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What are Claw and Nail Disorders?

The study of the nails is called onychology and has recently become more of a focus in the veterinary field. Research is extensively underway in order for those in the veterinary field to understand more about the complexities of the claws, their function, and how to treat injury and disease. Claw and nail disorders are not often seen in veterinary clinics as a single disorder. For example, a bacterial infection of the nail can run concurrently with a skin condition as it is a continuation of the epidermis and dermis. Other conditions may be an abnormal growth formation or an infection. Systemic diseases can also affect the claws and nails.

Diseases and abnormalities of the nail and claw are quite numerous in nature and often accompany skin disorders. Nail and claw dystrophy can occur as the result of a trauma, infection, or abnormal formation, to name a few. Because the nail is such an important part of movement, grasping, and defense, any nail or claw problem should be examined by your veterinarian as these conditions can become very uncomfortable for your dog.

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Symptoms of Claw and Nail Disorders in Dogs

Diseased claws and nails can predispose your pet to trauma, lameness, and pain. If you see that your dog’s nails are not looking as they normally do, a visit to the veterinarian is in order.

  • Reddish colored claws
  • Whiter than normal claws
  • Nails that are wider or narrower than normal
  • Splitting of the nail
  • Softness
  • Curving
  • Swelling
  • Looseness of claws
  • Sloughing off of claw plate
  • Brittleness
  • Pus
  • Claws that break easily
  • Ingrown appearance
  • Licking and chewing
  • Pain upon walking
  • Secondary symptoms on the footpad and surrounding skin

Types

The types of claw and nail disorders are many in number. A very few of them are listed here.

  • Onychomadesis - sloughing of the nail

  • Onychodystrophy - abnormal claw formation
  • Macronychia - nails that are unusually large

  • Onychitis - inflammation in the matrix of the claw
  • Paronychia - inflammation of the nail fold

  • Onychoschizia - splitting of the nail
  • Onychomalacia - softening of the claw

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Causes of Claw and Nail Disorders in Dogs

The reasons for your pet to have a problem with the nail or claw range greatly in cause, some of which are listed here.

  • Exposure to the environment (wet too often or excessively dry)
  • Human error in nail clipping
  • Viruses such as distemper
  • Age
  • Parasites
  • Fungus
  • Bacteria
  • Neoplasia
  • Food hypersensitivity
  • Infection secondary to hypoadrenocorticism or diabetes
  • Trauma
  • Autoimmune disease such as pemphigus vulgaris
  • Nutrition
  • Genetics
  • Breed disposition (for example, Schnauzer, Greyhound, Labrador Retriever, and German Shepherd are predisposed to idiopathic symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy)
  • King Charles Spaniel, American Cocker Spaniel, and German Shepherds are prone to many nail diseases
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Diagnosis of Claw and Nail Disorders in Dogs

The exact cause and reason for disorders like sloughing of the nails or curvature of the claw can sometimes be hard to specifically diagnose. Along with the fact that there are many illnesses that can lead to cracking of the nails or loosening of the claw for example, pinpointing why there are situations of persistent inflammation or infection can be a challenge.

Cytology tests, which will aid the veterinarian in the process of diagnosis, are indicative tools that are used to examine tissue. Neoplasia (abnormal tissue growth), paronychia (inflammation of the soft tissue around the claw), bacteria, and fungal disorders can be identified through this diagnostic mechanism. Skin and nail scrapings may be done to verify the presence of mites. 

If there is a suspicion of a food-related cause like an allergy or intolerance, the conclusion of the problem could take more time because your pet may have to be put on an elimination diet in order to determine foods or additives that could be causing concerning effects to the nail.

Radiographs of the claws or biopsy of the nail are other tests that your veterinarian may have to do if other approaches cannot resolve the diagnostic question. Serum biochemical analysis, urinalysis, and complete blood count are additional methods to check the health of your beloved pet, verifying the enzyme levels and checking for systemic diseases.

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Treatment of Claw and Nail Disorders in Dogs

The type of treatment that your pet may have to undergo in order to rectify the nail disorder will depend on the cause; the range of reasons for a claw problem are many. Before your veterinarian does begin treatment, however, he will take some considerations into account.

  • Is one paw affected, or all four?
  • Has the deterioration of the nail been a slow progression or is it an acute situation?
  • Is there a breed disposition?
  • Is there a systemic disease that needs to be treated concurrently?
  • What is your pet’s age?

Because canine claws take six to nine months to completely regrow, many of the therapies (and the results from them) will be seen only after 6 to 8 months of the regimen. 

Parasitic effects on a claw can be resolved by eliminating the parasite and then repairing the nail. A bacterial infection will be eradicated with antibiotics; the course of the medication may be required for several months. A nail damaged by trauma could see a treatment of daily antiseptic soaks, along with a removal of the cracked or broken claw. A dog with an immuno-suppressive disorder will need a prescription for oral prednisone. The dose is usually tapered off as the nail heals. Topical creams, Omega 3, and vitamin A and E supplementation could be recommended in addition to other therapy.

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Recovery of Claw and Nail Disorders in Dogs

Depending on the type of claw and nail disorder, there can be a chance of relapse after cessation of the treatment. Some conditions need lifelong therapy in order to keep the nail destruction at bay. Your veterinarian will advise you based on the situation, but it is known that canines should be kept on a good quality high nutrient food which allows for the growth of a healthy nail. Supplementation of vitamins, gelatin and biotin are often needed as a preventative for future recurrences. Frequent nail trimming is always a good idea, to help keep the claw strong and to avoid splitting or breaking.

