Nail Care 101

Nail Care 101 originally appeared in the January – March 2023 edition of The Vizsla News

We’ve all seen it… the long curled talon-like nails on random dog while scrolling through social media or while having a beer at a local brewery. And it seems we all have the same reaction: “oh my gosh, look at that dog’s NAILS!” While long nails are not aesthetically pleasing, and make a point of conversation, it is good to take a step back and remember why the hygiene practice is of importance and where to start to create and maintain pretty trimmed toes.

No matter the venue of participation from hunting to show to agility, even if your dog is simply a pet and not participating in any activity, routine nail care is incredibly important. When a dog’s nails are too long, the force exerted through the ground into the nail, to the nail bed, and into the actu- al foot/ joint can cause misalignment and poor weight distribution within the entire limb assembly, and over time, this can create major long-term issues such as arthritis, poor spine alignment/ posture, actual splaying of the foot with widened toes/ paws, or splitting of the nails which can be very painful. Think of trying to run a marathon with too tight of shoes or toenails that are constantly jamming into the front of a shoe – OUCH! All of this can be prevented with proper routine nail care, which is best to start within the first week of life!

When puppies are born, typically they have long curved nails right out of the womb. Nail care of a neonate is of great value within the first week of life. Most breeders opt to cut puppies’ nails at this very young age with baby clippers or small nail clippers that are easy to manage. Attending to nail care this early helps to acclimate the young puppy to handling and also trains and manages the nail and its quick (the center of the nail where nerves and blood supply are located) to recede. This practice also facili- tates hygiene during nursing as when puppies are nursing and kneading on their moms, a shorter nail can reduce transfer of bacteria through any small cuts or abrasions from too long or too sharp a nail. As puppies grow and this practice is continued, most learn the routine is part of their life and schedule and quickly respond positively to trims from clippers or an electronic grinder tool, such as dremel.

Many breeders incorporate the purchase of a dremel on their must- have puppy list and have a “nail talk” during the going home process with their puppy homes. This is a conversation to pay attention to and not to forget if your breeder has already started nail care! If your breeder hasn’t and you are interested to get started, or if you’ve really neglected nails, no worries! You can always start. It is best to chat with someone who has experience with using a grinder or clippers and can give you an in-person lesson; you can even speak with your Vet’s office or a reputable groomer.

Like with any dog training, consistency and commitment are keys to success! Depending on a household’s schedule at least weekly is a good rule of thumb for nail care, a younger puppy or dog whose nails grow very fast might need scheduling twice per week. Routine nail care can set the stage for consistent handling which can help your dog in many other aspects of their lives. During nail care, it can also become a very good practice to do a whole-body check-in: ears, teeth, and feeling for any lumps, bumps, cuts from playing or running outdoors, etc. All can contribute to a healthy relationship with your dog and keeping your dog healthy and thriving!

About the Author

Leah Davis is an occupational therapist. She lives with her husband, Aaron, and their pack just East of Denver. She co-breeds under the Rhapsody prefix and has served in several leadership positions for The Rocky Mountain Vizsla Club.