Long Nails and Grinch Feet

When we think of our pets being in pain, we often forget to think about their feet. As dogs and cats age, we can begin to see changes in the way they walk and stand. While many things can contribute to these changes, one simple thing to rule out are foot problems. 

As pets age and their daily exercise changes, they may not be naturally wearing their nails down as quickly. Their gait may have changed due to arthritic joints. Their nails may not be touching the ground the same way they did in younger years, or their nails may be scraping the ground too much and wearing too quickly due to neurologic changes. 

As cats age, they stop scratching on their posts as much and therefore do not shed the outer sheath of their nails. This causes the ingrown nail to continue growing and sheath to become thicker. This sheath can curl and grow into their paw pads causing extreme discomfort and infection. 

Dew claws are often overlooked as well. These nails are located higher up on the foot and do not get a chance to wear away when your pet walks, they also tend to hide in long hair. Oftentimes these nails are only located on the front feet but some breeds also have them on the back feet. Polydactyl toes are also something to be aware of, specific breeds like the Great Pyrenees and Hemingway cats are notorious for these extra toes and nails.  

Pets with long hair often have trouble with something we refer to as “Grinch Feet.” The hair between their toes grows until it starts to cover the pads of their feet. The paw pads are intended to provide traction, and once that traction is covered in fur it causes them to slip and slide on hard surfaces, similar to us trying to run around in our socks. Keeping this fur trimmed and the pads exposed greatly reduces the slipping and risk for injury. It is important to remember that using regular scissors to trim this fur can risk cutting your pet. Your veterinarian or groomer can easily trim this fur with clippers.

All of these foot and nail issues can also occur in younger dogs and cats. When nails are too long on younger pets, the big problem is often torn nails. When they go outside, run around, or play, that long nail gets snagged on something and tears. Oftentimes this causes a lot of bleeding and pain. It can cause them to constantly lick the nail as they try to relieve the pain themselves, leading to infection. Torn nails can require sedation to repair the nail bed and pets will need a bandage for a few days which is not so much fun for them. 

Nail trims and grooming of the feet are generally needed every 4-6 weeks depending on how fast the nails wear on their own and how fast the hair grows. Each animal is different and should be assessed by your veterinary medical team to advise a schedule to keep your pet safe and comfortable, and the Grinch on the television screen.