Dog’s toenails grow constantly, making it necessary to regularly clip them, just as you do yours. Here’s everything you need to know about being your dog’s personal manicurist!
The outer part of a dog’s toenails are made of a hard, fibrous protein called keratin. The inner part of the nail is called the quick. This is soft and pinkish, and contains blood vessels and nerves. The quick is will bleed and cause pain if cut. If your dog has clear or pale nails, you will be able to see the quick inside the nail.
Unfortunately, if your dog has dark nails, you cannot see the quick, making it more difficult to know exactly where to cut the nail. Some dogs have a combination of light and dark nails.
Dogs walk on their toes, of which there are four. Some breeds have a fifth toe on the inside of the leg, called a dewclaw. This nail does not touch the ground, and if it gets too long, it can get snagged on things and tear off, or curl around and grow into the flesh. For this reason, some breeds have their dewclaws removed as a puppy. Some dog breeds such as the St. Bernard can have two sets of dewclaws on the rear feet.
How often should I trim my dog’s nails?
How often you need to trim your dog’s nails will depend on how active they are and in what environment. If your dog walks often on hard surfaces such as concrete, then her nails will be worn down by the friction, and will hence not need to be clipped as regularly as a dog that walks on softer surfaces (e.g. grass, sand, carpet, etc).
You do not want the nail to be protruding past the paw pads. When your dog is standing on the ground, check that her nails sit just above the ground. If they are touching the ground, they need to be trimmed. If you can hear a nail scratching or clicking sound as your dog runs around at home, then you should trim her nails.
If you do not cut your dog’s nails often enough, you may force your dog to walk with an unnatural gait, causing a lot of pain and even lameness. Nails that grow too long can curl under and cut into your dog’s foot, or they can get caught and break, causing pain and bleeding. If the soft quick inside your dog’s nail is injured and exposed, infection can occur.
Trimming your dog’s nails little and often is a good policy. In fact, trimming them often will make the quick regress further into the nail. If they are not cut often, the quick will grow close to the tip of the nail, making them difficult to trim without cutting the quick. You are safe to cut within 0.8 of an inch (or 2mm) of the quick.
First of all, do not use human nail clippers on your dog! They can squash the nail, causing pain. Secondly, make sure the clippers you do use are not blunt, as they will crush and splinter the nail. There are two main types of nail clippers available. Make sure you follow the instructions that come with the tool you use.
Scissor-style – these trimmers have two sharp blades that curve inwards.
Guillotine – the nail inserted into an opening, and when you squeeze, a blade cuts the nail in guillotine-style. You must not cut downwards onto the nail, but cut upwards from underneath your dog’s nail.
File or dremel tool – can be used after clipping to file any jagged edges.
Styptic pen or powder – this can be applied to the end of the nail to stop bleeding if you accidentally cut the quick. Corn starch or flour can work as well.
Non-slip mat – if your dog is standing on a slippery surface, particularly on a high table, use a non-slip mat under them to make them feel secure as they balance on three legs.
Preparing your dog:
Many dogs don’t like their feet being touched, so trying to clip their nails can be problematic. There is reason for this, as dog’s toenails can be very sensitive. If you have a puppy, read below (under ‘Puppies’) about desensitizing your pup to her feet and toes being touched. The same can work for a mature dog who is averse to her feet being handled, but be aware that dogs can strongly struggle against nail clipping, especially if they’ve had a painful experience in the past.
Some dogs freak out just at the sight of clippers, so let your dog see the clippers regularly in a happy and relaxed context, with no intention of clipping her nails at that time. Also get your dog used to having the clippers around her feet and nails by gently touching the nails with the clippers. Let your dog sniff the nail clippers before you use them. All this will help her feel familiar and comfortable with the clippers.
It can be helpful to have someone assist you in this process, as they can hold your dog, feed her treats as you clip, and talk soothingly to your dog. You may want to sit on the floor with your dog, or put them up on a table. Find what works best for you and your dog. As for your dog’s position, they can stand with you lifting one leg at a time, or they may prefer to lie on their side.
The most important thing about trimming your dog’s nails is to just take off small bits at a time. Think of it as little nibbles!
Hold your dog’s paw firmly and push on the pads to extend the nail out.
If your dog has pale nails, examine them to see where the quick ends.
Position the clippers on the end of the nail at a 45 degree angle going away from the toe, and snip off a small portion.
If your dog has dark nails, trim a tiny nibble off, then look at the nail from the tip. If you see a dark oval in the center, this is the quick, so you do not want to cut any further. Otherwise, continue to make small clips until you see the quick.
Don’t forget to trim the dewclaws too if your dog has them.
Don’t continue if your dog is getting stressed by the process, as this will just make it a bad experience for her (and you!) and it will become an impossible task to complete in the future. Perhaps you only get one or two feet done in the first attempt, and then you’ll need to take a break, play with your dog, and continue the other feet at a later stage.
Help! I cut the quick!
Okay, don’t panic! It’s bound to happen every now and then. If you cut the quick, the nail will drip blood, which can last several minutes (any longer, contact your vet). Feed your dog a treat and don’t make a big deal out of the situation, otherwise your dog will respond to your stress. It looks more dramatic than it is!
If you have styptic powder handy, wipe the blood away with a tissue and then apply some powder to the tip of the nail. If you don’t have styptic powder, then apply pressure to the end of the nail with a tissue for a few minutes. Try not to let your dog run around until the bleeding has stopped, or you’ll have a trail of blood throughout your house!
If you have never clipped a dog’s nails before, it’s a good idea to get a lesson from your vet first. If you have a dog that struggles against clipping, or you just prefer not to do it yourself, you can use your vet or a professional dog groomer for the job.
If you have a puppy, get her used to her feet and toes being touched before you even need to clip her nails. The best time to do this is when you are having some special bonding time and cuddles together, when she is relaxed and perhaps even tired.
Gently touch and rub her legs, slowly and gradually working your way towards her feet, giving treats along the way. She will likely retract her paw from your hand when you try to touch it. Just gently take her paw back in your hand and give her a treat and praise for letting you hold it. Get her used to touch on all four feet. Build up to rubbing in between her toes with a little pressure. Touch her feet in this way a little every day, and she will soon be used to the sensation.
Older dogs require more regular nail clipping than younger dogs. This is because they are not running around as much as a younger dog, therefore their nails are not getting worn down.