Why Do Dogs Need Their Nails Trimmed?

January 13, 2015

nails Ray DBy Laurie Darroch

All dogs have different rates of nail growth, and how they exercise may help determine if they actually need a trim or not. Many dogs exercise on softer surfaces like grass fields, dirt paths or even indoors. Those surfaces don’t provide a great deal of friction for nails to file down as they play. Dogs that get a lot of exercise on hard surfaces such as concrete sidewalks or rough asphalt roads may get enough filing that their nails wear down naturally, but they may still need them trimmed on occasion.

You may notice that their nails are getting too long when they jump on you or up on a favorite resting spot, or when their excessively long nails are scratching the floor. Long nails can cut skin and rip furniture. They can cause pain and injury to your dog as well.

Different breeds of dogs have different nail growth patterns. Some have higher knuckles and some are more flat to the ground. That can determine how often or when they need their nails trimmed. You will learn with your own dog what their speed and type of nail growth is and how to deal with it.

Walking and Running

When a dog’s nails are too long, it can hamper their ability to walk and run correctly. To put it in human terms, imagine your own toenails growing so long that they curl under your toes or constantly rub against the ground, or make your shoes painful to wear by jamming back against the base of your nails from pressure against the tips. It would definitely make the actual process of ambulation more difficult for you. Sure, you would adapt, but you prevent the problems to begin with by keeping your nails trimmed. You can do the same thing for your dog.

Comfort and Health

Untrimmed nails can curl under and become very painful for a dog. Adapting their walking and running to deal with the discomfort of overly long nails can make their legs or feet sore.  Excessively long nails can also catch on things and cause the nail to break to a painful level or even rip off, causing a different kind of injury.

In extreme cases, constantly adapting to the discomfort of long nails can cause stress on the dog’s joints and can lead to joint pain or even arthritis.

Walking in a way that adjusts to relieve some of the pain from overly long nails might also cause your dog’s natural gait and movement to be out of alignment. This can cause other pain or injuries as they try to find a solution for their discomfort.

How and What to Trim

Check the length of your dog’s nails periodically. If you notice odd limping or a lot of licking of their feet, they may be telling you they are hurting. It could be something as simple as trimming their nails.

Because the dog’s nails may be different colors, it is sometimes difficult to tell where the quick is on their nails. You do not want to cut below the quick and cause an injury or bleeding. Clear or light colored nails are easy to distinguish the cutting point. Use a bright light if you are having difficulty. Dark nails are particularly difficult to gauge where the nail ends and the quick dividing lines are. If you have doubts, take your dog to a vet or grooming professional and have them do the trimming.

Many dogs do not like having their nails touched. In extreme cases, the vet will know how to calm them enough so they can get the job done. They also have the appropriate tools.

You may find that one tool works better than others with your dog. There are clippers designed to cut through thick dog nails. Human clippers usually won’t work on a dog’s nails. There are also files that grind the nail down quickly which may be less stressful for your dog.

All nails, including the dew claw, need to be trimmed. The dew claw can grow and curl back in causing pain, even though it isn’t used the same way as the rest of the nails.

Tips for Home Nail Trimming

Trim your dog’s nails in a well-lit spot. If you have a puppy, start young so they get used to the idea of having their nails trimmed. Make it a more soothing experience by giving your dog a foot massage or periodically just rubbing their feet so they get used to their feet and nails being touched. Use the appropriate tools specifically designed for trimming dog’s nails.

Try giving your dog some CANIDAE treats as an incentive to sit still or as a reward for behaving while they are getting their nails trimmed. Be calm and gentle while you are trimming their nails. If they sense anxiety in you, your dog will react accordingly. Have someone assist you during the trimming process. Two sets of hands can make it much easier.

Grooming your dog is part of responsible pet ownership. Trimming their nails when needed is part of their overall grooming. It is another step in maintaining their overall health.

Top photo by Ray Dehler/Flickr
Bottom photo by ginny/Flickr

Read more articles by Laurie Darroch

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  1. i love dogs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Carla says:

    i APPRECIATE the info. It is very helpful to be clear about what I need to do for my dog to be comfortable. BUT It doesnt give any specific “how to” pictures or instructions. I hope I find them here but if not can you say where. I am old & my dog is very big. I cannot take him to a vet for regular things like trims & ear cleanings & all the stuff he needs. Especially now that he is older also.
    So how to’s ar my number one needs. AND what to get for the trimming. I will read further here but if there are any other things you can tell me…will help…

  3. Veronica says:

    Thank you! We have our first dog and already have an appointment to take care of his nails! What is the difference between the nail trimming and grinding? Seems that nail grinding comes with the luxury packages at grooming places. Is this a necessary thing?

  4. Thanks for sharing this helpful information on why dogs need their nails trimmed. I always trim my dog’s nail from the time that he was still young and right now he is already used to it.

    1. Ellen says:

      Useful info! Thanks!
      I have always trimmed my dogs nails and it’s so important to touch, pet and handle their feet, legs & tail so it’s not a surprise to them or they’re uncomfortable with it. I started trimming them as soon as needed, but if you have a dog that has nails that grow slow, you can still practice by just taking a tiny bit off the top. If you don’t do this, it can be so difficult in the future. I’ve seen a dog that had to be sedated in order to cut them. Thats