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How Long Should Dog Nails Be: 9 Signs of Healthy Nails

Veterinary reviewed by Dr. Linda Simon.

Every dog owner will be confronted with the dreadful nail cutting.

Unless you’re a pro or you’ve just had blessed clipping sessions, you’re probably dreading it for one of two (or both) reasons.

The prime reason is the fear of cutting into your dog’s nails.

And the second source of anxiety is your dog’s fear of you cutting into their nails.

Whether you’re about to get a pup, have been successfully clipping away since the last century, or you’ve already had negative experiences, I’ve got some tips for you.

That being said, if nothing bad has happened yet, properly desensitize your dog before ever whipping out the clipper or Dremel.

If you already cut into the dog’s quick and it was bleeding, desensitize again.

Rottweiler lying down with the head between the paws with a good look at the nail length.
Photo by Pawleaks

Ah, the dreaded quick.

If you cut it, it’s said to bleed profusely and will seriously make your dog doubt your ability forever.

Don’t take this lightly.

I didn’t do it properly with my Rottweiler and she’s a phenomenal dog, extremely patient with humans, and resilient when it comes to adventures.

Nail cutting is the bane of my Rottweiler’s existence.

I properly introduced it, but somehow managed to nip the quick a couple of times and it must’ve been one of those times she decided she’s not into it.

What can happen if you say darn it and scratch nail clipping off your list altogether?

  • Splintered nails
  • Dog slips on floors and lacks traction outdoors
  • Unequal pressure causing sore toes
  • Unnatural gait causing long-term issues

So not clipping is not an option.

But how long should the nails be then?

How Long Should Dog Nails Be

Dog nails should not touch the ground when standing upright as well as not impair the gait or get stuck on furniture which usually happens if the protruding nails are longer than 1 cm (0.4 in).

Some vets recommend the simple way of checking if you hear your dog’s nails click on the floor.

However, no matter how short I cut my dog’s nails, they would always still make sounds on the floor. Not a clicking sound, but a more subtle dull sound.

And that’s despite the fact that her nails weren’t touching the floor when standing.

Dog nail length of a Rottweiler close-up.
Photo by Pawleaks

The nails should also be short enough to not interfere with your dog’s gait.

If you see your dog limping, moving awkwardly, gingerly, or in a tip-toey way, it’s time to consult the vet.

Underlying causes can range from joint issues to mental issues.

If muscle sprains, hip dysplasia, and arthritis can be ruled out, checking the dog’s nail length might help.

Unchecked nails might actually cause joint issues in the long run so definitely avoid that and keep them short.

Of course, if you spot issues with your dog’s paw or the nail splinters frequently, it might be time for a trim too.

Below, I’ve compiled all the ways you can tell that your dog’s nails are not at an acceptable length.

Correct Dog Nail Length

The correct dog nail length doesn’t impair your dog’s gait or interfere with daily life, curled nails are a no-go. Clip bi-weekly to avoid cutting the quick and evaluate once the nails don’t touch the ground.

It’s hard to give specific lengths since every dog is different and the correct nail length can vary from small to larger dogs.

Rottweiler with a Dremel in front of her.
Photo by Pawleaks

Dog nails visibly curling or extending far over the paw pad are usually not at the correct length and should be clipped.

However, don’t clip too much at once as a shortcut to get to an acceptable level of length.

That’s to make sure we don’t cut into their quick.

Overgrown dog nails might need to be trimmed weekly and always a bit shorter than last time. This way, the quick will recede.

Personally, I’ve found that a Dremel works best since my dog takes accepts it and there’s less of a risk of injury compared to clippers.

Make sure any tool you’re using is as silent as possible and don’t grind too much or you’ll risk damaging your dog’s nail due to the heat.

Prevention always beats solving existing issues.

What to do if your dog already had negative experiences?

Desensitize them again.

Introduce the nail clippers, reinforce calm behavior with treats or toys, keep the sessions extremely short, and gradually increase.

Behavioral signs your dog needs desensitization include smacking the lips, pulling away, shaking, or in worse cases hackles or growling.

How To Tell If Dogs Nails Are Too Long: 9 Signs

Here are the most common ways you can tell if your dog’s nails are too long:

  • Dog nail often splinters
  • Nails often get caught on furniture or clothing
  • Nails curl
  • Nails touch the ground
  • Nails make clicking sound on floor
  • Dog slips on floor
  • Red paw pads
  • Dog constantly licks paws
  • Dog moves unnatural (limping, walking gingerly, or tip-toeing)

If your dog displays any of these issues, you might want to think about trimming your dog’s nails.

When it comes to the question of how much you can get away with per clipping, that’s a bit tricky.

Determining that your dog’s nails are too long is the first step but gradually cutting them down is a lot harder with black nails vs white nails.

Why are black nails harder?

Because the quick is not as easily visible and you’re always in danger of cutting into it.

As mentioned above, slightly trimming all nails every week will help a lot, you can also shorten that interval to 4-5 days but less is not a good idea most of the time.

The quick needs time to recede and you rushing it is not worth it considering the anxiety your dog might develop if you clip it until it bleeds.

Healthy Dog Nails Vs Unhealthy

Healthy dog nails are short, don’t splinter easily, and shouldn’t interfere with your dog’s daily life.

Unhealthy dog nails get caught in furniture, begin to curl, create an unnatural gait, and perhaps even cause inflammation.

In general, healthy paws get cleaned regularly, checked for foreign objects or injuries, and moisturized regularly.

Dog nails that are too long can have serious adverse long-term effects and should be avoided.

It’s hard to quantify how much unhealthy dog nails and the resulting posture contribute to joint issues but experts have observed a correlation.

A dog who can’t walk properly due to their unhealthy nail length will inevitably compensate and unevenly distribute the weight when walking or even when standing.

Keep your dog’s nails as short as possible.

Cut from the right angle, use a sharp clipper or Dremel, stay calm, positively reinforce your dog when introducing the tool and never clip too much at once.

That’s your recipe for having healthy dog nails.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutritionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.

About Danielle

Equipped with 5+ years of expertise as a Rottweiler owner, I partner with licensed veterinarians and trainers to share research-backed and actionable advice for you and your furry friend.