The most common reasons for avoiding nail trims are that the owner is afraid of “quicking” the dog, or that the dog fusses and creates bad feelings around the procedure.
Nail cutting becomes an event surrounded by angst and drama. For very active dogs who run all day long on varied surfaces, cutting nails may not be necessary. High mileage wears them down naturally.
But among city or suburban dogs who are lucky to get a mile or two walk daily, excessively long toenails are more common than not.
Consequences Of Long Toenails
So what’s the big deal?
The first consequence of long toenails is painful feet. When a dog’s toenails contact hard ground, like a sidewalk or your kitchen floor, the hard surface pushes the nail back up into the nail bed. This either puts pressure on all the toe joints or forces the toe to twist to the side.
Either way, those toes become very sore, even arthritic. When the slightest touch is painful to your dog, he will fuss when you pick up his paw to cut nails.
The second consequence of long toenails is more serious. All animals rely on information from nerves in their feet to move through the world and process gravity accurately.
For millions of years, wild dogs have run long distances while hunting and worn their nails short. The only time their toenails would touch the ground was when climbing a hill.
So a dog’s brain is evolutionarily programmed to associate toenail contact with being on a hill, and he shifts his body posture accordingly: leaning forward over his forelimbs, up the imaginary hill as reported by his toes.
Since the hill is not real, a secondary compensation with his hind limbs is necessary to avoid a face plant.
This abnormal compensatory posture can be called “goat on a rock,” because it brings his paws closer together under his body. Normal neutral posture is a nice show dog “stack,” with vertical legs like a table.
Recent research shows that standing with limbs “camped-in” is hard work to maintain. These goat-on-a-rock dogs get over-used muscles and eventually over-used joints, especially in their hind limbs, making it difficult to jump in cars, climb stairs and even hard to get up from lying down. Sounds like a lot of older dogs we know!
Cutting toenails short can be like a miracle cure for your dog whose hind end has become painful, weak and over-used.
By Dr Karen Gellman