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My Ongoing Battle With My Dog’s Too-Long Nails

Riggins has all-black nails, which means safe trimmings require a vet visit and the usual disapproval because I waited too long.

Wendy Newell  |  May 19th 2016


I consider myself a good dog mom. Riggins, my 10-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer mix, gets everything his little heart desires. There is one thing that I fail miserably at, though, and that is keeping his toe nails trimmed. It’s an ongoing battle that has Riggins’ vet rolling his eyes.

Last month, I was talking with Dogster Magazine Senior Group Editor Melissa Kauffman. She mentioned that our readers were writing in with concern that the puppy on the April/May 2016 cover had toenails that were too long. I pulled out my issue and took a look at the adorable pup photographed by the talented Seth Casteel. The puppy’s toenails were long, but not anything that would have grabbed my attention. All I could think was, “Thank goodness our readers haven’t seen Riggins’ nails. They would be horrified.” Yet here I am outing myself to all of you, our loyal and knowledgeable readers. Maybe a little public shame will whip me into shape.

Riggins shamefully long nails. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Riggins’ shamefully long nails. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

I’ve always had an issue with keeping Riggins’ nails trimmed, even when he was a tiny puppy. His nails are all black and thick. I’m not comfortable cutting them myself, so I’ve always taken him to the vet for a trim. For a while, I took him to a local groomer, but I found that groomers were hesitant to cut the nails too short for fear of cutting into his quick. The vet is a lot braver.

My darling boy puts his long nails to good use. He LOVES to skin his tennis balls, and when he grabs onto one, his long talon-like claws push out and grip onto that ball as if his life depends on it. He’s also constantly digging, and his nails allow him to push up more dirt than his fellow four-legged friends. Then there is the hiking we do on a regular basis. When we get to a tough up or down, you can see Riggins’ nails grip into the ground for traction. It is all that activity that helps keep his nails short enough to remain healthy and strong despite what some might consider their too-long length.

Riggins' friends Sissy and Kili are impressed with his digging skills. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Riggins’ friends Sissy and Kili are impressed with his digging skills. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Their health status doesn’t mean I’m off the hook, though — just ask my hot judgy vet. One of the vets who recently retired from the office we go to is an older gentleman with glistening silver hair. He is as attractive as he is judgy! Many of Riggins’ checkups ended with him saying, “He’s in great shape, but his nails are too long.” This was usually said with him looking down at me and with a slight head shake. I get the same look and head shake if Riggins’ has gained a few pounds, or if he has hurt himself in a way the vet thinks I should have helped avoid. I’m okay with it because he is so darn pretty to look at, and because I know deep down inside he is right.

Hot judgy vet let me know that if you don’t keep your dog’s nails trimmed, the quick grows out farther toward the tip of the nail, which means you can’t cut it as short. It’s better to avoid this all together by making sure that nail trimming is part of your regular dog grooming routine.

Long nails, long quick. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Long nails, long quick. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Too little too late for poor Riggins and me. Every trip to the vet has the vet tech returning Riggins and telling me his quick is very long. The best way to get the quick to recede, so you can trim down to shorter nails, is by trimming them just a little at a time on a regular basis — like a seven-to-10-days regular basis. That’s a lot of vet visits.

It’s no secret that I often take better care of Riggins than I do myself, so it shouldn’t surprise you that unkempt nails run in the family. I head to the nail salon once every three months, if I’m lucky. It’s not that I don’t like having pretty toenails, I do. It’s just so boring to sit there in that chair for an hour or so.

Riggins and my feet. We both need them tended to! (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Riggins and my feet. We both need them tended to! (Photo by Wendy Newell)

At least Riggin’s nails take only a few minutes to trim. I walk him into the vet, the tech takes him to the back, and a few minutes later I hear him panting as he pulls the poor tech down the hall so he can get back to me as fast as possible. To be honest, it’s not so much me he is trying to get to but the treats that are on the counter in the waiting room. The only reason Riggins will tolerate having someone cut his nails is because he knows when it is all over, he can run to the counter and go through his arsenal of tricks to get a treat or two. His hi-jinks normally cause people to giggle and comment, which means human attention and most likely a pet or two, which is Riggins’ favorite thing in the entire world.

Heading to mom post nail trim, or maybe just heading to the treat jar. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Heading to mom post nail trim, or maybe just heading to the treat jar. (Photo by Wendy Newell)

A successful nail trim means a treat! (Photo by Wendy Newell)

A successful nail trim means a treat! (Photo by Wendy Newell)

Maybe if my nail salon offered delicious crunchy treats and extra attention, I would be willing to go back there more often. Oh well, for now I’m going to focus on my baby and see if I can manage to step up his nail grooming routine so he can continue to be healthy and active during his senior years.

I know there are lots of ways to tend to your dog’s nails without a vet visit. What do you do? Give me some tips in the comments below.