What are Chewing Claws?
Many dogs can occasionally chew their nails, but if your dog chews his toes or claws excessively, he may have a medical or behavioral issue. Often, the feet of light colored dogs who are excessively chewing may become stained pink or a rusty color from pigments in the saliva. Claw conditions that can affect your dog may have additional symptoms of painful walking, swelling around the claws, and brittle or abnormal nails. Chronic nail biting can create bleeding and secondary infections, and should be discussed with your veterinarian.
Reasons why your dog may be chewing his nails include:
- Nails too long
- Injured nails or toes
- Claw diseases
- Medical conditions
- Fungal infections
- Bacterial infections
- Parasitic infections
- Compulsive disorders
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Why Chewing Claws Occurs in Dogs
Often, the reasons behind nail biting can be found in a medical or behavioral condition that may be affecting your dog.
Nails Too Long
Without proper and regular grooming, your dog’s nails can grow too long and make it difficult or even painful to walk. Overgrown nails can result in fractures and other injuries.
Injured Nails or Toes
An injury or trauma to the toes or claws can result in discomfort, and cause your dog to pay special attention to this area. Claws can become damaged in accidents, during normal activity such as digging, or they may catch on carpets.
Though fairly uncommon, claw diseases can compromise your pet’s comfort by causing the nails to grow abnormally (onychodystrophy), become inflamed (onychitis or paronychia), or soften and split (onychomalacia and onychoschizia). Cancer can also affect this part of your dog’s body, causing tumors to grow between the toes.
There are many other medical conditions that can cause your dog to pay excessive attention to his claws and toes, such as interdigital cysts, hypothyroidism, hypoadrenocorticism, diabetes, or vasculitis. Certain autoimmune diseases can cause claw problems, such as symmetric lupoid onychodystrophy (SLO) which targets the claws, or pemphigus vulgaris that causes skin blisters.
Often due to dermatophytes or yeast paronychia, fungal infections typically affect only one or two nails, causing rough sandpaper-like nails, or abnormally soft nails. Ringworm can also affect your dog’s claws, and is accompanied by skin rashes and hair loss on other areas.
These are characterized by swollen, oozing, and fractured claws, and are often secondary to another condition. If only one claw is affected, it is more likely due to trauma, while multiple infected claws point to other underlying medical problems. These types of infections can also be accompanied by fevers and mood changes.
Various parasites can cause your dog’s nails to grow abnormally and become inflamed. Most common is demodicosis which is caused by demodex mites that normally live on the skin. When the body is weakened from another medical condition, these mites can overpopulate, resulting in claw malformation and infections. Hookworms can cause claws to grow abnormally or faster. Your dog’s claws may thicken or curve if he is infected with the Leishmania parasite.
Allergies are a common reason for dogs to gnaw on their toes and nails. Your dog may be allergic to pollen, mold, or even fleas. Food sensitivities can also cause an itchiness between toes and around nail beds.
Just like us, our dogs can become bored if they don’t have enough stimulation. In an attempt to pass the time, your dog may form bad habits, such as nail biting.
Many dogs can begin destructive habits such as nail chewing during times of high anxiety. Confinement, phobias, and separation anxiety can all result in behaviors involving self-trauma.
Compulsive disorders are frenetic habits that occur repetitively and excessively. Their presence often indicate a dog who is overly frustrated or anxious, and can be brought on by changes in daily routines, changes in environment, abuse, illness, isolation, loss of a companion, or a lack of socialization.
What to do if your Dog is Chewing Claws
If you have noticed your dog chewing excessively on his nails or toes, you may need to have him checked for any medical conditions that could possibly be affecting him. Take note of the time and places where the nail biting occurs, how often it occurs, the condition of your dog’s nails and feet, and any other symptoms you may have noticed. All these factors can help your veterinarian to diagnose your dog.
Your vet will examine your dog and may take blood, urine, or fecal samples, or skin and nail scrapings for testing. If there is an abnormal mass, it may be X-rayed or biopsied and analyzed. A suspicion of food allergies may be prescribed a special elimination diet and monitored to assess if this is the cause. Once any medical reasons have been ruled out, your veterinarian may need to observe your dog in the act to discover a behavioral reason why your dog may be biting his nails. A video recording can be helpful to discover patterns to his behavior.
Treatments for physical problems can range considerably, from medicinal foot soaks and topical creams, to medications for pain, thyroid balance, antibiotics, and antiparasitic and antifungal drugs. Injured claws may need to be surgically removed, or fungal nails may need frequent nail trimming and retesting. Various vitamins and essential fatty acids can be prescribed for autoimmune conditions.
If your dog is suffering from a behavioral issue, behavioral modification techniques can be employed to recondition him to appropriate behaviors. Distraction and de-stressing techniques can help in many cases, along with rewards for good behavior. Exercise, mental stimulation, and appropriate chew toys can be used along with a regular daily routine. Some cases of compulsive disorders can benefit from antidepressant and anxiety medications. To keep your dog from getting to those claws, try soft claw nail caps or topical bitter sprays to dissuade him from chewing.
Prevention of Chewing Claws
Prevention of many nail issues can be as simple as routine nail trimming. This not only ensures that nails do not get overgrown and injured, but it also allows you to monitor the state of your dog’s claws and to get him proper medical treatment if you notice abnormal growth or an injury. Taking your dog in for routine health checks can also alert you to any medical conditions which could cause claw problems for your dog.
Cost of Chewing Claws
Treatments for nail chewing in dogs can vary according to the problem causing the behavior. While many infections such as from parasites can average around $300, claw disorders can cost upwards of $600 or more. Behavioral issues that include compulsive disorders can range around $500. Overall, costs for treating nail biting can range from $200 to $5000.