Senior Dog Nail Trimming

fear of trimming senior dog nails. how long should a dog's nails be and how to cut a black nail on a dog.

Our senior dogs are not the spry, active, young pups they used to be and that means no more “self-filing” nail activities. Back in the day, our dogs would run on blacktop, take long walks on concrete and in the process, have their nails magically filed. 

But as their daily activities begin to slow in pace and reduce in frequency, senior dog nail trimming is no longer accomplished naturally and must become part of regular grooming.

In this article, we will discuss the most common reasons why dog owners are not trimming their dog’s nails and the unintended health implications that negatively impact a dog with long nails.

Proper grooming is one component of what every senior dog needs for optimal health.(article link) Neglecting nail grooming is really not an option because dogs with long nails enter a downward spiraling trend affecting comfort and mobility. 

Take a moment to review the chart below and then continue reading as we tackle everything that might be holding you back from giving your senior dog a good nail trimming.

Senior dog nail trimming is part of keeping your dog in optimal health. This is a chart showing the effects of avoiding a senior dog nail trimming.

Why Owners Neglect Senior Dog Nail Trimming

Blood & Pain if Dog Nail is Cut Too Short

If our dog’s nails grew like human nails, there would be no problem.  But, they don’t and thus thousands of senior dogs walk around with gnarly, sometimes curved nails that are having a huge impact on the quality of their daily lives.

The mysterious topic that helps stir the fear pot of every dog owner is the possibility of cutting the   “Quick.”   We’ve all been warned on how bloody and painful this accident can be and so what do we do? 

Naturally, we ignore the clickity-click & clacking-clak as they do their best to walk across the hardwood floors, and we put senior dog nail trimming on the furthest, hardest to reach back burner known to man.    

Your Dog Hates or is Afraid of the Having Nails Trimmed

Many senior dog parents have a great pair of dog nail trimmers sitting in a drawer in as beautiful of condition as the day they were bought…5 years ago.  They tried it once and their dog said “no way Jose, I’m outta here!”

You Lack the Proper Tools to Trim Dog’s Nails

Some people have all the guts and skill that it takes to give their senior dog a nail trimming but lack the proper tools. They keep meaning to get them ordered, but so many things shift our focus elsewhere and we just keep remembering that we forgot to get some dog nail trimmers.

You Have No Experience Trimming Dog Nails

If this is what’s holding you back then you’re in a better position than most.  Once you gain experience, it’s super easy to trim a dog’s nails and you’ll wonder why you waited so long.

Now that we’ve touched upon the reasons why we tend to neglect giving our senior dogs a nail trimming, let’s touch upon how this is having a devastating impact on our most beloved friends.

The Dangers of Avoiding Senior Dog Nail Trimming

Think about when you’re walking and a small pebble finds its way into your shoe.  How does that one little pebble change the way you walk?  For most, it causes you to limp, or turn the afflicted foot sideways and at the very least, it causes you to redistribute your weight until you can stop and remove the pesky pebble. 

How long do you think you could walk without removing the pebble?  One hour?  One day? Six Months?  Leaving your senior dog to deal with a toenail that is digging deep into the floor is like having a pebble in your shoe. 

Overgrown Dog Nails Cause Pain and Inflammation

Dogs use every part of each paw to maintain balance, take their body from sitting to standing and even while circling before lying down.  When nails are overgrown, it’s the equivalent of a pebble in your shoe.

Having to shift their weight, turn their paw or have their toes hyper-extended all the time can aggravate the bones and joints causing pain and inflammation.

Long Dog Nails Decreases Mobility

Most of our senior dogs suffer from some level of arthritis.  When an arthritic dog has to redistribute weight, they are likely to suffer new inflammation points. If they are already suffering from arthritis in one leg or one hip, chances are high that the added discomfort will begin to reduce mobility.

Long, Curly Dog Nails Can Cause Bacterial Infection in Claws

Continuing our downward spiral trend of unkempt nails lies the very real possibility that by avoiding senior dog nail trimming, you increase the chances of bacterial infections in the claws.

As nails become long, they are more prone to splitting, fracturing and being chewed on by your dog. Each of these increases the chance of bacteria getting into the nail, into the quick and ultimately into your senior dog’s bloodstream.  

So how do we get past our fears and move toward regular nail trimmings?

Overcoming All the Reasons for Neglecting Dog Nails

Fear of Cutting a Dog’s Nail Quick

Understanding The Quick & How the Quick Grows – The best way to overcome your fear of causing your dog pain by cutting his quick is to educate yourself on how the quick grows.

