Do Overgrown Nails Hurt Dogs?

Dog nails may seem like a small aspect of our canine companions, but they serve an important purpose. Dog nails help dogs grip the ground for traction, allow them to dig and scratch, and provide balance and support. However, when nails become overgrown, they can lead to discomfort, pain, and potential health problems.

To hook readers in, here’s an interesting fact: The average dog has 18 nails – 5 nails on each front paw and 4 nails on each back paw. While we often pay the most attention to the nails on their feet, dogs also have dewclaws higher up on their legs that sometimes go overlooked when trimming. Keeping all those 18 nails neatly trimmed is an important part of caring for a dog’s health and comfort.

What are Dog Nails For?

Dog nails serve several important purposes for canines. First, they provide protection for a dog’s toes from injuries. The nails act as a barrier to prevent abrasions or cuts to the sensitive toe area when running or walking on various surfaces (Source 1).

Additionally, dog nails provide traction and grip. The claws help dogs firmly grip the ground when running, walking, jumping or climbing. This gives them stability and prevents slips or falls (Source 1).

Finally, dog nails play a role in balance. The dewclaws in particular help stabilize the front legs and wrist joints. This aids in maintaining overall body balance and coordination, especially during activity (Source 2).

Problems with Overgrown Nails

Overgrown nails can cause a number of issues for dogs:

One of the main problems with overgrown nails is that they can make walking difficult and painful. As the nails curve, they put pressure on the dog’s toes, altering their gait and posture. This uncomfortable pressure on the toes can lead to pain and arthritis over time. Dogs with overgrown nails may avoid walking or lift their paws frequently when moving (Source).

Overgrown nails can also reduce traction and grip. Long nails are less stable on smooth floors or uneven terrain outdoors. Dogs can slip more easily, especially as they age. This lack of traction makes activities like climbing stairs difficult and dangerous.

The imbalance caused by overgrown nails can throw off your dog’s center of gravity. Their feet, legs, and joints will overcompensate, putting strain on their muscles and ligaments. This imbalance and instability puts dogs at higher risk of injury.

Finally, overgrown nails are prone to cracking, splitting, and bleeding. Long quicks and nails are more likely to catch and tear. This can be very painful and lead to infection. Keeping nails trimmed helps prevent these cracks and injuries.

Signs of Overgrown Nails

Some of the common signs of overgrown dog nails include:

– Clicking sounds when walking on the floor: This is one of the most noticeable signs of overgrown nails. The nails continuously click loudly on hard surfaces like tile or concrete as the dog walks [1].

– Inability to retract nails: Healthy nails should retract back into the paw when lightly pressed. But overgrown nails remain extended and cannot retract back [2].

– Curled, twisted nails: Overgrown nails can curl under or twist to one side, making it painful for the dog to walk or stand [3].

– Twisting paws when walking: Dogs may start twisting their paws outward or at odd angles when walking to avoid putting pressure on the overgrown nails [1].

Health Risks

Overgrown nails can lead to several concerning health issues in dogs including:


As a dog’s nails grow too long, it changes the angle of their foot and leg joints, putting extra strain and pressure on their limbs. This abnormal pressure on the joints causes inflammation and can lead to arthritis over time. Arthritis from overgrown nails causes dogs significant pain and impaired mobility.

Sprained Toes

When nails grow too long, they are more prone to catching on things and tearing or splitting, which is extremely painful. Caught and torn nails can also lead to sprained toes in dogs as they try to rip their nail free. Sprains cause swelling, bruising, and lameness.


Overgrown nails that split or tear allow bacteria to enter the nail bed and cause a painful infection called onychomycosis. Infections require antibiotic treatment and if left untreated, can spread throughout the paw. See a vet immediately if you notice redness, swelling, or oozing around your dog’s nails.

Bone Deformation

Abnormally long nails alter the angle of the feet and weight distribution. Over many months or years, this unnatural pressure can cause permanent deformation of the delicate bones in the paws. Pads may also become bruised or calloused from unequal weight bearing.

