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Nail clipping should be done weekly in conjunction with your dog's bath and brush out.  Nails that are kept trimmed are less likely to split and break, are healthier for the dog's feet and are not as likely to scratch or damage you, your clothes, your furniture or your floors.  You will know it's time to trim your dog's nails if you can hear his nails "clicking" on the floors or pavement as he walks. 

Nails that are left too long can split and break causing the dog severe pain and might result in the nail bleeding profusely.  The rough, jagged edges of split or broken nails can snag in carpeting or other surfaces and this can also result in torn/bleeding nails.   With long coated dogs like Cockers, ragged nail surfaces may snag part of the dog's coat and could lead to the hair being pulled each time the dog takes a step and/or the long coat may end up matted around the nails.  

Over-long nails can also cause the dog's foot to become deformed over time.  If a dog's toenails are too long, the nails impact walking surfaces before the dog's foot.  When this happens, the pressure on the dog's toenails can force the dog's toes apart with every step.  Over time, the dog's foot can become permanently "splayed" - the toes and pads are unnaturally spread.  In cases where the toenails are extremely long, the pressure of the dog's weight coming down on the nails may force the toes to twist sideways.  Over time, the toes become deformed and remain twisted despite trimming the nails.  Splayed feet and twisted toes are uncomfortable for the dog and cause abnormal wear and tear on the surfaces of the feet.  The unnatural spreading of the foot also increases the dog's risk of injury to the feet and legs. 

In severe cases where the nails are left unclipped, the nails can grow back around and into the foot causing infection and serious health risks.  (This happens quite often with dew claws - the nails just above the foot on the inside of the legs.)  As you can see, it's vital that your dog's toenails are clipped regularly.  Your groomer or veterinarian can do this for you, but if you groom the dog at home or the dog is not seen often enough by a professional, then you will need to learn to perform this grooming procedure at home.  

Nail Structure:   

A dog's toenail consists of a hardened outer cuticle growing around a center "quick" (blood supply).  As the nail grows, the hardened outer cuticle gets longer and longer and must be trimmed back.  Light colored dogs, or dogs with light colored toes, may have transparent nails which allow you to see the quick and to know exactly where to clip.   Unfortunately, dark colored dogs usually have black nails and you can't easily see the quick.  For dogs with black nails, it's best to trim the nails often so you know that all you need to trim is the tip of new growth.    If you will keep your dog's nails trimmed weekly or bi-weekly, the quick will pull back and it will be easier to keep the nails at the correct length.


I prefer to use pliers type nail clippers, but the guillotine type works well too.   Be sure you replace the blade in your nail clippers regularly and/or replace the entire piece of equipment if it is not functioning properly.  Dull toenail clippers may crush the nail instead making a clean cut and this can cause the dog discomfort and may lead to him becoming fearful or uncooperative.  


The first step in clipping your dog's nails is to gather your equipment.  You will need:

  1. Nail clippers and/or Dremel grinder
  2. Styptic pen or powder (I like Clotisol liquid too.)  Sugar or flour will work in a pinch.
  3. A damp rag - in case you need to clean a dirty nail and/or to clean a bleeding nail before applying styptic powder.
  4. Paper towel - to clean up any mess.

Now, on to the clipping!

  1. Hold the foot you are working on in one hand with the hair folded back and away from the first nail. 
  2. When looking at the nail, you may see a pink area (the quick) just before the nail begins to curve. (This is only in dogs with light colored toenails.)  You want to avoid clipping into the pink area.
  3. Clip the nail just past the quick.  In dogs with dark nails, clip just past where the nail begins to curve.  ("past" means towards the end of the nail.)
  4. If your dark dog has extra long nails, trim the nail back in small sections until you can see the quick (solid, lighter colored center within the nail). 
  5. Repeat with each nail

Clip the nails quickly and cleanly.  Slowly applying pressure may crush the nail and cause the dog discomfort.  If you accidentally clip into the quick, be sure to apply pressure along with the styptic agent.  Most anti-bleeding products won't immediately stop the bleeding by themselves.  20-30 seconds of pressure on the end of the nail along with the styptic agent should stop the bleeding.  

If your dog's nails have gotten too long and you're afraid to take too much off, trim a little each week until you get them back to the correct length.  Something to keep in mind if your dog's nails are extra long is that the quick will get longer in untrimmed nails.  You should take care when clipping long nails for the first time as the quick may be longer than you expect or are used to.  If you begin keeping the dog's nails trimmed regularly again (once a week), the quick will pull back over time.  Keep the nails short from here on out and you shouldn't have any problems.


If you don't like clipping your dog's nails and/or you would like to smooth your dogs toenails after clipping (sharp corners can really scratch when the dog jumps!), you can use a battery powered Dremel tool with a sanding drum attached or a specially made nail grinder to buff, smooth and shorten your dog's nails.   This type of tool will quickly grind nail edges after clipping or will allow you to easily maintain the correct nail length. 

Using this tool can help you get closer to the quick, which helps keep the nails shorter.  Bleeding is generally not an issue when using a grinder as the heat of grinding will cauterize the quick if you should accidentally get too close.  One word of caution with a grinder or Dremel is that you must be careful to keep the dog's hair pulled back out of the way.   If hair should get caught and twisted in the tool, it could pull the hair out before you even know what's happened!  

If you decide to try using a grinder on your dog's nails, you may need to go slowly the first few times.  Your dog will probably need a few training sessions to get accustomed to the sound and feel of a grinder being used on his nails.

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Copyright Sandcastle Kennels 2004

Last revised: January 08, 2006