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What does Dog Nail Discoloration Mean?

dog with head tilt

What does dog nail discoloration means? There are several reasons your dogs nails can start to turn a different color. They can include nail fungus, yeast infections in the dog’s nail bed, allergies, and getting older.

Important: Dog nail discoloration usually reflects trauma or a health issue for your dog. If you notice discoloration in their nails, be sure to contact your veterinarian to make sure that you get professional advice.

Dog Nail Fungus

Fungal infections in dogs are generally caused by Dermatophytes. Malassezia is another common organism that causes these infections. Dog nail fungus is found in the nail bed, the claw folds, and the nail itself. Usually, one or two nails are affected by this infection. However, carelessness can lead to many severe results.

It has been observed that working or sporting dogs are most affected by dog nail fungus. The reason for that is their active lifestyle. This is because they regularly visit the breeding grounds of these fungal microorganisms (dark, moist places, soil, etc.).

Symptoms of Fungal Infection in Dogs

dog biting at itchy paw

Itchiness is the very first symptom that indicates a fungal infection. A dog suffering from nail fungus will lick its paws regularly. In extreme cases, you may notice your pet chewing and scratching its claws. You may also observe brittle nails and dog nail discoloration in this condition.

As soon as you find these symptoms in your dog, you should visit your vet immediately. This is important because a timely diagnosis of fungal infection can save your dog (and you) a lot of trouble.

Diagnosis of Dog Nail Fungus

small dog getting nails trimmed

It is one of the easiest diseases to diagnose as all your vet needs is a scraping of the infected area. He/she will do a biopsy of the scraping and test it under a microscope to reveal the results. If the dog nail(s) are actually affected, the vet will move on to the treating phase.

Treatment of Dog Nail Fungal Infection

Before you begin proper treatment (antifungal therapy), you will need to eliminate any brittle nails that are loose. Once you have done that, you are all set to start the antifungal therapy. It is a long-term solution that goes on for months. Proper hygiene and care are necessary during this period to ensure a successful and speedy recovery.

Fungal Culture

Brown dog paw having cream applied to the paw by human fingers

After the initial treatment, you will need to trim the nails frequently to remove infected portions. These trimmings should be analyzed at regular intervals until fungal culture results are negative. A fungal culture is a method to determine the presence of fungi in various parts of the body. Generally, vets recommend topical treatments and foot soaks for treating dog nail fungus.

Antifungal Creme

The use of topical antifungal crème or spray is the most widely used technique to treat this disease.

The infected nails should be covered properly with the crème. It is ideal to ask your vet to show you how to do it. Alternatively, some vets may prescribe a spray, instead of cream. Whether you use crème or spray, their main ingredients do have some antifungal properties.

Although topical treatments are an effective way of treating dog nail fungus, they do have a drawback. It is very common for dogs to lick their infected paws. In such cases, they do lick off the crème or spray. In order to prevent that from happening, you will have to use an Elizabethan Collar.

Nail Trims for Preventing Fungal Infections That Cause Nail Discoloration in Dogs

Human hands trimming dog nails with scissor style clippers

It’s not possible to prevent every problem with a dog’s nails, but regular nail trimming can help to reduce the chance of both infections and injuries. Just be sure not to trim your dog’s nails too short.

You can either cut your dog’s nails yourself or you can take them to a vet or a groomer and have them trim your dog’s nails. Generally speaking, if you can hear your dog’s nails click on the floor they are too long.

Also, don’t forget the dew claw (the one further up on their leg) because the dew claw is prone to infections and growing into the skin if it’s not trimmed regularly.

Possible Effects of Fungal Infections in Dog Nails

Early diagnosis is critical for fungal infections because it can help prevent some serious health hazards. Some of the most dangerous conditions among them include bone infections, arthritis, and pneumonia. The chances of these diseases increase several times if your dog had been ill recently. This is because a weaker immune system finds it hard to counter dangerous fungi.

Autoimmune Disease

Another potential cause of nail discoloration is an autoimmune disease called SLO or symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy. There are some breeds that are more prone to this than others including:

  • German Shepherd
  • Schnauzer
  • Greyhound
  • Labrador Retriever

Trauma

A dog’s nail can become discolored because of trauma. They can have their paw smashed in a door or have a nail get stuck trying to get it out of a small space. This can cause trauma to the nail and cause discoloration.

Dog Nails Turning Black

dark portrait of small dog laying down with paw with black nails closest to camera

There could be different reasons for a dog nail to turn black. One of them is the dog nail bed infections. Usually, claw infections caused by bacteria are responsible for making a dog nail black. However, a fungal infection could also be the cause behind nail discoloration. In the case of mild bacterial infections, topical antibiotics are used to treat the disease. However, your dog may require a course of oral antibiotics if the bacterial attack is more severe. 

Genetics is another reason due to which dog nails may turn black. Some dog breeds have dual nail colors. Usually, they have white nails in puppyhood but as they grow up, their nails start to turn black. Similarly, a semi-detached, dying nail may also become black. In these cases, there is absolutely nothing to worry about as they are natural processes. Having said that, a sudden color change in nails should NEVER be taken lightly.

Dog Nails Turning Red

Dog nail discoloration is one of the primary symptoms that refer to fungal infections in dog nails. Even though there could be other reasons (allergies and age) for this color change, it is highly recommended to visit your vet. Typically, red nails are a sign of yeast infection. A lot of people misunderstand this color change and think that it was caused by trauma (accumulation of blood).

The best possible way to determine whether it is an infection or not is to observe your dog. If you notice regular paw licking and chewing, it is most probably a fungal infection. There are various ways to treat these infections but it’s best to consult your vet about the most suitable one.

Dog Nails Turning Brown

Human hand holding white dog paw showing the dog's nails

Just like redness, dog nails turning brown is also an indication of a yeast infection. The dogs that have a history of allergies are more likely to fell prey to such infections. In these scenarios, you may notice that the nails are also growing a bit longer than normal. The color of the quick also turns brown as if the blood has dried inside it. Likewise, infected dogs tend to lick and chew their paws a lot.

Considering the fact that yeast infection can be a little difficult to detect in the early stages, it is desirable to treat the disease at the slightest suspicion. Keep visiting your vet regularly to ensure you get professional advice every now and then.   

Surgical Removal as an Option

Sometimes the nail will stay infected and won’t clear even with treatment. Or trauma can cause a permanent injury.

If that is the case, then your vet may recommend permanently removing the nail. This is usually a minor procedure and can be a good option when other options don’t work.

The Bottom Line on Dog Nail Discoloration

There are a lot of different reasons dogs end up with nail discoloration, but discoloration almost always means trauma or a health issue. It’s a good idea to see your vet if you notice your dog’s nails changing from their normal colors.

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