Brittle nails in dogs are fairly common.
In my seven years working at the vet, I saw a large number of dogs that had this condition.
The problem with a condition like brittle nails is that it’s common because there can be so many causes.
Nails that flake, split or easily break can be caused by a variety of problems, all of which have different solutions.
Keep reading to learn more about them and find out what you can do to both prevent and treat problems with your pup’s nails!
Related ➨➨ How To Deal With Dog Nail Discoloration
Brittle Nails – What Causes Them. What to do About Them.
As I mentioned above, dog toenails that crack and break often can have a variety of causes. Some are completely benign and easy to fix. Others, sadly, are more severe. So let’s take a look at what can cause broken, cracking nails and what to do about it.
1. Nails That are too Long
Simply put, when nails are too long, they break more easily. They’re also more prone to snagging on objects, or breaking from everyday actions like running. Thankfully, this is one of the easiest causes of brittle nails to fix!
Well, mostly easy, at least. Cutting long nails can be tricky with some breeds. You have to be very careful not to hit the quick (the soft cuticles that contain blood vessels).
If you’re not confident that you can safely cut Fido’s nails with clippers, you can try using a Dremel instead to grind them down.
However, if your dog’s nails are astronomically long or you’re extremely nervous about cutting them on your own, most groomers offer nail trimming services. Your vet may also be able to do it (usually for an extra fee, though) during a routine visit. Pay close attention and make note of where the quick is so you’ll feel more comfortable doing it on your own next time.
Regardless of which method you choose, you’ll want to keep up with regular nail trimming (about every other week) to ensure that your pup’s nails don’t grow out of control again.
➨➨ Check out our post on how to choose the right dog nail clippers for more tips.
2. Rough Play
When you combine rough play with overgrown nails, you have the perfect recipe for cracked or broken claws.
Unfortunately, there’s really nothing to do about this one other than making sure you keep your dog’s nails as short as possible. Again, if you trim them every other week, you should be good to go.
3. Fungal Infections
Fungal infections (called onychomycosis) are among the most common types of nail disorders in dogs, and they typically affect the claw folds or nail beds.
Yeast and ringworm are the most common forms of fungal infections. However, some systemic (body-wide) fungi can also affect your dog’s nails.
As Dr. Jennifer Coates explains “Dogs that spend time sniffing around in the dirt are at risk for inhaling fungal spores, which can lead to a lung infection.”
Symptoms of a fungal infection vary depending on the cause, but may include:
- Excessive licking, especially of the paws and claws
- Lumps on your dog’s paws
- Brittle nails
- Difficulty walking
- Inflammation (swelling and redness) around the soft tissue surrounding the claws
- Changes in nail color or deformity of the nail bed
If your pet shows any of these signs, take him to a vet for an exam. Normally, your vet will prescribe an anti-fungal (either in oral or topical form) to address the problem.
4. Nail Bed Tumors
As the name implies, nail bed tumors (such as squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma) affect the layer beneath and around your pup’s nails.
They cause brittle nails, and as they spread throughout the digit and further into the bed, they cause bleeding, limping, and ulcerations.
Treatment depends entirely on how early you catch it and whether the cancer has metastasized (spread) to other parts of your dog’s body. If caught early enough, vets typically recommend amputation of the affected digit. Unfortunately, the cancer can come back even if you manage to remove the entire tumor.
While they can affect any breed, nail tumors are most common in large breeds with black coats such as Retrievers and Poodles.
5. Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy
Also called symmetric lupoid onychitis or just lupoid onychitis, this is an immune-mediated illness that causes dry, brittle nails. Basically, the dog’s immune system goes into overdrive and attacks the nails.
Fortunately, this immune disease ONLY affects the toenails. That doesn’t make it less serious or painful, though, so if your dog begins shedding nails, get him to the vet asap.
The usual course of treatment includes a combination of medications designed to suppress your dog’s immune system (like prednisone), tetracycline (an antibiotic), pentoxifylline (improves blood flow), and a supplement containing essential fatty acids (like Vet Naturals Omega Chews), vitamin E, niacinamide (a form of B3). Your vet will likely also remove the extremely painful nails.
6. Improper Nutrition
Just like people, dogs need a balanced diet to stay healthy from head to toe.
If a dog isn’t eating high-quality dog food, he could suffer from improper nutrition which can lead to a variety of problems like brittle nails, dull coat, dry or oily skin, and other issues.
Inadequate nutrition can also be caused by a dog’s inability to absorb nutrition due to food intolerance or allergies.
If your dog seems to have an upset stomach, brittle nails, a dull coat, or a combination of any of these get him to the vet for an exam.
Thankfully, the treatment is relatively simple. Just changing to a better food can make a world of difference in your dog’s overall health. For dogs with dry nails and dull coats, look for something rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
If your pooch has food allergies, though, you’ll need to work closely with your vet to find the best option.
Brittle Nails are More Than Painful
Brittle nails are more than just a painful condition.
They can be indicative of everything from poor nutrition to tumors in the nail bed. If your dog’s nails are brittle, cracking, or otherwise looking funky, take him to the vet as soon as possible.
Your vet will help you alleviate the pain associated with brittle nails and find the cause of the problem.