Nail Problems in Dogs

Healthy nails are important to your pet's wellness

Woman trimming dog nails
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Issues with their claws and nails are a real pain for dogs, who use them for digging, clutching toys and bones, and protecting themselves. They also put their weight on their nails whenever they stand or walk, so nail problems can result in significant discomfort and pain.

Although it's possible for your dog to have a variety of problems with its nails, hollow nails are not an issue. In fact, all dogs' nails are hollow where they extend past the quick or nail bed. If you look underneath, you can see that the base of the nails is not hollow; this is where veins and nerves live.

Beyond the quick, the hollow part of the nail, which may sometimes fill with dirt, is the part that's safe to cut. If this part of the nail touches the floor when your dog is standing, this means it's time for a trim. Ideally, you'll cut your dog's nails often enough to keep them from making contact with the floor or ground. If you make a habit of this, it will go a long way toward keeping your dog's nails and feet healthy.

Why Do Dogs Have Nail Problems?

Dogs develop problems with their nails because of many factors, including improper or infrequent clipping, allergies, infections, inadequate nutrition, tumors, and accidents. Signs that indicate an underlying problem may include:

  • Brittle, crumbling nails
  • Excessive licking or biting
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Limping or difficulty walking
  • Discoloration

Clipping Mishaps

It's surprisingly easy to injure your dog by clipping its nails too close to the quick. When this happens, tender skin and veins may be damaged, leading to discomfort and the risk of infection. In the event you accidentally cut into the quick or your dog suffers some other minor injury to a nail bed, use styptic powder to stop any bleeding.

Keep your eye on the wound and watch your dog's behavior. If the bleeding doesn't stop within five or six minutes or if your dog starts limping and this continues for more than a few minutes, it's a good idea to visit the vet. She'll evaluate the injury and take appropriate action to help prevent infection such as cleaning and dressing the wound.

Allergies

Foot and nail issues are often the result of an allergen—something in your dog's food or an environmental toxin like a pesticide or cleaning product. Allergy-related issues that involve the dog's nails and feet often cause skin problems such as itching and dryness. An allergy may clear up when you change your pet's food or remove the problematic products or substances; if not, talk to your vet about what else you can do.

Fungal Infections

A fungal infection, or onychomycosis, may occur in the nail bed, the nail itself, or within the claw folds. If your dog has a fungal infection, its nails will probably be brittle, and you may see it licking its paws continuously. To correctly diagnose and treat a fungal infection, your vet will need to take a scraping of the affected area to identify the fungus and will generally prescribe a topical antifungal product to treat the issue.​

Nail Bed Tumors

Nail bed carcinomas can alter the nail beds and the nail matrix, which contains nerves and veins. Tumors in the nail bed can lead to limping, bleeding, and ulcerations. Diagnostic procedures that biopsy the tissue are necessary for an accurate diagnosis; treatment potentially involves amputation of the affected digits.​

Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy

This is an autoimmune disease that usually affects young to middle-aged dogs and leads to dry, brittle nails that are inflamed at the base and even loss of claws. Other symptoms may include twisted claws, painful paws, limping, and secondary infections. A biopsy is necessary for diagnosis. Treatment often includes adding fatty acid supplements to the diet as well as the use of antibiotics.​

Lack of Proper Nutrition

Brittle, cracked nails may also result from a lack of essential vitamins and nutrients in your dog's diet. With your vet's blessing, try adding zinc supplements to your dog's food along with omega-3 fatty acids.

Treatment & Prevention

In most cases, your dog's nail problems are treatable at home or by your vet. If, at any time, you see that home care or veterinary interventions aren't working, take your dog to the vet for further evaluation and treatment. In most cases, the appropriate medications can help improve or even cure the problem.

Keep in mind that you can often prevent nail problems from getting a foothold by:

  • Clipping your dog's nails correctly and regularly
  • Frequently checking your dog's nails and taking immediate action if you notice changes that may signal the development of problems
  • Responding quickly if your dog is limping
  • Ensuring that your dog's diet is vet approved and includes enough zinc and omega-3 fatty acids
If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.