How do I know if my dog's nails are too long?

Updated: May 24

I like to make the analogy: would you like to wear high heeled shoes all day? If the answer is no, then consider the length of your dog's nails. Just like a high heeled shoe forces your foot into a constant contorted position, so does long toe nails on a dog.

So, how long is too long? If you can hear your dog's nails on the tile/wood floor as they walk around the house or on the cement/asphalt as you walk around the neighborhood, your dog's nails are too long. A dog should ALWAYS have more weight put onto the pad of the foot, as that is where the most cushion is. Unlike cats, dog nails do not retract and will cause significant gait difficulties if allowed to grow too long.

Many people choose not to cut their own pet's nails due to not wanting to cause unnecessary pain. It's okay to not want to do the task yourself, but ultimately, you are not a responsible pet parent if you neglect getting the task done altogether. A pet's nails greatly affect the health of the joints and in the development of chronic tendon, ligament, and arthritic disorders. Your feet would hurt in high heels, and so do their feet with long nails! Imagine five years of never being able to take heels off. Ouch.

The angle of a dog's paw to limb should ALWAYS be greater than 90 degrees. Why? because it stretches the tendons and ligaments in the back of the leg. Now, angle of the "wrist" joint varies based upon breed, but in general, the angle should be OPEN, not CLOSED. The flatter the foot, the more pain. The same is true in horses, humans, and any animal that walks on bony appendages.

Now, if we look at this from another angle, proper form allows for proper function. The angles of the wrist will affect the knee, the shoulder, and the entire conformation of the dog. Not only that, but if your feet hurt, what is next to hurt? Your knees. Then your hips. And so on! So, let us not only consider the health of the foot, let us consider the dog as a whole.

Now, whether you cut, grind, or file your dog's nails, there are several things you need to know. First and foremost, you cannot be a one and done dog owner. Trimming nails one time in a case of chronically untrimmed nails is not the solution. Why? Because of a structure called the "quick" or "kwik."

The quick is a structure that provides blood supply to the nail bed. It is a pesky structure that if you clip it once, not only will your dog bleed all over the house, but you are likely NEVER going to be touching your dogs nails with clippers again (one bad experience is a remembered experience). For this reason, many dog owners choose to grind or file. However, if you know how to clip correctly and are patient, repetitive, and rewarding with training, this will be a nonissue.

Notice how in image "2" that a chronic long toe nail will have a long quick. The easiest way to combat this is regular clipping to cause the quick to recede. When you clip just the very most edge regularly, the quick will begin to move backwards and will make nail clipping easier in the future. If you choose to grind, make sure to grind from the pad outwards (think like sharpening a pencil), making a "tube" like structure with a blunted edge, not just filing the end like you would your own nails. Be careful when grinding, however, because the excessive friction may cause extra heat and is prone to burning your dog if you are not careful!

Now, if you are clipping, here is your guide: Always cut 45 degrees from pad to top of the toe. This will minimize your chances of "quicking" your dog and will also make it easier for the quick to recede.

Do this regularly and with many treats handy so that your dog gets used to the routine and it will be a pleasant experience. At first, just seeing the clippers may cause paranoia, so start with desensitization training. Reward your dog for letting you have clippers out, touching them with clippers, and then clipping one nail, and then so on. If your dog had one bad experience and refuses to let you do it at all, best to allow the professionals to do it and have it done regularly at your vet's office.

Clipping toe nails seems like a small thing, but it greatly affects your pet's joint health. Consider your pet's nails and if they're having to live a life in high heels. Be a responsible pet parent and get their toe health under control.

If you liked this blog post, also please consider reading our guide on how to acheive better mobility by tending to your dog's feet:


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