How to Trim Dog Nails That Are Overgrown

My new foster dog, Oshi, is so stinking cute, but he came to me with severely overgrown toenails. All I wanted to do was cuddle this adorable pug, but his long nails scratched me when he tried to scramble into my lap. I needed to do something to get his claws under control, but Oshi was super-sensitive about having his feet handled.

So, how am I supposed to trim this dog’s overgrown nails?

Why long nails are a problem

As explained by the American Kennel Club (AKC), overgrown dog nails can cause discomfort and health issues. When nails are long enough to tap-tap-tap along the floor, they may cause the toes to splay and put uncomfortable pressure on the foot and leg structure.

Over time, overgrown dog nails can lead to tendon injuries and even deformed feet. Even if your dog’s overgrown nails aren’t causing health issues, they are just plain uncomfortable for your dog.

You can’t simply chop off an overgrown dog nail because at the center of the nail is a collection of nerves and blood vessels called the “quick.” As a dog nail grows, so does the quick. A dog with overgrown nails will have a longer quick, making it difficult to trim the nail back to appropriate shortness. But that doesn’t mean your dog is doomed to have long nails forever.

The key to trimming overgrown dog nails is to encourage the quick to recede by trimming gradually, according to Dr. Karen Gellman at Dogs Naturally Magazine. After the initial trim of the tip of the nail, trim a little bit at a time on a regular cadence—about once a week—and the quick will recede, making it easier to keep your dog’s nails short.

Keeping your dog’s nails a healthy length contributes to their overall health and well-being. With that in mind, these are the steps to trim overgrown dog nails.

Step one: Make your pooch comfortable

If your dog hates having their nails trimmed, the first step is to overcome their fear of the necessary nail-trimming tools. Like any desensitization training, this can take time. Bring out the clippers and let your dog investigate. As they sniff the clippers, reward them with a treat. Repeat this over several sessions for a few days until your dog is happy to see the nail trimming tools come out. The goal is to generate a positive association.

If you plan to use a rotary nail grinder, or Dremel, to shorten your dog’s nails, you’ll want to follow the same process. Dremels can be noisy, so work on increasing your dog’s tolerance to the sound, rewarding them every time you turn it on.

Remember to be patient. Some dogs learn quickly that the presence of the Dremel and clippers = treats. Some dogs take a little longer to adjust, especially if they’ve had bad experiences with nail trimming tools in the past. Over time, they’ll get more comfortable.


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