What are Dog Nail Diseases?
Nails are an important part of your dog’s body, and need regular maintenance to keep healthy. Knowing the signs of nail issues is beneficial to preventing further injury from occurring. The nail is a thick, keratinous growth at the end of your dog’s toes. Nails aid in protection during fights or play, and help your dog perform various tasks such as digging or holding onto a bone while chewing. Like fur, the nails continuously grow and will either wear down naturally through use, or need regular trimming to keep in shape.
A dog nail typically is light colored, or black, depending on your dog’s skin and coat coloration. Lighter colored nails may be easier to maintain, as the quik, or blood supply to the nail, is much easier to see and more avoidable during trimming. Darker nails may hide the quik, however looking at the groove under the base of the nail can provide some location as to how long the quik is. As a dog’s nails grow, the quik will also increase in length to provide more nutrients. If the nails are regularly trimmed back, the quik will also recede.
Dog Nail Diseases can occur in a variety of ways. The most common is an infection due to a tear in the nail or nail bed. Tears are most common on the dewclaws, which hang freely on the side of the foot, however any nail can be torn due to injury or getting stuck on an object. Infection can then set in on exposed tissue or quik. Fungal infections are also common between the toes and along the nail bed where the nail meets the toe. Fungal infections can cause itching, pain and a number of other side effects. A third common nail disease is actually an overgrowth of the nail, leading to a curled nail that becomes embedded in the skin (called an ingrown nail). This can lead to a painful and usually infected area for your dog.
How can I prevent Dog Nail Diseases and related issues?
Regular nail trimming is the number one way of preventing nail diseases. Short nails are less likely to catch and tear on objects, will not embed in the skin, and healthy nails will help prevent harboring of fungal infections. Keeping the toes clean and free of debris around the nail bed will also help prevent injury and illness.
Nails are typically trimmed monthly, however dogs that are on softer surfaces regularly such as carpet may need more frequent trims, while dogs on cement or other harder surfaces may wear their nails more and need less frequent trims. The nail is typically trimmed with a guillotine or scissor type clipper designed for your size of dog. Trimming happens above the quik, and removes the end of the nail. If a quik is cut, application of styptic powder or corn starch will stop the bleeding and allow healing.
Some pets may be scared of nail trims, and may require alternate means of trimming. Professional groomers and veterinary clinics offer nail trimming services for nervous dogs. Other owners may opt to instead use a grinding or filing tool instead of clippers, which can help grind the nail down and is usually less stressful to your dog.
What should I do if I suspect a problem with my dog’s nails?
If you suspect a problem with your dog’s nails such as injury or disease, it is best to alert your veterinarian, or inspect the nails yourself. Signs of a torn nail may include limping, pain, and bleeding, or your dog may lick and chew at the area. If the tear is minor, cutting back the nail can prevent further injury or infection. More severe tears may need veterinary care and sedation to remove the affected nail, with a course of antibiotics to prevent any infection from forming.
Suspected yeast or fungal diseases may cause your pet to lick or chew at itchy spots. The area may also appear red, have debris or pus oozing from between the toes or nail bed, or there may be a foul odor or smell of “corn chips” coming from the feet. Your vet can take a look at the nails for any signs of changes to the nail itself, and may also perform a skin scraping between the toes to determine the type of infection present. Treatment is then done with special medicated shampoos or a course of anti-fungal or antibiotic medications.
Embedded and overgrown nails are often very painful and will cause dogs to limp or not want their feet touched. Severely embedded nails usually require veterinary treatment and sedation to safely remove the nail. Treatment involves cutting the nail above the point of embedding, and then gently removing the nail from the skin. Large wounds in the skin may be sutured or allowed to drain, and antibiotics are given to prevent infection. Your vet may also trim the remaining nails under sedation to prevent any more from embedding.
As dogs recover from nail injury, it is best to provide an Elizabethan collar or sock/boot to cover the foot and prevent licking and chewing. Licking and chewing can lead to an increase in infection, or may reinjure the nail.
Natural Remedies For Treating Dog Nail Diseases
While mechanical treatment through clipping and trimming is usually the only thing needed for nail care, there are several natural remedies that can help with healthy nail growth and boost immunity against disease. Zinc supplements are beneficial for growing a healthy coat, and providing thick healthy nails. This is usually provided in herbal supplements or vitamin supplements from your local natural foods or pet store. Immune boosting supplements such as Garlic and Echinacea may also naturally help prevent fungal and bacterial infection.