How Long Should a Dog’s Nails Be?

Isn’t it amazing how quickly a dog’s nails can grow? One minute they’re freshly trimmed, the next they’re like little witches fingers… Okay, perhaps a little exaggeration, but keeping an eye on your dog’s nails is essential. Just like ours, they can grow incredibly quickly without you even realising it. But nails that are left to get too long can become really uncomfortable — even painful — for your pet pooch, and must be kept in check. So, how often should you trim your dog’s nails to keep them short and pain-free? This guide has all the answers you need. 

Why do dog’s nails grow so long?

When a dog is active, they naturally wear their nails down by scratching and running about — especially when walking on hard surfaces like tarmac or concrete. However, because many pets are exposed to soft surfaces, like lawns and gentle woodland, there’s not enough natural wear and tear to keep nails filed down. This is where you, the owner, will come in to keep the dog nail length at a comfortable level.

Why are long nails a no-no?

Over time, nails that are too long can put pressure on the wrong parts of the foot, which can be painful for your dog to stand on. To try and supplement this, your dog may try to move differently to lessen the discomfort, which can cause further joint injuries — particularly in older dogs. Long claws can also split, break, tear or chip, which can only be sorted with a trip to the vets (and treatment won’t come cheap). The biggest issue is that if you leave claws to become too long, the nails may begin to curl over and dig into the pads of their paws, which will cause extreme discomfort. 

So, what is the correct length for dog nails?

Generally speaking, your dog’s nails shouldn’t be able to touch the ground when your pet is standing up. If they do, they need a trim. Also, if the nails are too long you will hear them make a noise on the ground when your dog walks. This is another tell-tale sign that your pooch’s claws are overdue a snip.  

Be careful of the quick

The quick is a selection of blood vessels and nerves that are located in the centre of the claw. You need to make sure you avoid this section at all costs when trimming your dog’s nails, as snipping the quick can be really painful for your pet. It will likely result in them bleeding too, which is a really unpleasant experience for both you and your faithful companion. 

If your dog has lightly-coloured nails, it’s a lot easier to see where the quick begins — it looks like a pink band in the middle of the claw. In general, it’s recommended that you cut about 2mm away from the quick. However, if their nails don’t get trimmed very often then it’s a good idea to start shortening the claws a little at a time. This is because the quick will be fairly long at this stage. It may take a little while to shorten the quick, but it prevents the risk of you snipping it by accident.

What happens if I cut the quick?

Firstly, don’t panic. If you snip the quick and your pet starts to bleed, grab a tissue and apply pressure to the cut to try and stem the bleeding. The difficulty might be in getting your dog to stay still, but by soothing her and speaking to her gently, you should be able to keep her calm. Try to prevent your dog from licking the wound as it’ll take longer to heal.

How to cut your dog’s nails

When it comes to trimming your dog’s nails, you’ll need a few tools for the job. If your pet is small, a pair of guillotine nail clippers are really easy to use and guarantee a clean cut. For a larger breed of dog or for canines that have thick nails, try a pair of plier nail clippers as they’re sharp and better for cutting through nails. Whichever tool you choose, read the instructions so you understand how they work, and apply a quick, steady squeeze when you cut the nail. Once sorted, either file the nail down or leave them to smooth out naturally over time.

You’ll find the claws on the front feet tend to be longer, requiring frequent trimming, while the rear claws can be left a little longer. Then there’s the dew claws, which are located higher up on the lower leg. While they don’t touch the ground, they don’t wear down and can still cause discomfort, so keep an eye on these. 

Cutting dog nails that are dark

If your dog has dark nails, it’s much harder to tell where you’re cutting. Instead of making one cut, try doing lots of little snips while checking the end of your dog’s nail. You’re looking out for a dark spot in the centre of where you’ve clipped — this is where the quick begins and it’s what you want to avoid.

You could also try shining a light through the claw so you can see the quick easier. Give your dog a bath beforehand so the nails are easier to cut, or try using a touch of baby oil if your pet isn’t keen on a bath to soften the claws before you get started. 

Keep up with regular trimming

Once you’ve got your dog’s nails under control, it’s best to keep up with regular trimming to a) get your dog used to you cutting their claws, and b) keep their nails infection-free. Your dog might never love having their nails clipped, but over time it will become far easier.