Unhealthy Dog Nails: Signs and Solutions

Is your furry friend's usual happy romp around the house starting to sound like nails on a chalkboard? Or perhaps you've noticed that your dog seems to be limping or acting uncomfortable? These could be signs that your dog is dealing with unhealthy dog nails. Just like us, dogs need proper nail care to stay healthy and happy. In this post, we'll explore the signs of unhealthy dog nails and provide you with practical solutions to ensure your pet's paws are in tip-top shape.

A close-up of a person's hand holding a dog's paw

Why Nail Health Matters for Dogs

Nail health is crucial for your dog's overall well-being. Healthy dog nails contribute to your dog's mobility and comfort. 

What Do Bad Dog Nails Look Like?

Recognizing unhealthy dog nails is essential for timely treatment. Here are some common signs:

1. Overgrown Nails

One of the most obvious signs of unhealthy dog nails is when they become too long. If you can hear your dog's nails clicking on the floor as they walk, it’s likely time for a trim. Overgrown nails can curl into the paw pads, causing pain and making it difficult for your dog to walk properly.

2. Cracked and Brittle Nails

If your dog frequently experiences cracked or brittle nails, it could be due to a deficiency in essential nutrients. Since dog claws are composed of over 90% protein, insufficient protein in their diet can lead to nail issues.

Weak, dry, and brittle dog nails not only impair their functionality but can also cause pain. Fortunately, you can improve brittle nails and restore their health by making some straightforward adjustments to your dog's diet.

3. Discolored Nails

Healthy dog nails should be a consistent color, typically black or white depending on your dog's breed. Discoloration, such as redness, brown spots, or black streaks, could indicate nail bed infections, fungal nail infections, or bacterial infections.

4. Bleeding or Discharge

Any sign of bleeding or discharge from your dog's nails is a red flag. This could signify a dog nail infection or a more serious underlying issue. 

5. Limping or Reluctance to Walk

If your dog is limping, avoiding putting weight on a paw, or is reluctant to go for walks, it could be due to nail pain. Overgrown nails, ingrown nails, or damaged nails can make walking uncomfortable or even painful for your dog.

6. Chewing or Licking Paws

Excessive chewing or licking of their paws can be a sign that something is wrong with your dog's nails. This behavior often indicates discomfort or pain and could be caused by nail disorders like fungal infections or bacterial nail infections.

What Should Healthy Dog Nails Look Like?

To identify nail problems in your dog, it's essential to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy nails. Healthy dog nails are oval-shaped, being broader at the base near the toe and narrowing towards the tips. Similar to human nails, dog claws consist of the protein keratin.

Typically, the color of a dog’s nails matches the skin of their paw pads depending on your dog’s breed. If the paw pads are pink, the nails will be transparent with a visible light pink. Conversely, if the paw pads are black, the nails will also be black. Regardless of the color, healthy nails should appear smooth and free from splits or cracks.

Your dog’s nails should not extend past their paws. If the nails curve inward towards the paw pads, this indicates they are too long. Moreover, the nails should not touch the ground when your dog is walking. You can tell if they are too long if you hear a clicking or tapping sound when they walk on hard surfaces like wooden floorboards.

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A close-up photo of a brown dog's paw with overgrown, cracked nails.


What Happens if You Don't Trim a Dog's Nails?

Refraining from trimming your dog's nails can lead to many problems. Overgrown nails can:

  • Curl Into the Paw Pads: This causes pain and can lead to nail bed infections.
  • Alter Your Dog's Posture: This can lead to long-term issues with their joints and muscles due to altered gait and weight distribution.
  • Increase the Risk of Breakage: Long nails are more prone to cracking and breaking, which can be extremely painful.
  • Lead to Ingrown Nails: These can become infected and cause significant pain and discomfort.

Understanding and Treating Nail Bed Infections

person wearing gloves and carefully clipping a dog's overgrown nail with clippers

Image Courtesy of Fitness & Health Nextfitlife

Several signs can identify an infected dog nail:

Redness and Swelling: The area around the nail may appear red and swollen.

Discharge: You may notice pus or other discharge seeping from the nail bed.

Odor: Infections often produce a foul smell.

Pain and Sensitivity: Your dog may pull away or show signs of discomfort when you touch the affected nail.

Limping or Reluctance to Walk: Infected nails can make walking painful, causing your dog to limp or avoid putting weight on the affected paw.

If you observe any of these signs, it is crucial to consult your veterinarian for appropriate treatment.

