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Nail Infections in Dogs

What Are Nail Infections in Dogs?

Nail infections, also known as paronychia, are a common issue seen in dogs. They typically occur when the skin surrounding the nail is injured or traumatized, allowing bacteria or fungi to enter and cause an infection. One type of nail infection in dogs is onychomycosis, which is caused by a fungal infection. This condition often affects multiple nails and is characterized by a yellow to brown discoloration of the nails and surrounding skin. Thick discharge may accumulate at the nail base in some cases.

Fungal infections usually come with a distinct odor, and the affected nails may become thick, flaky, and brittle. Malassezia, a type of yeast, is a common cause of fungal nail infections in dogs, although ringworm can also be responsible.

Bacterial infections, on the other hand, typically affect only one nail. While the nail itself may appear normal, the surrounding skin may be inflamed, red, swollen, and warm to the touch. Pus and blood may also seep from the nail bed.

It’s crucial to have nail infections in dogs assessed promptly by a veterinarian, especially if the nail is broken and the quick is exposed. These infections can be very painful for dogs, and prescription pain medications may be necessary. If left untreated, nail infections can worsen and cause significant damage to the skin and nail.

Symptoms

  • Nail discoloration
  • Presence of yellow or white discharge at the nail’s base
  • Thickened, flaky, or peeling nails
  • Swelling or redness around the nail base
  • Frequent licking of the affected paw
  • Manifestation of pain
  • Limping

If any of these signs are observed, it’s advisable to promptly schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

Causes

The primary cause of nail infections in dogs typically stems from trauma or injury to the nail or the surrounding skin. Activities like running, jumping, and playing increase the likelihood of such injuries, elevating the risk of infection.

Nail infections are more frequently diagnosed in large-breed dogs, primarily due to their penchant for outdoor activities that can result in nail damage and exposure to dirt and bacteria. Moist environments provide fertile ground for bacteria and fungi to thrive. Consequently, dogs who habitually lick their paws, often due to underlying environmental or food allergies, are prone to developing nail infections.

Additionally, overgrown nails that curve and come into contact with the paw pads can cause irritation and wounds, further predisposing dogs to infections.

Diagnosis

There are several methods veterinarians employ to diagnose nail infections in dogs.

Initially, your veterinarian will conduct a thorough examination of your dog’s leg and paw. Any known incidents of trauma or injury to the nails should be communicated to aid in accurate diagnosis. Observing your dog’s gait while walking is crucial to detect signs of lameness, such as limping or indications of pain.

Diagnostic tests utilized for diagnosing nail infections may include:

  • Cytology: This involves collecting discharge from the nail bed using a cotton swab, which is then examined under a microscope to identify bacteria, fungi, and inflammatory cells. Alternatively, a piece of clear tape may be pressed onto the skin surrounding the nail to gather a sample for microscopic evaluation.
  • Fungal or bacterial culture: Samples collected from the nail bed are sent to a laboratory to identify the specific type of bacteria or fungi causing the infection, as well as determine which medications will be effective.
  • Wood’s lamp: If ringworm is suspected, a Wood’s lamp (black light) may be used to illuminate the fur at the nail base. The presence of ringworm will cause the fur to emit a yellow or green glow under the lamp.
  • X-rays: Imaging of the paw and affected nail can help determine if bone involvement is present or if the infection is confined to the skin and soft tissue.
  • Biopsy: In cases of severe infection, a small skin sample from the nail bed may be taken and sent to the laboratory for analysis. This is particularly useful if the infection does not respond to treatment. Local anesthesia is applied to numb the area and minimize discomfort during the biopsy procedure.

If you suspect your dog has a nail infection, refrain from attempting to remove any part of the nail or applying medications before consulting your veterinarian.

In cases where the nail is bleeding, apply gentle pressure until the bleeding stops and loosely bandage the wound before seeking veterinary care. Avoid applying tight bandages for extended periods, as this can restrict blood flow to your dog’s paw and result in serious injury.

Treatment

The treatment of a nail bed infection in dogs typically involves a combination of oral or topical medications and bandaging. Depending on the nature of the infection, your veterinarian may prescribe oral antifungal drugs or antibiotics.

To alleviate inflammation and discomfort during the healing process, pain medications may also be administered. Additionally, chlorhexidine wipes may be provided to cleanse the affected area at home.

Your dog’s veterinary team may apply a bandage, which should remain in place for two to three days until your dog’s follow-up appointment. At the follow-up, the bandage will be either changed or removed based on the progress of the infection.

In cases of severe infections or those that do not respond to initial treatment, surgical intervention to remove the affected toe may be necessary.

Living and Management

During the recovery phase, it’s crucial to maintain cleanliness and dryness around the affected nails to prevent exacerbating the infection.

Before allowing your dog to venture outdoors, ensure that the affected paw is covered, and prevent them from digging in the dirt. Using a padded boot can be beneficial in this regard. Additionally, it’s advisable to walk your dog on a leash for bathroom breaks to minimize the risk of further injury.

Typically, most nail bed infections clear up within a span of seven to 10 days. In cases where the nail is broken, regrowth may take several weeks or even months. However, the swelling and inflammation should subside by the time your dog completes the prescribed oral medications.

Prevention

To avoid nail bed infections in dogs, it’s essential to maintain trimmed nails so they don’t touch the ground during walking. If you’re uncertain about safely trimming your dog’s nails, seek guidance from your veterinarian.

Furthermore, addressing any underlying allergies is important to prevent your dog from excessive chewing and licking of their paws, which can heighten the risk of infection.

Nail Infections in Dogs FAQs

What are the indicators of nail fungus in dogs?

You might suspect nail fungus in your dog if you observe yellow to brown discoloration of the nail, notice a strong odor, or see thickened, flaky nails.

Is hydrogen peroxide safe for use on dogs?

Although hydrogen peroxide is commonly used to clean wounds in humans, it’s not recommended for the same purpose in dogs. Hydrogen peroxide can cause discomfort and irritation to the affected nail bed in dogs. Your veterinarian can offer safe and gentle alternatives, such as chlorhexidine, for cleaning the affected area.

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