We all remember how a goldfish grows, right?  It will grow in proportion with its tank size.  Little bowl = little goldfish, big bowl-big goldfish.  Put a goldfish in a pond and they will grow 12-14 inches.

Well your dog’s quick is the gold fish and his nail is the tank.  By allowing a large nail, you are promoting the growth and overall length of the quick which is only adding to your fears of nail trimming.

Are you ready for some good news?   Although you cannot make a big goldfish smaller by putting it into a smaller bowl, you absolutely CAN make the quick inside your dog’s nail recede every time you make his nails shorter. 

A dog’s quick is naturally designed to grow and recede based on how much room it has been given.  So when you commit to senior dog nail trimming, even starting small, your dog’s quick will respond by receding and you can trim the nails in stages, going shorter each time.

Start Slow!  Trim each nail one millimeter and give yourself a pat on the back. This will get you used to the idea of how the nail feels and how your tool responds.  As you (and your dog) become more familiar and confident, try a bigger cut next time.

Flashlight & Sharpie – Use a flashlight to examine your dog’s nails pink.  This will help illuminate the interior construction and show you exactly where her quick begins.  You can use a sharpie and mark her nail quick.  Then, give yourself a generous cushion away from the sharpie line (toward the tip) on her nail and make the cut.

Your Senior Dog Hates or is Afraid of Nail Trimming

Tired & Fed – the best patient is one who doesn’t move around and is relaxed.  Make sure your dog is tired and fed before attempting a nail trimming/grinding session.

Turn Up The TV –background noise can help reduce the sound of spring loaded tools or grinders.  If you can turn up the TV or radio for at least 15 minutes before you begin you’ve got a much better chance of eliminated the “fear of sound” factor.

2-Person Job – senior dog nail trimming is usually easier with 2 people.  One person performs a calming head rub – while the other trims the nails.

You Lack the Proper Tools to Trim Your Dog’s Nails

This is the easiest to fix.  Invest in a decent pair of dog nail trimmers or a rotary sander.  If you’re not sure what style is best, you can pick up both and try.  You can also walk into a dog groomer and ask the technicians which tools they prefer and why. I’ve asked – most say they like clipper, but they all agree that sometimes the sander is best for dogs who won’t stay still or for nails that have gotten too long.

These instruments are not that expensive and having both styles might come in handy depending on each particular nail.

For instance, if your dog has a mix of light nails and dark nails, the dark are nearly impossible to see the quick, so you might feel more comfortable grinding a dark nail and cutting a light nail.

You Have No Experience Trimming Dog Nails

Vet Demo – Get a live demonstration from your veterinarian, vet tech, or from your groomer.  Veterinarians trim nails every single day and they welcome the chance to teach you and let you observe them in action.

Ask a Friend – if you have a friend who is always trimming her dog’s nails then absolutely ask for help.  People who regularly trim their dog’s nails, probably don’t give it much thought.  They don’t realize they have a special talent and would likely be more than happy to help, especially because they know you and your dog.

Once you overcome your fears, you have to know what you’re shooting for…

Nail Trimming to Proper Length for Senior Dog

Minimum Standards – When your senior dog is standing on all fours, you should be able to slip a piece of paper between his nail and the floor.  Some dogs have much shorter nails and that could be a result of breed or just better overall nail maintenance which makes the quick recede.

If a dog’s feet have been neglected for months to the point where they are significantly overgrown and/or curled, it might take months to shorten those nails to a healthy length.  Just know that with regularly nail grooming; each time will be easier as the quick does its thing and naturally recedes.

Make a Lasting Commitment to Keep Dog Nails Trimmed

If all of the above fails, simply pay for a grooming with your vet, vet tech or local groomer.  Most places charge around $10-$20 for a senior dog nail trimming so it’s really not cost prohibitive. 

While groomers are highly skilled at cutting nails, they are not perfect and even a pro could cut the quick.  But they are well prepared to stop the bleeding and you won’t be haunted by the yelp you didn’t hear.

Whatever you decide, what’s importing is that you take a step forward and implement a senior dog nail trimming routine that ensures she’s living the best life possible.  You’ve got this!

Whether you decide to use clippers or a grinder, you’ll want to read reviews of what others are saying. Here they are! These are the products that will help keep your senior dog’s nails trimmed and you can see their prices and reviews to help you decide.

Nail Dip if you cut the quick

Grind Instead of Cut – Highly Rated Grinder for Dog Nails

Keeping your senior dog’s nails in check will play a big part in their continued mobility. If you just can’t bring yourself to cut the nails yourself, that’s what groomers are for!

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