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Torn, Cracked, Splitting or Broken Dog Nails – Guide to Dog Nail Disorders

↯ Key takeaway points

  • Nails are important for a dog's traction, stability, and other activities.
  • Broken dog nails can be painful and may indicate an underlying disease.
  • Common signs of nail disorders include licking the paws, lameness, swelling, redness, and discolored or split nails.
  • Various diseases can cause nail problems in dogs, including onychomadesis, onychodystrophy, macronychia, paronychia, onychoschizia, and onychomalacia.
  • Regular nail trimming and a healthy diet are essential for maintaining good nail health in dogs.
Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Zoo and wildlife doctor in veterinary medicine passionate about animal welfare and preventive medicine.
Published on
Thursday 10 June 2021
Last updated on
Friday 7 July 2023
torn cracked splitting or broken dog nails
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Your pooch needs healthy nails to live a fulfilling life. Nails are a big part of a dog’s paws. Dogs use their nails for traction, stability, walking, running, digging, and play. Ensuring that your pup’s nails are kept at an appropriate length and giving the best quality diet help to prevent nail problems from developing. Unfortunately, however, some nail problems are unavoidable, and broken dog nails can become a painful problem for your pup.

So, what are the causes of torn dog nails? And just how many diseases cause problems with dog nails? Here, we discuss the most common signs of nail disorders in dogs and what diseases can cause them. Ready to find out more? Read on with us!

Dog Nail Anatomy

The claw or nail of your furry friend is an extension of the skin that covers the third bone of their toe. In other words, when your vet mentions a P3 amputation to treat a nail problem, they’re talking about removing the end bone of the toe.

Your pup’s claws consist of a hard and tough material called keratin, which surrounds a blood vessel and a nerve. The inner part of the nail that contains these is called the “quick,” and it stops just before the hard outer shell of the nail, leaving the rest of it hollow. The nail grows from the nail bed, which is where it exits the toe, at an average rate of 1-2 mm per week. As the nail grows, the quick grows with it, so regular trimming is essential. Neglecting to trim the nails can lead to discomfort and even injury, as the nails can grow into the footpad, which requires veterinary attention to correct

Common Symptoms of Nail Disorders

As a loving dog owner, you know your furry friend inside and out. But do you know how to spot signs of nail problems? When inspecting your dog’s paws, it’s important to keep an eye out for any unusual behavior.

If your dog is experiencing nail problems, they may begin by licking their paws and limping while walking. As the problem progresses, you may notice swelling, redness, and discharge around the nail. The nail itself could become discolored, soft, or even split. In severe cases, your dog may even lose one or more nails. Even if you regularly trim your dog’s nails, broken nails caused by a problem could make them too painful to touch.

It’s important to know that nail problems can be symmetrical or asymmetrical. Symmetrical problems suggest metabolic, immune, or nutritional issues, while problems in only one paw may indicate trauma or neoplasia. If your dog is experiencing symptoms in both paws or more than one nail, it’s time to visit the vet. Early treatment is crucial for underlying diseases that may cause broken dog nails.

Remember, being aware of your dog’s nail health is a crucial part of being a responsible pet owner. Keep an eye out for any changes, and always seek the advice of your vet if you have any concerns


Onychomadesis is when a dog’s nails start to shed, usually beginning at the base. This can happen if a nail is damaged or loses blood supply, and can cause the whole nail to fall off. Sometimes it happens without any apparent reason. If only one nail is affected, the dog usually recovers without any problem. However, if several nails break, there might be an underlying systemic issue, like anemia, diabetes, or a tumor.


Symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy, or symmetric lupoid onychitis, is an immune condition that is most common in Gordon Setters, English Setters, German Shepherds, and Rottweilers, especially in Norway. As well as this, most affected dogs are between three and eight years of age. In the early stages, you might notice a nail becoming brown due to subungual hemorrhaging. In the acute phase of the disease, the claw plates begin to slough and the nails must be removed by a vet under general anesthesia. A vet will also treat any secondary bacterial infections that set into the nail. The nails that grow back are often dystrophic and can be painful. Traditionally, treatment involves immune-modulating drugs and Omega-3 and Omega-6 supplementation. Other treatment plans include the use of tetracycline, prednisolone, and azathioprine. In severe cases, P3 amputation may be done to control the disease.