Effective Solutions for Unhealthy Dog Nails

Once you've identified that your dog has unhealthy nails, the next step is to take corrective action. Here are some effective solutions to help you treat unhealthy dog nails and get your dog's nail health back to a healthy state:

Regular Nail Trimming

Many dogs despise getting their nails trimmed, making the grooming process stressful for both the pet and the owner. 

To help your pooch feel comfortable around getting their nails trimmed, start introducing the grooming kit when they are young. 

Gradually incorporate gentle touches and handling of their paws into their daily routine. Positive reinforcement, such as treats and praise, can create a more relaxed experience. Over time, this can help reduce anxiety and make nail trimming a positive and routine part of their care.

The quick is a soft cuticle within a dog’s nail, rich in blood vessels and nerve endings. Accidentally cutting this sensitive area can cause your dog pain, discomfort, and bleeding, which is why it’s crucial to avoid it during nail trims.

Below, we cover everything you need to know about a dog’s nail quick, including how to safely trim your dog’s nails and avoid the quick. Let’s dive in!

What Does the Nail Quick Look Like?

The quick appears as a small pink area within the dog’s nail, shorter than the nail itself and situated between the nail bed and the curve of the nail.

How to Safely Cut Your Dog’s Nails Without Hitting the Quick

Close-up diagram of a dog's claw with labels indicating the anatomy of a healthy claw

Image Courtesy of Four Paws

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you cut your dog’s nails without hitting the quick:

Step 1: Introduce Your Dog to the Nail Clippers

Before you start trimming, introduce your dog to the nail clippers. Gently touch your dog's feet with the clippers and offer a treat as a reward. It’s also helpful to acclimate your dog to the sound, sight, and feel of the clippers before you begin cutting.

Step 2: Pick Up Your Dog’s Paw

When your dog is ready, start by picking up their paw and holding it firmly but gently. Place your thumb under the toe of the nail you plan to cut, extending the toe a bit to make the nail easier to see and to keep the toe steady.

Step 3: Gently Trim the Nail

Carefully trim the nail, being cautious not to cut too far and hit the quick. Remember, the quick is located where the nail curves, so cut before this point. If you’re unsure, it’s better to cut less of the nail; you can always trim a bit more later.

Step 4: Reward Your Dog for Good Behavior

Reward your dog with treats for their good behavior, particularly if they’re anxious or new to the process.

Step 5: Repeat for Each Nail

Repeat this process for each nail until the trim is complete.

What Should You Do if You Cut a Dog’s Nail Quick?

If you accidentally cut into the quick, don’t panic. Your dog’s nail will likely start to bleed. Apply a clotting powder made for dogs to stop the bleeding. If you notice any further damage to the nail or paw, contact your vet immediately for advice.

If you're uncomfortable trimming your dog's nails yourself, consider taking them to a professional groomer or your veterinarian.

Ensuring Proper Nutrition

A balanced and nutritious diet is essential for overall health, including nail health. Make sure your dog's diet includes the necessary vitamins and minerals, such as biotin, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids, which promote strong and healthy nail growth. Talk to your vet about dietary supplements if you think your dog's diet may be lacking. 

Close-up photo of a large brown dog wearing a blue collar and leash laying on the grass.


Regular Exercise

Regular exercise helps wear down your dog's nails naturally. Walking on hard surfaces like pavement can help keep the nails at an appropriate length. Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise to promote overall health and well-being.

Addressing Infections Promptly

If you suspect your dog has a fungal nail infection or bacterial nail infection, it's essential to consult your veterinarian promptly. They may prescribe medications or topical treatments to address the infection and prevent it from spreading.

Professional Grooming

Regular visits to a professional groomer can help keep your dog's nails in check. Groomers are experienced in handling dogs and can make the nail-trimming process less stressful for both you and your pet.

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When to See a Vet

While regular grooming and preventive measures can go a long way in maintaining your dog's nail health, there are times when a visit to the vet is necessary. If you notice any of the following, it's time to consult your veterinarian:

- Persistent bleeding or discharge from the nails.

- Severe cracks or splits.

- Signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or a foul odor.

- Limping or reluctance to walk that doesn't improve with home care.

- Any sudden changes in nail color or texture.

Your vet can perform a thorough examination and provide the appropriate treatment to address any underlying dog nail disorders.


Healthy dog nails are crucial for your pet's overall well-being. Recognizing and treating unhealthy nails ensures your furry friend stays comfortable and happy. Regular grooming, a balanced diet, and prompt attention to nail issues are key. A little care can make a big difference in your dog's quality of life.