Dog Biting Nails – 7 Reasons and How To Stop

Understanding Dog’s Nails

In order to best take care of a dog’s nails, it is essential to understand what exactly they are and what they are made of. 

First of all, despite the fact that we call them nails, a dog’s nails grow out of the last bones in their toes, making them claws. Claws are particularly strong and are made of a protein called keratin. 

Inside of the claws, you may have noticed (especially in lighter coloured claws) a dark stream that ends towards the middle of the claw. This dark line is called the quick, and it is a stream of blood that helps the claw to keep growing.

7 Reasons Why Dogs Bite Their Nails

They are Too Long

One of the main reasons for nail-biting is that your dog’s nails are simply too long. As minor as that may sound, it can actually be a very serious problem for your dog. 

As you may know, dogs walk on their toes and on their claws. As established, claws grow out of the bones in your dog’s feet.

This means that if their nails are too long, it can cause a lot of serious pain to your dog. It means that the claws will be being pushed back into their bones every time weight is on them (i.e. with every step that they take). 

Keep a regular nail trimming regime to stop your dog from biting nails right down to painful points.

Broken Nails

Broken nails are just as annoying on a dog’s feet as they are on a human’s hands. A broken nail can irritate a dog quite a lot which will naturally lead to them wanting to deal with it by themselves. However, as you may know, a dog will not be delicate when ripping off broken parts of their nails and could end up causing further damage rather than solving the problem. 

Eventually, a dog could easily pull too much off, revealing the quick and risking infections. Therefore, if you see that your dog has a broken nail, it is important to help them as quickly as possible! 

Broken nails can also harm a dog’s mouth as well as the nail bed – it’s worth nipping this nail-biting habit in the bud.

Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy

Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy is a disease that can be found in middle-aged to senior dogs. It is believed that German Shepherds and Rottweilers are more predisposed to the disease than other dogs, but any canine can get it. 

The disease can be recognised by the dog losing its claws. It can start with just one or two claws, then eventually, all of them will be lost (if left untreated).

The front feet are said to be the worst affected, but it will affect all four. The claws will eventually grow back, but they are misshapen, often discoloured, and fragile. If you’re deeply concerned about nail-biting and chewing leading to SLO, always consult your vet.

Allergies

Dogs experience allergies as much as people do, and when it comes to outdoor allergens specifically, these can particularly affect your dog’s paws. 

You may notice that your dog’s paws are red, losing fur, and/or your dog is biting their nails. Now, this could very well be due to extra pollen in the air, a specific plant or herb that is bothering them, or something else. Various parasites can inspire any dog to bite nails erratically, too.

The issue with allergies in dogs, especially outdoor allergens, is that it can be difficult to determine the source of your dog’s allergic reactions. If you find your dog chewing nails a lot after having been outside, it may be time to check with your vet about what’s irritating their skin.

Food allergies, rarely, might trigger your dog chewing its nails.

Infections

Fungal infections are a particularly dangerous issue for dog paws. They can be caused by contact with other animals (dogs or others), something that they caught in their environment (inside or outside), or due to overgrown fungi in your dog paws which can happen naturally). 

Viral and bacterial infections on your dog’s feet can cause them to have red, sore, and itchy paws. You may not always notice it on their feet, as it can just as easily occur between their paw pads on the soles. 

When it comes to the dog’s nails, a brown discharge can become noticeable within the nail beds, but, again, this can be difficult to see, especially in dogs with dark fur. Multiple infected claws point to issues you’ll need to iron out with your vet for the best course of action.

Boredom

Dogs need to be mentally stimulated as much as they need to be physically stimulated. Leaving them for too long alone or ignored is a sure way to invite chaos into your home! Some dogs will act out, biting and scratching furniture, peeing and defecating in the house, etc. However, others will take it out on themselves by biting their nails, ripping out their fur, scratching themselves, etc. Destructive behaviour, unfortunately, extends to their own bodies – and separation anxiety, for example, can be a major nail-biting driver for a bored dog.

Much like humans can bit their nails out of boredom and out of bad habits, so too can dogs. Sadly, this can lead to a lot of pain, irritation, and other problems that could be avoided simply by paying attention to your pup. 

Anxiety

Although many don’t realise, dogs can feel anxiety as much as we humans can, and it does affect them much in the same way. They can feel separation anxiety from being left alone or without their owner, anxious about new arrivals in their home (animal or human), a big change (a home move, for example), etc. 

This can lead them to act out in various ways, including biting their nails. Many owners may not spot their dog starting to chew their nails because they’re scared – so do try and keep your dog’s anxiety in check.

