Just like human nails, dog claws grow constantly. How often a dog's nails need to be cut will depend on the breed and lifestyle, which can change with age.
Many dogs naturally wear their nails down by walking and play, especially if the walk involves hard surfaces. An inactive dog may not wear their nails down. Similarly an older dog will often favour grass and softer ground and will prefer not to walk on hard surfaces, so their nails will not naturally wear down as much either.
It is therefore important to keep your dog's claws well trimmed at the correct length. If they get too long it can put pain and pressure on the toes and paws, which will ultimately put strain on the legs. Long claws are also prone to splitting and infection.
Correct length for a dog's nails
If a dog's nails are too long, you will hear them clack when the dog walks on hard surfaces. Deciding if your dog’s nails are too long is quite simple. The claws should not protrude over the pad and should not touch the ground when standing.
You can cut your dog's nails at home. This is particularly easy if your dog has clear or light coloured nails. In these cases you can see the quick inside the nail. The quick is the blood vessels and nerves that supply the nail. Knowing where the quick is will help you to trim to just before that point. The general recommendation is to cut approx 2mm away from the quick. But if a dog has black or dark claws it can be difficult or impossible to see the quick and this will make nail trimming more difficult. You may prefer, in these cases, to try filing your dog's nails or to have your vet or dog groomer trim them for you.
Cutting your dog's nails
Purchase a specially made implement for the job of cutting your dog's nails. There are several styles of nail trimmer available. Guillotine nail clippers are often the easiest to use and work well for toy and small breeds. Plier dog nail clippers with a scissor type action are also very effective and especially suit larger breeds or if the dog has strong, thick nails. Look for a claw cutter with sharp stainless steel blades and a comfortable handle with plenty of grip.
Each clipper will vary as to how it should be used. Carefully read the instructions specifically for the clipper you have purchased. When you cut the nail you must be decisive and make a smooth, quick squeeze while holding the nail cutter steady.
The claws on a dog's rear feet are often shorter and require less frequent trimming than those on the front feet.
Don't forget your dog's dew claws. These are on the inner leg. As they are located slightly higher up the leg, they therefore do not touch the ground and do not wear down naturally like the rest of the claws.
After trimming with nail cutters you can either file the nail smooth or simply let the rough edges smooth themselves away over time.
Cutting dark claws
The problem with dark nails is that you cannot easily see the quick. Cut dark claws in several small cuts to reduce the chance of accidentally cutting into the quick. As you cut, keep checking the end of your dog's nail. As you cut further along, look out for a dark spot in the centre of the newly clipped edge. This dark area is where the live quick starts.
Some other handy hints for cutting dark nails:
Try shining a torch or bright light towards you and through the claw.
Try looking on the underside of the nail where the quick is often more visible.
Bathing can make the quick easier to see and also makes nails easier to cut.
Applying baby oil will serve the same purpose.
If you cut the quick
Don't panic. If you accidentally cut the nail too short and it starts to bleed, hold some tissue tightly to the bleeding. Alternatively, use a styptic pencil, styptic powder or styptic pads to stop blood flow. Even without treatment, the bleeding should stop within about 5 minutes. If your dog licks the wound it will slow the healing and clotting process and bleed for a bit longer.
If your dog's nails are long
The longer the nail the longer the quick. If your dog's nails are long it is better to cut a little at a time because the quick will also be long. Cut a little bit from each claw and then wait a few days or a week for the quick to recede before cutting again. Once you have the claws at a sensible length then cut monthly or as required.
Trim your dog's claws regularly
Most dogs do not like having their nails trimmed. It is therefore a good idea to get your dog used to having their paws handled at a young age if possible, or at any age by gentle handling and praise. Take things slowly. You don't have to do all the claws in one session.
Keeping your dog's nails trimmed is important. Schedule it into your diary if you are likely to forget. Make a foot inspection part of your usual health routine with your dog. Apart from the pain of long nails, your dog could get infections, broken or ingrown nails and other painful conditions. So with just a little bit of effort and know how, you can keep your dogs feet in tip top condition.