It’s critical to trim overgrown dog nails and monitor their length regularly to avoid painful health issues. If you notice any signs of lameness, difficulty walking, or nail problems, see your veterinarian. Left untreated, long nails impact mobility and comfort.

When to Trim

Dog owners should schedule regular nail trims. Consistent trimming is key to keeping a dog’s nails at a healthy length. Recommendations on PetMd state dogs should have their nails trimmed every 3-4 weeks, but some breeds may need more frequent trims.

Puppies under a year old may need their nails trimmed as often as every 2-3 weeks since their nails tend to grow faster when young. For adult dogs, nail growth slows down. Smaller breeds with naturally shorter quicks can go a bit longer between trims, like 4-6 weeks. Larger breeds prone to long quicks should stick to a 3-4 week schedule.

Checking nails weekly is ideal. If the dog’s nails are touching the ground or clicking on floors, it’s time for a trim. Owners may want to trim more often in summer when dogs are more active outdoors on cement or asphalt, which helps wear down nails.

How to Trim Dog Nails

It’s important to start trimming your dog’s nails at a young age so they get used to the process. Introduce the nail clippers and let your puppy sniff and lick them. Give your dog treats as you handle their paws and touch the clippers to their nails without actually clipping. Go slowly and make it a positive experience.

When you’re ready to start trimming, go slow and only trim a little bit at a time. Trim just the very tip, about 1/16th of an inch, and don’t try to do all the nails in one session. Work up to longer trim sessions over time.

Use proper nail clippers designed specifically for dogs. Human nail clippers can split dog nails, causing pain and bleeding. The right tools make the process easier on both you and your pup.

If your dog has dark nails where the quick is hard to see, try shining a flashlight through the nail to illuminate the quick and avoid cutting into it. Go slowly and don’t trim too much at once until you can see where the quick ends.

Signs of Trimming Too Short

Trimming your dog’s nails too short can result in bleeding and pain. According to, “If you cut the nail too short, you may see some bleeding from the nail bed.”1 This happens when the nail is cut past the quick, hitting the blood vessel inside. You’ll notice red blood pooling or dripping from the tip of the nail if it’s cut too short.

Cutting the quick can be very painful for dogs. They may yelp or try to pull their paw away when it happens. The pain doesn’t always stop once the nail is trimmed either. According to, “Depending on the severity of the cut, your dog may limp or avoid walking on that paw for the next day or more.”2 So limping or changes in gait after a nail trim could signal you cut one too short.


After trimming your dog’s nails, it’s important to monitor them for any issues and to reward your dog for being well-behaved during the process. According to the ASPCA, you’ll want to praise your dog and offer them a treat after a nail trimming session to create a positive association with the experience.

Also, keep an eye on the trimmed nails for the next couple of days to make sure they don’t become irritated or infected. Look for any signs of redness, swelling, discharge or excessive licking, which could indicate an issue. If you notice anything concerning, contact your veterinarian. Proper aftercare helps ensure your dog’s nails stay healthy after a trim.

With positive reinforcement and monitoring, you can make nail trims less stressful for both you and your dog. Be patient, go slow and reward good behavior.



Proper nail care is crucial for your dog’s health and well-being. Overgrown nails can cause pain, alter their gait, lead to joint issues, and increase the risk of injuries and infections. By regularly inspecting your dog’s nails and trimming them as needed, you can avoid these problems.

Check your dog’s nails at least once a month. Look for nails that touch the ground when they stand, cause visible discomfort, or make a clicking sound on hard floors. If the nails are too long, trim a small amount at a time until you reach the ideal length. Introduce nail trims slowly and reward your dog so they view it as a positive experience.

With some patience and practice, you can easily incorporate nail trims into your regular grooming routine. Keeping your dog’s nails short will help keep them happy and healthy. Simple prevention helps avoid issues down the road. By taking good care of your dog’s nails, you’re doing your part to give them a high quality of life.

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