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Dog Nail Fungus: Symptoms, Causes, & Solutions

Canines walk barefoot, so their paws pick up all sorts of dirt and microbes, making dog nail fungus infections very common. Dogs of all sizes and ages can experience these infections, but working dogs are the most regular candidates.

A whiff of a dog’s paws with infected nails will reveal a musty smell you can’t miss. Proper nail care is the best precaution against fungal nail issues, such as regular trimming with a dog nail clipper.

Many dogs are stoic, so knowing when they suffer from nail issues or other body problems may be a pain. This is why we’ve covered the other dog nail fungus symptoms in dogs and what causes these infections.

What Causes Dog Nail Fungus?

Fungal nail infections (onychomycosis) usually occurs when a dog treads on fungus-laden soil or moldy areas during walks or plays. Wet paws increase the chances of nail fungus in dogs since the fungi thrive in moist environments.  

Dogs also have a complex microbiome in their skin (including around their nails) that contains natural fungi, bacteria, and other microorganisms. If the natural balance of organisms is disrupted, there may be an overgrowth of one kind of fungus.

When a fungal microbe becomes too prevalent in one area of your dog’s body, their immune system may be unable to suppress it. A fungal infection, therefore, results from the overpowering of the immune system by fungi.

Dogs with a healthy immune system  are pretty unlikely to suffer from fungal infections, but those with weak immunity are at risk. Open wounds also increase the likelihood of a dog contracting nail fungal issues.

Fungal nail issues are more common in cats than dogs, although their occurrences in canines are still frequent. The most common fungi that can cause nail issues are 

  • Leishmania, 
  • Blastomyces dermatitis,
  • Microsporum canis,
  •  Microsporum gypseum, 
  • and Trichophyton mentagrophyts.

Some of these are opportunistic fungi. Meaning they have a preferred habitat independent of the host but wouldn’t mind your dog’s nails in the meantime. In summary, the likely causes of fungal nail issues are:

  • Exposure to fungi in the environment
  • Weak immune system and other debilitating health conditions
  • Moist environment 
  • Broken skin or nail injuries.

Dog Nail Fungus Symptoms 

All nail conditions in dogs are deeply alarming. From the possible nail peeling to the refusal to walk, it’s easy to be caught in a panic, but seeing these signs is the first step to giving your pooch treatment.

Identifying nail fungus symptoms in dogs might be challenging because many don’t occur as physical signs, especially early on. Behavioral signs like paw licking are more accurate signs of dog nail fungus and others like:

  • Chewing at the paws and nails due to itchiness
  • Paw and nail licking
  • Indications of pain in severe instances
  • Pus coming out of the nail
  • Difficulty walking
  • Abnormal nail color like red or purple
  • Brittle and soft nails
  • Pododermatitis (inflamed or red nails and toes)

Pododermatitis can be a manifestation of a fungal infection in dogs, which means inflammation of the skin on the toe and around the nail. Canine pododermatitis can affect the nail bed and nails and is caused by infection (bacterial and fungal), allergies, endocrine and metabolic issues, and tumors.

Since most nail infections have overlapping symptoms, it’s best to consult your vet before concluding on the issue.

How Do You Treat Nail Fungus in Dogs?

The most effective medication for fungal nail infections in dogs is topical anti-fungal medication. Vets can also prescribe oral medications in more severe fungal cases, but both are very effective. Fungi can be tricky to treat, because not every anti-fungal medication works on the same strains. This means that broad spectrum anti-fungal creams one gets over the counter may not work on your dog’s specific infection.

The other issue with using topical medicines on your dog’s paws is keeping them on. Many dogs are chronic paw-lickers, so keeping the anti-fungal cream might be quite the task. Solutions for this are an Elizabeth cone and bandaging the area with ointment.

Home remedies that are said to work for your dog’s fungi-infected nails are apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, and oregano oil. Of the three, apple cider vinegar is the most potent, where a diluted solution of water and AVC is in the ratio of 2:1. 

Home remedies are risky, however, because their effectiveness may not be speedy enough for recovery.  ACV is highly acidic and can change the PH in a dog’s skin. This means that when we dilute it, we often dilute it to the point where it does nothing. But if we don’t dilute it, it can cause chemical burns or it can kill the good microbes in a dog’s skin and disrupt the skin’s natural biome, causing further issues.

