Keeping your dog's nails trimmed protects the paws

  • Trixie, a female, beagle/hound mix, is about 6 years old and weighs 29 pounds.

    Trixie, a female, beagle/hound mix, is about 6 years old and weighs 29 pounds. Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

  • Beethoven, a male Saint Bernard mix, weighs 75 pounds and is approximately 3 years old.

    Beethoven, a male Saint Bernard mix, weighs 75 pounds and is approximately 3 years old. Courtesy of The Buddy Foundation

By Ellaine Kiriluk
The Buddy Beat

My dog, Kasey, and I recently spent several hours at our area emergency veterinary clinic.

He came back into the house after being outside in the yard for about 10 minutes before bedtime. As I closed the door and turned around I saw blood all over the floor, a path of it leading from the door into the room. So, at 10:30 p.m., we found ourselves sitting in the emergency clinic.

Kasey had broken a toenail off down to the quick, and since it was at risk for infection, we were sent home with antibiotics and pain medication. Several days later, we saw our veterinarian to make sure all was well. His nails weren't long, so the mystery remains how he broke it off. But the experience reminded me it's important to keep his nails trimmed.

If you share your life with a dog, you may have heard the "click clack" sound of long nails on the kitchen or living room floor. Nail trimming and paw care are important for our dog's health.

Paw care is important, according to the American Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, because the pads on a dog's foot provide extra cushioning to help protect bones and joints from shock, provide insulation against extreme weather and walking on rough ground, and help to protect tissue deep in the paw.

Both the ASPCA and Humane Society of the United States suggest health care tips for your dog's paws and nails.

Your dog's nails should be trimmed when they touch the ground; when they are "clicking on the floor" or getting snagged. Some dogs who walk on rough sidewalks may never need a trim except for their dewclaws, if they have them.

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Trimming your dog's nails necessitates the right equipment. There are two basic types of nail clippers for dogs -- a guillotine type and a scissor type. Purchase the size that is correct for your dog. If a nail clipper is intolerable for your dog, an alternative may be a nail grinder -- an electronic tool that sands nails down.

Some dogs may find the sound and vibrations the nail grinder produces unpleasant. There are also nail files for dogs that don't make noise but may still produce an unpleasant feeling.

If your dog is touchy, it may take a few weeks of paw massaging before he is comfortable and can tolerate the sensations to allow you to work on his nails.

If you decide to trim your dog's nails yourself, clip only the sharp tips. If your canine does allow you to trim his nails, start by gathering treats, the nail trimmer or nail grinder and styptic powder.


Hold his toe firmly but gently. While lavishing him with treats and calm praise, hold the trimmer so you're cutting the nail from top to bottom (not side to side) and insert a very small length of nail through the trimmer's opening.

Avoid nipping the quick, which is the pink area within each nail that contains nerves and blood vessels, and don't trim at a blunt angle. Try to maintain the existing curvature of the nail. Cut a little bit of nail with each pass until you see the beginning of a circle -- still nail colored -- appear on the cut surface. The circle indicates you are nearing the quick, so stop cutting that nail and move on to the next.

If you do cut the quick, your dog will probably yelp and may struggle. There are nerves in there and it hurts. End the nail cutting session and give first aid. Apply styptic powder to the bleeding nail with a little bit of pressure as you press the powder into the wound to make sure it sticks. If bleeding continues for more than a few minutes, consult your veterinarian.

Never force your dog to submit. The ASPCA notes some dogs show aggressive or fearful behavior when you attempt to trim their nails. Signs of distress include panting, trembling, whining, freezing, cowering, tail tucking, growling, snarling or snapping.


There are some dogs who are unable to get over their terror, even with the most patient and gradual of introductions. Your veterinarian or a professional groomer may have better luck. If not, consult a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, a veterinary behaviorist, or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer for help.

Don't stress your dog over nail trimming. Make the process as easy as possible for him. Maybe walking on rough sidewalk surfaces would help keep his nail length in check. Although his weren't long, we wonder how Kasey broke his nail. No one knows for sure except him. But Kasey feels better now, and so do I.

• Contact The Buddy Foundation at (847) 290-5806; visit us at 65 W. Seegers Road, Arlington Heights; or online at

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