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Published: Saturday, 11/1/2008

Dog's nail infection can become serious

Dear Dr. Thompson: My 15-month-old German shepherd is licking his paw constantly. When I had a look at his paw I found a small, red, inflamed toenail which was tiny compared to his other toenails. I took him to the vet last week and he said it looked like an infection, and that it was quite serious. The vet also advised me that my dog might have to lose his toe if this does not clear up. I really don't want this to be done. I have been trying to clean and cover my dog's foot when he goes out, but it is so painful he won't let me touch it. Can the vet just take the toenail away instead of the whole toe? My dog does suffer from allergies. Could this be the cause?

ANSWER: A nail bed infection can be very difficult to clear. Bacteria, yeast, or a combination of both can be growing under the nail. If yeast is the culprit, antibiotics may not have any effect. The concern expressed by your veterinarian stems from the fact these infections can settle into the bone and be extremely difficult to cure. In extreme cases amputation may be the only option. Your dog would be young for cancer, but nonhealing nail-bed infections can signal an aggressive tumor in older dogs. Eventually, an X-ray may be needed to evaluate whether the bone is involved.

The anatomy of a dog's toenail is slightly different than people's, so simply removing the nail is rarely enough. The bone at the end extends out into the toenail underneath the quick, or blood supply. If you remove the nail, the tip of the digit is exposed to the elements and the infection can worsen.

Dogs that lick their feet from allergies are more prone to infections from the constant moisture and trauma. Patience is essential because these infections take time to fully heal. Over time the sensitivity will decrease and you may be able to protect the foot with a wrap. However, any moisture trapped around the toe can make the situation worse, so please do not leave the wrap on for long.

Dear Dr. Thompson: I have a pointer/lab mix whose pads "feather" or separate the way a feather does. Sometimes she will start to lick them, possibly from allergies, and in one or two days they are raw. What causes the feathering? Is she missing something in her diet, or do I need to put a lotion on them? I don't know if it is because they are not tough enough or a dryness problem.

ANSWER: Some dogs develop an excess of keratin, or the building blocks of nails and pads, that can take on a crusty appearance on the pads or noses of dogs.

This condition, called nasodigital hyperkeratosis, is a benign condition that gives a characteristic feather to the edges of pads. Careful trimming of the pads or soaking the feet in a compound called propylene glycol can hydrate the pads and minimize excessive growth of keratin. These pads can be painful if they crack and bleed. The good news is that this condition can be managed with simple steps taken at home.

Questions for Dr. Thompson can be e-mailed to askthevet@theblade.com or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 North Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.



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