Taking Good Care of Your Dog's Feet & Nails
Your dog runs around everywhere barefooted, and even though his foot pads are tougher than yours, they can still be cut, blistered or peeled. In addition, they can get burrs and ticks stuck between them. Always check your dog's pads several times during a long walk or run. Avoid running on hot pavement, which can blister the pads and cause them to peel. High-speed running and skidding on hard surfaces can also easily peel pads.
In a peeled pad, the outermost tough covering is peeled away, leaving a red, tender inner part exposed. They are extremely painful, to the point most dogs cannot bear any weight on the affected foot. Peeled pads often take a week or more to recover. Dry cracked pads may be indicative of an underlying medical condition. Cuts around the feet can be tricky, as even small cuts can sever ligaments that control toe position. A cut behind the foot, for example, may a cause a toe to become flattened or to point upward. Your veterinarian should examine the severity of the injury to determine the best course of treatment.
The webbing between the toes is very sensitive and can be abraded, cut or split. If split, see your veterinarian.
Toes can be knocked out of position or broken, causing extreme pain. The toe may jut out at an unnatural angle. Your veterinarian, who may suggest x-rays, or wrap the foot and suggest rest for at least a week.
Nails can be split or torn off, sometimes leaving just the reddened core. This is extremely painful. Be aware that some nail bed diseases cause nails to drop off, leaving the core, so it first seems that the dog has had an accident. But a dog that has repeated cases of torn or peeled nails may have a medical condition and should be checked by your veterinarian.
Nails that grow too long impact the ground with every step, displacing the normal position of the toes and causing discomfort, splaying, and even lameness. If dewclaws, those rudimentary “thumbs” on the wrists, are present they are especially prone to getting caught on things and ripped out, and can even grow in a loop and back into the leg. Check your dog's wrists and hocks, feeling under any long hair, to see if he has dewclaws. They are normal on the front legs but many breeders remove them at birth. They are normal in some breeds on the rear legs as well.
You need to cut your dog's nails at least once a month, and even more often if your dog is less active since the nails aren't worn down as much. The rear nails usually wear more than the front nails, so you may be able to skip cutting the rear nails if your dog is active.
Use nail clippers—the guillotine type are usually easier for larger nails—and be sure they are sharp. Dull clippers crush the nail and hurt. You can also use a nail grinder, but don’t let the heat build up. If you use a grinder on a dog with long hair on the legs, place a stocking over the feet and poke the nails through so the hair doesn't get wound on the spinning grinder.
For clipping, it’s easiest to bend the leg toward the rear of the dog, like a blacksmith works on a horse's hoof. This allows you to see the bottom of the nails, and makes it easier to spot the quick, the sensitive and potentially bleeding part of the nail. If you look under the nail you can see where the nail begins to get hollow; anywhere it looks hollow is quickless. In this same area the nail will suddenly get much thinner. Again, where it’s thin it’s safe to cut. In a light colored nail you can see a redder area that indicates the blood supply; the sensitive quick extends slightly farther down the nail than the blood supply. When in doubt, cut too little and gradually whittle your way higher.
You’ll eventually goof up and cut the quick. That calls for styptic powder to quell the bleeding and lots of extra treats to assuage your guilt!