Dear Dr. Hershey,
My dog’s nails are dry and brittle and look strange. They will frequently crack off to the quick and bleed. Is there something I can do for this?
This sounds like a nail condition called lupoid onychodystrophy. Lupoid onychodystrophy is an autoimmune disease that causes severe claw problems in an otherwise healthy dog. It tends to show up suddenly in young to middle aged dogs. Often just a couple of nails are affected to start with, but eventually most of the nails will become abnormal.
Symptoms of this condition are that the nail cap may elevate away from the quick, or the nails may split and easily break off. When the nail regrows it is generally misshapen and soft.
Diagnosis is usually made just based on inspection of the nails. However, for a definitive diagnosis, biopsy of the nail and nail bed may be necessary.
This is an autoimmune disease which means that the body has mounted an abnormal immune response against the nail bed tissue.
Treatment is aimed at controlling inflammation in the nail bed. This is accomplished with a combination of medication and nutritional supplements. Doxycycline (an antibiotic with anti-inflammatory properties), pentoxifylline (a medication that reduces blood viscosity and inflammation), Niacinamide (a vitamin B supplement), Vitamin E and Omega Fatty Acids are usually prescribed in combination. The cornerstone of treatment is high levels of omega fatty acids and often the nail condition can be managed with omega fatty acids alone after initial treatment.
Omega fatty acids can be found in fish oil, or there is a prescription veterinary diet, called Science Diet J/D, that has very high levels of the most important fatty acids for reducing inflammation, EPA and DHA. If using a fish oil supplement, it is important to get a veterinary recommendation for a good brand as nutritional supplements are not regulated by the FDA. Nutramax has a product called Welactin that is considered by most veterinary nutritionists to be a good brand of supplement. The anti-inflammatory dose of omega fatty acid is 50mg/kg of a combination of EPA and DHA. If you are reading the label on an omega fatty acid bottle, it may say that there is 500mg of fish oil per capsule, but only 100 mg of EPA and 25mg of DHA in this 500mg capsule. The dog that needs 500mg of EPA/DHA will need four capsules of that particular supplement. Also, be careful when interpreting the label as sometimes the bottle will list the dose per serving size, and a serving size may be two capsules.
The prognosis for this condition is generally very good. Most dogs respond well to treatment and within six months almost normal nails can be seen.
Dr. Teresa Hershey is a veterinarian at Westgate Pet Clinic in Linden Hills. Email her your pet questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.