DEAR DIDI: I know where my greyhound, Sasha, is at all times. Her nails echo through the house on my hardwood floors. I am terrified to trim them and hurt her. Is it bad in some way for her if I don’t trim them? - Curious Mom
DEAR CURIOUS MOM: This is an excellent question that comes up frequently during training sessions with my clients. Thank you for writing in and asking it!
Dogs are digitigrade, which means their weight is carried mostly on the bones of their toes. Really active working dogs frequently file their own nails down through use against rough terrains, cement, and dirt. House pets, however, need to have their nails properly cared for. The general rule is that you should trim the minute you can hear their nails clicking on the floor. Nail growth rates vary from dog to dog based on health conditions, age, activity levels, etc. Therefore, for some people their four-legged friend may need weekly pedicures while others can go a couple weeks or more in between.
Each time a toenail clicks on a hard surface it sends a small shockwave up the toe nerve and can result in a variety of health issues from just being grumpy, because her feet are sore, to hip and back problems. If your dog’s feet are sore they may shift their gait (way of walking), which in turn, can cause excess stress on their back or hips. Extreme cases may cause the bones of the feet to begin to shift sideways.
Even the extreme canine runners that file their own nails down may need help with their dewclaws. The ‘thumb’ that rides higher up on the foot and doesn’t regularly touch ground. If nails are too long they may also get caught accidentally on something in the yard or carpeting. This can cause a toenail to split or even get ripped out altogether. Toenails bleed like stuck pigs and the event is painful for your dog and traumatizing for the owner. Worst case scenario, the toenail catches on something and doesn’t break … the toe itself does!
Most dogs don’t like to have their feet messed with. I believe this happens mostly because we don’t ever mess with them, so they aren’t used to it. There are many good videos and explanations on the Internet about how to get started. The biggest fear for most people is that they will cut the quick, or blood vein that runs down the center of the nail. Even experts do it sometimes. Be sure to have Styptic powder (or cornstarch in a pinch) which will stop the bleeding quickly. If your dog’s toenails are super long you may want to just enlist the help of a qualified and patient groomer. Weekly short trims will cause the quick to recede. Once the nails are at a short and healthy length you can just maintain from there, whether you choose to learn on your own or just let the groomer continue. Toenail maintenance isn’t much more than $11 a trim. A good groomer will get the job done quickly despite Sasha’s protests and it will be less stress on you.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Dear Didi. Email your questions or inquire about dog behavior presentations at firstname.lastname@example.org.