Do Long Nails Harm Your Dog? The Truth About Trimming Those Quick-Growing Claws

Introduction

The quick of a dog’s nail is the living tissue inside the nail that contains nerves and blood vessels. It extends from the nail bed up into the nail itself. The purpose of the quick is to supply nutrients and oxygen to the nail via the blood vessels, and provide sensation to the nail via the nerves.

When a dog’s nails are trimmed, it’s important not to cut into the quick or it will bleed and be painful for the dog. So knowing where the quick is and how far down it extends into the nail is key for safe nail trimming.

This article examines whether a dog’s quicks get longer if their nails are not trimmed regularly, the factors that influence quick length, risks of overgrown nails, and guidelines for safe at-home nail trimming and maintenance.

Do Untrimmed Nails Lead to Longer Quicks?

Many dog owners believe that lack of regular nail trimming allows a dog’s quicks (the living part of the nail containing blood vessels and nerves) to extend longer inside the nail. This common belief posits that untrimmed nails mean longer quicks, which makes nail trimming more difficult.

However, some sources suggest this may not be entirely accurate. According to Rover, the quick does extend somewhat if nails are left untrimmed. But the primary reason overgrown nails have long quicks is because the nail itself has grown longer, not because the quick extends down the nail any more than it would in a trimmed nail.

So while keeping nails trimmed helps train the quick to recede through gradual trims, untrimmed nails alone don’t directly make quicks longer down the nail shaft. The long quick is a product of an overgrown nail. Regular trims are still vital to avoid overgrown nails and keep quicks short.

Factors that Influence Quick Length

There are several factors that play a role in determining the length of a dog’s quicks:

dog's overgrown nails

Age of Dog: Puppies and younger dogs tend to have shorter quicks that are closer to the end of the nail. As dogs age, their quicks have a tendency to recede and grow longer due to less activity and wear on the nails from walking and running on various surfaces.

Breed: Some breeds have naturally longer quicks than others. For example, Dobermans and German shepherds often have longer quicks, while Beagles and other hounds tend to have shorter nails and quicks.

Environment/Surfaces: Dogs that spend most of their time indoors on soft surfaces will experience less natural wear and tear on their nails, allowing the quicks to extend. Dogs that walk and run on concrete, asphalt, and other hard, abrasive surfaces will have more nail wear and shorter quicks.

How the Quick Recedes

The quick is the part of the nail that contains nerves and blood vessels. It extends partway into the nail bed, starting at the base and receding as the outer part of the nail wears down naturally. As a dog walks and scratches at things, the end of the nail gets worn down, which causes the quick to gradually recede back into the nail bed over time. This is a normal process that happens in dogs who are active and wear their nails down.

When a dog’s nails get too long without being trimmed, the quick stays extended out further in the nail instead of receding back. This is because the outer parts of the nail aren’t wearing down at a normal rate. Once the nails get overgrown, the quick will have grown out with it. Trimming overgrown nails can cause them to bleed and be painful if the quick is clipped, so precautions need to be taken.

The key to getting an overgrown quick to recede again is to trim the nails frequently and gradually. By clipping off just the dead outer nail a little bit at a time, about every 1-2 weeks, the quick will start to slowly recede back into a normal position. It may take several weeks or months of very careful trimming to get it to go back an acceptable amount. Having the dog walk on hard surfaces like concrete or pavement also helps wear the nails down naturally to encourage the quick to recede.

Risks of Overgrown Nails

Overgrown dog nails can pose several health and behavioral risks. According to Barking Buddies, one of the most serious risks is potential nail bed infections. When the nail grows too long, it can start to curve or twist, putting pressure on the nail bed. This can lead to irritation, inflammation, and possibly infection. Infected nail beds are extremely painful for dogs.

Excessively long nails can also cause discomfort and pain in the feet and legs from altered gait and weight distribution, according to TryFi. The long nails essentially act like high heels, pitching the dog’s weight forward onto the toes and causing strain. This abnormal pressure on joints and ligaments can result in arthritis over time.

Long nails may also lead to behavioral problems. Dogs may become less active or mobile to avoid putting pressure on sore feet. They may show aggression or anxiety during nail trims due to previous painful experiences. Long quicks with bloody nails can create a fear of nail trims.

Allowing nails to overgrow can clearly impact a dog’s health and quality of life. That’s why it’s essential to trim them regularly to keep them short.

Trimming Guidelines

When trimming overgrown nails, it’s important to take a gradual approach to avoid hitting the quick and causing pain and bleeding. Here are some tips for safe, gradual trimming:

Start by trimming only a small amount off the tip of each nail, about 1/16th of an inch. After a trim, check the nail end-on to see if you are close to the quick, which will be visible through clear nails as a pinkish center.

trimming dog's nails

If you don’t see any sign of the quick, you can trim a little more on the next session, another 1/16th of an inch. But always check for the quick each time before trimming more.

