Image of Kennel Club logo

Pet health information


Long nails and why it’s important to trim them

Why it is important to trim your dog’s nails?

As well as not looking very nice (and potentially ruining your flooring), long claws can make it uncomfortable and awkward for your dog to walk and is one of the top five most common disorders affecting dogs in the UK. Getting into the habit of trimming your dog’s claws regularly can be difficult, especially if they don’t enjoy having their paws touched or claws clipped.  To make matters worse, many owners are reluctant to clip their dog’s claws because they’re concerned that they might cut into the quick (a blood supply that lies part- way along the middle of claw).  Despite these challenges, regularly caring for your dog’s claws is of the utmost importance and will keep their paws healthy and pain free.

Why do my dogs nails grow long?

Just like your nails, your dog’s claws are constantly growing.  Your dog’s wild ancestors will have naturally worn down their claws whilst running, hunting and scratching, but because our pets spend much of their time indoors or running on soft surfaces, such as lawns, they get very little wear on the claws.  Taking your dog for regular walks, including hard surfaces such as pavements will help to shorten their claws, but may not be enough to keep them as short as they should be.

What problems can long claws cause?

Long claws are more prone to chipping, tearing, splitting and breaking, which can be very painful and may require veterinary treatment. As well as being prone to damage, when a dog stands or walks on a long clawed paw it puts pressure on the wrong parts of the foot, causing pain and discomfort. To try and minimise this pain your dog may move slightly differently, which in turn may make them more susceptible to other joint injuries, particularly in older dogs where posture may already be a problem.  In extreme cases the nails can grow so long that they curl over and dig into the pad of their paws.

Dewclaws

As well as the claws at the end of each toe, many dogs also have an additional one, called the dewclaw, which can be found on the inside of the leg.  Some dogs have dewclaws only on the front two legs, some dogs have dewclaws on every leg and some may even have two dewclaws on each of the rear legs.  In some dogs, these claws are only held on to the leg by loose skin and may be prone to ripping or tearing. This claw does not touch the ground and so is not worn down when they walk and often requires trimming more often than other claws.

The quick

Running in the centre of each claw is a section of nerves and blood vessels called the quick.  When cutting your dog’s claws, the section containing the quick should be avoided as it will be painful for your dog and is likely to result in bleeding.  In light coloured claws you can see the quick as a pink band in the middle of the claw.  In dark coloured nails you will not be able to see the quick and should carefully trim each claw little by little until you can see a black spot in the centre of the claw.  If you go any further than this you might cut into the quick.

Dogs whose nails have not been trimmed for a long time should be trimmed cautiously because long claws will also have a long quick.  In these situations you may want to start by shortening the claws a little at a time and do this regularly (maybe once a week) to ensure that the quick is retreating.  Shortening the claws to a healthy length may, in some instances, take months, but will be worth it as it allows your dog to move without pain. Once their claws are shorter and more mobile, exercising more easily will help to wear down the claws as well.

If you do cut the quick do not panic and do not make fuss as this is likely to stress your dog even more. Ensure you give your dog treats and use some styptic powder to stop the bleeding.  Although the amount of blood lost can look dramatic, it is unlikely to cause a healthy dog any problems.

When to cut your dog’s claws?

Each dog is different and there may be variation between breeds as to how long is too long, but as a general rule it has been suggested that if a dog is standing on a flat surface, their claws should not touch the ground.  A good indicator that your dog’s claws may need a trim is if you can hear their claws clicking loudly as they move around on hard or tiled floors.

Depending on how active your dog is, and the types of surface they walk on, you should aim to trim your dog’s claws once or twice a month.  Make sure you stick to this and get into a routine, i.e. first weekend of every month etc.

How to trim your dog’s claws?

There are many different ways to trim your dog’s claws and many different trimming tools that you could use (nail clippers, guillotine trimmers, nail scissors, plier style trimmer or grinders). If you have never trimmed your dog’s claws before then you should seek advice from your local veterinary practice, an experienced dog person or a dog groomer who will be able to show you how to do it. 

If your dog has very hairy paws it may be easier to keep them well trimmed so that you can easily see when their nails are too long. 

Getting your dog used to claw trimming

Most dogs do not like having their claws trimmed. If possible you should ensure that you start handling their paws and trimming their claws from an early age to get them used to the process.

If you do not trim your dog’s claws regularly, or have never trimmed their claws, then they are likely to find the experience strange and may not be keen on you handling them in this way.  You may want to try and get them used to the experience by regularly touching or manipulating their paws to start with.  Initially you could move your hands up and down their legs and paws and gently press each toe, giving lots of praise while you do it.  Once they are comfortable with you doing this you could try clipping one claw at a time to ease them into it.

Getting everything ready

Some people may wish to have somewhere in their home that they choose to be their trimming area each time.  This should be somewhere that is comfortable for you and your dog and is bright and allows you to see your dog’s nails well.  Ensure you have everything ready (clippers, styptic, treats and a towel in case you accidentally cut the quick).

Encouraging a positive environment

Cutting your dog’s claws successfully is largely about making your dog feel comfortable and at ease during your grooming sessions (this may be easier said than done). You may also wish to look at positive reinforcement methods to encourage your dog and make trimming less stressful in the future (for both you and your dog). Giving your dog treats during the trimming process will help them make positive associations with having their claws trimmed.

What to do if you’re really finding it difficult?

Some dogs may show signs of significant stress or even aggression when faced with having their claws trimmed, despite gradual introductions to claw trimming, plenty of patience, positive reinforcement and treats.  If this is the case you should never try and force your dog to have their claws trimmed, but you should consider consulting your vet, who may in turn refer you to a behaviourist.

Who can I contact for further advice?

The Kennel Club is not a veterinary organisation and is unable to provide general or case specific veterinary advice.  If you have any questions regarding any of the issues discussed in this article then please contact your local veterinary practice for further information.