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Q&A: Why Is My Dog Limping After a Nail Trim?

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Dr. Mark is a veterinarian. He has been working with dogs for more than 40 years.

Limping can be a sign of nailbed damage, muscle or tendon issues, or even arthritis.

Limping can be a sign of nailbed damage, muscle or tendon issues, or even arthritis.

Did Trimming My Dog's Nails Make Him Lame?

"My 12-year-old English springer spaniel Oliver has had total lameness of his front left paw for the past four days after having his nails cut/dremmeled. The strangeness of it is that he holds his entire left leg out straight at a 10 o’clock angle, almost as if it’s spasming. The vet took x-rays, and there are no breaks; they said it could be a possible sprain.

He’s been on pain meds and anti-inflammatories for the last two days, but I see no difference at all.The vet gave him a thorough exam—moving shoulder, knee, elbow and foot—and the only pain was when he touched the pads of his feet. He examined them but saw nothing.

One morning I accidentally touched his left paw and he fell to the ground, all fours straight out, trembling. I thought he was stroking and got him to his feet, where he instantly was better, but still holding the leg out at that strange angle. The vet confirmed via x-ray that his neck was fine.

Oliver is resting most of the day, eating and drinking well, urinating and pooping as normal, but is beginning to bunny hop when he goes out. I was not told to do ice or heat on his leg, nor to wrap it in any way.

My opinion is that when the two young guys who were cutting his nails (I wasn’t in the room, which will never happen again), they either held him in a strange position and possibly strained his leg, he fell off the table onto that leg, or Oliver just pulled his leg/foot back when they dremmeled his nails in such a way that he hurt himself. All I know is that my dog walked into the vet, and that night limped and has for the last four days.

I truly don’t know what to do for him. I’ve soaked his paw in Epsom salt water, massaged him, etc. Could he have pulled a muscle at the vet? There are no visible signs of injury, nor swelling that I can feel or see, nor did the vet. To say I’m losing faith in the vet is an understatement. Please...if you can point me in the right direction, Oliver and I would greatly appreciate it." —Barb

Nail Injury or Muscle or Tendon Damage

My first thought was that Oliver had some sort of injury to the base of his nail secondary to pulling his foot back during the trim. If it is a pulled nail/injured nail bed, dogs usually take a week or two to stop hurting. If he pulled a muscle or damaged a tendon jerking his leg or falling off the table, however, it is going to take longer, up to about 6 weeks.

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He might be holding the leg out oddly to keep from putting it on the floor. It is also possible that this is a sign of a muscle injury or a sprain in the elbow or carpus. It is too late to ice pack it, and we do not know exactly where it is bothering him. Unfortunately, he should have responded to pain medications, something your vet has already tried.

Try a Different Pain Medication

Have you talked to your regular vet about the pain meds? They may have started out Oliver on a very low dose, or it might be that he is not responding. (That happens a lot with antihistamines. A dog might not respond to one but do fine with another.)

Consider Acupressure

As far as helping him to feel better in the meantime, keep up with the massage. If the pain does not improve, you may also want to consider acupressure. It is hard for me to recommend acupressure at this point since this is such a recent injury, and hopefully something that will go away quickly, but you should look into learning the points that will help with his pain while massaging him too. (1) It may or may not help to massage the pad, but it is worth trying.

A Possible Sign of Arthritis

There is also the possibility that this was just an unfortunate coincidence. I am not trying to belittle the pain that he has gone through and excuse the vet or technicians, but it may be unrelated to the nail trim.

Was he bunny hopping on the rear legs at all before? If this is the first sign of arthritis, weight loss is the most important step in preventing problems, but massage and acupressure can be helpful.

I hope he does feel better soon!


  1. Riley LM, Satchell L, Stilwell LM, Lenton NS. Effect of massage therapy on pain and quality of life in dogs: A cross sectional study. Vet Rec. 2021 Dec;189(11):e586.

This article is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from your veterinarian. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Dr Mark

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