Having regular nail trims can be important for your pet’s health. There are many problems associated with nails being too long. Although some dogs are very good at wearing their nails down by walking or running on hard surfaces, this isn’t the case for all dogs. Small house dogs that don’t go for very long walks or even animals who are older and their movement has slowed down with age are most at risk. Nail overgrowth can also be seen as a seasonal problem for some dogs depending on the climate where they live. Dogs who are outside a lot in the summer and run on pavement may see overgrowth in the winter due to snow covering the hard footing they wear their nails down on in the summer months.
Nails that are too long can get caught in things such as carpet, deck boards and many other things/surfaces your pet walks on. It can be very painful but can sometimes cause the nail to break or even be pulled right off. This leaves the sensitive part of the nail called the ‘quick’ partially or fully exposed. Any time the quick is touched wrong, it can be painful for your pet until their nail grows back out. Overgrown nails can also cause the dog to change their gait while walking because the nail doesn’t allow the foot to contact the ground like it normally would with short nails that are not in the way. It can cause muscle soreness and also joint pain depending on how much the angle of the foot and legs change while walking. Another problem associated with the nails being too long is that the nail can curl back toward the foot and actually grow right into the foot. It is a large source of pain and also has a high risk of infection as the nail creates a hole in the pad of the foot where bacteria can get in and multiply quickly and become infected. If you notice this, you need to have your pet’s nails trimmed right away because it’s possible they may need antibiotics and a bandage to keep the wound clean and dry.
‘Quick’ overgrowth is also a common problem with overgrown nails. As mentioned before, the ‘quick’ is the sensitive part inside of the hard shell of the nail. Animals have no feeling in the nail itself, but the ‘quick’ is essentially a large blood vessel and a nerve that send sensations back to the brain. If the ‘quick’ is cut during a nail trim, it will bleed and be painful for the pet. Sometimes when the nail grows so long the ‘quick’ extends with the nail, and this prevents the person from cutting the nail from cutting it as short as it should be. Regular nail trims will prevent this from happening but if it does occur then the remedy for this is to have ‘quick’ frequent nail trims. It will force the ‘quick’ to recede away from the edge of the nail and allow the nail to be trimmed back to the appropriate length. This is a common problem with dogs, but it is rare for cats. Although rare, it can happen if they don’t scratch and sharpen their nails properly.
A good schedule for nail trimming for most dogs is around every 6-8 weeks. A frequent schedule to get the nails back to the correct length can mean getting the nails trimmed up to once a month. Cats are usually best done every eight weeks depending on the amount of growth and scratching they do. Trimming your pet’s nails can be done at home, or you may have your groomer or veterinary team trim the nails.
Trimming your pet’s nails at home can require some patience and practice. White nails are said to be easier to trim for owners because you can see the quick. Whereas, black nails can be a little bit trickier to do. The key is to watch the cut edge for a small circle of colour change in the centre. This colour change is quick. If you see this circle, then you don’t want to trim any farther, or it could cause pain and the quick can bleed.
If you are interested in learning how to trim your pet’s nails we can show you some techniques to be able to trim their nails at home. Nail trims should be a routine part of regular grooming and maintenance for your pet. If you notice any of these problems with your pet’s nails, please have them come in to see us at the clinic so we can keep your pet at the optimal level of care and comfort.
Written by: Miranda Kitzul, RVT