Malinois showing his paw.

What To Do If Your Dog Has Nail Problems - Expert Guide

Written By Olivia De Santos | Canine Coach, Professional Writer & Video Content Creator.
Edited & Fact Checked By Renae Soppe | Double B.A Journalism & Science. 
Last Updated: 14th January 2024

One common issue that many dog owners face is nail problems. From broken nails to nail infections, dog nail problems can cause a huge amount of distress for your pup.

If your furry friend is struggling with nail issues, don't fret! In this article, we'll discuss what to do if your dog has nail problems and provide some practical tips to help you navigate this situation.

Disclaimer: This article was written off the back of reputable research on the topic. However, I am not a vet – simply a dog writer. Please consult your vet for further advice.


Signs of Nail Problems in Dogs

Let’s start with a quick list of ways to identify if your dog is suffering from dog nail problems:

  • Limping
  • Excessive licking
  • Brittle claws
  • Softened claws
  • Yelping in pain
  • Howling in pain
  • Withdrawal or hiding
  • Pus leaking from the nail bed
  • Bleeding from the nail bed
  • Swollen nail bed

Not all symptoms apply to each and every common nail issue.

Related: Common Dog Nail Problems.

In the next section, we’ll dive deeper into common issues and their typical symptoms.


Understanding Nail Problems in Dogs

Before discuss solutions for your pups troublesome paw, lets talk about the various nail problems that can affect dogs. Here are a few common issues:

Overgrown Nails

Dogs' nails grow continuously. If they aren't trimmed regularly, they can become excessively long.

Overgrown nails can cause discomfort, difficulty walking, and even lead to joint problems.

You can tell if your dog’s nails are overgrown if they appear to be “tip-toeing” around. You’ll also be able to hear their nails tapping on your floors as they walk.

Ideally, your dog’s nails should be short enough to not reach the floor.

Related: How To Deal With Aggressive Dogs During Nail Clipping?

Excessively long nails are are more like to lead to...

Broken or Split Nails

Dogs love to explore their surroundings, and sometimes their nails can get caught on objects or accidentally break.

This is as painful as it sounds. If your dog breaks or snags their nail, it may result in bleeding and infection.

Related: What To Do About Broken or Cracked Dog Nails.

You can typically tell if your dog has broken a nail if they are limping or excessively licking the area. This signals that they are in pain and trying to self-soothe.

Ingrown Nails

Similar to humans, dogs can develop ingrown nails too.

When a nail grows into the pad of the paw, it can cause pain, inflammation, and infection.

Unfortunately, ingrown nails are extremely common with dogs.

Dogs with ingrown nails will chew or lick the infected paw. (1)

Nail Infections

A nail infection is rarely a root cause of nail problems. More like an escalation of the previous dog nail problems we’ve talked about.

That is to say, broken nails, overgrown nails, and ingrown nails can all lead to nail infections.

Bacteria or fungi can invade the nail bed, causing the infection to bloom and grow.

Your dog may even exacerbate the issue by licking and teething the infected area.

So what does a dog nail infection look like? (2)

Look out for:

  • Limping
  • Discolouration around the claw
  • Swollen nail bed
  • Pus oozing from the nail bed
  • Softened or brittle claw

These typically indicate a bacterial nail infection.

Fungal nail infections usually result in crumbly, dry, and brittle nails. They are typically less dramatic than bacterial nail infections, though still dangerous. (3)

If you spot any of these potential problems, fear not! You’re in the right place. In the next section, we’ll talk about how to tackle each of these dog nail issues head-on.


What to Do If Your Dog Has Nail Problems (5 Key Steps)

If you’ve identified that something is wrong with your dog’s nails, here’s how to address it step by step:

1. Examine the nails

Inspect your dog's nails for any signs of damage, overgrowth, or infection.

As a prevention tactic, make it a habit of inspecting your dogs nails often. This will also make it easier for you to treat the area if your pup is accustomed to you handling their paws.

If you notice anything concerning, move to the next step.

2. Handle with care

When dealing with a dog's nail problem, it's crucial to be gentle and patient.

Dogs can be sensitive about their paws, so make the experience as comfortable as possible. Use your voice and treats to soothe your pooch if they are in distress.

This praise creates a positive association with nail care.

3. Take a photo of the area

While you may not want a library of your dog’s injuries on your phone, a photo or video of the area will help your vet treat the issue. You may not even have to see the vet in person if it’s something they advise you can handle at home.

Take those snaps so you can ask for advice later.

4. Address the issue at the source

Overgrown Nails

If your dog's nails are overgrown, you need to gradually trim or grind them down to the appropriate length.

Start by taking small increments off the tip of the nail to avoid cutting the quick—the sensitive area within the nail.

If you're uncomfortable doing it yourself, seek help from a professional dog groomer.