Macronychia is the term used to describe a nail that is abnormally large or overgrown, unlike the other nails. Some cases of macronychia are caused by a solitary, local tumor that develops behind the nail, as one such case was described in a study. Due to the size of the nail, many dogs with macronychia experience discomfort when walking and must have their nails trimmed more often. The flipside to macronychia is micronychia, the growth of abnormally small nails.


Paronychia is inflammation of the soft tissue surrounding the claw. If your dog is suffering from paronychia, they might lick at their paws, exhibit lameness, and the nail can become discolored or deformed. Over time this can lead to broken dog nails. But what causes paronychia? Many diseases are associated with paronychia in dogs. These include bacterial infections, immune-mediated conditions, neoplasia, trauma, nutritional deficiencies, and diabetes mellitus. As such, diagnosing the cause can be difficult and may take several tests. Your vet will carry out a physical and dermatological examination, which may involve skin scrapings and fungal cultures. Depending on the cause of your dog’s paronychia, your vet may recommend surgical removal of the nail, antimicrobial soaks, and treating the underlying condition.


Onychoschizia is characterized by horizontal splits in a nail and is one of the most common causes of broken dog nails. The affected nail may be brittle, soft, and thin as well as horizontally split. To date, onychoschizia is not well-described in dogs, but its causes may include injury, trauma, vitamin deficiencies, and certain veterinary medications. In some cases, there is no obvious cause of onychoschizia. If your dog has a split nail, be sure to ask your vet for advice. Your vet will investigate your dog’s paws for any signs of trauma or infection that might be to blame. In some cases, poor trimming of the nail can cause onychoschizia. If you have any worries about cutting your pet’s nails, you can ask your groomer or your vet for assistance.


Onychomalacia is the softening of the nail. If your dog has onychomalacia, their nail may become soft, deformed, crumbly, and frail. This can lead to broken dog nails. In dogs, onychomalacia is a primary clinical sign of fungal nail infections. In particular, Trichophyton metagrophytes is often to blame for onychomalacia. Your vet will take samples from the nail and will send these to a microbiology laboratory for culture. The treatment for onychomalacia may include itraconazole, fluconazole, ketoconazole, or terbinafine for one to three months beyond the healthy regrowth of the nail. Other therapies include topical miconazole or enilconazole solution. As well as fungal infections, onychomalacia is a symptom of symmetric lupoid onychitis.


Onychogryphosis causes one side of your dog’s nail to grow faster than the other. In dogs, this disease manifests with redness around the nail and redness of the hair on the toe. If the nail is normally white, it can become reddish due to bleeding or secondary infection. The nail may also appear longer than usual and have a distorted appearance. Unfortunately, onychogryphosis is a symptom of canine leishmaniasis. If you live in an area where this disease is enzootic, your dog will need a parasitological exam. Plus, comprehensive therapy involving Lomidine® or Glucantime® and a follow-up is mandatory.

onychomadesis in dogs
During onychomadesis, the nail plate separates from the nail bed.

Dog Nail Disorders: FAQs

Have any more questions about broken dog nails? Feel free to refer to our Frequently Asked Questions section for more details. If in doubt about your dog’s health or broken dog nails, always ask your vet for advice.

How does a vet determine the cause of a specific nail disorder?

Nail disorders can be difficult to diagnose because they are not common in dogs. First, your vet will conduct a thorough physical examination of your pet. A full exam of your dog is important to identify any signs of systemic disease that might be to blame. The lymph nodes are usually palpated, and special attention is given to the mucous membranes, footpads, and nasal planum. Abnormalities of these body parts can suggest an immune-mediated disease.

During the exam, all of the claws are thoroughly examined. Your vet will note how many claws are affected by the disease and whether the problem is symmetrical or asymmetrical. While symmetrical disease suggests a metabolic, immune, or nutritional problem, asymmetric disease suggests trauma or neoplasia.

Lastly, a biopsy of the claw can confirm a specific diagnosis. Microscopic examination of a sample can reveal bacterial and parasitic infections of the nail. Your vet may also submit claw fragments or shed claws for use in a fungal culture. However, submission of a shed claw is not always helpful as it does not contain the affected claw bed. The claw bed is seen best when the third phalanx is removed for histopathology.

