A nail bed infection can turn your happy-go-lucky, park-loving pup into a mopey boy who refuses to walk. Usually secondary to trauma, a bacterial or fungal nail infection is painful and can be an oozy, discolored mess. A trip to the vet is in order.
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Trauma causes the majority of canine nail bed infections involving a single nail, while allergies, autoimmune disorders, hyperthyroidism and numerous other systemic problems generally underlie nail bed infections that affect multiple nails. Certain fungi such as Malassezia, dermatophytes, blastomycosis, cryptococcosis and sporotrichosis can also attack your dog's nails and cause infection, though fungal nail infections are relatively rare in canines.
Certain breeds are predisposed to nail-related issues. Dachshunds are predisposed to onychorrhexis, brittle nails that tend to break or split, and must be watched closely for nail problems. German shepherds, Siberian huskies, Rhodesian ridgebacks, rottweilers, cocker spaniels, whippets and English springer spaniels have a tendency to suffer from nail deformation that can lead to breakage and secondary infection.
Signs and Symptoms
Dogs are highly skilled at hiding pain, but certain behaviors, signs and symptoms can tip you off to a bacterial nail bed infection. Suffering dogs will generally lick their infected nails, have difficulty walking or a wobbly gait, show swelling and redness around the nails and present abnormal nail coloration. Fungal nail infections are a bit different. One of the most common sources of fungal nail infection is the genus Malassezia—the same group of fungi that cause topical problems such as hair loss, tough elephant-like skin and a yeasty smell. Usually a result of allergies, Malassezia infections cause dark brown-red nails that exude a telltale gray, foul-smelling waxy substance.
Treatment for a bacterial nail bed infection most often involves veterinarian-prescribed oral antibiotics, antimicrobial foot soaks and topical ointments. In severe cases, partial or whole removal of the nail is required for drainage and healing. Fungal infections require long-term antifungal therapy and frequent nail trimmings to remove infected portions. In all cases of nail bed infection, your veterinarian will need to pinpoint and address the underlying cause of the secondary infection.
While not all nail bed infections can be prevented, you can greatly reduce the incidence of those due to trauma. Cutting too close to the nail bed and into the quick when trimming your dog's nails causes bleeding and an open pathway for bacteria. Research and practice proper canine nail trimming, or better yet, leave it to your veterinarian or profession groomer for optimal safety.
By Christina Stephens
About the Author
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.