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What Causes Brittle Dog Nails And How To Prevent Them

human hand holding dog paw

Dog nails are strong and rigid, serving multiple purposes, from assistance with running and digging to providing traction and stability. Dog nails are very different from ours, yet they are both made of keratin and can become flaky and brittle for various reasons.


Keeping your dog’s nails healthy is essential to their ability to carry out their daily activities. If uncared for, their nails can become brittle and susceptible to breaks and splits, which can reduce their functioning and cause pain. 


So what do you do if you notice your dog’s nails splitting or cracking frequently? First, you need to establish the cause, then take the necessary steps to improve their health. This article will explain the common reasons for brittle dog nails and how to keep them in top condition.


What Causes Brittle Dog Nails?

External damage

Considering dogs use their nails daily in various activities, accidental damage is not uncommon. Therefore, it’s natural that their nails may break, split or wear down from time to time, especially if they spend a large part of their day outdoors. As a result, a broken dog nail is often due to running on rugged terrain or rough play with a canine friend. In these cases, it will usually be just one nail that is affected. 


External damage also makes nails more susceptible to other nail problems. For example, if a large part of the claw breaks off and leaves the quick exposed, that nail could easily become infected. In addition, dogs with dry and brittle nails are more likely to experience breakage and splitting as the nails tend to be weak, making the whole process go full circle.


Nail Infection

A dog nail infection can occur from fungi (such as ringworm) or bacteria. When your furry friend’s nails become infected, their immune system is compromised, weakening the claws and making them brittle and flaky. 


While external damage typically affects a singular nail, a dog nail infection may affect multiple. Fungal infections, in particular, result in a crusted appearance, whereas inflammation may accompany a bacteria infection. Bacteria entering a small cut around the nail or food/environmental allergies can cause this issue. If a nail infection is present, your pup will likely be excessively licking its paws.


Lupoid onychodystrophy

Another common cause of dry and brittle dog nails is a skin disease known as Lupoid Onychodystrophy. It is a form of lupus that affects the cells around the nails and is an immune-mediated non-contagious condition. Some breeds, such as German Shepherds and Rottweilers, can be more susceptible to developing the disease. However, if caught early, various supplements usually clear it up.


Nutrient deficiency

As we previously mentioned, dog nails consist primarily of keratin. This fibrous protein contains over 90 percent protein, mainly acquired through the nutrients in food. Therefore, cracked and brittle nails can signify that your pup is eating a low-quality, unbalanced diet and not getting the nutrients they need. 


On the other hand, dogs can still get nutrient deficiencies even if they eat a diet high in dog nutrition. This happens if they are not adequately absorbing the nutrients during digestion.


How To Strengthen Dogs Nails

The following tips will help keep your dog’s nails strong and healthy and treat brittle or flaky nails.


Omega 3 supplements

Omega 3 is a fatty acid found in fish oil that contains various health benefits for humans and dogs alike. Giving your pup an Omega 3 supplement every day will lubricate and moisturize your dog’s nails. Omega 3 prevents dryness and splitting and helps the nails grow strong and healthy. In addition, you will see improvements in your dog’s skin and hair conditions, their heart, joints and immune system will receive a health boost too.


Biotin supplements

Biotin is not as well known as Omega 3 but is just as beneficial for dog nail health. It is one of the b vitamins and is an essential part of treatment for dog nail problems such as Lupoid Onychodystrophy. Like Omega 3, Biotin is also good for your pup’s fur coat.


Biotin is safe for canines, and as a water-soluble vitamin, any excess excretes in the urine. You can buy Biotin and Omega 3 supplements from a vet clinic or a pet store. Your pup’s weight will determine the dosage they need, so read the instructions first.


Trim their nails regularly

If your dog spends a fair amount of time outside, it’s likely that they naturally file their nails on the rugged outdoor surfaces. However, not all dogs lead such an active lifestyle. Also, some breed’s nails grow quicker than others, so you should never assume they can keep their claws short on their own. Instead, you should trim them every three or four weeks (or less if needed). Regular nail trimming will prevent overgrown nails, which are often the cause of many nail concerns. If you’re an inexperienced groomer, we suggest using a dog nail grinder rather than clippers, as filing the nails gradually will ensure a safer and smoother finish.


Implement a healthy diet

Feeding high-quality dog food is essential for your four-legged friend’s overall health and the condition of their skin, fur, and nails. It’s best to feed your pup a dog food that meets the nutritional standards established by AAFCO and, thus, is complete and balanced. If you’re unsure what dog diet is best for your particular canine, speak with your vet.


Book a check up with your vet

If you have concerns about your dog’s nails, take them to the vet before doing anything else. Suppose the cause of your dog’s brittle nails is due to an infection or Lupoid Onychodystrophy. In that case, treatment will require prescribed medication. What’s more, severe cases of Lupoid Onychodystrophy may require surgical removal of the affected nails, so having a professional diagnose the cause is crucial.


Final Thoughts

Dog nails serve many more functions than human nails and are more comparable to our fingers than fingernails. Therefore, taking excellent care of this part of your pup is essential. Luckily, you don’t need to have an in-depth knowledge of dog nail anatomy to do so. Instead, keeping an eye on their condition, trimming them regularly, and implementing a nutritious diet will prevent brittle nails and keep them strong and healthy.

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