Dog Claw Infections

By Lisa McQuerrey

Canine nail and claw problems may be the result of something simple, like a fungal or bacterial infection, or something more troublesome, such as cancer. For best results, see your vet as soon as your dog starts to show signs of lameness, foot-licking or pain. Fast treatment takes care of minor issues and provides early intervention for serious ones.

Sources of Infection

Dogs can develop foot infections through trauma or injury. They may suffer puncture wounds to the feet by stepping on sharp objects such as rocks, thorns or glass. Feet, toes and nails can suffer injury if your dog is jumping and lands at an odd angle, gets into a fight with another animal or is stepped on. Nails that are “stubbed” can be painful and can split, crack or break. Dogs also can suffer pad burns and frostbite in extreme weather conditions. Open cuts and wounds can become infected if not treated.

Types of Infection

Your dog may be plagued by paronychia, which is a type of bacterial infection that causes the skin around the nail or claw to become red, inflamed and warm to the touch. It may be the result of trauma or injury. Another common infection is the fungal infection onychomycosis, which develops in the nail bed and occurs due to exposure to different types of fungi, molds and bacteria. Dogs also can contract yeast infection due to bacterial overgrowth in and around the toe and claw area, characterized by flaky, itching red skin.

Symptoms of Infection

Your dog may have swelling or inflammation around her nail beds or have a visible deformity in the nail, such as overgrowth, peeling, chipping or discoloration. She may have raised bumps or nodules or open abscesses or wounds. You may see her lick her feet, resist bearing weight or limping when she walks. Your dog may be sensitive to touch and could whine or whimper if her feet are touched. She may also run a fever or be lethargic.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your vet likely will conduct a physical exam and take a skin scraping of your dog’s affected nail or foot skin for examination. Treatment of your pup’s condition will depend on the underlying cause. Infections will be treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications while anti-fungal meds will be prescribed for fungal infections. Partial or full removal of the nail plate may be required. Your vet may prescribe antimicrobial foot soaks or topical creams to reduce swelling and relieve discomfort.

Foot/Toe Cancer in Dogs

It’s vital to seek medical attention for what may appear to be minor claw and nail problems because infections have symptoms that mimic more serious conditions, such as cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of tumor that originates around the skin that surrounds a dog’s nail, typically only affecting one toe. The cancer may appear as a small red bump that grows over time. Without intervention, it has the potential to metastasize quickly to other regions of the body. Your vet will diagnose the condition through a full physical exam, tissue biopsy, X-rays and blood tests. The cancer may be treated with chemotherapy or surgery, depending on the severity of the condition.