Toenails are usually, many people think of long toenails as being primarily a cosmetic concern. But realistically, this is a much larger situation than that. Long toenails in dogs are effectively changing the way that their body can interact with gravity; and what does that mean? Well, those long toenails, when the toenail engages the ground, before the pad of the foot can fully engage the ground, it changes the posture; it’s like wearing high heels that you can’t take off. That you don’t ever get to take off except for when those toenails are trimmed. And what does that do; that changes the posture, and that change in posture puts a lot more stress on joints. Both the joints in the limb themselves, so in the front limbs, both on our wrists, our carapace, our elbows, our shoulders, and in the hind limb, especially their knee or their stifle. Also their hip and their hock, but primarily the knee.
And then, back up further in the spine, our neck and low back also are affected by this postural change because in order to balance properly, we have to kinda arch the back and change the neck posture; as a quadruped so using all 4, thinking about all 4 limbs like our dogs do versus ourselves just using our feet, being bipeds we think about our back more-so. But with dogs, to the low neck is a tremendous area where this stress and strain from this poor posture can contribute.
The neurogenic feedback from the brain, so here I am using big words that kinda, like what does that mean? Well really, what it is, is it breaks down to muscle groups in the limbs and those muscle group general locations and what those general locations are linked to in our brain. So you may have heard of this before, the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system. Well doc, why do we care? I know you’re a doctor and its your job to know this, but why do I as just a pet parent need to know about this. It balances in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, affect our animal’s ability to heal and have optimal health. We need both to survive. We need sympathetic nervous system tone and parasympathetic nervous system tone. Our sympathetic nervous system is associated with movement, also referred to as fight, flight, fear. It’s our stress. There’s a degree of stress that is necessary to be upright and functional and sympathetic nervous system to do that, but there’s lots of things that contribute to sympathetic nervous system tone.
Then there’s the parasympathetic nervous system which has to do with resting, relaxing, digesting, repairing ourselves. So that has to do with healing and relaxing. So rest/digest/repair/relax.
And how does that play up into toenails? So the muscle groups on the front of the limbs are movement mobilizing muscle groups, associated with nervous system tone. and the muscles groups in back of our limbs are stabilizing muscles and that is connected to parasympathetic nervous system. So when we have long toenails, we’re engaging constantly, our mobilizing muscles (muscles on front of the limb that are connected to sympathetic nervous system) making it harder to engage the stabilizing muscles on the back of the limbs, that are associated with the parasympathetic nervous system.
So what does that matter? Well our animals that have chronic long toenails, are chronically receiving increased sympathetic nervous system feedback, which increases their stress levels and makes it harder for them to actually heal themselves in addition to the other problems I have already outlined. So by changing that posture, through addressing the shape of the toenails, we actually can change that body’s balance and ability to heal itself; which is why even animals that come to me that are ill and a whole bunch of problems that most people go “hey doc those toenails are the last of that dogs problems.” I still wanna address those toenails, because those toenails are just 1 more piece of things that is putting more stress on that animal’s body and giving it more problems in its ability to be healthy and well and heal itself.
If animals have long toenails, they do predispose themselves to having bigger issues with their spine, as well as a strong connection to increased risks for cruciate ligament injuries. So that the ligament in the knee or their stifle joint in their hind limbs, similar to a cruciate ligament in our own knees and that the postural stress that’s put on that stifle area, that joint, is significantly increased when they have long toenails and that sets them up for having one of the most common Musculo-skeletal injuries that we see, and that is a cranial crucial ligament injury. It can be anything from an irritation/inflammation, to a full-blown tear or rupture. And that’s where addressing these problems before they become something that’s causing lameness can truly be preventative piece of your animals care.
How often should it be done? Here at the practice, where we are addressing toenails in a relatively intensive way, I find that most of my patients do well on roughly monthly toenail trimmings with the Dremel, which is how I perform a functional toenail trim. At home, if people are working on this at home and they’re maybe not be quite as intensive as how much nail they are taking off at a time, this maybe something you even want to work on weekly or every other week. But for us, the majority of the time, for our patients that are on our ongoing functional toenail trimming schedule, we’re seeing them every 4-6 weeks, usually 4. and 4-5. When we first get started with animals that have a really long toenail and a long quick, and the quick being the sensitive internal tissue of the toenail, the vein and the nerve. With those animals, I often times like to see them back more quickly at first, so that we can make some additional progress in trying to help get that toenail quik to actually back up a little bit.
How does that happen? That happens through the functional toenail trimming process of actually weakening the dorsal part of the nail, or the strength of the nail comes from the top, so that there’s more feedback that happens and a little less stability and protection. And we can certainly help you with that process. we will have another video with some more information about how a functional toenail trimming actually is performed, what it looks like, and where that can be utilized for your animal.
So for all of you dog lovers and dog parents out there, please consider what the toenail really means in terms of your animals health and well-being.