Are Your Dog’s Nails Too Long?
There is no sugar-coating it. When it comes to dog nails, length matters. Growing dog nails too long can put your dog at risk for injury, infection, and severe orthopedic and postural consequences.
If you have a dog whose nails are too long, keep reading!
In this post you will learn,
- How long is too long when it comes to dog nails,
- What the proper length is for dog nails,
- The consequences of dog nails that are too long,
- Some simple steps you can take TODAY to shorten your dog’s nails to a healthy length.
Gently clicking, clicking on the tile floor…
Close your eyes.
Imagine laying in bed. As your dog paces around trying to get comfortable for the night. He strolls across your tile floor to his bed.
In the dark stillness of the night, you hear dog nails…. “click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click.”
“While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.” ~Edgar Allen Poe
These are the thoughts in my brain as I think about the sound of dog nails on the floor.
Like fingernails on a chalkboard. A fork scraping a plate. Styrofoam squeaking. The Raven rapping.
This ear-splitting sound is enough to make any dog lover cringe.
My goal with this series is to stop the madness. To bring the peace of paws to the discord of dog nails.These are the thoughts in my brain as I think about the sound of dog nails on the floor. Like fingernails on a chalkboard. A fork scraping a plate. Styrofoam squeaking. The Raven rapping.
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Purpose of Dog Nails
Dog’s nails, or more accurately, claws serve a purpose by providing a way for dogs to dig, grasp things more tightly, and claw at predators or food.
Now, you may be reading that and thinking, “great, my dog should have long nails in order to do all of these things better, right?”
Perhaps in the wild, it makes sense for wolves to have longer claws. They are catching and killing prey, eating it, and traveling through rugged terrain in order to find that prey and survive. For wolves, long nails make complete sense.
However, let me ask you a question. When was the last time your dog needed to climb a hillside in order to track down and kill a small animal in order to eat?
I’m going to take a stab at this and say, um, never.
So while, yes, dog nails do have a purpose, I am going to share with you why I believe size or length does matter. Why shorter is better.
How Long is Too Long For Dog Nails
People like to make exceptions or excuses as to why their dog’s nails are long. But how long is too long for dog nails? And, in what situations is it beneficial for dogs to have long(er) nails?
I will boil it down to these two simple rules first, then we can talk about some breed-specific considerations (NOT exceptions).
- Nails should NOT touch the ground when your dog is standing on level ground, AND
- You should NOT hear your dog’s nails on the floor when he walks. (*This applies to ALL breeds of dog with slight grace given to those with very flat paws. For some paws, while achieving goal #1 is possible, #2 may be more difficult. Baby steps, my friends. Every step you take in this direction is better for your dog.*)
As long as those two criteria are met, the length of your dog’s nails is acceptable.
My preference is for dog nails for nearly all dogs to be much shorter than this for a few reasons, however, I am willing to accept these two criteria as the minimum standard.
Beyond this length and dogs will suffer from a myriad of serious orthopedic, postural and mobility issues. This is true of dogs of all sizes, not just large and giant breed dogs.
But once the length standards are met (i.e. the nails NOT touching the ground AND NOT clicking as your dog walks), you may be wondering in what situations longer nails may provide benefit to the dog.
The following are a few very specific situations where the length of the nail may be of some functional use for the dog.
- A dog who was bred for AND actively used in the field for digging as a means of hunting. For example, a Dachshund, Toy Fox Terrier, or Beagle that is used for hunting and/or tracking. The key here is ACTIVELY USED for hunting, not by virtue of being a hunting breed.
- A dog who was bred for AND actively traveling in snow-covered terrain for long periods of time. For example an Alaskan Malamute or Siberian Husky that is ACTIVELY USED in sled work.
- A dog who is VERY active hiking on varied terrain. This is NOT a dog who takes a casual hike on the weekends. This is a dog who is active daily on long hikes on terrain in which having slightly longer nails would provide some functional stability and traction.
At the end of the day, it will be up to you to decide how long is too long for your dog’s nails. As long as the minimum standard is met, you have the freedom to decide how long is too long.
The following video provides a definitive answer to the question, how long is too long for dog nails, with a demonstration of why length matters. Give it a watch and a share when you have a minute:
How Long is Too Long Video Demonstration
Consequences of Long Nails
There are three primary areas to focus on when we think about the consequences of dog nails that are too long; orthopedic, postural, and aesthetic.
Let’s cover each one of these in detail.