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Claw and Nail Disorders Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $200 - $5,000

Average Cost

$600

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Claw and Nail Disorders Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Miniature Pinscher

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Eight Years

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Unknown severity

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2 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Hi ! My dog has been licking this paw daily, I thought she was bored or her allergies, but today after a walk I noticed it was bleeding . She lets me touch it and she isn’t crying or whining.

Jan. 31, 2021

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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2 Recommendations

Hello, this could be allergy-related and she now is it inflamed. I would recommend that you give her Benadryl, the dosage is 1mg/pound twice a day. Also, clean her feet with a damp cloth after your walks to help remove any allergens from her feet. If this does not get better, your vet can prescribe prescription allergy medication.

Feb. 1, 2021

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Boxer

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Eight Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

He is chewing at his paws and he has a nail that's growing out of the skin beside a nail that's already there and a little swelling and the pads are coming off in places. What can we do for him?

Dec. 29, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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1 Recommendations

Hello, for the chewing, you can give Benadryl. The dosage is 1mg/pound. The nail needs to be seen by your vet. This could need to be removed. Many times these extra nails cause a lot of issues.

Dec. 29, 2020

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Golden Retriever

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three years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Dark Nail

My dog was licking his paw. Upon closer inspection, there’s a dark ring around the base of one of his nails. He lets us look at it closely and mess with it without any issues. Doesn’t seem to be in pain, just annoyed.

Nov. 16, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Linda S. MVB MRCVS

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0 Recommendations

Hi there, you are through to Dr Linda. This could be a few things including a bacterial nail bed infection or fungal infection. We should have him examined by a vet and he may well benefit from a medicated wash and antibiotics.

Nov. 16, 2020

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Patterjack

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9 Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Biting Paws, Flakey Skin And Loss Of Hair

My dog has always been quite anxious and a paw chewer. However, lately his skin has started flaking and he’s losing hair on his paws, lower legs and eyes.

Sept. 29, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. It sounds like there may be more going on than just anxious chewing, from your description. Different reasons for that kind of hair loss and itching can be parasites like Demodex, or fleas, bacterial or fungal infections, or allergies. Since it is difficult to say which of these might be going on without being able to see your dog, the best thing to do would be to have an appointment with a veterinarian, as they can examine your dog, see what might be going on, and let you know what sort of treatment might help. I hope that everything goes well and that your dog feels better soon.

Sept. 29, 2020

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American Pit Bull Terrier

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One Year

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Split Nail Stopped Bleeding Lil Clear Discharge

What should I do to clean it or should i take her in

Sept. 16, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1 Recommendations

When dogs nails split, they often need to be seen by a veterinarian to be removed, as they can be quite painful. I do think it would be best to take her in to see a veterinarian. They will be able to assess her nail, see if it is broken because of a trauma or a disease, and let you know the best way to treat it. They often require sedation to remove, but once they are removed they grow back normally. I hope that all goes well for her.

Sept. 16, 2020

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King

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Puggle Pointer

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10 Months

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Nail Turning White

My dog has all black nails. I just noticed today that the tip of one of his nail is turning white. It lost all of its pigment in the tip. It’s only one nail though. It looks like he may have got it stuck in something and it chipped parts of that nail. There’s a couple lines down towards the base suggesting he got it stuck in something. Could this be due to trauma. Is it something to be concerned about. His nails aren’t super long either.

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M

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Husky

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7 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Dry Skin
Brown/Red Nails On All Paws

My husky's nails are turning reddish/brown on each paw. She has been out in the dirt, but it does not seem to be dirt, rather than discoloration. Her nails have split, but not excessively. She is not fixed, and I am not sure if that has anything to do with her about to be in heat or not. Her urine is also very yellow (not sure if that is helpful or not).

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Boris

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Pug

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12 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

None, He Seems Fine

My pug is 14 now, when he was 12 one of his back nails went straight. The rest have their natural curve that all claws have but, this one nail is so straight that it looks longer than all the rest but it's not. No idea what could cause this. Doesn't seem to bother him. Just odd.

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Merry

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German Shepherd

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1 Year

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Deformed

My dog Merry, a German Shepherd/Heeler/probably some Rottweiler mix, mostly has dark colored nails that grow at a regular rate, but on her front left paw, she has two white, crooked, misshapen nubs that do not grow. They almost look like they were nails that broke a long time ago but never grew back, and no one really knows why they are like that. Is there any reason for why they are like this?

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Daizy

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English bull terrier

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5 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Nails

My dog Daizy’s quick (vein in the nails) grows longer than her actual nail.. and it grows faster.. so it’s at the point where her nails are starting to curl underneath on to her paw pads. And you can get a bit off each month but it still looks bad. They’re very large nails, very thick, and there’s a red colour mixed in with them. They’re growing crooked and she hates it when we clip them (cause they must hurt) any advice or know what’s up ?

Claw and Nail Disorders Average Cost

From 367 quotes ranging from $200 - $5,000

Average Cost

$600

Protect yourself and your pet. Compare top pet insurance plans.

Compare Pet Insurance & Wellness Plans

Save up to $273 per year

Compare plans
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