How To Trim Overgrown Dog Nails

It's not uncommon for a dog to have overgrown nails. Perhaps your dog is fearful of nail trimming, or they're aggressive, maybe the dog is a rescue and hasn't had the luxury of a nail cut. It could be that general nail care has slipped your mind because you're often busy or merely afraid to cut their quick. There are a ton of reasons as to why this could happen, and we aren't going to shame you for a single one of them.

Sure, it's uncomfortable for your dog, quite possibly even painful, but you're here now and you've taken the first step in correcting the issue. We applaud that. Let's get started.

The Problems That May Arise

Just as with humans, if you let your dog's nails grow out, they won't magically stop growing when they reach a certain point. Their nails will continue to grow until they curl under their pads, chip, crack, or break. Their overgrown nails will not only put pressure on their joints, but will also assist in the development of arthritis, joint abnormalities, tendon issues, and intense pain.

Your dog may adjust the way they walk over time to avoid feeling pain, causing them to overuse specific muscles and joints they weren't intended to use. Their bone structure will adapt, and this can cause long term health complications. So it's best to establish a constant routine for nail care.

How Have They Gotten So Long?

Again, we're not here to shame you, but ask yourself, how have their nails gotten so long? By determining the reason behind it, you can establish a proper game plan going forward.

If you are nervous about cutting your dog's nails or your dog has anxiety / is aggressive, it's best to speak with your veterinarian about nail care. Veterinarians can provide a safe calming medication for nail trimming if need be. Also, reach out to a local groomer, many are trained to deal with all sorts of personalities. If you don't feel comfortable trimming their nails on your own, there are undoubtedly great options available.

Are you always on the go? A busy body with a million things on your mind? It's only natural that doing something so tedious as clipping the dog's nails would slip your mind. It happens. It's happened to me. In this case, make a set plan for it. Write down a specific date, put it in your calendar, set a monthly reminder, etc. Do whatever works best for you and stick to it. By marking it down and making a mental note of it, you will psychology make the necessary adjustments to stick to the plan.

If you've fostered or rescued a dog with extremely overgrown nails, seek veterinary advice, unless, of course, this isn't your first rodeo and you are comfortable clipping them yourself. In some extreme situations, a dog may require surgery if their nails have gotten too long. So you can never go wrong speaking to a professional.

You've got this.

How Much Can I Cut Off?

This is a tricky question to answer. You'll want to cut off as much as the nail will allow. Each dog is different, and their nails grow at different rates, as do their quicks. So, it depends on where the quick is located and how long their nails actually are.

What Is The Quick And How Do I Find It?

The quick of a nail is the vein that hides out under the nail bed. When clipped, it will bleed, and it is excruciating for the dog. The pain can last roughly 48 hours, depending on the severity.

Every dog is different and their quicks may grow at varying speeds, so to determine where the quick is, visualization is key:

  • For white nails: ​You ​​​​​​​​​will see a pink hue in the center of the white nail. That is their quick, and we strive not to clip it.
  • For black nails: It's a bit harder to find the quick, but it is possible. The best method for trimming is to do it slowly and minimally, only removing small amounts of the nail with each cut. With each clip, you'll start to see a white chalky ring form around the bottom of the nail. It's when you see a black circle in the middle of that ring that you'll want to stop. That's an indicator that you're close to clipping their quick.

Unfortunately, when a dog's nails grow out, so does their quick. So if you are unable to find their quick safely, contact your veterinarian. If it's grown out, right to the tip of their nail, sedation or surgery may be required.

How Can I Get Their Nails To A Normal Length?

If surgery isn't required and you're able to cut their nails on your own or seek the help of a professional, you'll need to ramp up the routine for a little while. Studies suggest that when you cut a dog's nails, their quick will naturally, but slowly, recede. In this case, you can trim their nails, in minimal amounts, every 7-10 days, always keeping an eye on where the quick is. Eventually, you will be able to get their nails to a healthy length.

How Long Should Their Nails Be?

Dog nails should be short enough that they don't touch the ground when they are standing still on a flat surface.

You will know if your dog's nails are too long by the noises they make as they walk around. Visuals also help. If your dog's nails are curled, chipped, cracked, bleeding, if they are walking funny, biting their nails, etc. You'll know that it's time for a cut.

How To Cut Dog Nails

For this information, be sure to check out our in-depth post: How To Cut Dog Nails. It's an informative post that will walk you through the process step-by-step with included video tutorials.

Video Suggestions For Overgrown Nails

Check out the below videos to see examples of overgrown nails and how to properly maintain them.

A rescue dog with overgrown nails:

Overgrown, curled over nails:

If you are interested in learning about the various types of nail clippers on the market, be sure to check out our article Dog Nail Clippers - All You Need To Know.

Feel free to comment below with any tips, tricks, or suggestions regarding overgrown nails. We'd love to hear your thoughts. 

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