Just like human feet, our pet's paws need a little TLC to stay healthy. Considering how much time our pets spend on their feet, it's not surprising that they can be vulnerable to injury and the elements.
Taking care of our dog's nails can be intimidating, but it must be done. Otherwise, when a dog’s claws get too long, they can split and break. Not only is this painful - it may lead to infection.
Most dogs wear their nails down naturally with outdoor walks - especially on sidewalks or pavement. These surfaces naturally grind the nails down, which is very handy.
Unfortunately, in the winter and during long spells of bad weather, it's easy for the toenails to grow long. Some dogs spend most of their time indoors and don't go for regular walks, so their nails must be monitored year round.
Other dogs wear booties in the winter to prevent sidewalk chemicals and ice from hurting their pet's paws. While that's a great idea, it also means your dog may not be getting their nails ground for them.
You can usually tell by looking at your dog's paws that the nails appear too long from an esthetic standpoint.
Long nails can also cause the feet to become misshapen. Look to see if the nails are causing the toes to become splayed. When this happens, your dog's pads won't be able to grip well on slick surfaces.
Sometimes long nails can cause your dog to walk in an irregular fashion, which can actually lead to skeletal damage! Certain breeds, such as Italian Greyhounds, are particularly prone to this problem.
A simple way to tell if your dog's nails need a trim is if you can hear your dog’s nails clicking when walking on hard surfaces.
Using good quality, sharp dog nail clippers is really important. From personal experience, I've learned that dull nail clippers can actually create more problems (i.e. split the nails.)
There are several styles of pet nail clippers available, but they are basically divided into two groups: the guillotine type and the scissors type.
While I’ve used both, I personally prefer the scissors type because I have better control over the cut, I can see what I'm doing better, and the snipping process seems quicker.
Just in case you clip your dog's nails too short, it's a good idea to have some styptic powder on hand to stop any bleeding.
Also have some blunt nose scissors on hand to trim long fur between the pads. This will help your dog have better traction on slick floors and keep dirt and bacteria to a minimum.
If your dog has white toenails, you've lucked out because you can more easily see the quick. This is the pinkish area in the nail that shows where the blood flow is. If you clip into that, your pup will definitely let you know it hurts, and you'll have a bloody mess. Trust me, you'll feel terrible if you nick the quick!
With this in mind, be sure to leave room for the quick to remain unscathed, and you'll be fine. It's very similar to cutting your own nails, but a little harder to see.
But what if your dog's nails are dark, or even black? You can still manage to safely clip your dog's nails, but it will take a little more time.
According to veterinarians, if you clip just a bit off the nail tip you can look at the cut to see if you can keep trimming. Once you do a little trim, look at the cut surface tip. If it looks dry and flaky, clip a bit more. When it starts looking less dry, you'll need to stop or you'll hurt your dog.
Dog's paws are sensitive, and they may not enjoy you messing with them. If possible, start a puppy out with lots of paw handling and rubbing so they get used to the touch.
When you get to the point of cutting your dog's nails, be sure to be generous with treats so that your pup has a positive association with the experience. A little praise after a successful snip helps too.
Never discipline your dog with nail trimming sessions or they will hate them even more.
I personally like to have someone help me hold and soothe my dog when I'm trimming.
Another tool many customers and groomers will use for nail maintenance is a dog nail grinder. We have two models of grinders including the FURminator Professional 2-Speed Nail Grinder - Green and the Andis 2-Speed Pet Nail Trimmer - Purple.
The great thing about using a grinder is that they cauterize the nail as you're using it, so your dog's nails won't bleed. Also, they keep the nail surface nice and smooth without any rough edges to catch on anything.
The downside to grinders is that some dogs may not tolerate the noise. Ideally, you'll start using one of these from a young age. If you're trying one for the first time, let your dog get used to the sound by running it around them without actually filing your dog's nails at first.
If you really can't seem to get your dog to quiet down during nail clipping or grinding sessions, you may have to let your veterinarian perform the job. A professional groomer will do this for you as well.
In addition to nail care, it's important to protect your dog's paws. As mentioned earlier, dogs are exposed to a lot of dangerous sidewalk chemicals and cutting ice in the winter, but they can also sustain damage in the summer with hot pavement. Simply put, dog boots are your best defense against the elements.
You can read more about winter dog boots in detail in our article Winter Can Be Hazardous to Your Pet's Paws!
Dry foot pads can crack and bleed. This can happen in the dry winter months, from exposure to chemicals or from burns from hot sidewalks and pavement. To protect your dog's pads, we offer several products that our customers swear by:
These balms and waxes can help keep salts and chemicals at bay for dogs that don't tolerate boots. Many of our customers even use these products on their own feet to smooth and protect dry skin!
Clean paws aren't just for looks. Keeping your pet's paws clean can rinse off any deicing chemicals and salts which can make your dog sick if they lick their paws. They lick their paws because the chemicals burn, so getting that nasty stuff off is important.
Cleaning your dog's paws also has the bonus of not having dirt and mud tracked all over your house!
To make quick work of messy dog paws, we like to recommend spray-on waterless dog shampoos and our Dirty Paws Dog Footbath by Pet Head. Having some pet bath wipes on hand in the car and by the door is also very helpful.
If you like to add a little something special to your dogs paw care regimen, we have some fun products just for you!
Painting dog toenails is actually a popular trend in high-end grooming salons. You can bring the fun home with our Pawdicure Dog Nail Polish Pen and our Mommy & Me Dog Nail Polish by Pet Head. Unlike regular nail polish, these formulas are specially made for your dog's safety. They are also easier to use than standard nail polish products because they dry fast and only require one coat.
When grooming my pet's paws, I like to start the trim after a bath to soften the nails. I also like to apply the paw balm to the pads when they are slightly damp to lock in moisture.
By doing the clipping when the nails are softer, it is easier and the nails will be less likely to split. A human nail file can smooth away any rough surfaces or snags.
If your dog's nails haven't been trimmed in a while, the quick can grow out fairly long, and you won't be able to trim much length off. If this is your situation, trim your dog's nails every few days. In this way, the nail quick will begin to retract, and you'll slowly be able to reduce the overall length.
Do you have any tips for taking care of your dog's paws?