What are the other possible causes of nail disorders in dogs?

Nail disorders in dogs are caused by a wide range of problems. Among the most common causes are trauma to the nail and congenital abnormalities. However, a range of diseases may also cause a predisposition to nail disorders.

For example, metabolic diseases such as diabetes mellitus, hyperadrenocorticism, and hypothyroidism can cause problems with the nails. There are also several immune-mediated causes of nail problems in dogs. These include hypersensitivities such as atopic dermatitis and adverse cutaneous food reactions. Other autoimmune conditions include pemphigus foliaceous, systemic lupus erythematosus, vasculitis, and bullous pemphigoid.

Many infections lead to nail disorders. Viral infections like distemper, fungal infections caused by Dermatophytes and Geotrychosis, protozoal infections from Leishmania, helminth infections from Ancylostoma, and certain arthropod infections from Demodex lead to problems with the nails. Lastly, and perhaps most commonly, some environmental conditions contribute to nail disorders in dogs. These include trauma from racing, hunting, or play, burns, caustic agents, and drying.

How to maintain good nail health in dogs?

The best way to maintain good nail health in dogs is through regular trimming. Your dog probably needs to have its nails cut once or twice every month. However, some dogs, such as those who are more active, may not need trimming as frequently. A good indicator that your dog’s nails need trimming is if you can hear their nails clicking against the floor when they walk.

A healthy diet is essential for good nail health. Your dog should get meals that are rich in Omega-3, Omega-6, and biotin for their overall health as well as nail health. If your dog’s diet is lacking one of these things, consider asking your vet for recommendations. Your vet can recommend a quality diet that will meet your dog’s needs to prevent broken dog nails.

What foods are good for the nails?

Foods that are rich in Omega-3, Omega-6, and biotin are great for maintaining good nail health. Luckily for your pup, these three nutrients are easy to supply in their food. Biotin, for example, is found in a range of animal products, including meat, fish, and eggs. Biotin is also found in leafy green vegetables, which can be added to your dog’s meal – consider including chopped Swiss chard, lettuce, spinach, kale, or cabbage to your dog’s dinner every so often. Just be sure to monitor your pup for diarrhea and gas, and only give these greens in moderation to prevent digestive upsets.

Similarly, Omega-6 fatty acids are found in both animal and plant products. Vegetable oils like rapeseed, sunflower, and corn oils are rich in Omega-6 fatty acids. Also, meat, poultry, fish, and eggs are rich in Omega-6. Lastly, Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines. Fish oil supplements are readily available online and in pet stores.

Are some dog breeds prone to nail diseases?

Some dog breeds are indeed more prone to certain nail diseases than others. For example, symmetric lupoid onychitis is most common in Gordon Setters and English Setters. The condition is also seen in German Shepherds and Rottweilers to a lesser degree. Another breed with a predisposition to nail problems is the Bull Terrier. Lethal acrodermatitis is a severe skin disorder with a fatal outcome. In Bull Terriers, this disease causes hyperkeratosis of the footpads and deforms the nails. The dog also suffers from diarrhea, skin lesions, immunodeficiencies, and color dilution of the coat. Some dog breeds are more prone to auto-immune diseases in general, which are leading causes of nail problems in dogs. These breeds include Boxers, Golden Retrievers, and Labrador Retrievers.

Breeds that are less active than others may also be more prone to problems with overgrowth and nail splitting, as their lack of activity means that their nails are not naturally worn down as much. Lastly, Greyhounds are among those that are most prone to foot problems. Not only are they more prone to nail problems, but they also commonly suffer from corns of the footpads and toe dislocations. Many Greyhound owners report that their dog’s symptoms worsen when walking on hard surfaces like concrete or gravel.

onychogryphosis in dogs
Onychogryphosis manifests with redness around the nail.

The most common causes of broken dog nails are onychomadesis, onychodystrophy, macronychia, paronychia, onychoschizia, and onychomalacia. These disorders can occur due to trauma or may signal an underlying disease. In any case, be sure to check in with your vet to rule out a serious problem. And, as always, regularly trimming your dog’s nails at least once or twice a month is best practice.

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