Most dogs wear down their nails through activities such as daily walks on pavement or sidewalks. However dogs that spend most of their time indoors their nails can become extremely long. They can snag and damage carpets and upholstery. Excessively long nails can interfere with traction by preventing the foot pads from making contact with the ground and can actually interfere with movement resulting in changes to their posture alter the gait which causes pain. Overly long nails are also more susceptible to being torn off. Nails should be inspected regularly (I check weekly) and trimmed when needed (once or twice a month). My rule of thumb is “if I hear it click its time to nip”. Giant breed dogs will require a sharp, heavy duty nipper to clip through the thickness without pinching. They are normally not sold in stores but can be ordered from Amazon or other online pet supply companies. I bought my nippers from Amazon and have had amazingly good luck with them so far.
Another alternative (or in my case in addition) to nippers is a Dremel handheld rotary tool. When using a Dremel, make sure you are using the sanding drum attachment and carefully pull or trim any hair away from the nail you are working on. Carefully hold the tool against the nail with slight pressure, removing just a small amount if you cannot see the quick. Hold it lightly against the surface of the nail in 5-10 second increments to make sure the friction from the Dremel is not getting too warm and heating your dog’s toe, this is extremely painful (ladies that have had acrylic nails put on can attest to the pain when they hold it on your nail for too long. It may take a few sessions to acclimate your dog to the sound of a Dremel and some dogs may never tolerate it. I have had good success with a smaller, battery powered Dremel. It is quieter and does not heat up as quickly as the more powerful ones. The first few times I introduced the Dremel I touched their paws and nails with it NOT turned on. The next few times it was turned on but I touched the nails and pads with the body of the Dremel to acclimate them to the noise.
This graphic has been making the rounds on Facebook and other social media. I’ve seen it several times, but I’m not sure where it originated, sorry. It’s a great illustrated reference on cutting dog’s nails though.
Some people use a pen light up under the nail to illuminate where the quick ends. This works great on light nails but trimming dark nails can pose a bit of a challenge. It is obviously more difficult to trim a dark nails than light nails and there is a greater chance of nicking the quick. If you accidentally cut into the quick, the dog will feel a brief moment of pain and the nail will begin to bleed. Hold pressure over the end of the nail and the blood should clot in a few minutes. If bleeding persists, pack with styptic powder or use a styptic pencil. If you don’t have any on hand, flour or cornstarch will do as well.
When checking out the condition of your dogs nails, dont forget to check between their toes and at the pads on the bottoms of their paws. Red itchy and wet spots between the toes can alert you to allergies (both food and environmental) and injury. Grass seed seems to dig in between the toes and can be quite painful. Rough pad can be treated softened by using Musher’s Secret or Bag Balm. Originally developed for sledding dogs, Musher’s Secret is a dense barrier wax that is non-greasy and does not stain carpets or upholstry. It protects paws from even the most extreme elements from hot pavement and sand to snow. I use it on Brutus and Rufus’s paw pads when they get dry and flaky.