Also, using a solution with water like the ACV solution can actually cause more harm than good because the moist environment is perfect for fungi. Using essential oils like Tea Tree and Rosemary can help with these infections but be careful that your dog does not swallow them

Because of these, natural remedies aren’t the best for dog nail fungal infections. Sticking to prescribed anti-fungal medicine results in a faster, safer recovery. 

Other Dog’s Nail Disorders

Other Dog’s Nail Disorders

Dogs can experience several nail conditions throughout their lives, especially if they don’t get proper nail care. 

To better understand nail issues in dogs, we need to discuss dog nail anatomy for starters briefly. Nails are attached to a bone called the distal phalanx and are hard, cone-shaped claws. Between the nail and the bone is the quick, which is a fleshy part that provides the nail with nutrients. 

Medical nail conditions result in nails breaking partially or entirely, resulting in an exposed quick. Sloughing involves nails falling off while nails breaking off in segments is called onychorrhexis. That said, common nail issues in dogs excluding fungal infections, are:

Bacterial Nail Infections 

These infections typically occur when an open wound near a nail facilitates the entry of bacteria. Bacterial infections are extremely common causes of nail issues in dogs. As the fun, adventurous animals they are, canines are bound to wander their feet to unfamiliar areas causing unexplained injuries.

Dogs with compromised immune systems are more  likely to develop bacterial infections despite minimal exposure. Bacteria naturally occur in dogs, but when the number increases excessively, the microbes can overpower the immune system. Antibiotics will typically resolve bacterial nail infections.

Trauma or Injuries

Some cases of nails falling off or breaking are due to nail and nail bed trauma. This happens when a dog plays or exercises aggressively with overgrown nails that snag on something and get damaged. 

The impact from jumping, running, or digging on overgrown nails can cause the nail to rip off. Additionally, the nail can hook on something, and if the dog pulls away with enough force, it’s bye bye nail.

Immune Disorders 

Immune-mediated disorders of the nails are widespread and are particularly common in German Shepherds, Gordon Settlers, and Rotties. Other dogs susceptible to the condition are Corgis, Grey Hounds, Schnauzers, Dobbies, and West Highland Terriers.

One example of an immune disorder is Symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy (SLO). It’s a mouthful, so we just call the disease SLO, which is a type of lupus and is essentially an autoimmune disease. Dogs with SLO have incredibly brittle nails that slough off and deformed or splitting nails.

Pemphigus is another immune-mediated disorder affecting the paws that can cause nails to fall off. Dogs with SLO need heavy antibiotic medication and immunosuppressants to improve.

Ingrown Nails

When nails grow too long, they can curl back and dig into the nail bed. This is painful to your dog and may lead to even more infections if left unattended.

Tumors (Cancer)

Sometimes a dog may have a tumor leading to the weakening and eventual falling off of the nail. Squamous cell carcinoma causes bone destruction and nail fall, and you’ll notice lumps and other cancer-related signs like lethargy.

How to Prevent Future Dog Nail Infections?

A few simple tips, like drying paws thoroughly, can make a huge difference in your dog’s susceptibility to nail infections. While dogs used to live in the wild where things like paw and nail care didn’t exist, they’re still susceptible to infections like we are. 

1. Trim Your Dog’s Nails Regularly

Dogs need their nails trimmed with a guillotine-shaped nail cutter bi-weekly or monthly. This prevents overgrown nails, which can cause painful ingrown nails, and injuries if caught on something. 

Dogs’ wolf-cousins run on hard rocks and ground, giving their nails a natural trim. Contrast this to the soft carpet and grass our dogs live in, making nail trimming essential. 

2. Keep A Dog’s Environment Clean and Dry 

A moist space will affect your dog’s paws, causing nasty bacterial and fungal infections. 

3. Dry Paws Thoroughly After Baths

It’s easy for moisture to get trapped in between toes after bathing your dog. This increases the chances of fungi thriving after your dog has walked on during walks. Also, rinse your dog’s paw pads if they’re visibly muddy to minimize microbes.

4. Offer a Better Diet

Protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin B deficiencies in the diet can cause intense skin and nail issues. To avoid them, ensure your dog food is well-balanced and regularly offer supplements like fish oil.

Final Thoughts

A dog’s nails are sensitive and prone to breaking, falling off, and infections. Fungal nail infections are prevalent in dogs and occur when dogs step on fungi, and their immunity can’t fight them off. Anti-fungal medication is the best treatment for these nail issues, both topical and oral.


Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.

Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

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