Have you noticed your dog's nails looking and smelling abnormally nasty? Is your dog licking at their feet in an effort to relieve itchiness or pain? Are they having difficulty getting around due to pain in their paws?
If you answered yes to the above questions, your pet may be suffering from a nail infection. There are several potential causes of unpleasant nail infections, and they can be a source of much discomfort for your pet.
However, the good news is that with help from your vet and a dedicated approach to home care, your dog can overcome these nail nasties and get back to full health as soon as possible.
Signs and Symptoms of Dog Nail Infections
It's common knowledge that some dogs are remarkably adept at hiding the fact that they're in pain. If this sounds like your pooch, it's essential to recognize the body language and behavioral warning signs that could indicate the presence of a nail infection.
The first sign many owners notice is their pet paying undue attention to their paws, typically licking at the affected nail(s) in an effort to relieve pain or itchiness, or sometimes chewing and biting at the area. On closer inspection, you may notice that your pet's nails look a little different to how they normally would. They may be discolored, emit an unpleasant odor, and the tissue surrounding them may be red and swollen.
At the same time, however, depending on the stage of the infection and the type of infection, the nails may appear relatively normal. If your dog has a bacterial infection, for example, they may lick their nails, have trouble moving around and have swelling and redness around the nails. Meanwhile, fungal infections may cause a yeasty smell, discolored nails and other problems like hair loss.
The key thing to remember is to know what's normal for your dog and what's not. You'll then be able to recognize when something is amiss and your dog needs to be checked out by a vet.
The Science of Nail Infections in Dogs
How do healthy dog nails become infected? There are several potential causes for your dog's nail problems, so it can be hard for the average dog owner to work out what's causing their pet's discomfort.
Some infections can be caused by simple trauma to a nail, for example, in a fight with another dog or after suffering a fall. While they're not always possible to prevent, you can always take a few simple steps to reduce the risk of your pet suffering an injury.
Others are fungal nail infections, which your dog can contract after coming into contact with fungi in various environments, for example, the beach, wet soil, or moldy areas. The most common types of fungi that cause these types of infections are the Blastomyces dermatitidis, which love moist and moldy conditions.
Fungal nail infections can also be caused by an overgrowth of yeast cells in your dog's body. Malasezzia, for example, is a genus of fungi that's usually a result of allergies.
Finally, dogs can also be struck down by bacterial nail infections. These are typically secondary to trauma, resulting when your dog is exposed to bacteria in the environment.
It's also important to point out that some breeds are predisposed to suffering from nail problems. For example, Dachshunds have a higher risk of brittle nails that may break or split, while breeds like the German Shepherd and Cocker Spaniel have a higher tendency to suffer from deformed nails with a higher risk of breaking.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Dog Nail Infections
If you think there's something wrong with your pet's nails, get them to your vet for a full check-up. Infections can spread quickly and can potentially lead to serious health problems, so make sure you get on top of the problem as soon as possible.
If there's only one nail affected, there's a good chance that the infection could be a result of trauma. However, if multiple nails are showing signs of infection, there could be an underlying medical cause responsible.
Diagnosing nail infections usually involves taking a small clipping for closer examination under a microscope, while a skin scraping will also often be taken.
Treatment then varies based on the nature of the infection and its severity, so your veterinarian will be able to advise on the best approach for your pooch. In the case of bacterial infections, treatment can involve oral antibiotics, antimicrobial foot soaks, and a range of topical ointments. If there's severe swelling under and around the nail, the nail plate may need to be surgically removed to ensure that the underlying tissue drains effectively.
Fungal infections often require long-term treatment to be completely eliminated. Your vet may prescribe a topical anti-fungal cream that will need to be applied to the affected nails regularly, or you may need to treat your pet with an anti-fungal spray. If your dog can't stop licking their infected nails, they may need to sport an Elizabethan collar to put a stop to this. Oral anti-fungal medications can also be prescribed in severe cases.
So, while nail infections may be nasty and unpleasant, they're reasonably easy to treat. However, make sure you act quickly when you notice any telltale warning signs of an infection, and get the condition properly diagnosed by your vet to determine the underlying cause.
Written by a Labrador Retriever lover Tim Falk
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 05/29/2018, edited: 04/06/2020