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Why Do Dogs Need Their Nails Clipped?

 

Why Do Dogs Need Their Nails Clipped? Just as people, dogs need their nails clipped to keep their nail growth under check, but clipping a dog’s nails entails much more than those manicures and pedicures people do for aesthetic reasons. There are several health benefits associated with keeping a dog’s nails short, therefore, not surprisingly, dog nail clipping deserves a primary role along with other healthy practices such as regular teeth brushing, coat grooming and ear cleaning. Why do dogs need their nails trimmed? There are too many good reasons that shouldn’t be ignored.

Activity keeps dogs happy and nails short.
Activity keeps dogs happy and nails short.

No Longer on Their Toes

The great majority of dogs were selectively bred to carry some sort of task. Whether dogs were bred to herd, flush, point, retrieve, guard, hunt or chase rats, all these activities entailed lots of running around and possibly also digging and climbing. And prior to domestication, the dog’s ancestors were known for walking many miles a day if they wanted to eat, drink and reproduce. Whether dogs were on their feet all day because of working or survival purposes, their nails would consume at a steady pace.

This level of daily exercise was a far cry from the amount of exercise our canine companions receive nowadays. A drastic lifestyle change has led to many complications such as dogs suffering from obesity, behavior issues… and long nails. When it comes to wearing down dog nails, a brief walk around the block in the morning or a game of fetch upon coming home from work, usually won’t cut it (pun intended!)




 A Lack of Friction

Like my pedicure?
Like my pedicure?

On top of being couch potatoes, many modern dogs are no longer much exposed to abrasive surfaces. They spend their days walking on carpets and their yards are possibly full of soft grass.  And even if dogs walk on hard floors around the home, consider that their toenails do very poorly in getting a grip on hardwood floors, tile or linoleum. A dog’s toenails were designed to dig into earthen, uneven terrains, just like cleats,  explains veterinarian Dr. Julie Buzby. These were quite different surfaces compared to our flat, smooth modern floors.

Low levels of exercise along with lack of friction, are the perfect recipe for long nails. While walking on the asphalt can help trim them down, if the walk is too brief, it won’t likely have much effect. Therefore, dogs need their nails trimmed because they exercise a lot less than they used to, and when they walk, they often walk on surfaces that are either not abrasive enough or for not enough time to provide benefits.

Avoid the goat on a rock stance...
Avoid the goat on a rock stance…

Problems with Posture

A dog’s toes are blessed with several proprioceptive receptors, which are responsible for providing information to the central nervous system in regards to the body’s spatial position as it relates to the ground.  These receptors at the bottom of the toes tell the brain where the ground is, how hard is it, and whether it supports the body, explains the AKC Canine Health Foundation. Should a dog place a foot in a hole as he’s running through the fields, it is thanks to these receptors, which detect changes in the angle of the leg and pressure on the foot, that the brain command center  is able to elicit a prompt shift in weight and quick withdrawal of the leg, preventing a serious accident from occurring.

When a dog is allowed to grow long nails, this information is no longer accurate causing the brain to make continuous adjustments that may lead to a chronic, bad posture where the forelegs are no longer kept perpendicular to the ground as they should be, and the hind legs are kept under preventing the dog from tipping over. For the sake of an example, the dog compensated by assuming a “goat on a rock” stance that puts strain on a dog’s joints, tendons and ligaments, further explains Dr. Buzby.  Trimming those nails therefore provides an almost immediate improvement in the dog’s posture and gait.

Prone to Injuries

Ouch, nail injuries in dogs are painful.
Ouch, nail injuries in dogs are painful.

Long nails make a dog more prone to injury. The long nails have a higher chance to snag and break when they get caught onto things, explains veterinarian DrGene Witiak, in the book ” True Confessions of a Veterinarian: An Unconditional Love Story.” Split toenails and other types of injuries to a dog’s nails are often very painful and may require sedation to allow the vet to treat them. Long nails may also cause injuries to the people the dog interacts with, causing scratches to the skin, not to mention damage to floors, carpets and furniture.

Old dogs are prone to having long nails.
Old dogs are prone to having long nails.

A Word About Senior Dogs

Keeping nails short is important for all dogs, but even more so for senior dogs. Senior dogs are more prone to growing long, brittle nails as they tend to move less compared to younger, active dogs. On top of that, when a dog’s nails grow too long, they lack the traction that comes with neatly trimmed nails as the foot and toe pads are allowed contact with flooring. As dogs age, they tend to lose muscle mass and flexibility, which according to the Grey Muzzle Organization, makes navigating on slick floors similar to an obstacle course.

Left untrimmed, long toe nails cause dogs to stand and walk abnormally, and in older dogs, this may mean accelerating and exacerbating arthritic changes, warns veterinarian Dr. Ernest Ward. Worth mentioning is also that some older dogs who develop lameness and poor mobility from arthritic changes, may become “flat footed.” Because of joint breakdown, the nails will appear excessively long and fail to wear down, says DrGene Witiak.

Making the Quick Recede

Long nails need some TLC.
Long nails need some TLC.

When dog nails are allowed to become too long, the quick grows along the nails, making them difficult to trim as they bleed easily. In this case, patience goes a long way.  Trimming the nails a little bit at a time will allow the dog’s nail quick to recede. Plan to trim the nails a little bit each week, recommends  veterinarian Dr. Debra Primovic in an article for Pet Place. At the same time, walking on abrasive surfaces provides a natural way to further file the dog’s nails down and encourage the quick to recede.

What’s the best length to keep dog nails? Well trimmed nails should not touch the ground when the dog is standing on a level surface, but they should still be able to provide good traction when the dog is digging or climbing a hill, suggest veterinarians Dr. Karen Gellman, DVM, PhD, and Dr. Judith M. Shoemaker, in the AKC Canine Health Foundation article.

As a faster solution, sometimes veterinarians may recommend having the dog’s nails “quicked.” This  procedure requires the dog to be under anesthesia as the nails are trimmed back very far by clipping through the overgrown quick. “This is a bloody and very painful procedure, I would not recommend though,” says veterinarian Dr. Elizabeth.

Did you know? Cancer can also affect a dog’s nails. Melanoma of the toe can masquerade as a broken toenail because the tumor weakens the nail, according to Felton Veterinary Hospital.  See your vet if your dogs develops a broken nail without  an apparent cause or if you notice a swollen toe.