Aim to trim a small amount every 1-2 weeks to slowly recede the quick over time. More frequent trims of smaller amounts are safer than waiting longer between trim sessions.

Use sharp trimmers designed for dogs to get a clean, even cut that avoids splintering. Resist the urge to take off too much at once.

Go slowly, do multiple small sessions, praise your dog, and give treats to create a calm, positive association with trimming.

If your dog struggles, try just touching their paws and nails at first to get them comfortable. Introduce the trimmers separately before trimming. It may take time for some dogs to adjust.

With regular, gradual trimming, you can humanely recede the quick and maintain shorter, healthier nails.

For severely overgrown nails where the quick is very long, your veterinarian can trim back the quick under anesthesia, allowing you to then maintain the shorter length.

When to See a Vet

If your dog’s nails are severely overgrown, it’s best to seek professional help from your veterinarian. Signs that your dog’s quicks have become overly extended and require veterinary assistance include:

  • Nails are so long they are causing discomfort or pain for your dog
  • Nails are curled and twisted into spirals
  • Quicks appear very elongated, extending far down the nail
  • You can see the quicks through translucent nails
  • Nails are dark brown or black, making the quicks harder to see
  • Your dog’s feet splay out due to extremely long nails
  • Nails are causing issues walking or stability problems
  • You notice cracked, split, or broken nails

Veterinarians have the proper tools and training to carefully trim back overgrown quicks under sedation or anesthesia. This allows them to get the nail length under control safely and avoid trauma to the quick. Leaving severely overgrown nails can lead to pain, deformities, and other health issues over time. Get professional assistance if your dog’s nails indicate the quicks have become overly extended.

Sources:

https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/health-and-dog-care/health/health-and-care/a-z-of-health-and-care-issues/long-claws/

At-Home Maintenance

Between regular nail trims, there are some at-home techniques you can use to help naturally wear down your dog’s nails and keep the quicks short:

dog using scratching post

  • Provide scratching posts or boards around the house that your dog can use to help file down their nails.
  • Take your dog for walks on sidewalks, roads, or other hard, textured surfaces which will help wear down the nails.
  • Play fetch or other games on concrete or asphalt surfaces.
  • Use a nail file or gentle emery board once a week to lightly file down sharp edges.
  • Consider using a Dremel tool or nail grinder to carefully and slowly grind down nails.

With consistent home care between professional trims, you can keep your dog’s nails short and at an optimal length. Just be careful not to overfile nails, and stop if you see any sign of discharge or bleeding. Checking nails weekly helps monitor growth and prevent overgrowth.

Summary

The main takeaways about dogs’ quicks and nail length are:

  • The quick is the living part inside the nail that supplies blood. If it’s cut, it will bleed and be painful for dogs.
  • Overgrown nails don’t automatically cause the quick to lengthen, though long quicks make trimming challenging.
  • With consistent nail trims, the quick will recede back into the nail over time.
  • dog's trimmed nails

  • Leaving nails untrimmed risks injury, pain, and other health issues for dogs.
  • Nail trimming should be done regularly, every 2-4 weeks for most dogs.
  • If nails are very overgrown, vets can sedate dogs and do gradual trims to shorten the quick safely.
  • At home, take trimming slowly and only trim a little at a time to avoid the quick.
  • With patience and practice, owners can maintain their dogs’ nails themselves.

In summary, while overgrown nails don’t directly make quicks longer, keeping nails trimmed encourages the quick to recede to a safer length over time. Regular trims at home or with a vet will keep dogs comfortable and avoid associated health risks.

References

Coren, Stanley. “Why Do Dogs’ Nails Keep Growing?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 24 July 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201207/why-do-dogs-nails-keep-growing.

Gross, Thomas L., et al. “Overgrown Toenails in Dogs.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck & Co., Inc., 2022, www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/skin-disorders-of-dogs/claw-and-nail-disorders-of-dogs#v4858416.

Harvey, Claudia. “How Often Should You Cut Your Dog’s Nails?” American Kennel Club, AKC, 19 Oct. 2020, www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/how-often-should-you-cut-your-dogs-nails/.

Hennessey, Kathleen. “Trimming Your Dog’s Nails: How Important Is It Really?” VCA Hospitals, 10 July 2017, vca-hospitals.com/know-your-pet/trimming-your-dogs-nails-how-important-is-it-really.

“How to Trim Your Dog’s Nails.” ASPCA, 2022, www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/dog-grooming-tips/how-trim-your-dogs-nails.

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