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How to Trim Dog Nails That Are Overgrown

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Fact checked by a Hello Ralphie expert veterinarian

Trimming your dog’s overgrown nails can seem like a very daunting task. Luckily, our Hello Ralphie veterinarians can help simplify things and make the entire process less stressful for both you and your dog.

When a dog’s nails grow out, the structures within the claw also grow. Each nail contains a collection of light pink-colored tissue, known as the quick. The quick contains blood vessels as well as a small but sensitive nerve.

Ideally, when you trim your dog’s nails, you will avoid trimming them too short as doing so makes it possible to accidentally trim the quick. Trimming the quick can result in bleeding, and if the nerve is also cut, the dog can experience pain.

Unfortunately, as your dog’s claws grow in length, the quick and the nerve within it also grow long, which makes it much more likely that you will accidentally cut it the next time you go to cut your dog’s nails.

So, How Do I Trim My Dog’s Overgrown Nails?

When you trim your dog’s nails, the goal is always to trim the upper part of the nail that has the hook or claw. By just trimming the claw, you can avoid cutting the quick.

Clear Nails:

In dogs that have clear claws, it is possible to see the quick inside the nail. In clear nails, the quick will look either pink or red, so it is fairly easy to avoid. Trim the part of the white part of your dog’s nail, ideally as much of the nail that is ahead of the quick as possible.

Opaque Nails:

In a dark-colored nail, it can be nearly impossible to see the quick. If this is the case with your dog, try trimming just the nail tip in very small increments.

If you are having difficulty, it can help to flip the dog’s paw over and trim darker nails from underneath. The part of the nail that looks hollow is the part of the nail you should be trimming.

dog nails being cut and trimmed

Trimming the Dewclaw:

Do not forget that dogs also have dewclaws. These are actually the evolutionary remnants of thumbs! The dewclaw nail is often overlooked and can grow quite large. Not only can a long dew claw be uncomfortable for your dog, but the dewclaw nail can also become ingrown, so it is always worth keeping an eye on.

Trimming Excessively Long Nails:

In cases where your dog’s nails are severely overgrown, you may not be able to cut the nails short because the quick will have grown too long. In these situations, you should trim the nails a very small amount frequently. With enough trimmings, you can train the quick to recede. Eventually, you can cut the nail shorter to a more acceptable length.

What Happens if I Cut the Quick?

When you trim the quick, the nail will most likely bleed. As a dog owner, there is a good chance you will accidentally trim the quick several times, and it is important to know that this is okay. While you always want to avoid doing so, it will heal relatively quickly. Accidentally cutting the quick the odd time is always better than never cutting your dog’s nails.

Remember, the more you trim your dog’s nails, the less likely you will be to cut the quick. Not only will you gain experience, but you will also train the quick to become smaller. Dogs are also much more comfortable when their nails are of an appropriate length.

If you accidentally trim the quick during a nail trim, you can apply a styptic powder or another cautery to the nail. Icing the dog’s paw can also be used to control the bleeding in some situations.

If you are unsure if the amount of bleeding from the dog’s toenail is normal, schedule a consultation with one of our Hello Ralphie veterinarians. An online vet can quickly take a look at the foot and determine whether the bleeding is excessive.

owner cuts nails of jack russel terrier puppy dog

How Do I Trim My New Puppy’s Nails?

The sooner you can get your new puppy used to the feeling of his or her nails being trimmed, the better! Puppies often have much softer and smaller nails than adult dogs. Start by touching the claw trimmers to your puppy’s paws while offering words of encouragement, such as “good boy”. Slowly, you can start to trim the very tips of your puppy’s nails.

It is important to make sure you offer some sort of reward when your puppy is tolerating the nail trim. Positive reinforcement will go a long way, so small treats between each toe or foot is a great way to get your puppy used to nail trims. A Hello Ralphie veterinarian can guide you through your puppy’s first nail trimming and offer suggestions you can use to make sure it goes smoothly. Visit our New Puppy Guide for more help on introducing a new puppy to nail-trimming and other experiences.

How Do I Care for My Senior Dog’s Nails?

As dogs age, their bodies change, just like ours do. Sometimes they can develop arthritis in their joints, unthrifty coats, or become reluctant to walk. Arthritis can cause painful wrists and joints, making it more difficult to trim your dog’s nails.

A Hello Ralphie veterinarian will be able to provide you with advice on how to help treat your elderly dog’s arthritis. The good news is that most of the over-the-counter supplements used for arthritis are also beneficial for coat and nail health. These supplements include natural fatty acids, such as Omega-3 and Omega-6. These act as natural anti-inflammatories that can help reduce the impact of arthritis. They also help with overall skin and nail health, helping with the production of keratin cells.

If your senior dog is sensitive to nail trimming, walks and other exercises can naturally wear the nails down. The more active your dog is, the less you may have to trim its nails. A Hello Ralphie veterinarian can provide a thorough consultation on managing your senior dog and explain how you can treat severely overgrown nails.

Hello Ralphie also has a comprehensive senior dog care guide.

Why is it Important to Trim Your Dog’s Nails?

Overly long nails can make it difficult for your dog to walk because they can prevent them from placing their full weight on their paw pads.

This is often an issue for senior dogs, as they often already have difficulty walking due to arthritis or stiff gait. Overgrown nails are also at more risk of breaking, which is painful. Not only are broken nails uncomfortable, but they can also lead to ingrown nails. Long nails can also curl inwards, which can put pressure on the skin and paw pad.

If you are unsure if your dog’s nails are too long or you need further advice on how to cut the nails, schedule an appointment with one of our Hello Ralphie online vets today!

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