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Dog Nail Care

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close-up of a dogs nails being trimmed by a groomer

Knowing how to take care of a dog’s nails is key to keeping up with your dog’s grooming routine. From basic dog nail care to what you should do if their nail starts bleeding, learning all the ins and outs of proper nail care can make them happy and healthy canines.

How to Trim Your Dog’s Nails Properly

Trimming your dog’s nails is important in keeping them looking and feeling good. Though this is a regular part of any dog’s grooming routine, many pet parents can be hesitant to try it on their own and often have questions concerning dog nail care. These common questions include:

  • How often should my dog’s nails be trimmed?
    On average, your dog’s nails will likely need to be trimmed once a month, but many factors can affect this timeframe. For instance, some people may have their dog’s nails cut whenever they visit the groomer, which may be closer to every six or eight weeks.

    Some dogs will naturally have faster or slower-growing nails. You could have two dogs of the same breed and find that one needs their nails trimmed every three weeks while the other can easily go for two months.

    You can also consider how much your pup naturally wears down their nails. If you have a small dog that you frequently carry, or your dog spends most of their time indoors or in the yard, these soft surfaces will not help file down the nails. However, if your dog spends much more time on tough surfaces like asphalt or concrete, they could go longer in between nail trimmings.

    As for how to tell when your dog needs their nails trimmed, you can typically gauge it from when you can hear their nails clicking on your floors. Though, as all dog parents know, hearing those pitter-patters throughout your home is comforting.
  • Can you trim a dog’s nails at home?
    If you have the right tools and feel comfortable trimming your pup’s nails, then this is easily something you can do from the comfort of your home. Typically, with smaller dogs, you can have them sit in your lap, hold them with one arm wrapped around, and then cut their nails with the other hand. With larger pups, you may find that it’s easier to have another person help hold your dog still while you trim their nails.

    There can be many benefits to trimming your dog’s nails at home. You can save time by not having to schedule an appointment, wait for your appointment, and then drive back and forth. You can also save money. After initially buying your supplies, you won’t have to purchase anything else for the foreseeable future, but if you have someone else do your dog’s nails, you will have to pay for that service, most likely every month.

    Another wonderful benefit of trimming your dog’s nails at home is that your pup is in a comfortable environment. Instead of being somewhere new with people they don’t know, which can create added stress, they can be more relaxed by staying home.
  • Can dog nails be cut with human clippers?
    It is not recommended that you use human clippers on a dog’s nails. There are many various types of clippers, grinders, and files available that are made specifically for dogs. Plus, after the puppy stage, a dog’s nails can become quite thick and tough, and human clippers will not be nearly strong enough to do a good job.
  • Does walking your dog trim their nails?
    Walking your dog can help file down their nails, depending on where you go for walks. If you mainly stay on softer dirt or grassy trails, these will not be rough enough to wear down your dog’s nails. Tougher terrain like pavement, sidewalks, or even gravel may provide more of the natural wear that can file their nails.

    It’s important to keep in mind that while everyday activities can help file down your pup’s nails, they will still need to be trimmed regularly. The difference is that you may be able to go a month and a half between nail trimmings instead of just a month.
  • Can you file a dog’s nails?
    After trimming your dog’s nails, you can also file them. Though this extra step may seem like you are treating your pup to a little manicure session, you may reconsider when you see the benefits.

    After cutting a dog’s nails, the edges can often feel very rough or sharp, which means they can easily scratch the floor, furniture, or you. Instead of waiting a week or so for these pokey edges to wear themselves down naturally, you can instead get a dog nail file and round out their nails.

    There are also electric files that can be used instead of clippers. Though this can be a great option if you don’t feel comfortable cutting your dog’s nails, you still need to be careful not to file too much and hit the quick.

Like all other grooming items, it’s essential to begin introducing your dog to getting their nails trimmed from a young age. Teach your dog that nail clippers aren’t scary, and instead, nail trimming time means lots of delicious treats and belly rubs.

In between nail trims, practice getting out the clippers, letting your dog sniff them, rewarding them with a treat, and then putting the clippers away. You can also practice handling your dog’s paws and desensitizing them to having their feet or nails held—many pups can be picky about people touching their feet.

Though it may take some patience and time, the eventual goal is to be able to trim your dog’s nails relatively quickly, without them being scared or continuously pulling their foot out of your hand. Your dog may never become a fan of having their nails trimmed but showing them how to tolerate this grooming procedure and not be scared or stressed is still certainly a step in the right direction.

Many water breeds, like Labrador Retrievers or Portuguese Water Dogs, have webbed feet. Be mindful of this extra skin between the toes when grooming your dog’s paws.

