You notice your dog’s nails when it’s time to trim them, and whether your dog dreads those pedicures or not, you may have never really given those nails much thought other than when they’re making a clicking sound when your dog walks. Dog nails though are more than just sharp protrusion from your dog’s paws. They are there for many reasons and there are many things to discover about them. So for those folks eager to quench their thirst for canine knowledge, here are some interesting facts about dog nails just waiting to be discovered.
Just like horse hooves, dog nails can come in different colors. Generally, the color of the nail varies based on the color of the surrounding skin and hair. White fur usually comes with white nails, while brown and black fur comes with black nails. In some cases, dog nails may be bi-color, featuring different colors on the same nail, as seen in the picture. Sometimes, dog owners may report changes in their dog’s nail color, such as a dog’s black nails becoming pale. When this happens, it can be simply a sign that the cells responsible for causing pigment (melanocytes) aren’t producing any pigment for some reason, explains veterinarian Roger L. Welton. While these color changes may be normal, they can sometimes signify a health problem so should be brought to a vet’s attention.
Ever wondered why dogs hate nail trims so much? Well for starters, they might not be used to having their feet handled, and secondly, they might be also scared of the noisy tools. In some cases though it could be these dogs got their quick accidentally cut on one occasion and they are aware of how painful that can be.
What is a dog’s quick? Just like humans, a dog’s nail is made of keratin – a protein made of dead cells, but unlike us, dogs have several nerves and blood vessels (which compose the quick) that extend into the nail. While us humans also have a “quick,” our quick stops at our finger tips while in dogs the quick extends into the nail causing bleeding and lots of pain when it’s accidentally cut.
3) Dog Nails Can Stay Short Naturally
How often you need to trim your dog’s nails may vary based on how much activity your dog gets. Just think about it: in the wild, canines don’t ever require a nail trim for the simple fact that they are often walking and digging and putting those nails to good use. Many working dogs who are on their feet for a good part of their day may also rarely need a nail trim. If your dog is running, walking and playing outside on rough surfaces for a good part of his day, there are chances that his nails will wear down naturally as the constant pressure makes the dog’s nail quick recede which leads to short nails. Be careful though not to overdo it with dogs who are not used to being exercised on hard asphalt; this may lead to blisters and abrasions, warns St. Bernard’s Animal Medical Center.
If your dog hates nail trims, count your blessings: in most cases if your dog is active and walks on abrasive surfaces, you may have to limit those dreaded nail trims to the front paws only. Indeed, a dog’s back claws are generally short, sometimes requiring little to no trimming. Why is that? It’s due to how the back legs are used compared to the front. A dog’s back legs are used for propulsion which means they are used more for traction and therefore the nails are ground much more than in the dog’s front legs which are mostly used for stability. So no, unless the nails in your dog’s back claws are long, as in the picture on the right, or your dog is quite inactive, you likely won’t have to clip your dog’s back claws too. If you are unsure, ask your vet or groomer for advice.
5) Dog Nails May Loop
When a dog’s nails are allowed to grow very long, they can start curving and even form a 360-degree loop that may embed into the dog’s paw pad, explains veterinary behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman in the book “Puppy’s First Steps.” Dealing with an ingrown toenail will require veterinary attention, especially when the tip of the nail is not visible because it’s embedded into the dog’s paw, which can be very painful. Even if the dog’s toenail is not embedded, it’s critical to be very careful in trimming the dog’s nail a little bit at a time considering the fact that, as nails grow, their quick will grow along them, sometimes even close to the tip. In the picture above, a curled nail forming a loop can be seen in the outlined square section.
6) Dog Nails Get Infections Too
Bacterial and fungal toenail infections can affect man’s best friend nails too. With bacterial infections, the most common cause is trauma, so it’s important to keep those nails clean and dry after sustaining an injury. Other causes of nail infections in dogs can be triggered by systemic conditions such as immune-mediated diseases, diabetes and hypothyroidism.
When a dog’s nail is chronically infected, it could lead to permanent defective nail growth, explains veterinary dermatologist Dr. Patrick Hensel. Fortunately, unlike humans though, fungal infections of a dog’s nails are less common. When fungal infections of the nail are caused by malassezia, affected dogs will show a brown-red discoloration of the nail with a waxy brown-red seepage. This nail fungal infection is seen more in dogs suffering from allergies.
7) Dog Nails Can Be Affected by Cancer
Nails are a place that one really wouldn’t suspect cancer to take place, but they can actually be affected by different types of cancers. Squamous cell carcinoma and mast cell tumors can affect a dog’s nails. Also, nail changes in dogs can be observed when dogs develop melanoma of the toe. According to the Veterinary Cancer Place, when this cancer takes place, one of the first signs owners may notice is swelling of the toe, and in some cases, the nail may fall off. While malignant melanoma is more likely to affect a dog’s mouth, its second preferred site are the dog’s toes which can lead to fragile, easily damaged nails.
Dog nails weren’t meant for our modern settings; those nails were purposely designed by Mother Nature so to allow dogs to walk on natural terrains. If we take a closer look at our dog’s nails we will notice how they’re shaped like cleats purposely crafted to dig into earthen terrains, explains Dr. Julie Buzby. When we welcomed our dogs into our modern homes, we therefore introduced them to a totally unnatural environment where they may have a bit of a hard time getting a grip on, such as when walking on tiles, linoleum and hardwood floors.
Things may be particularly problematic for dogs with long nails which have a tough time gaining traction on hard, slippery floors. Because long nails cause dogs to rock their foot back, their toe pads fail to make normal contact with the floor, explains veterinarian Dr. MelJ. Additionally, senior dogs, rehabilitating dogs, and special needs dogs may be less capable to compensate on hard-surface flooring, which is why Dr. Buzby created special toe grips with these dogs in mind.
Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog’s nails appear abnormal or are bleeding, seeping pus or showing other worrisome signs, please see your vet.
- DVM360, Nail Diseases, by Patrick Hensel, retrieved from the web on July 8th, 2016
- Puppy’s First Steps: The Whole-dog Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy …By Nicholas H. Dodman, Lawrence Lindner, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 18, 2007)
- Saint Bernard’s Animal Medical Center, The Quick and the Dead: Nail Trims, retrieved from the web on July 8th, 2016
- Toe Grips, Frequently asked questions about Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips: the traction aid to help stop dog slipping, retrieved from the web on July 8th, 2016
- Flickr, Creative Commons, Wendy Berry, 029/366: My Dog’s Pretty Nails, (CC BY 2.0)
- Wikipedia, Damian Galan Kaiser, GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
- Flickr, Creative Commons, PROTony Alter Oops, Jimmy Dean pulled the blanket over his head but exposed his backside. CC BY 2.0
Flickr, Creative Commons, Brenda Kirk, Booties are Funny, CC BY 2.0