Yes, just like humans, dogs can bite their nails out of anxiety. Again, sadly this can lead to their nails getting affected, or causing a lot of discomforts, or significantly hurting their nails. 

Ways to Prevent Nail Biting

  • Use a dog nail clipper: The first thing to do to stop a dog from chewing nails is to keep them clipped yourself! Use a sharp pair of dog nail clippers to ensure that they are always at the right length. This will prevent them from growing too long and hurting your pup.
  • Use a dog nail grinder: If your dog’s nails are a little tougher, but you need to ensure that they stop biting their nails, then consider using a nail grinder. This will take all of the work out of clipping for you, and it will make it easier for cutting tough nails. 
  • Keep them occupied: A good way of stopping your furry companion from biting their nails is by keeping them occupied. If they are bored, then they are more likely to be self-destructive. Planning time to play with them, train them, or just take them out for dedicated exercise will help to keep them occupied and tire them out! If they chew their nails thanks to a behavioural condition, it’s worth occupying them.
  • Distract them: If your dog has a tendency of biting their nails due to separation anxiety, food sensitivities or uniquely due to an untreated wound, a medical condition that may be causing discomfort, etc., then the best thing that you can do for them is to keep them distracted. You can play with them, brush them, give them a treat toy, etc.
  • Keep their nails clean: Of course, prevention is always better than cure, and making sure that their nails are always clean is the best way to prevent them from catching anything and to make sure that there are no underlying issues that you may have missed. 
  • Consider putting them on medication: If your dog bites their nails due to medical reasons, then consider putting them on medication. Of course, if the specifics of your dog’s allergies can be determined, then your vet will be able to better determine what medications could help them.
  • Regularly check their feet: Regularly checking their feet is just as important as checking the rest of them! You will be able to determine when something is out of the ordinary, and will therefore be able to treat the problem as soon as possible. Hopefully, in some cases, finding the problem early enough will prevent your dog from biting its nails at all.
  • Consult your vet: If, as you check your dogs’ feet, you notice that there is something out of the ordinary, then you should consult your vet as soon as possible. Your vet will be able to treat the problem and prevent your dog from feeling any significant pain. They’ll also help you with any worries you might have about an outdoor allergen or itchy skin, for example.
  • Check with a professional dog groomer: If you are unsure about your dog’s feet and being able to take care of them, then it is essential to take your dog to a professional groomer’s regularly. A professional groomer will help to keep your healthy dog on top form with regular grooming over their fur, their skin, and their paws.

Tips For Trimming your Dogs Nails at Home

Keep them secure

The first thing that you will want to do before starting to trim your dog’s nails is to get them in a secure location where you are sure that you are in complete control. You will also need to be in an area where you can see perfectly what you are doing. 

Make sure only to use sharp nail clippers

If you are planning on clipping your dog’s nails yourself, then ensure that you use only nail clippers that are significantly sharp. Blunt ones could hurt your dog by crushing their nails instead of cutting them and will make the process a lot more difficult.

Use positive reinforcement

Many dogs hate having their nails trimmed, but some take it far worse than others. If your dog is nervous and jittery, then you will need to keep them calm by using positive reinforcement. You could use a toy, a treat, and remind them that they are doing a good job!

Be careful of the quick

It is essential to be careful of your dog’s quickness before you start cutting its nails. This can be difficult if your dog has dark nails, so be sure to use nail clippers with a safety guard, to protect their nails.

The Last Word

Whether your dog suffers from separation anxiety, destructive behaviour, food allergies, bacterial infections, or whatever else could be causing severe nail chewing, it is essential that you keep an eye on their paws. Paw issues will not only cause them a lot of pain, but they can also cause surrounding problems, including itchy skin, damage to their immune system, etc. 

You must always keep an eye on their paws to ensure that everything is well, but if you do notice frequent nail chewing, then the best course of action is to consult your vet.

Hopefully, it will be something easy to treat; however, whatever the problem, if left untreated, your dog’s condition will only worsen. This can lead to lifelong issues and continuous treatment, so do keep an eye on them! 

If your pet has a paw injury, fractured claws or may be suffering from a fungal infection, then it is all the more worthwhile consulting a vet. A dog biting nails frequently can also be a sign of demodex mites, skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis, or even interdigital cysts. There’s no need to panic – the only way to help your dog from here is to seek medical help!

Donna Hepburn

Published author, content writer and qualified dog behaviourist I have owned dogs all my life from Boxers, Rottweilers and Akitas, to Staffies and currently a very demanding Frenchie who is harder work than all the others put together.

I had a collar making business for over 10 years and am involved with several doggy charities. I currently live in the northeast and when I am not writing about dogs I enjoy, travelling, cooking and reading.

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