Brittle, Cracked Nails: Painful Dog Problem

A biopsy can determine whether a dog’s nail problems are caused by a skin disease.


Q. One of our dogs, a 22-month-old Rottweiler, has severe problems with her toenails. They split to the toe, and the nail actually breaks completely off, exposing the quick. We use styptic powder to stop the bleeding, and have been giving her a fatty-acid supplement for six weeks. The fatty-acid supplements have drastically improved her coat, but we haven’t seen an improvement in her nail strength. We have never had to cut her nails because they have always been extremely short. Our vet seems to be out of ideas about what we can do to help improve her nails’ health.
A. Dry, brittle nails are most commonly due to a skin disease known as lupoid onychodystrophy. Rottweilers are one of the breeds most commonly affected, so there is a good chance that your dog has this disease. 

The disease causes the immune system to become overactive, attacking the nails and nail beds, creating fissured or split nails that never totally heal. Treatment is challenging, and can take as long as six months to see positive results. However, before starting treatment, your veterinarian should first submit a sample for biopsy. This involves a minor surgical procedure, where the tip of one of the toes is amputated so it can be examined by a pathologist.
Once diagnosed, lupoid onychodystrophy is treated with a variety of medications, including vitamin E, fish oil (or the fatty-acid capsules you’re already giving) and a combination of medications. This veritable pharmacy of drugs must be prescribed by a veterinarian, and closely monitored.
Because the nail problems are so painful and uncomfortable, I would recommend proceeding ahead with biopsy and treatment if the biopsy confirms the diagnosis. Ask your veterinarian about lupoid onychodystrophy, or a referral to a veterinary dermatologist.
This is not the kind of disease that veterinarians see every day, so it’s not surprising that your veterinarian is stumped. The information regarding the diagnosis and treatment of all veterinary diseases is too vast for any one veterinarian to memorize. Veterinarians are usually resourceful getting information about anything they may not be familiar with, so give your veterinarian a chance to help your dog.


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Cheryl   Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada, International

10/6/2015 7:55:29 PM

I have a 1/4 teacup poodle/3/4 Maltese cross and her nail are split. My groomer saw her split nails and we are both very concerned.... She is a jumper, could jumping have anything to do with the split nail?

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Leslie - 233329   Lakeside, AZ

5/16/2013 10:21:08 AM

Good information on an unusual problem. thanks

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Mel   Brisbane, International

1/29/2013 12:59:32 AM

Guys my dog had badly splitting nails and I asked many vets and finally one suggested a multi vitamin and omega oil. He has now been on it for just over a month and has had NO MORE splitting nails. He is on omega 3, 6, and 9 oil and aristopet multi-vitamin and mineral! Worked for us!

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Peg   Westfield, MA

6/27/2011 3:56:40 AM

My beagle has this problem and the vet diagnosed it properly. I wanted to get more information. Your answers have been helpful but how did she get this disease?

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