The Truth About Nails

Nails, Nails, Nails … The Truth about Nails

We do a lot of Meet and Greets in pet stores and we see a lot of canine nails.  Add to those all the nails we’ve cared for over the years and that adds up to a heck of a lot of nails.  Unfortunately, many of these nails are overgrown – some quite severely so.  Almost all of the greyhounds that come into our program have some degree of overgrowth.  Some of the most severe cases, however, have been seen among the owner surrenders.  In a few cases, the dog’s nails were so long that their paws were deformed, they could not walk properly and they were in pain.

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This dog’s nails were so long that his toes were terribly extended, causing him to walk on the back portion of his foot, rather than on his toes.  Also notice how splayed his toes are.  He was in a great deal of pain and could not walk properly.

This newsletter is dedicated to helping our readers understand the importance of keeping nails trimmed and some helpful hints on how to trim nails quickly and easily.


Here is another case of painful overgrowth that has caused the dog to walk and stand improperlyThe article Canine Nails 101 explains why this is such a problem.

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Here at NEOGR, Inc., we trim nails as soon as a new dog comes into our program (usually right before the bath).  We continue to trim nails every 5-7 days to help the quicks recede.  Once we get the nails to their proper length, we trim them every 2 -3 weeks to keep them healthy and as short as possible.


Diseases and Injuries of Canine Toenails

by Amy Wolfgang, DVM

Dogs can have many diseases and injuries that affect their toenails. Most of these can be successfully treated if caught early or even prevented if the toenails are maintained properly. As a dog owner, it is important to be aware of these problems and check the nails at home regularly.  Nails should be trimmed at least once or twice a month to prevent pain, disease and injury.

There are several types of injuries that can happen to the toenails if they are not properly trimmed on a regular basis. Nails that are too long or sharp can get caught on things resulting in injury or loss of the nail. This is a very painful injury to the dog and can often lead to bleeding or infection. The nail will eventually grow back but often requires medical attention initially.

Another problem that can arise when toenails get too long is that they can start to grow into the paw pads. This is also very painful to the dog and can cause a deep infection in the pad. When this happens, the nail needs to be cut and removed from the pad. The pet is usually placed on antibiotics and a bandage is applied to the paw until the pad can heal.

Finally, nails that are too long can affect the dog’s ability to walk and run properly, especially on slippery surfaces. The gait abnormality may be caused by a lack of traction from the long claws or from pain due to an injured or ingrown toenail.

The main types of diseases that affect canine toenails are infections, auto-immune diseases, and cancer. Infections can be caused by either a bacteria or a fungus. A bacterial infection can occur secondary to trauma or underlying metabolic disease. The nail may appear swollen or red and will have pus coming from it. Treatment includes antibiotics, foot soaks and possibly even removing the affected nail.

Fungal infections are usually caused by either ringworm or yeast. The nails will look weak and misshapen and there may be loss of fur around the claws. There is sometimes a brown discharge and bad odor associated with this disease. Fungal infections are diagnosed by doing a skin scrape or culture and treated with a long course of antifungal medications and shampoos.

Symmetric Lupoid Onchodystrophy (SLO) is a type of autoimmune disease that affects canine toenails. An autoimmune disease means that the dog’s immune system malfunctions and attacks itself, in this case the toenails. The nails will start to become very painful and fall off or break easily. Treatment includes vitamins to strengthen the nails, antibiotics to prevent infections, and medications to suppress the immune system. SLO may never be cured, but many dogs will go into remission after treatment.

Finally, dogs can get cancer such as melanoma and squamous cell carcinomas in their toenails or in the skin surrounding the claws. Melanomas are usually black or brown, raised, firm irregular growths that grown rapidly on or around the toenails. Squamous cell carcinomas usually cause swelling and pain of the entire affected toe. The claw may be loose or deformed and there may be bleeding present. Cancer is diagnosed by doing x-rays and biopsies of the lesions. Both of these types of cancer can spread to other areas of the body so it is important to diagnose them early and treat aggressively by having the affected toe removed. Because many of these diseases are contagious or potentially life threatening, it is important to examine your dog’s toenails regularly and report any concerns to your veterinarian.

In conclusion, it is very important to check the toenails on your dog frequently for proper length and signs of disease because most of these problems are much easier and less painful to prevent than to treat.



Canine Nails 101

By Christein Sertzel (Reprinted with permission from author)
We see them every day, in sets of four usually, but sometimes 5 or even 6. Multiply that by 4 legs and it adds up to a lot of nails that we see, clip and address with clients each and every day.

