Nail Infections in Dogs

Brittany Kleszynski, DVM
By Brittany Kleszynski, DVM on Nov. 15, 2023
A dog gives their pet parent their paw.

In This Article


What Are Nail Infections in Dogs?

Paronychia, also known as a nail infection, is relatively common in dogs. This condition results from trauma or injury to the skin surrounding the nail, which allows bacteria or fungus to invade the tissue and cause an infection.

Onychomycosis refers to a fungal nail infection. Generally, multiple nails are affected. Onychomycosis is characterized by yellow to brown discoloration of the affected nails and surrounding skin. In some cases, thick discharge may collect at the base of the nails.

Fungal infections generally have a strong odor and the affected nails may become thick, flaky, and weak. Most fungal nail infections are caused by a yeast called Malassezia. Less commonly, ringworm may be the culprit.

Bacterial infections are usually localized in one nail. The nail itself typically appears normal, but the surrounding skin may be red, swollen, and warm to the touch. Pus and blood may ooze from the nail bed.

Nail infections should be evaluated promptly by your veterinarian, especially if the nail is broken and the quick (the part of the nail that contains blood vessels and nerves) is exposed.

Nail bed infections are quite painful for dogs, and prescription pain medications may be helpful. Left untreated, nail infections can progress and cause severe damage to the skin and nail.

Symptoms of Nail Infections in Dogs

Signs of nail infections in dogs include:

  • Discolored nails

  • Yellow or white discharge at the nail base

  • Thick, flaky, or peeling nails

  • Swelling or redness at the nail base

  • Frequent licking of the affected paw

  • Pain

  • Limping

If you notice any of these signs, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

Causes of Nail Infections in Dogs

The most common cause of a nail bed infection is trauma or injury to the nail or the skin surrounding the nail. Running, jumping, and playing can cause damage to these areas and increase the risk for infection.

Large-breed dogs are more commonly diagnosed with nail infections, simply because they tend to spend more time outdoors participating in activities that can injure their nails and expose them to dirt and bacteria.

Bacteria and fungi flourish in moist environments, so dogs who chronically lick their paws—often because of an underlying environmental or food allergy—may develop nail infections.

Overgrown nails that curl around and touch the paw pads can cause irritation and wounds that can also lead to infection.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Nail Infections in Dogs

There are various ways to diagnose paronychia in dogs.

First, your veterinarian will examine your dog’s leg and paw. If you are aware of any trauma or injury that has occurred to your dog’s nails, it is important to let the veterinarian know so they can correctly diagnose the problem.

Your dog will also be observed while walking to identify any signs of lameness, such as limping or pain.

Tests that may be used to diagnose a nail infection include:

  • Cytology—Discharge from the nail bed is collected with a cotton swab and examined under a microscope to identify bacteria, fungi, and inflammatory cells. Alternatively, a piece of clear tape can be pressed onto the skin surrounding the nail to collect a sample for microscopic examination.

  • Fungal or bacterial culture—A sample collected from the nail bed is sent to a laboratory to determine the type of bacteria or fungi causing the infection, and specific medications that will be effective.

  • Wood’s lamp—If your veterinarian suspects ringworm, a Wood’s lamp (i.e., black light) can be used to illuminate the fur at the nail base. If ringworm is present, the fur will glow yellow or green.

  • X-rays—Images of the paw and affected nail may be taken to determine if bone is involved or if the infection is limited to the skin and soft tissue.

  • Biopsy—If the infection is severe, a small skin sample from the nail bed may be removed and submitted to the laboratory. This is especially helpful if the infection is not responding to treatment. The area is numbed with a local anesthetic to prevent pain.

If you suspect your dog has a nail infection, don’t try to remove any part of the nail or apply any medications before consulting your veterinarian.

If the nail is bleeding, you may apply pressure until the bleeding stops and loosely bandage the wound before going to the vet.

Never apply a tight bandage for any length of time, as this can cut off circulation to your dog’s paw and lead to serious injury.

Treatment of Nail Infections in Dogs

Treatment for a nail bed infection involves oral or topical medications and bandaging. Oral antifungal drugs or antibiotics may be prescribed, based on the source of infection.

Pain medications may be given to reduce inflammation and discomfort while the infection clears up. Chlorhexidine wipes may also be sent home to cleanse the area.

Your pup’s veterinary team may apply a bandage, which will stay in place for two to three days and until your dog is rechecked. During your dog’s follow-up the bandage will be changed or removed, depending on whether the infection is improving.

For severe infections or infections that are not improving despite treatment, surgery to remove the affected toe may be necessary.

Recovery and Management of Nail Infections in Dogs

It’s important to keep the affected nails clean and dry during recovery to prevent the infection from worsening.

Before letting your dog go outdoors, cover the affected paw and ensure they are not able to dig in the dirt. It may be helpful for your dog to wear a padded boot when they go outdoors. Walking your dog on a leash for potty breaks can also help prevent them from causing further injury.

Most nail bed infections resolve in seven to 10 days. If the nail is broken, it will take several weeks or months to regrow, but the swelling and inflammation should resolve by the time your dog’s oral medications are finished.

Prevention of Nail Infections in Dogs

To prevent nail bed infections, keep your dog’s nails trimmed so they aren’t touching the ground when they walk.

If you are unsure how to safely trim your dog’s nails, ask your veterinarian to teach you.

Additionally, make sure to treat any underlying allergies to prevent your dog from chewing and licking their paws, which increases infection risk.

Nail Infections in Dogs FAQs

How do I know if my dog has nail fungus?

A few telltale signs that your dog may have nail fungus are yellow to brown discoloration of the nail, a strong odor, or thickened, flaky nails.

Can I use hydrogen peroxide on my dog?

Although we clean our wounds with hydrogen peroxide, it shouldn’t be used for the same purpose in dogs. Hydrogen peroxide can lead to more discomfort and irritate the affected nail bed.

Safe and gentle alternatives, such as chlorhexidine, can be provided by your veterinarian to clean the area.

Featured Image: Fenne/iStock / Getty Images Plus

Brittany Kleszynski, DVM


Brittany Kleszynski, DVM


Dr. Brittany Kleszynski is a veterinarian and freelance medical writer who specializes in creating meaningful content that engages readers...

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