Orthopedic Consequences of Dog Nails Being Too Long
Put simply, extremely overgrown dog nails can cause painful feet. Very painful feet in some cases.
When a dog’s toenails contact the hard ground, like a sidewalk or your kitchen floor, the hard surface pushes the nail back up into the nail bed. This either puts pressure on all the toe joints or forces one or more of the toes to twist to the side causing extreme pain while running, exercising or even walking.
It is no wonder so many do fuss when you touch their feet.
There are several factors at play when it comes to movement.
First, is the issue of pain. Dogs, like humans, will very naturally try to avoid pain by compensating their movement in an unbalanced way in order to prevent it.
So think about the last time you had a rock in your shoe. Did you continue to walk or run normally, fully planting your bare foot on the rock? No, of course not.
You likely did one of three things:
- Turn or twist your foot in an unnatural way to avoid stepping on the rock,
- Shake your foot to free the rock from under it, or
- Stop moving and take your shoe off to get rid of the rock.
Unfortunately, our dogs do not have the luxury of shoes to avoid the rocks (nails) that are causing them pain. So they compensate their movement in an unbalanced way (by limping or favoring certain limbs) which can lead to overused muscles and eventually overused joints.
Over time this can result in lameness especially in their hind limbs, making it difficult to jump in cars, climb stairs and even hard to get up from lying down.
Secondly, long toenails can hamper a dog’s ability to walk or run efficiently.
They can turn a sound paw into a splayed foot and reduce traction, and they can cause deformed feet and injure the tendons over an extended period.
As the long nail hits the ground, the pressure puts force on the foot and leg structure.
This interferes with the dog’s gait and as the nails continue to grow, walking will become awkward and painful.
Compromising a dog’s weight distribution (the imbalance I mentioned above) and natural alignment can leave dogs more susceptible to injuries and make walking and running difficult and painful.
Let’s go back to my rock in the shoe example.
Imagine you had a rock in your shoe and there was no way to get rid of it. You were forced to keep that rock in your shoe for every jog for the rest of your life.
And all the while you are bending your foot and your leg to avoid the pain of stepping on the rock.
The imbalance in your gait would most certainly lead to injury if the cause of the imbalance were not addressed.
For dogs with long nails, this is their reality.Imagine you had a rock in your shoe and there was no way to get rid of it. You were forced to keep that rock in your shoe for every jog for the rest of your life. For dogs with long nails, this is their reality.
Infections can stem from a few different things as it relates to dog nails that are too long.
- They can catch the carpet, plants or furniture resulting in the entire nail potentially ripping out of the paw making the paw prone to infection.
- In severe cases, they can curl under and grow into the pad of the dog’s paw causing pain and infections. These types of ingrown nail problems are most common on the dewclaws.
- They are more susceptible to nail infections that can result in permanent defective nail growth.
For many with dog nails too long, surgery may be the only option for them in order to reduce the orthopedic consequences associated with neglectful nail care.
But let’s be real.
Whether you decide to tack on cutting your dog’s nails back under sedation during an unrelated surgical procedure like a spay or neuter, or you have to schedule a separate procedure, either way, you will be putting your dog under anesthesia and incurring costs that could have been avoided.
As I mentioned above, dog nails that are too long can cause a myriad of orthopedic issues including nail bed infections.
One of the preferred methods of dealing with persistent nail bed infections is to remove the nail altogether with dog nail removal surgery under a local anesthetic.
For dog nails too long, surgery should be the last resort.
I encourage you to read my entire series on dog nails and consider taking my course, Dog Nailpro™, where I teach you how to confidently trim your dog’s nails without force, fear, or frustration. Click here for more information and to sign up to be notified when I open the doors for enrollment.Surgical intervention for long nails is an utterly unnecessary expense that can be easily avoided with routine nail trims and prioritization of this often overlooked aspect of healthcare for dogs.
Are your dog’s nails too long? Do you fear hitting the quick? If so, download your FREE Quick Starter Guide, an A to Z guide all about the dog nail quick.
Postural Consequences of Dog Nails Too Long
An extension of the direct orthopedic issues is the impact they have on a dog’s posture.
Dogs with long nails will naturally tuck their hind legs forward and front legs off of the natural perpendicular of proper posture.
In other words, when viewed from the side, a dog with extremely overgrown nails doesn’t plant his feet perpendicular to the ground perfectly stacked under his shoulders and hips.
This would be the most obvious manifestation of postural deficits caused by nails being too long.
In addition, like all terrestrial animals, essential information about a dog’s environment is transmitted by his paws.
