What do you know about the most common dog nail problems?
Unless you happen to be dealing with one right now, I’m betting not as much as you should!
Not to worry, however, because we are going to discuss some of the most common nail issues as well as what symptoms to look for.
If the problem require a visit to the vet, and most issues do, we’ll also explain what to expect.
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Complete Guide to Dog Nail Problems
If you have owned a dog for any amount of time, you know that their nails are something that requires constant upkeep.
You obviously want to protect your furniture and rugs, but you also want your fuzzy friends to be able to move about freely.
If you don’t keep up with their nails, you run the risk of your dog developing nail problems.
Let’s start by looking at some of the symptoms and causes behind these issues, then we’ll get into the actual problems themselves.
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Symptoms of dog nail discoloration and problems
If your dog has nail problems, you may notice certain behaviors.
- Usually, dogs with nail problems will limp, favoring the paw that is hurting them.
- They may also have swelling in the paw area. You might notice the loss of a nail or cracks in the nails themselves.
- In severe cases, an unusual discharge may be present, or there will be bleeding from the area.
Another sign of pain is if your dog starts licking their paws. Note, however, that this does not always indicate pain.
Our dog started licking his paws and we were ready to take him to the vet. And then we noticed that he had started dipping his paw into his water dish and licking it off, just like our cats do.
So, if your dog becomes a paw-licker, be sure to look for other symptoms before rushing to the vet.
Dog nail discoloration is also a classic sign. You may see your dog nails turning red, brown, or even black.
If the paw or nail area is infected, your dog will likely have a fever.
Most dogs become lethargic when they have a fever, so if your usually rambunctious pet is all of a sudden lying around a lot, it is time to take him to the doctor.
Why Do Dogs Get Nail Problems?
We need to realize that the dog’s paws are sensitive parts of their bodies. At the same time, they’re probably the most used part of your dog’s body!
They walk on concrete, grass, tile floors and in the woods. They may be walking in parking lots and running through ponds.
My dog likes to try to dig through the stones surrounding our pool almost as much as he likes digging in the yard.
While we have shoes to protect our sensitive toes (even if they’re flip flops), dogs typically go barefoot.
Dogs are also subjected to us cutting their nails, which needs to be precise, or there is a risk of cutting too much and harming the nail.
If we are too nervous about doing it ourselves, we send them to groomers. The last time I tried to do it myself, I’m not sure which one of us whined more.
Dogs can experience nail problems due to injury, immune system problems or secondary to other medical issues.
Let’s take a look at some dog nail problems.
Common nail problems in dogs include fungal infections, allergies, and even the breed itself. Read on to learn more about these potential causes.
Common Causes of Nail Discoloration & Issues
Dog Nail Fungus
If a dog’s nail is loose and painful, it is possible that a dog nail fungus is the culprit. For example, malassezia is a common fungus that affects dog nails.
The vet will need to take a culture to determine the type of fungus so that it can be correctly treated. They will also remove the loose part of the nail to prevent further infection.
Some remedies may include foot soaks (yes, spa treatments for your dog) or topical medications.
If the fungus was widespread, long-term treatment might be prescribed to ensure that the nail grows back in healthy and strong.
Some dogs have food allergies, which can lead to some surprising issues, including dog nail problems.
Symptoms of food allergies can include rashes on the skin and yeast infections (which is where malassezia dog nails come in to play).
Your vet will probably initially recommend a hypoallergenic diet to see if this clears up the rashes and yeast infections.
While diet will help in the long run, any rashes or infections need to be treated right away, and the vet should prescribe appropriate medications to address the immediate problems.
If your dog does have food allergies, you need to make sure that you check the ingredients in treats and preventative medicines as well as their every-day food.
It is also probably best not to feed your dog table food unless you have cleared specific foods with your vet.
Certain breeds of dogs are predisposed to different types of nail problems.
For example, Spaniels and German Shepherds are prone to several kinds of nail diseases, while Greyhounds and Labrador Retrievers are susceptible to abnormal claw formation.
Our groomer actually gives discounts to certain breeds because she knows that she will see those dogs more often.
When looking for your next pet, you may want to do some research breeds and known nail issues.
This isn’t to discourage you from a particular kind of dog, but you want to be aware of what you might be dealing with over time.
In some instances, a tumor may be causing the problems with your dog’s nails. This may be a factor if there are no other easily recognizable causes.
If this is the case, your vet will take a biopsy of the tumor and run lab tests to determine the type of tumor.
Once the lab results are returned, your vet will be able to determine the best course of action for treatment, both of the tumor and the nail problems.
When I was growing up, my grandmother had an old mixed-breed dog that had nail problems late in its life.
Turns out it had small tumors (fortunately benign) near the nail beds. A quick surgery, and he was walking around in no time.
Certain Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, thyroid issues, and lupus can all cause nail problems. Your vet will run diagnostic tests to determine if an autoimmune disease is affecting your dog.
Once it is known what your dog may be dealing with, treatment will be tailored to the disease and symptoms.
How nail problems are diagnosed
Your vet will be able to use a variety of diagnostic tools and tests to figure out why your dog is having nail problems. Some of these tools include:
- Oral history from the owner
- Nail and skin scraping
- Fungal cultures
- Bacterial cultures
- Cytological tests (used primarily for cancer diagnosis)
- Elimination diet
Once your vet has determined the cause, he or she can design the proper treatment plan.
Treatments for Nail Problems
Depending on what the underlying medical reason for the nail problem is, some treatment plans might include:
- Clipping the nail area and soaking it in an antiseptic solution
- Oral antibiotics specific to the bacterial infection
- Treatment with antifungal medicine for 1-3 months
- Prednisone, with tapering dosages
- Surgical removal of the nail
- Possible amputation and chemo or radiation as needed
It is important to note that these last two are only in extreme cases with underlying circumstances aggravating the problem.
Make an appointment with your vet
The vet will take a history of your dog’s health, including specific information that led to the visit.
- They will then examine the injured area.
- If an infection is present, they will clean out the area with antiseptic and possibly prescribe antibiotics.
- They may also trim the fur away from the infected area to keep it as sterile as possible as the nail heals.
Most of the time a nail injury is caused by an over-trimming of the nail. Sometimes, however, the nail problem may be caused by other issues.
There are multiple reasons why your dog may be experiencing nail problems. Even if you have a good idea of the cause, you need to take your dog to the vet to make sure that the issue, including any side effects, is treated quickly and appropriately.
If the treatment is effective, your four-legged friend will be up and running around in no time at all.