But do we really understand all that we should about these incredible little appendages?
We should first realize the larger picture. Dogs walk on their toes like a horse, not on their pads or the “soles” of their feet like a human. So this puts weight dispersion and balance of the dog’s entire mass on a very small center of impact absorption (especially if they are also overweight). If they feel pain in a toe or a nail, they will then have to rock back on their heels and extend the ligaments of their larger pad and the back of their ankles to try to ease the pain in their toes. This puts them at a tremendous risk of injuring their ankles, elbows, hocks, shoulder and hips, as well as their connective tissues such as ACLs. Everything in one’s musculoskeletal system is connected with every other part of the body. Overgrown nails are also one of the leading causes of obesity.


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Left: proper nail length allows dog to stand on its toes


Right: overgrown nails causing lengthening of toes and pain

So, simple overgrown nails can be the root of not only much discomfort, but much financial expense in the long run… We as people can address to our own needs and vocalize when we have pain to someone who can help. For dogs, they rely on their caregivers to take notice and give them relief. So, it is my belief that proper care and maintenance of a dog’s toenails is one of the most important jobs and skills a groomer needs to have.

Canine Toenail Composition

The canine nail is comprised of 3 main parts. They are of the quick or the vein and nerve endings that supply both blood circulation and sensitivity to pressure and hot/cold senses of the toe and the foot.

Surrounding this very soft, fluid filled center is a pulp, inner nail bed, or layers of soft and moist tissue that helps to protect and cushion the sensitive vein and nerves much as our fatty tissue and subcutaneous makeup does for our own bodies. This area is slightly harder than the layers beneath it, yet still cannot be counted as the nail itself because it cannot protect the quick of the nail when exposed. This area is also what is visible in a light colored nail as the darker circle or half-moon shape when we trim back the nail and get closer to the quick. On dark nails it can be nearly impossible to see, but it does make a different sound in the nail trimmers when clipped into. This area feels pressure and will often cause the dog to begin to pull back as it feels this pressure and anticipates possible pain.

Around these inner layers is a harder more durable wrap of many layers of protein and keratin- or fibrous structural proteins that are tough and insoluble. These layers make up the nail and round out its full length.

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This is a cross section of the nail bed, and the bit of moisture in its center.


Here, layers forming the inner and outer portion of the nail and how they grow out in rings and wrap around the nail, creating its shape.

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Notice that this nail is quite overgrown.

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So, looking at these photos, we can clearly see how important it is to keep nails trimmed up as short as possible to avoid the inner quick from getting too long and therefore the nail growing out ahead of it too far.

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Overgrown nails cause extension and lengthening of the toes and the dog’s weight is shifted to the back of the foot.  This is what creates pain, difference in weight distribution and eventual physical issues.


Proper Clipping of the Nail

For clipping the nails–everyone does do it differently, so this technique might not work for you, but it is the best way I have found for myself.

I will always clip the nails as soon after or nearest to the pet’s arrival as possible, before the bath- not just in case I quick a nail, but also because elevated blood pressure actually surges blood flow into extremities–including the toes, so it will be possible to clip a nail SHORTER if the nail is clipped before the dog sits and works itself up (if it is anxious), or before the bath- as the elevated water temp. also elevates the dog’s core temp. and therefor increases circulation.

For me personally, I have found it works best to bring the foot softly back under the dog so that the elbow is tight to the pet’s side, and the foot is not too overly bent at the ankle- in case the pet has stiffness there from age, etc. This can be tough though, depending on the size of the dog and if working on a stationary table.

Why hold the foot back instead of forward? First, you’re back away from the dog’s mouth and range of view. Also, holding the foot out away from the dog encourages them to pull, you then squeeze to equal their pull with yours, and then you have a less steady foot for cutting the nails. Also, it is proven that tucking up the foot does help dampen the nerve endings of the toes and therefor they may be less sensitive for the feel of the clipping. If you clip a nail on a dog out in front of their body–listen to the sound that the nail makes when you clip. Listen to it when you clip- the sound will be noticeably quieter when the foot is tucked up. Some dogs just fear that “kajunk!” sound the clippers make.
After lifting the foot back and slightly up, then I clip the nails back, straight up & down, until I see the little dark spot in the center of the nail that signals the beginning of the soft spongy tissue that encapsulates the actual vein. With some dogs like those who are old and lack the softness in the center of the nail (this happens from loss of circulation, trauma to the nail bed after years of overgrown nails, or an ongoing low grade nail fungus) it is harder to tell the beginning of this soft area, so even after all of these years, I’ll find myself sometimes still taking off a sliver at a time until I see the spot. Cutting the nail straight up & down pulls the angle of the nail up and back from the floor when the pet’s foot is down, therefor helping to keep the nails’ not “ticking” on the floor to last longer. You can also go back over the nails and clip off the left and right side of the nail to soften the ends and give a “pedicured” look, and of course, clipping first and then going over the nails with a Dremel will pull the quick back even more and give each nail a soft tip. This is my technique, and it will likely work great for you.

