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How to Trim Dog Nails That Are Overgrown

what healthy dog nails should look like

Overgrown dog nails can lead to tendon problems and pain. Here, we explore how to trim dog nails that are overgrown. First, however, we take a few minutes to nibble some candy corn and explain the structure of dogs’ nails, so you can learn how to safely trim them.

Anatomy of Dog Nails

Dogs’ nails are made of three basic parts: the outer protective shell, the fleshy quick that protects the bones, and the bone. The best way we can describe the anatomy of a dog’s nails is to compare it to candy corn. The yellow part is the bone, the orange part is the fleshy “quick” which nourishes and protects the claws, and the white part is the nail itself.

Dogs’ nails are comprised of three parts, much like a piece of candy corn! The bone (represented by yellow), the fleshy quick (represented by orange), and the nail itself (represented by white).

The part of the nail from the quick to the tip is, basically, dead tissue. There are no nerve endings. If your dog does experience pain when you trim this part of its nails, that’s probably because you are pulling too hard on the sensitive quick that’s closeby. We’ll get to trimming techniques in another section of this article.

Returning to our candy corn example, the only part that you want to trim is the white part — the nail itself, which has no nerve endings, no blood vessels and is dead tissue. You want to cut, trim or grind only the nail, not the quick.

Dogs that spend a lot of time outside, especially on hard surfaces, may not need their nails trimmed. In fact, this is where the dogs’ nails do their jobs best because they protect the rest of the paw when they’re out in nature, doing what dogs do.

On the other hand, dogs who spend a lot of time indoors don’t have that natural nail file to grind down the dead tissue. So, it’s up to you to keep the nails manicured. Some people opt for professional nail trimming/grinding, while others prefer to do it themselves. 

So, how do you know if your dogs’ nails are too long? Let’s dig into that. 

Dog Nails Too Long? How to Tell

Have you ever let your own toenails or fingernails grow too long? It’s uncomfortable! Extremely overgrown dog nails can be painful too. Are your dog nails too long? There are several ways you can tell. 

First, if you have hard floors, you’ll be able to tell quickly by the sound their nails make on the floor. Lots of loud clicks suggest that your dog’s nails are way too long. Most dogs should be able to walk around the house without making a lot of clicking and scratching noises. 

Next, you can tell if your dog’s nails are too long by simply looking at them. If they extend beyond their pads and are curling toward their pads, they are too long. Dogs’ nails should be shorter than their pads. 

This dog’s nails are too long. They’ve started to curl, and the quick has also grown too long.

Third, if your dog is limping or licking their paws a lot, they may be trying to tell you that it’s time for a trim. Dogs nurse themselves by licking when they experience discomfort. A quick trip to the vet will help you understand why your dog is licking its paws.

How to Cut Long Dog Nails

If you are dealing with extremely overgrown dog nails, you will need to take extra precautions. It is very possible that not only has the dead part of your dog’s nails grown too long, but the quick might also have grown to extend beyond the pad. Dogs that have black nails also present extra challenges, because you can’t see the quick as easily as you can see it in a dog with light or clear nails. 

Trimming black dogs’ nails is difficult because the quick is harder to see. You’ll need to trim little by little and look into the nail to see the grayish flesh called the quick. Do not cut into the quick.
  1. First introduce your dog to the tools you’ll be using to trim their nails. If you are using manual nail clippers with a guard or an electric nail grinder, allow your dog to see and sniff the tool. Turn the grinder on and off without using it on the dog, so they can become familiar with the noise.
  2. Next, find a partner to help you with the nail trimming session. Yes, you could go it solo, just you and the dog, but trust us when we say: Trimming dogs’ nails is much easier with two people. It’s even easier when the dog knows, loves and trusts the two people! One of you will hold the dog; the other will do the “dirty” work.
  3. Locate the quick. If the dog has dark nails, this will be challenging. You might be able to use a flashlight (like the one on your smartphone) to see through the nail. The best way to find the quick, however, is to trim small parts at a time. As soon as you see the quick, you’ll know to stop. 
  4. Clip, trim or grind. Be swift, be confident, and lavish tons of praise and healthy dog treats on your dog for being such a good dog during a tedious task. 

Special Tips for Overgrown Dog Nails

If you’ve neglected your dog’s nails too long and the quick has grown too long, no need to despair.  

Fortunately, you can get the quick to recede, but you will need to do frequent mini trimming or grinding sessions. Trim the nails using a grinder gently and slowly, until you see the quick. Repeat this process every 10 to 14 days, and you will see the quick slowly recede to a healthy length, just behind the dog’s pads. 

If you accidentally cut into the quick, some veterinarians and professional groomers recommend that you keep a styptic pencil or powder on hand. You can find it at a pet supply store, drug store, or big-box department store. Check the shaving aisle; some men use styptic pencils and powders when they cut themselves shaving. 

VCAHospitals.com offers tips on what to do if your dog’s nails break, especially if the break extends into the quick.