Do you ever find yourself snuggling your pup and looking at their paw wondering “Are my dog’s nails too long?” You may be surprised to learn that when it comes to your pup, nail trimming time is more than just a relaxing spa session. A dog’s nails that are allowed to grow too long can cause serious pain and discomfort, and over time they can also lead to serious long-term health complications.
In this guide, I’m going to help you identify if your dog’s nails are too long and what you should do to address overgrown nails quickly and efficiently. After all, there is nothing more that we, as dog parents, want than to make sure that our furry best friends are happy and healthy!
How Long is Too Long for Dog Nails?
Have you recently heard that all-too-familiar sound of your dog’s nails clicking on the tile or hardwood floor? This is one of the easiest indicators that it’s time to pull out the nail clippers or nail grinder. The truth is that if your dog’s nails are kept at the right length, they should not touch the ground when he is standing or walking.
One of the best times to check your dog’s nail length is during their routine body scan as recommended in the Pet Health 5 check. During this time, you are already examining your dog’s paws for any potential problems or injuries, making their nails a natural extension of that process.
To check if your dog’s nails are too long, have him stand in front of you with his paw flat on the ground. His nails should extend enough that they can be seen (unless your dog has extra-long fur covering them), but they should not reach past the bottom of the paw pad.
Some other signs that your dog’s nails are overgrown include:
- The nails are starting to curl around the end of his paw
- It looks as though he is tiptoeing when walking and no longer walking on his paw pads properly
- Your dog starts to walk on this side of his paw
- Any signs of limping or walking gingerly
- Excessive licking or chewing at his paws
- Slipping or instability on floors and surfaces that he can normally navigate safely
- Any signs of redness or bleeding at the nail bed
If you notice any of these signs, it is time to make your dog’s nails a priority. For those that are comfortable cutting dog nails at home, pull out your grooming tools and get to work. If not, contact your groomer or veterinarian for an appointment to address your dog’s long nails as soon as possible.
Risks and Health Concerns for Long Dog Nails
If your dog’s nails are allowed to grow too long, they will have a direct impact on his ability to walk normally. Over time, this change in gait can have a lasting impact on your dog’s health. To help you better understand the risks, here are 6 health concerns that can occur as a result of overgrown nails.
When your dog is moving around, long nails can get in the way, preventing him from being able to maintain proper balance and traction. This change in position of your dog’s paws is not only uncomfortable and unsettling, but it may lead to slip and fall accidents that would have been completely preventable by keeping his nails trimmed properly.
Breakage and Bleeding
Within each of your dog’s nails is a collection of nerves and blood vessels otherwise known as “the quick”. If your dog’s nails are too long, the pressure can cause the nail to easily split or break off. Not only is this incredibly painful for your dog, but it will also bleed significantly.
If your dog’s nails split or break revealing the quick, he is at high risk for infection. With the nail being so close to the ground, these injuries are in contact with a wide variety of different surfaces, any of which may be carrying harmful bacteria. When these infections get into your dog’s bloodstream, they can become very serious as they move throughout the body.
Long nails are at risk of getting caught on furniture, the carpet, or other surfaces. If they are strong enough to avoid breaking, this could cause the nail to be ripped out of the paw entirely. This is very painful for your pup and may even require surgery to address.
Injury to the Paw Pads
In some cases, when a dog’s nails grow out too long, they will start to curl back in around the paw. When they reach a long enough length, the nails may actually pierce the paw pads and continue growing into your dog’s paw, creating constant pain and an increased risk of infection. This is most common with the dewclaw.
Paw or Leg Deformity
If your dog’s nails are too long and left in that condition for an extended period, it may (in serious cases) lead to a deformation in your dog’s paws or legs. As your dog starts to adjust the way that he’s walking to accommodate for the long nails, such as walking on the side of his paw, it can have an impact on his joints. Additionally, the repeated impact of the nail forced back into the nail bed with each step can create enough trauma in your dog’s paw to lead to splayed or flat feet.
While some deformations can be treated or addressed through surgery or physical rehabilitation, other conditions are more permanent and can result in constant ongoing pain and discomfort.
What to Do with Overgrown Dog Nails
As your dog’s nails grow, so too do the blood vessels and nerves inside each nail. This means that you can’t simply cut them off back to where they should be and call it a day. Instead, addressing your dog’s nails will be a gradual process.
If you are comfortable cutting your dog’s nails at home, trim them back slightly while paying careful attention to the location of the quick. In white nails, this can be seen as a pink line inside the nail. It is more challenging to find this location with darker colored nails.
When cutting black or dark-colored nails, cut small pieces off the nail, watching the appearance of the exposed end. Eventually, you will see a grey or pink oval appear on the cut surface. It is at this point that you should stop. If you continue to cut, you will hit the quick causing discomfort and bleeding.
The next time that you cut your dog’s nails, the quick will have receded slightly, allowing you to cut the nail back a little further. It is a gradual process that isn’t going to be solved overnight. When you do manage to cut your dog’s nails back to a safe length, you can then focus on maintenance, preventing the problem from reoccurring again in the future.
If your dog’s nails are too long and you’re not comfortable addressing it yourself, contact your veterinarian or local groomer. These are professionals that are highly experienced and knowledgeable. They will be able to work with you and direct you as to the best steps to better manage your dog’s nails moving forward.
Proper care of your dog’s nails may not seem like an important health concern, but (as you can see), if your dog’s nails are too long it can have serious consequences. Whether you bring your dog to the veterinarian or groomer for nail trims or you cut his nails at home, make nail maintenance part of your regular routine. As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
What is your go-to nail routine to keep your dog’s nails at a safe and healthy length?
Performing a body scan, which includes reviewing the condition of your dog’s paws and nails, is one of the five vital stats that we encourage you to monitor when working towards prioritizing the health of your dog. The sooner you identify a problem with your dog’s nails, the sooner you can address it, preventing your pup from experiencing unnecessary pain and discomfort.
Join us in our Pet Health 5 Movement and together we can start tracking our pet’s health. It’s surprisingly easy! On the 5th of each month, we will send you a reminder with a checklist of what to do and how to do it. All you need to do is take the time to work through the list, checking your dog’s health stats, and log them.
Dog health is an important aspect of helping our pups live long, happy lives. Get started today by doing a complete body scan on your dog and signing up for Pet Health 5.
About the Author: Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her ‘pack’ which includes her husband John, their 3 dogs – Daviana, Indiana, and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.