This foot-brain connection can be negatively impacted by long nails.
Let me explain.
Dr. Judith M. Shoemaker, DVM specializes in postural rehabilitation and explains it this way:
“The only time a normal dog’s nail should contact the ground is when it is climbing a hill. In a dog with overgrown nails, the neurologic signal from a long toenail contacting the ground is interpreted by the brain as an inclined ground surface. This abnormal compensatory posture results in too much weight carried by the hind legs, thus overloading those joints. Many animals who seem to be lame or weak behind can be helped enormously with just an effective nail trim that changes this posture.”
Overgrown nails are essentially interfering with the dog’s ability to stand fully erect, to rely on his feet to give him information about his environment, and to move with confidence.
The message sent to the brain with every step a dog takes is erroneous until the overgrown nails are cut to the proper length.
Aesthetic Consequences of Dog Nails Too Long
In How to Cut Dog Nails Stress-Free And Have Your Dog Actually Enjoy It, I shared that to me, long nails completely ruin an otherwise beautiful paw.
I know many breeders who spend time thinking about and planning breedings with paw structure and conformation in mind.
For Mastiffs, our standard says, “Feet – large, round, and compact with well-arched toes. Black nails.”
The conformation standard as it relates to paws will be different for each breed. But no matter what the breed standard is, long nails will ruin a genetically perfect paw.
Mastiffs with long nails end up with flat-looking paws with splayed toes.
This is not a genetic fault by breeding. It is the result of years forced to maintain a 200-pound frame on toenails that are too long.
I will confess. I am obsessed with dog nails.
They are the first thing I look at when I meet a dog in person or see a picture of one. And they are the first thing I compliment on the rare occasion I see a perfect paw with well-maintained, short nails.
The Nebulous Quick
The quick is the blood and nerve supply for the nail, which when hit during a trim, can bleed and cause pain for the dog.
Outside the scope of this post is to go into great depth about the quick and how to cut your dog’s nails in such a way as to avoid hitting it.
For a detailed examination of the quick (WHAT it is, HOW to avoid it, and WHAT to do if you hit it), download your FREE Quick Starter Guide.
However, for now, understand that the quick grows along with the nail. The longer the nail, the longer the quick.
With overgrown dog nails, you end up with the compounding problem of the quick being too long.
This causes nail trims to be filled with frustration and anxiety. Frustration based on the lack of progress made with each trim. And anxiety over hitting the quick that now extends the length of the nail.
Maintaining your dog’s nails at the proper length can eliminate all of that stress.
Stick with me and I can show you how.
Can a Dog’s Nails be Too Short?
As referenced above, the purpose for which dogs have nails (claws) are in large part not as relevant for our domesticated dogs as it is for their wild relatives.
Because of this, I do not believe a dog’s nails can ever be too short when maintained properly with weekly trims.
Or put another way, I have never witnessed a dog who’s nails were too short.
I have, however, seen thousands or more with nails that were too long.
How long is too long for dog nails is the question I answered in the video and explanation above.
So, what is a dog owner to do? You have a dog that you know has nails that are overgrown. His incessant clicking on the tile floor is driving you mad and you know you have to do something.
Perhaps you have tried to cut them yourself, unsuccessfully.
Or maybe you rely on a groomer or vet tech to cut them, but you know more can be done for your dog.
Or perhaps you can and do cut your dog’s nails, but due to your anxiety about hitting the quick, you fail to make significant progress in shortening them.
If you resonate with any of these scenarios, here are three next steps you can take today to get on a path to cutting your dog’s overgrown nails without fear or frustration.
1. Understand the anatomy of a dog’s nail and how the quick factors into the process of trimming. Download your FREE Quick Starter Guide which contains:
- What the quick is,
- HOW to avoid hitting it, and
- What to do if you hit the quick.
2. Watch the video above where I illustrate the effect of long dog nails with a few simple exercises you can do at home.
3. If you have a friend with a dog who has ground clicking claws, please share this with them. Seriously.
Sometimes it is difficult for us to see reality even when it is right in front of our face.
Call it denial. Or call it rationalization.
Whatever the reason, your friend and his/her dog needs help. And I would love for this series to serve that purpose.
Are your dog’s nails too long? Tell me about your nail cutting experience in the comments below. What have you tried that hasn’t worked to shorten them? What is your primary struggle now as it relates to your dog’s nails?
I would love to hear from you!
For more information on cutting dog nails, check out these related posts from the Big Dog Mom archives: