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Help! My Dog Has a Swollen Nail Bed

Hand holding white dog paw on pink background

Many owners underestimate the severity of their dog’s swollen nail bed. An insect bite or injuries inflicted by sharp objects are considered the only causes of this problem. However, the swelling on a dog’s nail can be much more serious than a physical injury.

For example, your dog could well be suffering from serious infections or tumors (including cancerous ones). Therefore, you should never take a swollen nail bed lightly and must get it diagnosed as soon as possible. Timely treatment may save your dog from developing a serious medical condition. Keep reading to know more about the causes, diagnosis, and possible treatments for the swollen nail bed.

Why is Dog Paw Red and Swollen Around the Nail?

Some of the reasons (other than physical injuries) that can result in a swollen dog paw are discussed below.

Bacterial or Fungal Infection

Closeup of tan dog chewing paw

Bacterial infections occur when the injured feet of your dog come in contact with a bacteria-infected surface. The cut in the skin allows the pathogen to enter the dog’s system. Alternatively, the chewing (and licking) of nails can also lead to an infection. This is because the excessive moisture in the nail beds is ideal for the growth of fungus.  


The presence of a tumor is another common cause of a swollen nail bed. Tumors weaken the toenails so that they break off without any major trauma. Generally, these tumors affect large dog breeds and are commonly witnessed in dogs older than 10 years.

Cancerous Tumors

Close up of dog paws with tumor at one of the nail beds

These are the riskiest tumors because they can spread to different parts of the body. Most of the cancerous tumors, like Melanoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma, occur at the intersection between the toenail and the toe of your dog. Squamous Cell Carcinoma is a very common kind of tumor that is often found in canines.

The scope of Melanoma (also known as skin cancer) is not only limited to dogs as it also affects humans. Normally, it is believed that Melanoma occurs in those dogs that are excessively exposed to the sun. It is quite dangerous because it spreads quickly to other parts of the body, such as the lungs. 

Diagnosing the Cause of a Swollen Nail Bed

Chihuahua being held by vet

If only a single nail of your dog is swollen, trauma is the most likely cause. Contrastingly, if the swelling spreads to multiple nails on a dog’s paw, it could well be an infection. In this case, you should take your dog to the veterinarian for a detailed examination.

The diagnostic tests for a swollen nail bed include complete blood count, claw bed scraping, and bacterial and/or fungal culture. In case of severe infections, radiographs may also be required to determine the amount of damage caused by the infection.

If there is no visible injury to the paw, it is compulsory to take an X-ray of your dog’s foot. If the X-ray shows a broken nail, it could be an indication of the presence of some cancerous cells. The vet may also perform some additional tests to monitor the spreading of cancer in other parts of the body.

How Do You Treat a Dog’s Swollen Nail?

The treatment of the swollen nail bed always depends on the actual underlying cause. Some of the most common methods that are used to treat canine swollen nail beds are as follows.

Use of Oral Antibiotics  ­

White bottle of pills spilling out onto a blue background

It is quite effective to use antibiotics if your dog has a bacterial infection that has grown outside the nail. Normally, oral antibiotics are prescribed for 4-6 weeks to ensure the complete treatment of the infection. Cephalexin and Clindamycin are the most commonly used antibiotics to prevent bacterial infections in dogs.­ A water-resistant bootie can also be used on the affected foot to keep the nail tidy and dry.

NOTE: Never give any medication to your dog without consulting your vet.

Paw Soaks

Paw soaks are also quite effective for preventing (and treating) bacterial and fungal infections in your dog’s nail bed. Generally, these soaks are made from 2-4% chlorhexidine and have a reasonable amount of Epsom salt. This salt helps in pulling out any type of pus, reduces inflammation, and supports healing.

Surgical Removal of Toenail

Dew claw being removed by vet in surgery

In the case of belligerent tumors, your dog will require some severe treatment. If the tumor is limited to the toenail, most vets will recommend the surgical removal of the affected nail. This is the best alternative because it will also prevent cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. However, early detection of the tumor is necessary to make this method efficient and successful.


But what happens when you are late to know about the tumor in your dog’s toenail? If cancer has already started spreading inside the body, your dog will most likely need chemotherapy. In some cases, a combination of surgery and chemotherapy can also be needed.

In such situations, you may have to consult a veterinary surgeon as well as a veterinary oncologist (cancer specialist). The surgeon will remove the tumor while the oncologist will personalize a complete treatment plan after considering all the factors, like overall health and age.

It is critical to take special care of your dog after surgery. In addition to specific medications, you will need to give your pup a lot of attention to make him/her recover. For example, reluctance to walk can be managed through slow and small walks. Likewise, you will need to protect the affected foot by using a bandage (with regular changes).

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