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 rely on them for digging, traction, 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, genetics, allergies, infections, inadequate nutrition, tumors, and accidental trauma. 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, pain 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. If you do not have any styptic powder, you can gently place your pet's nail that was clipped too close in some flour from the kitchen to try to stop the bleeding. Try to keep your pet still for 5-10 minutes as you watch to see if the bleeding stops.

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

Some foot and nail issues can be related to allergies such as food and/or environmental allergens. Allergy related issues that involve the dog's nails and feet often cause skin problems such as itching, redness, discomfort and dryness. More often then not, if your dog's feet or nails problems are related to allergies, you will want to work with your veterinarian on this to help determine what the allergen can be too. Switching your pet's food is one thing you may be able to try on your own at home, but often to truly figure out if a pet's allergy is related to food you will need a prescription food allergy diet trial with strict limitations as guided by your veterinarian.

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 or oral antifungal products to treat the issue.​

Nail Bed Tumors

Nail bed cancer 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 to include xrays and biopsy of the toe are necessary for an accurate diagnosis; treatment potentially involves amputation of the affected digits.​

Immune Mediated Diseases of the Claw

There are several autoimmune diseases that can seriously affect the claws causing inflamed and painful nails/toes and even loss of claws. Diseases in this category include symmetric lupoid onychitis (SLO), systemic lupus erythematous (SLE) and other's. Some of these are just limited to the toes while other's have systemic involvement. Diagnosis of these diseases can be difficult as often multiple tests being required. Some diseases like SLE can often affect other organ systems in the body as well. Prognosis can be unpredictable. ​

Lack of Proper Nutrition

Brittle, cracked nails may also result from a lack of essential vitamins and nutrients in your dog's diet. Be sure your dog is on a comprehensive dog food that is recommended by your veterinarian. If you want to have your pet on an at home diet, it is important to make sure it is properly formulated by a boarded veterinarian nutritionist so that essential minerals and nutrients are not missing. Believe it or not, simply feeding cooked ground turkey with veggies and rice to your pet is not a complete and balanced diet for your pets! They need so much more than that! Do not add supplements to your pet's food without consulting with your vet.

Treatment & Prevention

In most cases, your dog's nail problems are treatable by your vet. Never assume diagnosis of claw diseases on your own. These can be uncomfortable and even painful. Always consult with your veterinarian. 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 to call your vet if you notice changes that may signal the development of problems
  • Responding quickly by calling your vet if your dog is limping
  • Ensuring that your dog's diet is vet approved
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.