Claws, or nails, are dead, horny structures on the ends of each of a dog’s toes. The special skin that makes them has a very rich blood supply, and the claws of some young dogs up to two years old have been recorded as growing as much as six inches per week. In older dogs, the claws may grow at half that rate.
Claws are very useful parts of a dog’s anatomy. They can help him to hold objects, will provide grip when he is moving and can even be used as weapons. Of the many nail disorders that may affect dogs, overlong claws and broken claws are the most common.
A dog’s claws grow all the time, and under normal circumstances they are constantly worn down through wear and tear. Overlong claws are caused by insufficient wear and tear, and dogs who are inactive because of age, illness or the laziness of their owners are most likely to suffer from them. The outer two claws on each paw and the dew claws are those that are most likely to be affected. Damage to the claws is often the result of digging or scrambling, and is more likely to occur if the claws are overlong.
Overlong claws will affect the way a dog walks, and will make his feet more prone to other injuries such as sprains. If left untreated, the claws may eventually grow around in a circle and bury themselves into the toe pads, causing severe pain.
If you think that your dog’s claws may be too long, ask your vet, a veterinary nurse or a professional dog-groomer to look at the claws for you. If they are too long, he or she will clip them. If your dog’s lifestyle means that this problem may recur, ask for a demonstration of how to clip your dog’s claws properly and safely yourself. Many owners are very reluctant to clip their dogs’ claws from the fear that they may make the claws bleed, or that they may hurt their dogs. However, there is no guarantee that a claw will not bleed even if your vet or a dog groomer clips them, as judging the correct length can be very difficult, especially if the claws are jet-black.
If you do cut a claw and it bleeds, you can stop the bleeding with a styptic pencil. Any pain associated with claw clipping is usually due to the use of blunt or inappropriate clippers, which
squeeze rather than cutting cleanly. Few dogs enjoy having their claws clipped, but those used to having their feet examined regularly as part of routine health-checks will normally tolerate the experience. However, some dogs resent the procedure so much that they have to be sedated.
With a broken claw, if the tip is hanging off but the claw is not bleeding and does not look raw, you may be able to clip it free. The toe may be painful, however, so you should muzzle your dog first and ask someone to restrain him properly for you. If the claw is badly damaged, and particularly if it looks raw or is bleeding, bandage the affected paw. This will stop the claw from moving, and will make your dog more comfortable until you can take him to your vet.