When human beings talk of a nail-biting event, they are referring to an event that caused them great distress and anxiety to the extent of literally biting their fingernails. Humans also bite their fingernails when they are bored or if they don’t have a clipper on hand. Just like humans, dogs too bite their nails. When you think of your Dachshund biting his nails, you probably liken it to your nail-biting and wonder what he is nervous about. But is he biting his nails because he is nervous or anxious? Is he bored and spaced out? Could he be trying to pry loose a broken nail or is he attempting to groom his toes? This and more are discussed below.
The Root of the Behavior
According to Dr. Kathryn Primm, contrary to what happens in humans when they bite their nails, nail biting in dogs is a sign of physical illness and is not a behavioral condition. Nail biting is an allergic reaction known as atopy, that causes the skin and paws of dogs to be irritable and itchy. The allergies are triggered when irritants that exist in the air, such as pollen, are inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Dogs that have this allergic condition are thought to inherit the trait and to suffer from it when they are between one to four years old, with increased frequency throughout adulthood. Another common reason is food allergies. Almost similar to atopy, a reaction to food allergies can begin at any age and it causes itchy skin all over, triggering chewing of feet and toes. The nail-biting is a symptom of the resultant infection that happens because of the itching.
If your dog has atopy, he will lick and bite his paws to scratch the itch and, in the process, he will get saliva under his nails. The resultant moisture that is trapped under the nails creates a breeding area for infection which gives rise to more itching. Dr. Mark Thompson refers to this infection as pyoderma, a condition that results when a dog inflicts trauma on his skin due to excessive itching. Bacterial and yeast infections build up in the broken skin causing even more itchiness. Dachshunds are especially vulnerable to allergens because of their breeding. As they are trained to hunt, they will dive under every scrub that holds the promise of prey. In the process, they will get pollen, thorns, and thistles on their skin, any of which can trigger an allergic reaction. Unless your Dachshund is put on treatment immediately, the cycle of infection will continue.
Encouraging the Behavior
The common misconception that nail biting is normal dog behavior arises out of likening the habit to human nail-biting, which is behavioral. Due to this, most people let their Dachshunds continue to bite their nails. It is virtually impossible to avoid allergens because Dachshunds are active dogs that cannot thrive without exercise. Your best course of action, therefore, is to take him to the vet immediately you notice nail biting. Since other skin diseases can occur with the almost the same symptoms, blood and skin tests are required for a clear diagnosis. Ringworm infection can, for instance, leave the skin itchy even around the paws, causing confusion during diagnosis. Your dog’s vet will test the skin or blood to identify the allergens that have caused the reaction.
Atopy and other allergies can be treated with antihistamines. Depending on the severity of the reaction, a prescription or over the counter medicine can be used. Note that these should only be recommended by the vet. Additionally, you can use antibacterial products and salts to bathe your dog and to soak his paws. While he is on medication, you can prevent further infection using products that discourage further biting. Putting your Dachshund in an E-collar will interfere with his reach while buying him boots will keep the infected feet covered and moisture free.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If something is stuck under your Dachshund’s nails, he could bite at them to try and pry it loose. This motion might appear to be nail-biting and unless you can locate the source of the discomfort, you should rush him to the vet. Another possible but rare condition that can cause your Dachshund to bite his nails incessantly is symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy. This disease will impact your Dachshund’s immune system causing his nails to lift off and break. The nail biting is your pooch’s way of attempting to soothe the discomfort. The condition is uncommon but is worth considering if your dog is not responding to other treatments.
As you now know, nail-biting for humans is quite different from nail-biting in dogs. If your Dachshund is biting his nails, you should not ignore it because most likely, he is not bored. If you have never observed this behavior in him before, you can start by inspecting his toenails to check for any item lodged in there and if nothing is visible, take him to the vet.