My Dog Has an Infected Toenail: What to Do?

My Dog Has an Infected Toenail: What to Do?

Posted by Volhard Dog Nutrition on Mar 31st 2023

Nails — all dogs have them. Some dog breeds, like the Great Pyrenees, have 22 of them. Yet nail health is commonly ignored by dog parents. Unfortunately, there are numerous issues with this area in dogs, ranging from minor broken nails to more serious diseases like cancer. Proper maintenance with nail trims and periodic inspection of the nail and nail fold will ensure early detection of any problems with your canine friend.

Nail injuries are a common sight among dogs since paws are in constant contact with different surfaces. As they grow longer, your dog's nails can get snagged on various surfaces, such as carpets, upholstery fibers, and thick grass. Or a poor landing may bend the nail back and break it. Regardless of how it happens, a broken nail is no joking matter. Aside from the initial pain and discomfort, the broken part of the nail can attract various bacteria and fungi, eventually causing a secondary infection.

As a dog parent, you must act quickly if you want to prevent nail infection and speed up the recovery process. Keep the broken nail disinfected and contact your veterinarian, who will conduct some tests as a cautionary measure against nail infections. Be sure to keep your dog's nails trimmed and pack their diet with an abundance of protein to prevent broken nails from reoccurring!

The Anatomy of Dog Nails

Before diving into the nuts and bolts of proper dog nail care, let's begin with understanding paw anatomy. Most dogs have four nails on their rear feet and five on their front ones, the extra nail being the dewclaw (i.e., your dog's thumb/big toe). Each of these nails consists of:

  1. A keratinized, hard outer shell (i.e., the protective layer of your nail)
  2. The quick (i.e., the living and most sensitive part of the nail, filled with blood vessels and nerve endings)
  3. The nail fold (i.e., the protective outer layer of your dog's nails)

The highest number of broken nail instances occurs in the dewclaw. Since it doesn't wear naturally through touching the ground, like the other nails, the dewclaw can easily get snagged, exposing the quick. Only regular nail trimming will ensure that the dewclaw doesn't get injured. Proper nail trimming can prevent most, but not all, nail injuries. Start counter-conditioning exercises at a young age to make pedicures for your pet much easier and more manageable.

Why Do Dogs' Nails Break?

Nail length and health and the most frequent reasons behind broken nails. Longer nails can break when excessive pressure is exerted on the nail bed (e.g., from running or jumping) or when they get hooked or tangled up (e.g., in thick grass). Furthermore, old dogs or dogs with insufficient protein in their diet exhibit brittle nails, which can break very easily. Both of these causes will lead to a nail infection unless adequately treated.

What to Do if Your Dog's Nail is Bleeding

Breaking a dog nail can lead to bleeding if the blood vessels inside the nail's quick are affected. What we need to do from the get-go is stop the bleeding. Apply pressure to the nail bed by bandaging the paw with a piece of gauze and colloidal silver, a powerful remedy against hundreds of bacteria, fungi, parasites, and molds. Keeping the nail bed clean and bacteria-free is imperative until you contact your veterinarian.

Which Dog Breeds are Predisposed to Dog Nail Disorders?

Multiple studies have shown that breeds such as Chihuahuas, Dobermans, Gordon Setters, and Shar-Peis are predisposed to nail disorders. Likewise, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, German Shepherds, and Shih Tzus are more susceptible to contracting a yeast infection.

What Does an Infected Dog Nail Look Like?

Take a closer look at your dog's paws to identify the nail infection symptoms. You'll notice a swollen nail bed and pus oozing out of it. Also, you'll notice discoloration in the affected claw; for example, the broken white claw will turn black and vice versa. Furthermore, the nail will be soft and brittle. Such abnormalities serve as telltale signs that something's wrong with your dog's nail bed.

As the pain progresses, your dog will show obvious signs of injury, such as limping, fur loss around the affected area, and chewing at the nail bed to relieve the discomfort. Your dog will also avoid stepping on the injured foot and vocalize their pain when touched.

Infected Dog Toenail Treatment Options

Bringing your dog to the vet is the safest step toward healing your dog's nail trauma. Although cleaning and wrapping the broken nail with gauze are excellent first steps toward recovery, home remedies are not nearly enough. You don't want to risk the infection spreading to the limb and making matters worse!

First, the vet will closely inspect the wound, clean it up, and see if stitches are needed. Next, they will check for signs of infection and, if present, unmask the culprit (e.g., bacteria, parasites, or fungi):

  • Bacterial paronychia is the result of exposing a traumatized nail to contaminated surfaces. Inflammation is the primary symptom of the subsequent infection (look for red, swollen nails). The bacteria don't always originate from external sources; excessive chewing and/or licking of the affected area will have the same result.
  • Onychomycosis is the result of a fungal infection in the nail bed. It's frequently caused by ringworms, which spread to the affected nail from the dog's skin and hair. Such organisms thrive in certain conditions, which is why dogs living in warmer climates and high humidity are at a higher risk of infection.

Your veterinarian can request a complete blood count, a biochemistry panel, or a scraping of the nail bed to look for bacterial or fungal infections. In more severe cases, they may perform X-rays or biopsies to determine if any damage has occurred beyond the nail bed.

Most treatments for a dog nail infection are topical (e.g., chlorhexidine or Epsom salts) or involve oral antibiotics (for 4 to 6 weeks). Remember that these antibiotics do not target only the bacteria in the nail bed; they will target all the bacteria in your dog's body, leading to a gut imbalance and a weakened immune system. That is why you must support your dog's recovery with a healthy diet!

How to Speed Up Your Dog's Nail Infection Recovery

Although most nail issues require veterinarian care, you can speed up your dog's recovery by following these simple guidelines and using these effective home remedies:

  1. Keep the affected foot clean: This selection of waterproof booties will keep your dog's nail and paw away from harmful debris. As long as the nail is recovering, you should postpone any big hiking trips with your dog and avoid going into natural bodies of water.
  2. Keep your dog's nails trimmed: Regular grooming reduces the risk of trauma and inflammation of the nail bed.
  3. Homeopathics: Silicea is a helpful homeopathic for nail fungus with pus, sharp pains in the toenails, and ingrown nails. Use Epsom salts to keep the nail clean (soak your dog's paw in a mixture of 1 cup of Epsom salts per gallon of warm water). We've already mentioned colloidal silver, the ideal remedy for killing the harmful bacteria inside your dog's affected nail.
  4. The value of healthy food: Enriching your dog's diet with enough protein will ensure their coat, skin, and nails stay healthy!

Prevention is Your Strongest Asset Against Nail Problems!

Ultimately, your dog may have to deal with a nail bed infection at any given time, but you can significantly reduce that risk through proper grooming and adequate nutrient intake. Be sure to schedule your dog for regular nail clippings and pack their diet with healthy protein sources. This way, your dog's nails will be strong and healthy enough to avoid breaking and causing unnecessary pain and discomfort. For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us and check out our blog!

Volhard Dog Nutrition and its expert nutritionists are now offering online consultations to help more dog parents discover why, what, and how to feed their dogs the healthiest of foods! Speaking to a Volhard nutritionist will help you understand the inseparable relationship between healthy food, a healthy body, and a healthy mind. If you're interested in contacting one of our Volhard nutritionists, don't hesitate to access our consultation page!

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