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Lupoid Onychodystrophy in Dogs

Dog sleeping

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 with 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 a top priority. It's also important to be aware of common ailments that affect dogs' nails and paws. 

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

What Is Lupoid Onychodystrophy in Dogs?

Lupoid onychodystrophy is a rare immune-mediated condition that dogs inherit through their genetics. The condition is a form of lupus, meaning it causes the immune system to attack cells that naturally occur in your dog's body. In this case, the immune system attacks your dog's nails. As the cells in the claws die, they become brittle, often causing them to break or fall off.

Lupoid onychodystrophy only affects the nails. It is non-communicable and won't lead to any major health concerns. However, it can cause your dog extreme pain and limit their ability to carry our 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 Causes

Researchers are yet to discover a definitive cause of lupoid onychodystrophy in dogs. Many believe it is a rare immune-mediated disease that is dependent on your dog’s genetics. Scientists have come to this theory because SLO in dogs is more common in some breeds than others. For example, German shepherds, miniature schnauzers, King Charles spaniels, Welsh corgis, English setters and Rottweilers are more likely to develop the condition than other breeds.

Despite the significant genetic influence, symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy can occur in any breed. Therefore, environmental factors might also come into play.

Lupoid Onychodystrophy Symptoms

Canine lupoid onychodystrophy can express itself in a few ways. The symptoms are often subtle, so you have to inspect your dog’s paws and nails and know what to look for. They also tend to be progressive — they will be very mild initially and gradually worsen the longer the condition is left untreated. The clinical signs can present on one or more paws.

Schedule an appointment with your vet if you spot any of the below signs, especially in combination:

  • 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.
  • Activity avoidance: A dog with SLO may show reluctance to engage in physical activity. The condition causes pain and tenderness, so the dog may want to stay off its feet. It may also walk with a slight limp.
  • 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.
  • Broken or deformed nails: SLO weakens the nails, leaving them extra susceptible to damage. Regular use may cause the nails to crack, warp or break.
  • 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.
  • Pus or blood: As weak nails crack, they could discharge blood or pus from the quick beneath the keratin claw.

Lupoid Onychodystrophy Diagnosis

Diagnosing lupoid onychodystrophy in dogs is often a process of elimination. Common lupoid onychodystrophy symptoms like paw licking and nail inflammation are common in many other nail-related diseases in dogs, such as bacterial infections and nail trauma. 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 and 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.

Treatment Options for Lupoid Onychodystrophy in Dogs

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 remove the nail completely. Nail removal is a surgical procedure where the doctor sedates your dog so it won't feel any pain. 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.

Nail Care

nail grinder to weather the claw from the tip down

Consistent nail care can help manage your dog's SLO symptoms. Keeping its nails short prevents parts from breaking off at random. You can use traditional dog nail clippers to manage the length, but it's often difficult to approach the nail with much precision. Instead, try using a nail grinder that weathers the claw from the tip down, allowing you to work carefully.

Prescription Medication

Tetracycline, pentoxifylline, and other immune-suppressing medications can help dogs with lupoid onychodystrophy. The medications suppress the disease. As the condition is immune-related, suppressing it will improve symptoms. It's important to give your dog its medication for the full treatment term your vet prescribes to avoid a relapse.

Lupoid Onychodystrophy Prognosis and Recovery Time

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 6-12 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 on SLO in Dogs

Although rare and not a threat to your dog’s life, SLO can have a huge impact on their well-being, 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.

Last Updated on September 18, 2023 at 8:30 AM

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