Thursday, May 9, 2013

What’s The Most Common Problem I See In My Canine Patients?

by Dr. Julie Buzby 

Dental disease?  Well, that is certainly a very common problem, affecting 80% of dogs over the age of three.

The issue I’m thinking of occurs in over 90% of my new patients.

Ear infections?  According to veterinary pet insurance records, this is the number one reason dogs are presented to the veterinarian.

The issue to which I refer is rarely the reason the dog is on my schedule, and one many veterinarians wouldn’t even notice.

Obesity? Another significant problem.

The one I have in mind can be cured in ten minutes for about twenty dollars.

The most ubiquitous problem I saw when I owned a general veterinary practice, and now see in my holistic practice, is one in the same—long toenails.

At this point, you are either nodding your head in knowing agreement, or furrowing your brow in dismay.  Either way, please bear with me as I make my case.  I promise when I’m done you will never look at your dog’s toenails the same way.

Wild canines have short, short nails. 

In their natural environment, dogs run, climb, and dig.  This keeps their nails worn down.  But our domestic dogs live on hard-surface floors, lounge around on the furniture, and get walked 20 minutes a day (if they’re lucky).

The byproducts of this lifestyle include obesity, behavioral problems, and long toenails.

Dogs’ toes have an abundance of proprioceptive receptors.  These receptors feed input to the brain about the body’s spatial position, in relation to the ground and with respect to gravity.

Long nails send faulty information to the brain.  

The brain makes adjustments accordingly.  The result is a dog who stands with chronic bad posture and moves with an altered gait.

Let me prove it to you.  

Please stand up.  Yes, I’d like you to stand up now and curl your toes, simulating long toenails pushing up a dog’s toes.  Did you feel the way your body weight shifted?  Now please do it once again, but this time, really appreciate the subtle changes you felt in your joints, in your muscles, and even your jaw. 

Long toenails significantly affect a dog’s posture. 

Molly's posture pre-nail trim
A dog with long toenails can’t stand with legs perpendicular to the ground.  Rather, he compensates by adopting the “goat on a rock” stance, where his forelegs are “behind” perpendicular and the hind legs must come under him to prevent him from tipping forward. (see photo)

Molly's improved posture immediately post nail trim
Walking with long toenails can be likened to walking in shoes that don’t fit.  

Most dogs walk around
with nails like this
When presented with a new patient, after taking the history, I generally begin with an effective (and pain-free) toenail trim.  This is because it will instantly change the dog’s gait (and aforementioned posture), so when I do my gaiting and chiropractic exam, I can focus on deeper issues, not compensatory problems from long toenails. 

My ten-minute short-nail makeover yields a level of instant relief for the dog and potentiates any holistic treatments I then perform.

Some of my clients prefer that I continue to trim their dog’s nails after our initial visit.  Others are willing to learn to do it themselves, which makes me proud.

I trim my own dog’s nails every 1-2 weeks, and recommend a maximum interval of 4 weeks for my patients.

I joke with my clients that Michelle Obama has childhood obesity, and I have dog toenails.

Example of short nail trim

A quality nail trim is the best “bang for their buck” I offer my clients, and a profound gift I can give my patients.


Dr. Julie Buzby is a homeschooling mom of seven, AVCA & IVAS certified holistic veterinarian, and passionate advocate for canine mobility.  She can be reached at or Twitter @drbuzby.

Learn more about Dr. Buzby’s ToeGrips at and

Articles by Dr. Buzby:
New Solution To An Old Problem For Dogs With Mobility Issues


  1. Ha - totally agree! I really didn't think about all of the negative effects it can have on a dog other than the fact that it's uncomfortable and sometimes painful. Very interesting.

    1. It's the little things that often get overlooked, even though they can be very important. Jasmine's chiropractor always kept close eye on her nails.

  2. When we rescued my boys, it looked as though his nails had never been trimmed. Since we've had him, he visits the vet every 3 weeks for a pedi and mani ;) We have a "standing" appointment. We could probably bump it up to every 2.5 weeks but 3 works out for us and him. He loves going to the vet. We call it "date night" cause he loves to flirt with the girls.

    1. I hear you, our late rescue had them awfully long too. Took quite a while of slowly keeping them back until the quick receded.