7 Common Dog Nail Problems, Symptoms and What to Do

Your dog relies on his nails for a host of activities such as digging and grasping his favorite toy, and maintaining his balance when he walks and runs. Healthy dog nails don’t extend past the pads of your dog’s paw and they are unbroken and unsplit. Unhealthy dog nails can become discolored, dry, split, and peel. As dog owners, we need to be able to recognize those symptoms so we know when to call the vet. Dog nail problems can be symptoms of deeper health issues, and overgrown claws can lead to additional health problems. 

The following are seven common dog nail problems that you should know about. 

Dog Nail Infection 

There are two types of infections, bacterial and fungal, that can affect your dog’s nails. Bacterial infections in one toe are typically due to an underlying condition such as trauma. However, when more than one nail is infected, that could be a signal of other conditions like food or environmental allergies. Less common causes include diabetes mellitus, hyperthyroidism, and hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease). 

A fungal infection (onychomycosis), on the other hand, is the result of a fungus such as a dermatophyte fungus (ringworm), which can cause crusting of the nail bed and surrounding tissue. You may notice one or all nails are affected. If you suspect a nail infection make an appointment with your vet for treatment which can entail antibiotics or antifungal medications depending on the type of infection.

Dog Nail Separated from Quick, Dog Nail Shedding

If your dog’s nails slough, peel, or chip away excessively or the nail has totally separated from the nail bed, your dog may be suffering from symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy or symmetric lupoid onychitis. Although no there’s no definitive cause, it’s believed this disease is related to the immune system and possible genetic predisposition. Evidence of this condition is claw loss (onychomadesis). It begins with the loss of one or two claws and may end with the loss of all nails. While this disease can affect all four feet, it most commonly affects the front feet.

Although nails will grow back, they often are brittle, misshapen, and discolored. To rule out other causes of nail loss, such as an infection, you should speak with your veterinarian about treatment options. 

Dog Brittle Nails, Breaking Off

The most common reason behind extremely brittle nails is lupoid onychodystrophy. As noted above, this disease is related to the immune system and will take some time to see positive results from any treatment. Your vet might biopsy the area to confirm the diagnosis and determine the appropriate approach. 

Dog Toe Swollen Around Nail

A swollen toe can be the result of something your dog stepped on or a bug bite. However, other potential causes include an infection, a foreign body like a splinter, wart, blister, a bone fracture, or cancerous tumor. What is causing the toe to swell will determine the treatment plan. Because an early diagnosis is crucial in treating cancer, you should contact your veterinarian immediately if your dog’s toe is swollen.

Paronychia in Dog Nails

Although not common in pets, paronychia is an infection of a nail bed and its surrounding tissue. The condition usually happens when the skin around the nail bed is irritated or injured and caused by bacteria or fungus. Unfortunately, once the infection has set in, it is tough to cure and most often requires surgical intervention. The disease isn’t usually life-threatening, and at worst, may mean surgical amputation of the toe. 

Frequent licking of a toe could indicate something is wrong. While you may be tempted to scold your pet for his excessive licking or cover up the area, that won’t stop your pet’s licking if the toe is infected. Over time, excessive licking can remove the hair and leave the skin shiny, inflamed, and red. In chronic cases of paronychia, the infection can eat away at the nail and bone of the toe.

If you suspect your pet is suffering from an infection, it’s time for a trip to the vet. Your vet might prescribe long-term antibiotics and/or antifungal medications. 

Dog Nail Bed Yeast Infection

Incessant scratching and licking their paws could indicate your dog is dealing with a yeast infection. Caused by a fungus and sometimes allergies, a yeast infection can occur anywhere on your dog’s paws, including the underside and between the pads. Symptoms include red and irritated paws. There may also be hair loss in the area and a brown discharge in the nail beds. Reach out to your vet if you notice any of these signs for treatment.

Dog Nails Turning Black

A dog’s nails turning black could be due to a bacterial infection, genetics, or age. While this might be normal, discussing your concerns with your vet can determine if the discoloration is normal. One major downside to black nails on a dog is that trimming them can be a challenge because the quick is not so visible from the top of the nail. A nail grinder with a safety guard can help you avoid cutting into the quick (which can be extremely painful and dangerous) if you DIY nail trims.

BarxBuddy PSA: Any time you have concerns about your pet’s health, contact your vet. This is especially true if a health problem is new. We also recommend regularly trimming and grooming your pets’ nails. Not only do properly trimmed nails help prevent illnesses and disease, but when you regularly trim them, you’ll be on the lookout for signs of dog nail problems.

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