly,

Your Dog's Nails

Dog Pawprint

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog's nails appear abnormal or are bleeding, seeping pus or showing other worrisome signs, please see your vet.


  • DVM360, Nail Diseases, by Patrick Hensel, retrieved from the web on July 8th, 2016
  • Puppy's First Steps: The Whole-dog Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy ...By Nicholas H. Dodman, Lawrence Lindner, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 18, 2007)
  • Saint Bernard's Animal Medical Center, The Quick and the Dead: Nail Trims, retrieved from the web on July 8th, 2016
  • Toe Grips, Frequently asked questions about Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips: the traction aid to help stop dog slipping, retrieved from the web on July 8th, 2016

Photo Credits:

  • Letter "D" in the image indicates the dewclaw on this dog's front paw. Letter "E" is the carpal pad. Amos T Fairchild - own work (photo and GIMP modifications) CC BY-SA 3.0
  • jaimekay16, agility163, Flickr creative commons (CC BY 2.0)
  • Wonderlane Rose, a puppy, chewing on a bone, south U District near the Montlake Cut, Seattle, Washington, USA, Flickr creative commons CC BY 2.0
  • Flickr Creative Commons, John Collins, DSC_3594 (CC BY 2.0)

Related Articles