About Dog Nail Care
The most ubiquitous problem I saw when I owned a general veterinary practice, and now see in my holistic practice, is one in the same—long toenails.
In their natural environment, dogs run, climb, and dig. This keeps their nails worn down. In contrast, most domestic dogs live on hard-surface floors, and rarely get sufficient exercise.
The byproducts of this lifestyle include obesity, behavioral problems, and long toenails.
Long nails are not just a cosmetic issue. They can actually change the way a dog’s paws interface with the ground, negatively affecting both posture and gait.
Dogs’ toes have an abundance of proprioceptive receptors. These receptors provide information to the central nervous system about the body’s position in relation to the ground. When a dog’s nails are excessively long, the brain receives faulty data and makes adjustments accordingly. The result is a dog who has poor posture and an altered gait.
Let me prove it to you. Stand up and curl your toes, simulating a dog with long toenails. Did you feel the way your body weight shifted? Now please do it once again, but this time, appreciate the subtle changes you experienced in your joints, your muscles, and even your jaw.
A dog with long toenails can’t stand with legs perpendicular to the ground. Rather, he compensates by adopting the “goat on a rock” stance, where his forelegs are “behind” perpendicular and the hind legs must come under him to prevent him from tipping forward. This chronic compensatory posture takes a toll on the body and predisposes to injury.
When a dog walks with long toenails it can be likened to humans walking in oversized clown shoes. When presented with a new patient, after taking the history, I generally begin with a simple (and pain-free) toenail trim. This instantly changes the dog’s posture and gait, so when I do my gaiting and chiropractic exams, I can focus on deeper, root issues, not secondary problems from long toenails.
My five-minute short-nail makeover yields some degree of instant improvement for most of my new patients.
Some of my clients prefer that I continue to trim their dog’s nails after our initial visit. Others are willing to learn to do it themselves, which makes me proud. I trim my own dog’s nails every 1-2 weeks, and recommend a maximum interval of 4 weeks for my patients.
Routine nail trims are commonly overlooked as part of our canine companions’ preventative health care, but hold significant potential to improve our dogs’ quality of life.
Nail trimming tutorial for dogs with light nails
Nail trimming tutorial for dogs with black nails
I recommend pairing ToeGrips application with client education on dog nail care. Regular, quality nail trims for dogs are critical! Toenails that are too long affect:
Proprioception—A dog’s toes contain an abundance of receptors which help his brain understand where his body is in relation to the ground. When a dog’s nails become too long, this distorts the toes, affecting the brain’s input signals.
Posture—Because of this faulty proprioceptive input, the dog’s posture will change. Usually this looks like a “goat on a rock”—the hind legs tuck forward and the front legs stand behind perpendicular when viewed from the side. Rather, A dog’s front legs should be perpendicular to the ground.
Pain—Long toenails create chronic bad posture. Bad posture is uncomfortable for the dog and predisposes to degeneration and injury, as chronic abnormal forces are placed into the dog’s joints/tendons/ligaments. Additionally, the animal is stressed and the adrenal glands increase cortisol production. Excess cortisol takes a toll on many body systems, but is known to cause ligament laxity/weakening. This predisposes to injury.
Safety—Long, hard toenails cannot grip slick flooring, making the dog more likely to slip, and less confident on hard, smooth surfaces. In nature, dogs use their toenails to get purchase on terrain (similar to soccer cleats). When they flex their digits (with long nails) to attempt to gain traction on hard-surface flooring, it simply makes the slipping worse.
Gait—Watch a dog with long nails gait before and immediately after a quality nail trim. That dog will instantly have an improved breakover and stride, which will translate into a more efficient and comfortable gait.