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Long toenails' disadvantages

Toenail trimming is an essential part of dog grooming and a clear sign of the dog’s good health and hygiene. Professional groomers will perform the task for meticulous, tense or anxious owners.
In generally, dog nail trimming is a simple procedure if done correctly.
Trimming becomes absolutely necessary at some point of the dog’s life, but most of us – including my self – are reluctant to engage with it.

Technically, for dogs and other mammals, what we call nails, is actually claws.

Dogs’ toenails are composed of nerve receptors and blood vessels that nourish the nail.
These receptors make their paws more sensitive to handling, than other parts of their body.

Many dogs also have a fifth nail, called dewclaw, on the inside of the leg, below the wrist.
Despite the debate, dewclaws are not necessarily vestigial, because they serve to grip objects such as bones or to provide important adherence, when a galloping dog needs to change direction.
Dewclaws need more attention and regular trimming, due to the fact they are rarely – depending on the dog – touch the ground.

The most common reason why we avoid to trim our dog’s claws, is the fear of clipping too much and hurt the nail’s hyponychium. 
The hyponychium (from the Greek ypo=beneath and onyx/ onychas=nail) is also known as the “quick”. Once over-clipped, it will bleed and provoke pain.
Consequently our dog will make a bad association regarding the nail-trimming procedure.

Eventually the cutting of nails becomes an event encompassing discomfort and pain.
There are active dogs who run a lot and on varied surfaces, thus cutting nails may not be necessary. High mileage, or walking on paved alleys, tiles, concrete etc. wears them down naturally.

Let’s see what is inside a dog’s nail & how we should proceed.


We can see on the image, the interior structures, along with the suggested angle – approximately 45° to avoid harming the sensitive quick (showing in red).
On black toenails, is difficult to say where the quick starts, whilst you can’t discern the lighter colour of it.
Quite the opposite when dealing with white claws, in this case the sensitive area starts with a  pinkish colour.
In untrimmed claws, there will often be a slit below the tip of the hyponychium. It is usually safe to initiate your cut at that point. For safety reasons, better clip less and leave longer nails. The good thing about hyponychium is that it will recede with repeated trimming and it will get shorter each time.
On the other hand, the longer the dog’s claws remain uncut, the longer the quick will become.
At that point cutting-off even a very small bit of nail, you risk to cut the quick.

Despite the fact that it is not a pleasant interaction between you and your dog, you should consider it as an unavoidable necessity!

Consequences of long toenails

Long toenails are painful for the paws
When a dog’s toenails contact hard ground, like a side-walk or your house’s floor, the hard surface pushes the nail back up into the nail bed.
This either puts pressure on all the toe joints or forces the toe to twist to the side.
The toes then become very sore, even arthritic.
Due to the pain the dog will not be eager to run, climb stairs, jump, he will reduce his traction ability.
If left unattended over an extended period, by compromising his weight distribution and natural alignment, he will suffer from deformed paws, injuries to the tendons and realignment of the joints.

Claw clipping is especially important in older dogs, whose posture can be dramatically improved.

Dogs use their toe-nails when climbing a hill, digging, during running for changing direction and for traction. The nails of a standing dog do not make contact with the ground.
Sedentary way of life reduces dramatically the chances of their toenails’ natural worn up.

Long nails can get torn or split, which is very painful and depending on severity, may need to be treated by a veterinarian.
My little Spitz has torn and even dislocated his dewclaw, because of its length.
Long nails can be trapped easily in dense, tall grass and little twigs.

If you can hear your dog coming, his nails are too long, is time to trim or grind his claws.

Tips & Tricks

  • Trim nails outside or in a well lit room.
  • Desensitise your dog before engage in nail-trimming.
  • Make nail trimming fun: always associate nail cutting with treats and praise. If you see stress signs, stop immediately, offer a jack-pot treat or game, postpone for another day.
  • Start on the hind feet, because the nails tend to be a little shorter and less sensitive than the front.
  • The insensitive nail will show as a chalky ring around the sensitive quick.
  • Light coloured nails are easier to clip. Watch for the pinkish area, where the blood vessels are situated and cut before that.
  • Shine a small flash light or penlight, on dark nails so you can see the quick in contrast.

  • Don’t Forget the Styptic Powder (or corn-flour). “Quick” bleeds a lot and that may panic you and your dog. You can buy styptic powder for pets at any big box pet store, or you can use human styptic powder.
  • Don’t squeeze the toes – it is painful!
  • Use your fingers to separate the toes for clipping and hold the paw gently.
  • Use a pair of blunt edged children’s scissors to remove excess toe hair
  • Some nail trimmers come with a guard. This will only allow you to take off a tiny amount of claw. Then you can repeat again.
  • Use “scissor” type clippers. Guillotine style clippers crush the toe, which is painful. Never put the whole nail in a clipper.
  • Use small size clippers for better control. Only giant breed dogs will need large ones.
  • Keep your tools sharp: either replace or sharpen your clippers regularly.
  • For maintenance, cut every 2 weeks. To shorten, cut every week.

Once the insensitive nail is thinned out and isn’t supporting the quick, the quick will dry up and recede. This will allow you to cut your dog’s nails even shorter next time.

Each dog’s claws are different, but very long toenails often become dry and cracked, with a clear separation of the living tissue and the insensitive nail.
This will make it easier to trim back longer nails.

Remember, short toenails are important to your dog’s overall health.
Best of luck with your dog’s nail-clipping!

About Post Author

Reactif canin

Passionate advocate of Positive Reinforcement, Operant Conditioning and force-free training methods. Studied at Karen Pryor Academy, Ethology Institute Cambridge, Canine Principles Academy and Centre Of Excellence. Being responsible for an animal, consists on creating scenarios that build his self-confidence, helps him to discover his strengths and competences, to trust us and not fear of us. After all, a dog is a dog, a unique individual, who needs and must act like one and by expressing his natural behaviours! We must consider the relationship with our dog as parental, rather than this of the master and subordinate. Dogs, similarly to children, see us as their "role model" for guiding them to their new life, with us. Our role is not to dominate them, but to establish a symbiotic relationship with them. Let us be worthy of this role!

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