9 Interesting Facts About Dog Nails

Trivia about … dog nails? Fun facts about dogs’ nails? Who’d have thought it was such a thing. Maybe you have a specific question about dog nails or you just want to brush up on some pet trivia. You’ll get no judgment from us. Understanding the purpose and structure of your dog’s nails helps you understand how they need to be groomed and cared for. So, here are nine interesting facts about dog nails.  

1. Why Do Dogs Have Claws? 

Dogs’ claws serve several purposes. They help them grip the ground when they run, they come in handy when they need to scratch an itch, and they can be used as tools. Dogs are diggers and hunters. Even small breeds like Yorkies were originally bred to hunt rats and rodents in mills and mines, so they used their claws for defense and offense. They also use their claws to grip toys.   

2. Dog Claws Differ From Human Nails

Dogs’ claws differ from our fingernails and toenails in several ways. Although both human nails and dog claws are made of keratin, that’s about as far as the similarities extend. Dogs have an extended quick, which means the fleshy sensitive part of their paws extends beyond their nail beds. Ours, on the other hand (get it?), end at the end of our nail beds. Because a dog’s quick extends into their claws, the structure of their nails is tubular, while ours is solid. 

Because dog claws are tubular, tougher than human nails, and house living tissue, we do not recommend that you use your nail clippers on your dog. Use scissor-style or guillotine-style clippers (or, even better an electric grinder) to trim their claws.  

3. Dog Claws Come in Many Colors

Dogs’ claws vary in color from translucent white to brown and solid black. If your dog has light-colored claws, congratulations. This will make using nail clippers much easier because you will be able to see the quick and avoid cutting into it. Quicks under darker claws are more difficult to see, so we recommend using a nail grinder to shorten dark dog claws. You might even notice that your dog has several colors of claws, especially if he or she has multi-colored fur. Dogs’ claws tend to mimic the color of the hair and skin surrounding the claw.  

4. Back Claws vs Front Claws

The claws on dogs’ rear paws tend to be shorter and grow slower, so they do not need to be trimmed as often as front claws, according to Vetmed at Washington State University. In fact, some dogs never need to have their rear claws trimmed. 

5. Dog Nails Will Loop

Some dog nails will “loop” if they get too long. This can be very uncomfortable for your dog and it can cause bone and joint problems. If the nail loops too far, it can embed into the dog’s paws and lead to infection. Plus, it’s just painful to walk on a looped claw. If your dog’s claws loop, we do not recommend that you try to grind or trim them; take them to the vet, who can properly excise or cut the nail and check for infection. 

6. Some Dogs Never Need to Be Trimmed

Some dogs never need nail trims — do you know why? Dogs that spend a lot of time outside walking and playing on hard surfaces like concrete, asphalt, dirt, and rocks naturally file their nails each time they go outside. 

7. Dogs Claws Are Not Retractable

Cats have retractable claws. Dogs do not. Cats’ claws need to be retracted to protect them and stay sharp, so they can use their claws for defense and hunting. Dogs, on the other hand, need their claws for traction and gripping hard surfaces. The authors of Cuteness.com, a pet-related blog, explain that when tracking animals in the wild, if you see pawprints with claws, it’s more likely a dog than a cat because cats’ nails retract for protection. 

8. Dogs Have Dewclaws

Dewclaws are those thumb-like claws that many dogs have on their front paws, and some even have on their rear paws. Pet owners who trim their dogs’ claws often overlook the dewclaw because they are further up the leg and don’t touch the ground. Some theories suggest that dewclaws have no purpose whatsoever, while others suggest they’re used for gripping toys and rubbing or scratching. Keep an eye on the dewclaws and trim them if they appear to be overgrown or gnarly; rough dewclaws can snag on fabric, which is no fun for your dog.

9. Dogs’ Nails Have Scent Glands

This might be the most fascinating fact about dog nails: They have scent glands in their paws. No, that doesn’t mean they can smell through their paws. It means they deposit their own scents, which is what Marc Bekoff, a biologist and author for Psychology Today, refers to as an olfactory message. When you see a dog marking its territory and then scratching the ground, it is its paws to “sign” its mark, both visually (by leaving scratch marks) and olfactorily (by leaving behind scent oils from its paws). Interesting!  

How Often to Trim Dog Nails?

You might wonder, after reading all of the above, how often to trim dog nails. Most dogs’ nails need to be trimmed every four to six weeks. If your dog spends more time outside and nature takes care of filing them down, you’ll need to do it less often — maybe never. If you’ve let your dog’s claws grow too long, you may need to take them in every couple of weeks (see our related post on what to do if your dog’s nails are overgrown). Always consult with your veterinarian or grooming professional if you are new to trimming nails on dogs.

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