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Lupoid Onychodystrophy in Dogs

dog paw with nails

Dogs use their paws and nails for almost everything in life! They need healthy paws to run, walk, play and dig. They also use their nails to grip objects such as toys and bones. Issues to the paws and nails can therefore drastically reduce the level of fulfillment your dog has with its life. As such, maintaining healthy paws and nails should be of utmost importance for all dog owners.


Unfortunately, symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy (SLO) is a rare genetic condition that can affect your dog’s nails regardless of how well you take care of your pup’s paws. In this article we run through the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease.


Lupoid Onychodystrophy 101

Lupoid onychodystrophy is a rare immune-mediated condition that is predisposed by genetics. It is considered a type of lupus in dogs, the term “lupus” referring to any condition that occurs due to the body’s immune system attacking its own cells. In this case, the lupus affects a dog’s nails, causing them to become brittle, break easily, and fall off. It won’t lead to any major health concerns and isn’t contagious; however, it can cause your dog extreme pain and limit their ability to carry out essential functions.


Thankfully, symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy is rare and only affects 1.3% of all domestic dogs. Nevertheless, it is important to be aware of this disorder in case your dog falls into the percentage and needs veterinary treatment.


Lupoid Onychodystrophy Symptoms

The symptoms of lupoid onychodystrophy in dogs can be quite subtle if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Besides, the symptoms tend to be progressive. They will be very mild initially and gradually worsen the longer the condition is left untreated.


Nevertheless, below are all the signs you should keep an eye out for whenever you inspect your dog’s paws and nails. These clinical signs can present on one or more paws. If you spot any of the below signs, especially in combination, there is a chance your dog has symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy and you should schedule an appointment with your vet:


  • Excessive Licking: SLO in dogs is characterized by excessive licking of the paws and nails. If your dog won’t stop licking its paws, there is a good chance it is suffering from lupoid onychodystrophy or another nail-related condition.
  • Paw Inflammation: A lupoid onychodystrophy dog will have swollen and inflamed paws. Specifically, lupus in dogs’ nails causes the nail beds themselves to swell, turn red, and become inflamed.
  • Claw Loss: In the early stages of the disease, you might notice the separation of the nail from the skin. However, as the disease progresses, your dog will start to lose its nails. One or two claws may be lost initially but all claws on the affected feet can be gone within a few months if left unattended.

Lupoid Onychodystrophy Causes

The causes of lupoid onychodystrophy are unknown. However, researchers believe it is a rare immune-mediated disease that is dependent on your dog’s genetics. Scientists have come to this theory as SLO in dogs is more common in some breeds than others. For example, German Shepherds and Rottweilers are predisposed to developing the condition, whereas other breeds aren’t as much.


With that said, symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy can occur in any breed. Therefore, environmental factors might also come into play. The good news is that the medical disorder is not contagious and cannot be passed on to you or other pets.


Lupoid Onychodystrophy Diagnosis

Paw licking and nail inflammation are common symptoms of many nail-related diseases in dogs, such as bacterial infections and nail trauma. Therefore, your vet will begin the diagnosis by ruling out the other possibilities when conducting a full physical examination of the paws. This includes taking a sample of the skin to test for infections, as well as looking for signs of physical injury on the paws.


Endocrine diseases can also lead to similar symptoms in dogs, so your vet will also conduct blood and thyroid tests to eliminate these as disease options. If all other medical conditions are ruled out, your dog will likely be diagnosed with symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy.


Lupoid Onychodystrophy Treatment

The treatment for lupus in dogs’ nails varies between cases depending on the disease progression. Here is an overview of some of the treatments your vet may recommend. Most vets will suggest combination treatment that includes several of the below options:

  • Nail Removal: Lupoid onychodystrophy can be extremely painful and loose claws run the risk of getting caught and ripping off. Therefore, your vet might sedate your dog and remove the nail completely. In less severe cases, good paw care and regular nail trimming will suffice.
  • Fatty Acid Supplements: Vets might suggest fatty acid supplements for treating SLO in dogs. Specifically, EPA and DHA have been shown to reduce inflammation and improve the nail condition of dogs with lupoid onychodystrophy. Most dogs respond well to this treatment and nails are back to normal in around six months.
  • Dietary Changes: Dietary changes can also be useful for improving the symptoms of lupus in dogs’ nails. This can be one way in which you can increase your dog’s intake of fatty acids. Increased levels of Vitamin E – a substance vital for strong nails – is another dietary improvement shown to be effective.
  • Prescription Medication: Tetracycline, pentoxifylline, and other immune-suppressing medications can help dogs with lupoid onychodystrophy. As the condition is immune-related, suppressing it will improve symptoms.

Whichever treatment combination your vet prescribes, be aware that it will take some time to see results. Moreover, treatment combinations are often adjusted several times to find the most effective solution for your dog. It takes around six to twelve weeks on average to start seeing positive results, and several months more for the nails to return to normal.

The recovery of symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy in dogs also varies on a case-by-case basis. Some dogs will have strong and healthy nails after one round of treatment. However, others will require lifelong medication to keep their nails in good condition.

Final Thoughts

Although rare and not a threat to your dog’s life, SLO can have a huge impact on their wellbeing, fulfillment, and happiness. Dogs use their paws for almost everything, and damaged nails can be detrimental to many of their essential functions.


If you suspect your dog has SLO, don’t hesitate to book an appointment with your vet. They will run tests to confirm the diagnosis and prescribe treatment. With good combinational therapy, full recovery is possible and your dog can live a healthy and happy life.

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