Monday, June 16, 2014

Ask the Vet About Nail Care + Posture

by Dr. Julie Buzby, DVM
Nail Care the Right Way
During 2014, I’ve been contributing posts in a series titled, “Ten Tips for Fido’s Longest Life.”  To date, we’ve covered topics such as weight management, dental care, nutrition, and vaccinations—all mainstream concepts.

This month we veer off into unconventional territory in the discussion of canine longevity: dog nail care. 

“How can my dog’s toenails affect his life?” you ask with a healthy dose of skepticism. 

This blog post will answer that question and hopefully convince you that frequent, appropriate nail trims are one of the best gifts you can give your dog!

As a general rule, our domestic dogs’ toenails are entirely too long.  In their natural environment, dogs run, dig and climb.  These activities wear down the nails and keep them short.  In contrast, our canine companions live on fancy hard flooring, lounge around on the furniture, and get brief leash walks for exercise.  This lifestyle sets up for obesity, behavioral problems, and long toenails.

Long nails are not merely a cosmetic concern.  In truth, long toenails change the way a dogs toes interface with the ground—impacting gait and posture.  Dogs toes contain an abundance of proprioceptive receptors.  These receptors feed information to the central nervous system about the bodys spatial position with respect to the ground and gravity.  Long nails cause skewed input to be sent to the brain.  The brain makes adjustments accordingly.  The result is a dog who stands with chronic bad posture.

More specifically, a dog with long toenails won’t stand with his legs perpendicular to the ground.  Rather, he will compensate by adopting the “goat on a rock” stance, where his front legs are “behind” perpendicular and the hind limbs must shift forward under him to prevent him from tipping forward.  A lifetime of standing in this position causes chronic stress on the system and predisposes to injury.

On top of that, this dog will move with an altered gait.  Walking with long toenails can be likened to walking in oversized clown shoes.  When presented with a new patient, after taking the history, I generally begin with an effective (and pain-free) toenail trim because it will instantly change the dogs gait and stance.  Then, when I gait the dog to evaluate for lameness and body mechanics, I can focus on deeper issues, not compensatory problems from long toenails. 

The moral of this post is that nail care is drastically undervalued.  It’s a surprising confession, but I’ve concluded that a simple pedicure is one of the most valuable changes I make for my patients, and a nail trimming tutorial is one of the most valuable gifts I give my clients.  A ten-minute, short-nail makeover is the fastest, least expensive way I know to help a dog stand and walk better instantly.

Just like humans, there is individual variation on how fast nails grow, but most grow fairly quickly.  I trim my own dogs nails every 1-2 weeks, and recommend a maximum interval of 4 weeks for my patients.

Need some tips? Here's a video created by Dr. Julie to educate dog owners about proper nail care:

Dr. Julie Buzby is a homeschooling mom of seven, American Veterinary Chiropractic Association and International Veterinary Acupuncture Society certified holistic veterinarian, and passionate advocate for canine mobility.In her free time she serves on the Advisory Board for The Grey Muzzle Organization. She can be found at Twitter @DrBuzby and on You'll also find more of Dr. Julie's posts at our Ask the Vet Archives page.

Here are a few of her articles that may be of interest:

Dr. Julie's opinion or advice does not replace an actual exam with a veterinarian.

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Christina said...

This is a great post! As a horse owner, I've always taken extreme care of my horses feet, knowing that the way they are trimmed greatly affects their gait, soundness, and overall well-being. I've never thought to look at it the same way in dogs! I keep my pup's nail's trimmed fairly regularly, but I will definitely be sure to not allow too much time to pass between trims from now on.

Carrie, with Tanner and Oliver said...

@Christina, This is an excellent observation. Nail length can be a problem for all animals, including humans. Thank you so much for bringing this to light.

Dawn said...

Great tutorial. I cut Maya and Pierson's nails every Monday and have done so for many years. As a result, they are very cooperative and it takes me less than 5 minutes total to do both dogs. I usually cut the nail straight across but I'm going to try this side cut shown in the video.

Michelle and Odin said...

Thanks for this great post. Like Christina said, I have never thought about nails this way in dogs and am glad this subject has been brought up. I will be sure to keep the cutting intervals shorter and pass on this tip to other dog owners!

Kimberly Gauthier, The Fur Mom said...

I'm pretty vigilant about clipping our dogs' nails, because I don't like being scratched by them and it seems like it would be uncomfortable if they're too long. I had NO idea the impact of too long nails. Thank you.

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