Galen Myotherapy

The world-leader in Canine Myotherapy education, treatment, and research
Toetal Balance
By Julia Robertson
June 2018


In all subjects and in all areas of life we can make better decisions if we know just a little about the subject; however half the time ‘we do not know what we do not know’. This conundrum makes having a discussion very difficult when we do not have a base to start from. This article is purely to offer some information that could help form relevant =discussion if your dog has damaged their toe and you are recommended to have their toe removed.

The one thing as a Myotherapist and as a dog handler/owner we are always working toward optimum balance in our dogs. If our dogs are balanced, the areas of muscular and joint stress are reduced. Physical balance is based on two main components; the dogs bone structure and the muscles that ‘work’ these bony structures. Together these form good free flowing movement that enables the dog to move naturally and without excessive stress on any part or parts of their body. Balance is and can be affected by the smallest thing that can have such a great impact on the dog as a whole. In fact it can be affected by something as small as a toe. During my 10+ years as a Myotherapist I have seen many dogs with amputations, many as major as a whole limb that has understandable ‘balance’ implications; but I also see many toe amputations, one being the forelimb dewclaw whether at birth or after repeated accidents and also I have seen many toe amputations, usually the outside or inside toe.

Removing a dog’s toe when it has been dislocated is something I see often. I am by no means saying ‘don’t do it’ because that would be against Veterinary advice that was relevant to the situation and condition – however I would like to offer some observations to perhaps help with a decision making process of whether to remove the toe or not and subsequent management considerations.

To remove a toe, especially an outside or inside one will affect your dog’s balance; the reason that toe has been damaged is because it is being used, so its removal will naturally have a profound effect!

If we look at the forelimb, this is held on by muscle alone and its integrity is sustained very much by the muscular structures that hold it close yet at the correct angulation with the body. By removing that lateral or outside stability, i.e. removing one of its toes the whole leg will ‘roll’ to the outside, putting stress through the elbow and shoulder joints. This will possibly draw the elbow closer into the body, therefore, stressing the shoulder blade or scapula and realigning its position on the body. This will stress the muscles that move and /or stabilise the whole forelimb, there will be ensuing stress through these structures just to maintain stability; and if we ask the dog to perform actions such as jumping down it will create stresses that will be directed through to the neck and lower back. These stresses occur because other structures will then have to overwork in order to help ease the concussion and aid the movement.

If the toe is removed from the inside the stresses will be different as the leg will rotate more towards the body but regardless will have similar effects on the dogs movement; the forelimb will be compromised and it will be overworking just to maintain its integrity with the rest of the moving body. With regards hind leg toe amputations, I have not seen so many but I know these are common in Greyhounds and track dogs. The same is true of a hind limb, it will affect the orientation of the limb and the way it attaches to the body and therefore will cause stress away from the point of injury that will eventually travel and affect the whole dog.

Bone is dynamic; it changes and remoulds to fit with the stresses and conditions that are being asserted on and through it. As well as muscular stresses some amputations can cause bony change as the remaining toes alter to ‘fill the gap’ of the missing digit. These alterations will also have subsequent impacts on stresses through the muscles of the adjoining structures. This type of consequence will result in additional issues. Many dogs have amputations because the damaged toe could/would be a serious source of on-going pain and in these situations it is worthy of serious consideration. However, if the toe is removed, it is good to be fully aware of these subsequent issues that could affect your dog and realise that remedial help will be required on an on-going basis.

Sometimes it is felt that it is best to remove a toe because it is better to remove the potential cause of osteoarthritis within the damaged joints of the injured toe. Perhaps these are the cases that may be discussed further and maybe time should be given to see the effect rather than remove something than cannot be replaced. I add again – perhaps.

If your dog has had or is about to have a toe amputation, it is a good idea to consider muscle treatments either from a canine myotherapist or another good therapist that will help to maintain their integrity. If managed from the offset it will possibly be only a couple of treatments a year! This together with appropriate exercises will really help and help to negate much of the impact from these amputations.

The dewclaw was mentioned earlier in this article, this, I believe is worthy of discussion in isolation and this is what will be the subject of next month’s article. If anyone has any views prior please do contact me as I am keen to hear from everyone and anyone on this subject.

Julia Robertson is the founder of Galen Myotherapy, and has written a number of books on the study of biomechanical function in dogs. Stay abreast of all of Galen Myotherapy's activities by following us on Facebook or on our YouTube channel

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