Broken or Split Nails

In the case of a broken or split nail, clean the area gently with warm water and apply an antiseptic solution.

If there is bleeding, apply gentle pressure using a clean cloth or cotton ball.

You can also use styptic powder to stop the bleeding.

“Styptic powder is an anti-hemorrhagic agent that stops light wounds from bleeding. Veterinarians, professional pet groomers and pet parents can use this powder on dogs, cats and even some birds.” – The Hill’s Pet (4)

Seek veterinary care if the bleeding persists or if you notice signs of infection (like pus or odour).

Ingrown Nails

If you suspect your dog has an ingrown nail, it's best to consult your vet. Do NOT try to treat this at home as you’ll likely make it worse.

Your vet can safely remove the ingrown portion, alleviate pain, and provide proper treatment.

Nail Infections

Nail infections require veterinary attention. This is another dog nail problem you shouldn’t try to solve at home.

Your vet will prescribe appropriate medications, which may include oral antibiotics or anti-fungal medications, along with topical treatments.

Follow their instructions carefully to ensure a speedy recovery.

5. Contact the vet

Generally I’d say to contact your vet if your dog has any dog nail issues at all – just to be on the safe side.

But overgrown nails can be solved easily at home. Broken nails can too (depending on the damage).

If you catch a whiff of infection or suspect your dog has an ingrown nail, dont delay. Get your pup seen by a professional to get the proper treatment they need.

Be sure to show those photos and videos you took when you noticed the injuries to your vet to help them make an accurate diagnosis.


How to Prevent Nail Problems in Dogs

They say prevention is the best medicine! So here are three top tips on how to prevent your dog getting nail problems.

Regular nail trimming

The first step in preventing and managing nail problems is regular nail trimming.

Trimming or grinding your dog’s nails regularly helps prevent overgrowth, reduces the risk of broken nails, and promotes healthy paws.

If you're unsure how to do this, consult your veterinarian or a professional groomer for guidance.

Related: Getting Your Puppy Accustomed To Having Their Nails Clipped

Check out this video on how to grind your dog’s nails with our favourite dog nail grinder:

Nutritious diet

Just like with humans, a poor-quality diet can cause brittle nails.

Your dog needs a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals to ensure their nails are healthy.

By providing your dog with the best quality dog food you can afford, you lower the risk that they’ll develop brittle, breakable nails.

Likewise, a well-fed dog is more likely to be able to fight off and heal from nail infections quickly.

Regular walks

Want to know one of the most surprising ways to maintain your dog’s nails? Walk them!

Walking your dog regularly – especially on pavement – naturally files your dog’s nails.

This is done by tapping and scraping their nails across the asphalt as they walk.

Now it’s worth noting that this only works if your dogs nails are generally well-kept anyway. Additionally, this method doesn’t help file down your dogs dew claws as they walk – you will still have to stay on-top of regular trimming or grinding of those two pesky claws.

Related: Should You Trim Your Dog's Dewclaws?

Walking your dog on paving if they have overgrown nails can be dangerous because they are more prone to injuries.

But if you keep your dog’s nails trimmed, the daily walk will help maintain the trim for longer.


Final Thoughts: Caring For Your Pup’s Paws

Dog nail problems are painful, annoying, and frustrating for all involved, but they rarely cause lasting damage. If you follow the steps, most issues can be resolved.

Remember, prevention is key. Regular nail trimming and monitoring of your dog's nails are the best ways to keep your dog’s nails healthy.

And if you suspect something is wrong, contact your vet for guidance.

Here are some more articles on dog nail health you should read next:

References:

  1. “How to help your pet with an ingrown nail”. Woofpurnay Vet. Retrieved July 11, 2023. https://www.woofpurnayvet.com.au/ingrown-nails-in-pets
  2. Hollinger, H. July 19, 2017. “Bacterial Claw Infection in Dogs”. Wag Walking. Retrieved July 11, 2023. https://wagwalking.com/condition/bacterial-claw-infection
  3. Stregowski, J. July 18, 2021. “Nail Problems in Dogs”. The Spruce Pets. Retrieved July 11, 2023. https://www.thesprucepets.com/hollow-nails-in-dogs-3977029

    Ollila, E. July 28, 2022. “What is Styptic Powder for Dogs & Cats?”. The Hill’s Pet. Retrieved July 11, 2023. https://www.hillspet.com/pet-care/routine-care/styptic-powder-for-dogs-and-cats

Olivia De Santos


Olivia De Santos is Gentle Dog Trainers Canine Coach, Professional Writer and Video Content Creator.

Olivia has over 10 years of experience writing professionally and is a dog Mum to Pip, her Podengo and Blue, her Flat-coated Retriever. She loves writing pieces to help people to be better dog owners.

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