What Happens if You Cut a Dog’s Nail Too Short?

Inside a dog’s nail is something known as the quick. This is a part of the nail that contains blood vessels and nerves, making it more sensitive than other parts of the nail. If your pup has white or light-colored nails, you can most likely see the quick just by looking or putting the nail under a light. Dogs with darker-colored or black nails have quicks that aren’t quite as easy to spot.

When you are cutting your dog’s nails, it’s important that you locate the quick and trim below that line. It’s crucial that you avoid trimming the nails too short, as this could result in you hitting the quick, which could cause bleeding and pain to your dog.

With that said, accidents can still happen even when you’re a professional at dog grooming. Some pups may involuntarily jerk their foot when you try to trim their nail, causing you to cut further than you intended. In case an incident like this occurs, it’s best to be prepared and know what to do.

Cutting the quick means that you will, almost immediately, see blood coming from the nail. To help stop this bleeding, styptic powder can work wonders—try keeping a small container nearby and ready when trimming your dog’s nails. Other options, if you don’t have any styptic powder handy, are flour or a mixture of baking powder and a little bit of corn starch. By putting a small amount on the tip of your dog’s nail, these powders should help stop the bleeding in just a handful of minutes. Afterward, you may need to put a bandage or sock over your dog’s foot or just keep a close eye on them in case they try to chew on their nail.

After a while, you can double-check your pup’s foot to ensure its healing well—if the bleeding persists, you should contact your veterinarian or local animal hospital.

dog nails being trimmed during a grooming

How To Treat a Dog Nail Infection

Nail bed infections in dogs could occur due to you accidentally cutting a dog’s quick. Dogs can additionally be affected by other nail disorders and conditions. Some of these can include brittle nails that constantly chip away, split nails, or even a torn nail. Besides hitting the quick when cutting your pup’s nails, there are many other causes for issues related to their nails: bacteria or fungus, trauma, various immune diseases, and poor grooming habits.

If your dog has an infected nail or a nail bed infection, you might notice symptoms such as a discolored nail, swelling or redness around the nail, limping or slow walking, and excessively licking their foot or nail.

By looking at your dog’s foot, you may be able to tell if the cause was an injury or a medical condition. While not always the case, medical conditions may affect every nail, while an injury may just be to one nail in particular.

No matter the cause, if you notice any unusual symptoms or believe something is wrong with your dog’s foot, it’s essential that you take them to see their veterinarian. Depending on the underlying cause, treatment could include oral medication or topical cream. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary. The good news is that by receiving medical attention quickly, dogs have a high success rate of recovering and returning to normal before you know it. Just be sure you follow your veterinarian’s treatment recommendations and keep an eye on your best pal to ensure they are getting better.

When To Call the Professionals

Being a dog parent is a major responsibility, and there is no shame in calling a professional when you need advice or help—whether the professional be a veterinarian or a dog groomer.

Contact your veterinarian if you think your dog has a nail-related injury or infection. Some veterinary offices offer nail-cutting services, so you can contact yours if you aren’t quite ready to trim your dog’s nails on your own.

With some dogs, trimming their nails is a stressful experience, and it may take a long time to cut each nail. In this instance, you may find it far less stressful (for both you and your dog) to have a professional groomer do the trimming in a fraction of the time. You can also schedule an appointment with a dog groomer to trim all the fluffy hair along their feet and between their toe pads. Plus, if you already take your dog to be professionally groomed, most places will automatically trim your dog’s nails during their appointment.

Pay attention to your dog’s body language when you are cutting their nails—this can help you tell if they are comfortable, nervous, or getting upset.

Dog Nails Tips and Tricks

When it comes to our canine companions, it always seems as though there is more to learn, including these tips and fun facts about dog nail care.

  • There are many different types of dog nail clippers. Do research before purchasing one to ensure you find a good fit for you and your pup.
  • If you don’t want to use clippers, try an electric file, hand file, or buffer. Be sure to read all safety information before using any of these products on your dog.
  • Many pups do not like having their feet touched. You can work on desensitizing your dog to having their feet handled with fun ideas such as dog-friendly nail caps or painting their nails. These are pain-free and easy methods, but it’s crucial that you use dog-friendly nail polish.
  • Try tiring your dog out before you try cutting their nails. A worn-out pup will most likely be easier to handle.
  • Don’t forget to trim your dog’s dewclaw—their extra nail on the side of their front legs. A few breeds even have dewclaws on their hind legs.

Though nail care may not be the first thing that comes to mind for daily dog care, it’s crucial that you don’t overlook the importance of properly taking care of your best pal’s feet. After all, those paws are what allow them to play in the yard, join us for walks, and run to their heart’s content.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


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