The guide below shows the angles that I use the clippers to take length off. Clipping the nail at these angles also encourages the quick to “die back” and therefore each trimming session will result in a shorter nail.

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Notice the green lines that show the proper angles for trimming.

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This photo shows a clipped set of nails. This dog will need to come in about every other week for a few clips to get the nails back a little more each time.

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The full article can be found here:


Some Nail Trimming Tips

By Cindy Commisso


A dog’s nail is constructed of a hard outer cover, which protects the quick, which is the inner soft part containing blood vessels and nerve endings. In dogs with light colored nails the quick is often pinkish in color so it is easy to avoid cutting into. In black nails the quick is totally invisible so trimming off a little at a time instead of big slices can avoid cutting into the quick.


Look for a dark spot in the middle of the newly clipped area.  This spot shows were the quick starts.


It is very important to use sharp nail trimmers. Dull trimmers can crush or break the nail and can be painful to your pet.



These are Plier type clippers, usually preferred over the Guillotine type because of accuracy and ease of cutting.

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Sometimes it is helpful to have two people do the nail trim. One person can trim while the second person can sooth the pet and give small bites of treats.  Less restraint is often better than holding your pet down as this sometimes frightens them. (See the article, “Nails Trims Are Scary?” below for more information.)


Start off by trimming a couple of nails a day until your pet gets used to the process.  Nails on the front feet often grow faster than nails on the rear feet, so if you can only trim a few nails at a time, concentrate on the front feet.


You should clip your pet’s nails about every three weeks. If you get into a routine it is likely your pet will cooperate more each time. Many pets even come to enjoy their nail trims.


Would you like to file nails instead of clipping?  Here is one of the best set of directions we’ve found:

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When you start trimming the nails you should have a product called Kwik Stop on hand just in case you cut into the quick and it bleeds. Just apply a small amount on the quick and it will stop bleeding.


If you don’t have Kwik Stop you can use flour. If you do cut into the quick don’t panic, use your Kwik Stop, apply a little pressure and it will stop bleeding. You should always trim your pet’s nails in good light and when they are calm.





Nail Trims are Scary!!

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By Sherrie Yuschak RVT, VTS (Behavior)

Six weeks old puppies do not instinctively fear nail trims yet most adult dogs are afraid and try to avoid the procedure through hiding, struggling or even aggression. Why is this so? Nail trimming does not hurt. Heck, many humans regard it as a relaxing, spa experience!

Not our fellow canine…his aversion often begins as a puppy when he squirms in confusion about the strange cutting pressure felt on his nails or the frustrating length of time he must remain still for the trimming. Sometimes he also experiences pain from the restraint or a nail cut too short.  As a discriminative learner the puppy remembers every detail of the traumatic nail trim event: how the person approached him, how he was restrained, the sight of the nail trimmers, the way the person held his foot and spread his toes, the pressure on his nail, the sound of the cutting and even the smell of the people and location. Instinctively he tries to avoid the next repetition using body language to communicate his fear: lip licking, refusing food, panting, flattened ears, crouched body, tucked tail, leaning body away, trying to hide, pulling feet away, showing teeth or growling.

If the person notices the puppy’s stress and intervenes with positive reinforcement training the puppy will learn to freely accept or even enjoy nail trims. But, if the person does not understand canine body language or believes that the puppy should submit regardless, and forces the puppy to comply, in perceived self-preservation the puppy will amplify his communication using escape tactics, forceful struggling or even aggression.

That is how the dog can learn to fear nail trims and why he displays frustrating and/or dangerous behavior. Here is how you can teach the dog that nail trimming is not scary.

**Caution: If your dog has ever bared teeth, growled or snapped during a nail trim, please seek professional assistance and do not try these techniques without guidance.

