Abnormal Nail Color in Dogs

Estimated Reading Time 5 minutes
Abnormal Nail Color in Dogs

There could be many causes for nail discoloration in dogs. From fungus to allergies and yeast infections, the origins may vary. Discoloration may even be red, brown, or black, but it could also be that your dog is simply getting older. However, if you start seeing a change of color in your dog's nails, you should consider a visit to the vet's office. Keep reading to learn more!

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Before we get into each one of the possible causes and treatments, if you start to see nail discoloration on your dog's nails, contact your vet as soon as you can. An abnormal nail color could reflect a trauma or a health issue.

Discoloration Caused By Nail Fungus

Fungi that cause infections in dog nails are usually Dermatophytes and Malassezia. The infections may occur in the nail bed, the claw folds, and also the nail itself.

Typically, only one or two nails are affected at a time, but delaying treatment can lead to more nails becoming infected.


Some of the symptoms of fungal infection may include itchy paws, biting, and licking of the paws. Brittle nails and nail discoloration are other symptoms.

It’s fairly easy to diagnose a nail fungus on a dog. Your vet will do a scraping of the infected area and possibly a biopsy to test it under a microscope. If it is determined that there is a fungus on the dog's nails, treatment will be provided.


Treatment will include antifungal therapy. You will need to eliminate any brittle nails that are loose. Then, you can apply the treatment, which could take several months. Excellent hygiene will be required to prevent any setbacks.

Also, you will have to constantly trim your dog’s nails to remove any infected portions until test results return negative. These tests are called fungal cultures. It is a method for determining the presence of fungi in various parts of the body.

Treatment might also include foot soaks and antifungal cream or spray. Ask your vet to show you how to do it properly. You may also need to use an Elizabethan collar (cone) to prevent your dog from licking the medicine off his paws.


One way to prevent nail discoloration caused by fungal infection is by trimming your dog’s nails regularly. This way, you can also prevent injuries, such as a nail getting stuck on a carpet or someone stepping on your dog's paws and breaking a nail.

How do you know it's time to trim your dog's nails? If you hear them clicking on the floor, they’re too long. Take him to a groomer or, if you know how to do it properly, you can do it yourself. And don't forget the dewclaw!.

By preventing fungal infections, you also prevent other more serious health issues, such as bone infections, arthritis, and pneumonia.

Nail Discoloration Caused By Autoimmune Disease

Nail discoloration in dogs may also occur because of an autoimmune disease called SLO (symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy).

This disease occurs mainly within certain breeds, such as the German Shepherd, Schnauzer, Greyhound, Rottweiler, Gordon Setter, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Schipperke, Welsh Corgi, West Highland White Terrier, Bearded Collie, Akita, German Shorthair Pointer, and Labrador Retriever.


Some symptoms associated with SLO are pain, splitting of nails, and nails falling off. Some vets consider SLO a reaction pattern from leishmaniasis or other diseases rather than a specific condition.

In this case, the veterinarian will treat the disease and all of the related symptoms.

Nail Discoloration By Trauma

Another possible cause of nail discoloration is trauma. Just as it can happen to a human, if your dog gets her nail smashed by a door or stuck when trying to get out of a small space, trauma can occur, and a nail or several nails can become discolored.

What causes a dog’s nails to turn black?

There are several possible reasons for your dog’s nails to turn black. One of them is an infection caused by bacteria or a fungus. If this is the case, topical medications can be used for treatment. If the infection is more severe, the dog may require a course of oral antibiotics or other medication.

Another reason for black-colored nails can just be hyperpigmentation and genetics. Some breeds have dual nail colors that are usually white when they’re puppies and turn black when they grow. If this is the case, there is nothing to worry about.

Why might a dog’s nails turn red?

One of the primary symptoms of a fungal infection is nail discoloration. In the case of red nails, one cause could be a yeast infection. This is sometimes mistaken for trauma as if there were an accumulation of blood.

The best way to determine if the red color is caused by an infection or not is to observe the dog. If he is licking and chewing at the paws, it’s most likely itchy and therefore could be infected.

Why did my dog’s nails turn brown?

Finally, nails that turn brown can also be the result of yeast infection. Dogs that have a history of allergies are more prone to these infections.

You will notice nails growing longer than usual and the quick also turning brown (the blood vessel and nerve inside the nail). Also, the dog will start licking and biting its paw constantly.

In both cases of red and brown nails, your vet will determine the cause of the discoloration and apply treatment accordingly.

Should I take my dog to the vet?

There are many different reasons as to why dogs may have a discolored nail. However, almost always, it means trauma or a health issue. Therefore, the best thing to do is have your vet take a look and perform the necessary tests to determine if anything needs to be treated.

As soon as you notice a change of color in your dog's nails, it's time to take her to the vet's office.

Read more:

My Dog Won't Stop Licking His Paws - Help!

How to Trim Your Dog’s Nails

What to Do If Your Dog Breaks a Nail

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your dog’s nails or another condition?

Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores.

Published: 6/11/2021
Last updated: 8/9/2021

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