We've all been there - all of a sudden the dog's nails have gotten out of control. They may not look great and cause scratches in things, but, how detrimental can long nails really be, right?
Your dog's nails are the end of what is called the Kinetic Chain. Joints are a continuing attachment to bones - all the way to the toes and nails. They all work together and are affected by each other - hence the Kinetic Chain.
When a dog's nails get long, dogs will begin to flatten their feet in order to decrease the discomfort or pain that occurs when the nails are pushing back into the toes.
As the front feet flatten, the pasterns (the part of the lower leg that connects to the front feet) change position angling back. This is the what a dog's feet/legs will do when they are going up a hill, so over time, the message to the brain changes as to what the proper position is.
The rear feet move underneath the dog to relieve the pain and discomfort of the nails pushing into the toes and now you have a dog that stands more like a goat on large rock. And of course, the more often this poor posture occurs, the more imbalances occur in their gait, muscle development and joints, weaknesses develop and thus increasing the chances of injury.
Photo credit: Jill Lyon, Dogs Smell Like Fun
As you can see in the diagram, the foot changes position and flattens so it's leaning back on the rear part of the paw and bones that make up the pastern are angling back thus changing the posture of the dog.
Remember the song many of us sang as a kid?
“The toe bone's connected to the foot bone, The foot bone's connected to the ankle bone, The ankle bone's connected to the leg bone, Now shake dem skeleton bones! The leg bone's connected to the knee bone. The knee bone's connected to the thigh bone, The thigh bone's connected to the hip bone . . .”
Remember, the toenails are the end of the Kinetic Chain - the nails affect the feet, which affects the bones and joints in the pasterns, which affects the bones and joints in the elbow, which affects the bones and joints in the shoulder and so on
Also, when a dog's nails are too long and are touching the ground/floor, pain and discomfort are not the only things that can occur.
cause undue stress on joints
cause pain in the joints
lead to early arthritis
cause an arched back
cause imbalances in the posture and gait
over activity of the hip flexors
decrease in proprioception and balance
potential degeneration of the joints, ligaments and tendons
increased cortisol production which has been linked to ligament laxity/weakness
Most people don't realize that even if their dog's nails are a little bit long, that can significantly affect the rest of the body and ultimately their overall well-being and health. Nails serve a purpose - gripping, digging in, traction but not to provide information to the dog's brain where or how to stand, walk, run.
So, how long is too long?
A good rule of thumb is if you can hear your dog's nails clicking on the floor, they are too long.
Of course, the dog's nails may be too long to cut really short due to the quick having grown out along with the nail. The quick is the blood supply to the nail and if cut, can bleed and cause a little discomfort in some dogs.
A good groomer or vet who has experience cutting nails is worth their weight in gold! They can help begin the process of reducing the nail and receding the quick so the nail can be cut shorter and shorter until at the desired length. They also can show you how to maintain the nail trimming at home and/or use a Dremel to keep them short.
Keep your dog's nails trimmed for decreased changes of injury, which means less vet visits and a healthier life! You both will be much happier!