Remember: behavior modification/training is not a sprint and there are no prizes for speed, not even for greyhounds.

The goal: change your dog’s emotion from fear to contentment/pleasure.

The rules: your dog should NEVER show fear during your practice sessions. (See above for fearful body language to watch for.)


The Process


Arrange the steps of the nail trimming procedure in order from LEAST to MOST scary for your dog. (See photos at end of article)

  • Sight of the nail trimmers (reward the dog for looking or sniffing them)
  • Restraint
  • Hand reaching for the paw
  • Hand holding the paw
  • Spreading toes/holding a toe
  • Front paw handling vs. rear paw (usually dogs don’t mind the rear as much)
  • Nail trimmer touching paw
  • Pressure on the nail
  • Sound of clipping the nail (this can be mimicked by trimming a dry spaghetti noodle)

Gather 1 cup of pea sized, irresistible treats (ex. cheese, hot dogs, lunch meat, or jerky).

Choose a quiet time and location where your dog is comfortable.

Begin with the least scary step. Perform the step feeding a treat every 3-5 seconds (If your dog is clicker trained, use of the clicker will expedite this process.)

Keep the sessions short (3-5minutes) and fun for your dog!

Proceed through each step and do not skip steps

Start each new session at the beginning (the least scary step for your dog.)

* If at any step your dog begins to appear anxious, feed a few treats and stop the session. Start the next session at the first non-scary step and proceed more slowly during the next session.



  • Once you are able to actually trim a toe nail do not feel you must trim all of them at once. Take it easy on you and your dog. Trim a couple every day and carefully avoid trimming to short.
  • Avoid traumatic nail trims during your re-training program. Even by the groomer or vet. Otherwise your dog’s fear memory will over ride all of the progress you made.

You cannot “reward” fear by feeding food to a scared/anxious dog.


If you would like more information about this please read this blog post from Patricia McConnell, PhD, Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist:


The Process

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1.Clippers on ground, far enough from dog, relaxed, feed treats. Continue to move clippers closer while feeding treats.

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2.Clippers in hand, far enough dog relaxed, feed treats. Note forward ears, eager anticipation appearance. Dog must be relaxed and eager at every step! Continue to move clippers closer while feeding treats.

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3.Touch paw with hand, feed treats

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4.Hold paw briefly, feed treats. (Clippers on ground, in sight). Gradually increase time holding paw. Then spread and manipulate toes another step.

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5.Trimmer in hand, touch briefly to foot, feed treats

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6.Hold paw, barely trim edge of 1 nail, feed treat. You can very gradually increase number of toes trimmed in a row.


Monthly Nail Trims That Boost the Economy                                      

By Fran Lavigueur

Call me squeamish but I refuse to trim my two greyhounds’ nails.  Maybe it’s because I am afraid of hurting them if I accidentally cut the quick (don’t tolerate blood either) so I have always taken them to our vet to have it done every month.

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Fran’s girls, Tootsie (brindle) and Bunnie


In 2009 my husband was in the market for a new vehicle.  After some searching he decided on a crossover (Dodge Journey). His reasoning was that instead of the two of us taking separate vehicles to transport Tootsie and Bunnie to the vet for their nail trims, he could just fold down the back seat so they would have a wide area to lie down on.  Sounded logical to me so that is what he purchased.  It was quickly followed by bills for pin striping, special floor mats, a plastic liner and some gadget that beeps while backing up.  He wanted “the girls” to ride in style I suppose.


The first appointment in the new vehicle was not a smooth experience.  There was a small section with a gap and my husband placed some cardboard over it so the dogs’ feet would not slip through and I provided an old flannel sheet to cover the area.  Unfortunately the dogs would not lie down and ended up sliding from one end to the other as if they were skating on a frozen pond.  Before the next appointment, I had ordered two rugs (matching the interior of the vehicle, of course) with rubber backing to prevent any more sliding.  Our older dog is not a fan of car rides and drools non-stop from the time we pull out of the driveway to when we return.  This necessitates a major cleanup when we get home. We have to be sure to have lots of Windex available for this project as well as paper towels.


Well to recap our effort to save on mileage by using one vehicle, it calculates as follows:


New vehicle with accessories:                  $25,000

Cost of rugs and cleaning supplies:          $100


Grand total for saving a gallon of gas:    Priceless


Do You Paint your Dog’s Nails?????

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Here’s Phoebe, owned by Melissa Michels, showing off her latest pedicure.  Such a pretty girl!