Let’s talk nails!

By Sue Ogden

Many times I have been asked: ‘how do I cut my dog’s nails without hurting him?’ So this month I will share with you some useful information and some guidelines to help you keep your dog’s nails at a healthy length.

I understand that having done these things for over 35 years, I do find cutting dogs’ nails easy and very rarely have any problems. So if you are thinking about saving money or wish to be more hands-on, then these tips may give you some basic knowledge about pet care.

Cutting a dog’s nails is a job that seems to be more necessary here than in the UK, mainly due to the fact that most of us exercise our dogs on soft sandy ground or in the parks. Also the pavements are made up of smooth square blocks and so the walking process will not wear the nails down naturally.

In the UK, we tend to do some road walking on either concrete or tarmac. The tarmac does not wear the nails down as much as the concrete does. I used to walk my dogs on concrete roads to help keep their nails down and I can honestly say that in five or so years my English setter never needed his nails cutting.

The ideal length of your dog’s nails should be so that when he is stood up, the tip of the nail should only just touch the ground. I see many dogs whose nails have been left uncut, having grown around into a cork screw. This is not a comfortable length for your dog and cutting them becomes much more difficult.

As the dermis (quick) can grow longer, ideally their nails should be cut regularly when puppies are born. This has two benefits: one is that as they are kneading the mum for milk it protects her from getting very badly scratched. The other reason is to stop the growth of the dermis (quick), as once this is allowed to grow too long it becomes difficult to keep the nails shorter.

When a dog’s nails have been allowed to grow way too long, cutting them should be a job for the vet. This is because the process is uncomfortable and sometimes painful. I have seen cases where the nails have grown round in a full circle and grown through the pad. This is very painful and distressing for the dog and should be avoided at all times.

If your dog has longer nails, it does not always mean it is better for grip – in fact it is the complete opposite. It can cause discomfort, great pain and the dog to stand abnormally. You also have to remember most dogs have dew claws, which do not come in contact with the ground, They grow fast, long and into a circle.

With larger dogs, their weight helps them to wear the nails down a bit, but those of us who have smaller, lightweight dogs will not have this advantage. The natural action of running on a hard surface with a heavier dog will help to wear the nails down but running a lightweight dog for the same time and in the same area will not have the same effect.

It is the dog’s weight that ensures the paws are in solid contact with the ground and this, in turn, means the nails are too. Lighter dogs run about but in a more floating movement and the paws glide over the ground with the nails making no contact with the ground.

The easiest nails to trim are the light-coloured ones because you can more easily see the pink of the dermis (quick). You should aim to trim a little of the nail off at a time, edging up towards the end of the dermis. Do be careful not to cut into the dermis as it will be painful and will bleed. I have seen dogs bleed for some time when the dermis has been cut. It does usually stop but you should have some things on hand just in case. The old-fashioned remedy we always used was potassium permanganate crystals. Now you can buy things called ‘quick stop’ from good pet shops.

Black nails are a little harder to judge, but as a general guideline you should only cut the part that is starting to curve downwards. Obviously if you are unsure then it is better to get either your vet to cut them or ask a professional to show you how to do it. That way you will be better guided as to how far back it is safe to cut the nails.

The dermis seems to get longer if the nails have been allowed to get too long. It can sometimes be pushed back if the nails are cut under sedation at the vets, so keep them cut on a regular basis to prevent these problems.

Just remember: if in doubt ask a professional for help. Your vet will be more than happy to trim nails and your groomer should be happy to show you how and explain the pros and cons.

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Sue Ogden is a professional dog groomer living in the Algarve. In her regular column, she provides readers with information on how best to care for their pets. Trained in the UK, she studied nursing, breeding, grooming, nutrition and kennel management. 910 851 140