Some dogs need a nail trim every month or so; others can go for several months without little or no trimming, usually because they do a lot of walking and running on hard surfaces.
Without trimming, nails can quickly become ingrown or long enough to make walking uncomfortable. Long nails snag easily on carpet, upholstery, and even your clothes. Snags can lead to a tear, an injury that can be bloody as well as painful.
One of the main reasons dogs don’t get regular nail trims is because owners are afraid to do the job. They fear cutting into the “quick,” or nail bed. This sensitive, pink area at the base of each nail is full of nerves and blood vessels and will bleed profusely if cut. But if you know how to go about it, you can care for your dog’s nails yourself.
How to trim your dog’s nails
Aim for your dog’s nails to be close to touching the ground, or just a bit higher.
1. Always use a nail clipper designed for dogs. Human nail clippers don’t work well, because dogs’ nails aren’t flat like ours.
2. Arrange yourself and your dog comfortably. Some dogs will sit right down in your lap for a nail trim. But you can also sit on the floor next to your pup during the procedure.
4. Reassure your dog. Even if he doesn’t seem nervous, talking to him in a soft, calm voice will help make nail trimming more pleasant for both of you.
5. Hold each paw as you work and spread the toes. Be careful to stay away from the quick, which is easier to cut into than you think. The quick is the end of the toe’s blood vessel, so if you cut the quick, the toe will bleed.
6. Trim dewclaws. If your dog has dewclaws, which are remnants of fifth toes, you’ll need to trim those too. Look for them high on the inside of each foot. Not all dogs have them; in many breeds, it is common for dewclaws to be removed shortly after birth. These can get torn easily in the field and are painful.
7. Finish off with a reward. Give your dog his favorite treat and a lot of praise when you’re done, so he learns that nail trimming has its benefits. That way, he’ll be more apt to cooperate next time.
How to treat an injured toenail
If you’ve clipped into the quick of the nail, you’ll know: your dog will probably yelp in pain. Apply pressure or dab a bit of nail styptic powder, which acts as a coagulant, to stop the bleeding. (Men often keep styptic powder in their shaving kits. One major brand is called Kwik-Stop, and pet stores and veterinarians offices often stock it.) If you don’t have styptic powder, sometimes putting the toe in flour will help.
If your dog tears a nail before you’ve had a chance to clip, apply pressure right away with a clean rag or handful of gauze. After you’ve stopped the bleeding, wash his paw with warm, soapy water and take a good look at the injury. If the nail is simply torn, and you’re comfortable with clipping your dog’s nails, you can go ahead and clip away the damaged part.
When to go with the pros
If the whole nail is dangling from a tear, take your dog to the vet to see whether it should be removed. Before the procedure, the vet will numb the area, because removing a nail can be very painful.
Tear or no tear, if you’re just too uncomfortable to clip your dog’s nails yourself, take him to a pro.
Bottom line: Active dogs will wear down their nails on their own, but most dogs need regular nail trims. When nails grow too long, they can make it uncomfortable for the dog to walk and lead to painful, bloody snags and tears.