Can a Dog's Nails Cause Pain?

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Introduction

Cutting your dog's nails can be quite a nuisance, but it is essential for more than just good aesthetics. In fact, it is a necessary routine needed in order to maintain good hygiene and health in your pooch, not to mention to prevent the pain they can feel if this chore is neglected. 

As you are going to learn, knowing the signs of your dog's nail pain can become an important tool to preventing costly veterinary visits and, more importantly, your dog experiencing the pain that accompanies the various nail ailments your pooch can come to acquire.

Signs a Dog's Nails are Causing Pain

There are some obvious signs your dog is or will soon be experiencing nail pain, that can help you act fast to prevent the problem before it even has a chance to get started. One of the first signs that you may notice with your pooch's nails is that they are too long, and need a trim. This alone can prevent them from feeling pain as regular nail maintenance will keep their nails healthy, as you will learn more about in the science section of this article.

Obvious signs you will notice when your dog's nails are causing them pain include prolonged whimpering and whining, occurring more than just in a one-time incident. This, coupled with concurrently tending to the bothersome nail, is an indicator something is up. 

If your dog becomes fixated with a particular nail and paw, by licking it or biting at it, this is another sign you should pay attention to as they could be experiencing pain. Not all dogs will convey their pain in the same manner. Some dogs may become withdrawn and less active, while others may be more vocal about their pain. 

Body Language

Signs a dogs nails are causing them pain and discomfort include:
  • Barking
  • Whining
  • Scratching
  • Lack of focus
  • Whimpering
  • Tail tucking

Other Signs

Some other signs their nails are causing pain include:
  • Hesitant to step on hurting paw
  • Grooming or licking sore nail to relieve pain
  • May appear to be lathergic
  • May react aggresively if paw recieves unwanted touches
  • Swelling or redness in the area surrounding the nail
  • Strange or abnormal nail colour

The History of Dogs' Nails Causing Pain

The history of our understanding of dogs having nail pain dates back to the establishment of the first veterinary schools and practices. This takes us all the way back 9000 BC, in countries such as Egypt and Iran, where Sheepherders used their premature veterinary skills to attend to and heal their hurting animals, including dogs and sheep. 

Although we are not certain of how nail pain specifically impacted our beloved pooches during this time, we can be certain that if their nail pain was not attended to, the dogs would be of no use for working. 

The development of animal medicine and veterinary practices did not flourish until the late 18th century. It was in France in 1791 when the first veterinary school was founded by Claude Bourgelat, marking the official beginning of the profession of veterinary medicine. From France, veterinary schools continue to develop in countries including Germany, Sweden, and Denmark. Next to follow was London, England, where the London Veterinary College opened in 1791. 

North America wasn't far behind in their veterinary development, opening the Veterinary College of Philadelphia in 1852. From there, veterinary medicine spread all over North America. Today, the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania is known for being the oldest veterinary school in America still in operation today. 

It's clear that the veterinary movement signaled a worldwide concern for the wellbeing of animals, including dogs. It was after the establishment of veterinary practices that our knowledge of dogs experiencing forms of pain, and more specifically nail pain, came to be more developed.  

The Science of Dogs' Nails Causing Pain

Common causes of nail disorders in dogs include bacteria, fungus, or infections. In general, nail and nail bed disorder in dogs can be any abnormality or disease that affects the animal's claw or the nearby area. There are a variety of causes for nail pain in dogs, the following is just information about a few.

A dog's nails consist of two main parts, one part is known as the living pink quick, which runs through the core of the nail, supplying it with blood. The second part is called the shell, which consists of the hard outer layer of the nail. Much like a human nail, if a dog's nail is damaged or hurt, it will cause them pain. 

One way a nail may cause a dog pain is during the trimming process if they are not maintained regularly. This is because the living pink quick naturally recedes from the end of our pooches nails when they are cut regularly. If not, it will run all the way to the end of the nail, causing bleeding and discomfort when the nail is finally groomed. 

To put this into perspective, imagine you're trimming your nails using nail clippers, and you cut your nail too short. The sharp pain you feel when you cut your nail is similar to the pain your dog feels when we cut their living pink quick. 

Like humans, dogs also have sensory receptors in their nails, and if those receptors are damaged, messages are sent to areas of the dog's brain including pain receptors, which in turn cause the dog to feel pain. The feeling of pain is a defense mechanism for animals, sending it a message to stop or change whatever it is doing as it is not beneficial to the organism's overall life and functioning. 

Not only does cutting a dog's nails too short cause them pain, but leaving them to grow too long can be even more painful. For instance, long nails can cause a dog to lose traction in their paw, making it easier for them to slip and fall, causing additional pain than that from the nail alone.

Furthermore, having nails that are too long can damage the tendons in our pooches' feet, causing them to become deformed due to the nail putting pressure on the foot as the dog walks. Overall, it is clear that our dogs can feel pain in their nails, and, therefore, it is our job to prevent the pain from occurring by caring for our pooches.  

Training Your Dog to Not React To Nail Pain

If your dog is experiencing nail pain, there are some methods you can use to train your dog to ignore their pain and prevent it from getting worse. Some of these methods would include using conditioning strategies such as rewarding your dog's good behaviour or extinguishing its unwanted behaviour by using positive and negative reinforcement techniques. 

Positive reinforcement would involve rewarding your dog with praise or a treat when they do the desired behaviour you want them to do. For example, if your dog is prone to biting the nails that are causing them discomfort or pain, you can reward your dog when they are not attending to their nails, to reinforce the behaviour. 

If you catch your dog further irritating their nails, you can intervene by giving them a clear sharp No command. Following this, monitor you dog, and if they refrain from touching their nails again for approximately one minute, then reward them so they can associate the positive emotions they feel when they receive the reward, with leaving their painful nail alone. This can help buy you some time until you can seek the proper medical attention required to treat the nail. 

This method can also be used to prevent your dog from developing nail pain by discouraging any unnecessary contact with their toes to begin with. When you see your dog attending to their feet or toe nails, again, intervene by giving a clear, sharp No or Stop command. Repeated conditioning and training is necessary to develop a consistent behaviour in your dog, expecting results overnight is likely to lead to disappointment.

If you find you are unable to train your dog to stop irritating their painful toes, you could always purchase a cone until you have the ability to get additional medical advice from a professional. The cone should not be used as a long term solution, however, it is beneficial to have on hand for a variety of medical reasons concerning your pup. 

How to React to Your Dog's Nail Pain:

  • Acknowledge your dog immediately, and try to find the precise source of the pain.
  • Using a cold compress to supress pain and to reduce swelling can help reduce pain for your dog (if your dog allows and it does not cause more pain).
  • Seek medical attention immediately if pain persists beyond being a short, one time occurrence.

How to React if Your Dogs Nail Pain is Severe:

  • Do not attempt to resolve the issue alone - it is important to seek medical assistant and advice immediately if pain continues for a prolonged period of time and if it is not a one time occurrence.
  • If you are unable to move your dog, call your veterinary clinic immediately and ask for advice.

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