What causes abnormal nail growth in dogs?

Estimated Reading Time 4 minutes
What causes abnormal nail growth in dogs?

If you’ve noticed something a little bit unusual about your dog's nails, or they’re licking their paws or chewing at a nail more than they usually do, there may be a problem with your dog's nails. There are many causes for abnormal nail growth, and there are also many symptoms to be aware of. It can be a problem with the nail itself, or it can be part of a more significant issue related to the skin. The issue may become worse if it involves more than one nail, if the nail breaks, appears malformed, or is sensitive. If you believe that your dog has nail issues, then you may need to take your pet to the veterinarian or a veterinary dermatologist for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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Dog Nail Anatomy

Dog nails contain a blood vessel and nerve encased in thick, hard keratin. The blood vessel and nerve inside the nail, which can be seen in light-colored nails, is called the quick. It typically ends before the keratin shell, which is why the rest of the nail is hollow and can get filled with dirt. The area where the nail exits the digit of the paw is called the nail bed.

Symptoms of Nail Disorders in Dogs

  • Reddish colored claws or nail beds
  • Whiter than normal claws or any color change
  • Nails that are wider or narrower than normal
  • Split nails
  • Soft nails
  • Deformed nails
  • Bleeding nails
  • Swelling
  • Looseness of claws
  • Sloughing off of claw plate
  • Increased brittleness
  • Pus or discharge around the nail
  • Crusting around nails
  • Claws that break easily
  • Ingrown nails
  • Licking and chewing more than usual (itchy paws)
  • Pain or difficulty when walking
  • Sensitivity
  • Secondary symptoms on the footpad and surrounding skin

Your pet may exhibit more than one symptom at a time, and it will be very helpful for your vet to hear all of the symptoms being exhibited so that he can propose a reliable diagnosis and treatment plan. For instance, if you only notice one broken nail with pus discharge, it could be that the dog suffered trauma to his paw, and from licking it, it has gotten infected.

However, if you see several broken nails, yes, it could also be a consequence of trauma, but it could also be that your dog has a metabolic problem that makes his body not produce enough keratin, and therefore, weakened nails.

Causes of Abnormal Nail Growth in Dogs

There are many possible causes for nail disorders in dogs. A complete evaluation will determine what may be causing the problem, but below is a list of possibilities:

  • Bacterial infection
  • Fungal infection
  • Trauma
  • Auto-immune disease
  • Food allergy
  • Nutritional problems
  • Environmental allergy
  • Neoplasia
  • Congenital disorders
  • Excessive levels of growth hormone
  • Cutting the nail too close to the bed

Common Nail Disorders in Dogs

Ingrown Nails

Sometimes, nails may grow so much that they curl back and start digging into the footpad. This often happens when there is no regular nail trimming, whether the dog does not like getting its nails trimmed or the owner has forgotten to do so. Aging could also be a factor since older dogs' nails have an increased rate of nail growth.

Nail Trauma

Another cause of abnormal nail growth in dogs can be trauma, which can then cause the nail to grow abnormally. The area could get infected if left untreated or if the dog begins to lick it excessively.

Bacterial Nail Infections

Another thing to look out for is a bacterial infection, which is often secondary to the underlying cause. If it occurs to only one nail, it is most likely due to trauma. But, if there are several infected nails, there could be various reasons. Some of these reasons may be food allergies or environmental allergies.

Fungal Nail Infections

Dermatophyte fungus or ringworm can cause crusting of nails and the surrounding skin. This can also affect the nails' growth, affect one nail or multiple nails. However, the issue is more common in cats, but dogs can also be affected.

Lupoid Onychodystrophy

Another condition that can cause abnormal nail growth in dogs is lupoid onychodystrophy. This chronic disease can cause brittle nails, deformed nails, thickened nails, and nail loss. Some breeds are predisposed to this condition, such as young German Shepherds and Rottweilers.


Tumors are a common problem associated with abnormal nails. They can grow on the paws or nail beds and impact nail growth. Some of them may be cancerous and very destructive to the affected area. Treatment may involve surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.

How do you treat nail disorders in dogs?

Treating your dog’s abnormal nails will depend on the underlying cause. Your vet will check if the problem is in only one nail or on all of them and if it has been a slow progression or an acute situation. Also, as we mentioned above, some breeds are predisposed to nail problems, so these will need to be considered, along with the pet's age and presence of any systemic disease.

Take into consideration that a dog's nail may take up to nine months to completely regrow. Therefore, results from any therapy or treatment will be seen after a few months, not immediately.

If a parasite causes the problem, it can be resolved by eliminating the parasite and repairing the nail. If it is a bacterial infection, antibiotics will do the trick.

Good nutrition with high-quality food will help to prevent weak nails. Talk to your vet about vitamin, biotin, and gelatin supplements that can also act as a preventative measure.

Trim your dog's nails frequently to avoid splitting or breaking. A pet in good health that has its nails trimmed often will be less likely to have nail problems.

Check your dog's paws and nails often to detect a problem as soon as it arises.

Read more:

Abnormal Nail Color in Dogs

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

What to Do If Your Dog Breaks a Nail

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

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