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Ask the Vet: How Often Should You Trim a Dog's Nails?

How Often Should You Trim a Dog’s Nails?

How often should you trim a dog's nails is a very valid question considering that long nails in dogs may have several negative repercussions on a dog's health and wellbeing. Just like us, dogs can develop very long nails if we fail to intervene in trimming them. How often the nails of a dog need to be trimmed will obviously vary based on several factors. Getting better accustomed with the anatomy of our dog's nails can help us better understand how often they need to be trimmed and how much. Dr. Ivana Crnec provides several insights into nail trimming in dogs.

dog long nails

A Lesson in Anatomy

From an anatomical point of view, your dog’s nails are composed of two main parts: the outer casing or shell and the soft center. Let's take a closer look into these two components.

The outer casing of your dog's nail may vary in color. It may be clear – translucent or black – that is, pigmented. Although both clear and pigmented nails are anatomically the same, clear nails are easier to cut because their parts can be easily visualized from the outside. Just like in humans, cutting the shell is painless because it lacks nerves.

The soft center, commonly known as the "quick,’’ is though a totally different story. The quick contains nerves, as well as blood vessels. In translucent nails, the quick can be easily identified due to its pinkish coloration. If the quick is accidentally clipped it can be painful and tends to bleed quite profusely.

Most dog owners are concerned about cutting the quick when trimming the nails. It should be well understood that cutting the quick is not dangerous and can happen to professional groomers too. No dog ever died from a "quicked" nail. Nevertheless, there are ways to prevent cutting the quick and ways to successfully manage it in case it occurs.

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How Often Should You Trim a Dog's Nails?

Your dog’s nails grow permanently and require regular maintenance. As a general rule, the dog’s nails should not protrude over its pads or touch the ground when the dog is standing. Simply put, there should be a slight gap between your dog’s nails and the floor (as seen in the main picture above).

Generally, if cutting for maintenance, it is recommended to cut once every 2 weeks and if cutting for shortening it is advised to cut every week. More precisely, the length of your dog’s nails and how frequently they need to be trimmed depends on several factors:

1) Your dog’s lifestyle – if your dog spends most of its time outdoor, playing and running around, it will naturally trim and wear off its nails. On the flip side, if it spends its time at home and does not take regular walks, its nails will overgrow.

2) Your dog’s nutrition – the balance of certain vitamins and minerals can determine the nails’ strength, structure and growth rate.

3) The type of surface your dog walks on – surfaces like pavements, dirt, grass and gravel are excellent for naturally trimming your dog’s nails. Soft carpets are easy on the nails and do not wear them off.

Simply put, if you can hear your dog making the annoying click-click sound when walking, then it is time to cut its nails.

The Importance of Trimming Dog Nails 

Keep in mind that trimming the nails is not a cosmetic procedure, but an essential part of your dog's grooming ritual. Long, overgrown nails can be hazardous to your dog’s health because of several reasons. The most common reasons why long nails need to be cut, is because they:

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Long nails can be quite painful – when the dog’s nails touch the hard ground, the hard ground surface pushes the nail back into the nail bed. That pushing is painful and causes discomfort. The pressure can even cause the toe joint to twist and rotate. If the condition is chronic, the toes can become arthritic and permanently damaged.

Long nails are easily breakable – the longer the nail is, the more likely it is to break off, bleed and cause pain.

Long nails can potentially affect the dog’s gait – unlike us, dogs walk on their toes and their entire weight is centered on those toes. Therefore if the nails are too long, the dog’s gait may become adversely affected.

Another reason, why you should keep your dog’s nails short is to protect yourself. When your dog jumps on you or paws you for attention, unless its nails are well-trimmed, it can easily, accidentally scratch you. And we all know how painful dog scratches can be.

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How to Safely Trim Your Dogs' Nails

The key to successful nail trimming is patience. Never rush the process. Be patient and take good care of what you are doing. If you are calm, your dog will also be calm, thus reducing the risk of accidents.

The safety of the nail trimming process also depends on the tools used. High-quality nail clippers should have the best safety features as part of their overall mechanism. Choosing a nail clipper with safety settings prevents you from cutting deeper than it is supposed to, thus reducing the risk of injuries and bleedings. Nail clippers with safety settings are especially recommended for dogs with pigmented nails.

If you decide to get a nail grinder, choose one with safety sensors. Keep in mind that the nail grinder may be used as a supplement to conventional clipping. Use regular clippers to trim the nails and then use the grinder to shape and smooth the nails. When used together, nail clippers and grinders make effective and dynamic duos.

Last but not least, it is advisable to acclimate your dog to nail trimming while still a young puppy. Even if your pup does not need nail trimming, manipulate his paws and nails and mimic the process. Once you are done, reward your pup with a treat. That way, the puppy will associate the nail trimming with positive experience and grow into a dog that whose nails can be easily trimmed.

In Case of an Accident

broken nail

Even though cutting too deep is not dangerous and can happen to everyone (even vets and professional groomers) it is your responsibility to try your best to avoid it. Cutting too deep causes your dog pain and makes him link the clipping process with negative experience, thus making him or her anxious every time you try to trim those nails.

Nail clipping accidents are more likely to occur in hyperactive dogs and dogs with black pigmented nails. In such cases, it is advisable to stop the bleeding and prevent further issues. The bleeding can be easily stopped with a styptic powder or a blood-clotting accelerant (both items should be in your dog’s first aid kit). If none is available, as an alternative, you can use cornstarch.

About the Author

Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.

ivana crnec

She currently practices as a veterinarian in Bitola and is completing her postgraduate studies in the Pathology of Domestic Carnivores at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Zagreb, Croatia.

Ivana’s research has been published in international journals, and she regularly attends international veterinary conferences.

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