Broken, split, torn or peeling nails can happen at any age. They’re not fun for the dog who may limp, bleed or lick their damaged nails. Split nails can cause a dog to lose coordination, disrupt walks and playdates, and even become infected. The best way to treat nail infections and splits is described in “Broken or Split Nails,” WDJ, December 2022. How to prevent the problem in the first instance.
Keep your nails trim
Too-long nails are brittle, and can cause injury. They may also snag on furniture, carpets and other surfaces. Regular grooming, long walks on surfaces which wear down the nails, and learning to use clippers, or a Dremel rotating tool grinder, all help to prevent splits. The Importance of Trimming Dog Nails, WDJ April 2016
Preventing disease through nutrition
It takes four to six month for nails to grow. So, changing your dog’s food won’t give you results overnight. Nutrition is a long-term solution that works. According to Dr. White in “Why is my dog’s nail breaking?” (VETzInsight, June 2018), the most common cause of brittle nails is nutritional deficiencies.
Improve your dog’s protein sources. Mary Straus, canine nutritionist at dogaware.com, explains that animal-source proteins such as meat, eggs, fish and dairy products are essential for the health of your dog’s skin, coat and nails. They also support their immune system and central nervous system, aid in wound healing and help build lean muscles. In general, the added food should only represent a small percentage of your dog’s daily calories. She says that if you replace more than 25 percent of calories in a commercial food with treats and chews, it can seriously upset the balance of the diet. Biotin supplements (Vitamin B7) are given to dogs for thinning and brittle hair, scaly and dry skin, skin lesions and hair loss.
White nails are more fragile and prone to break or split than black ones. It is important to keep them short. Photo by Nancy Kerns
Foods that contain biotin, like liver, kidneys and other organs of beef, lamb or pork, as well as poultry organs and eggs, are a natural way to remedy a deficiency. Straus points out that the biotin levels in fresh food are not as high as those found in supplements.
Straus says that for dogs with minor problems, he would recommend adding fresh foods to their diet (eggs and organs) or considering a B complex supplement. If your dog has severe nail issues, consult with your vet to eliminate other possible causes. Then, if biotin is appropriate, you can try megadoses of the supplement for at least six months. Straus recommends only using biotin supplements made for humans.
Fish oil is good for nails. Fish oil can be used to treat brittle and broken nails. Omega-3 fatty acid in fish oil contains eicosapentaenoic (EPA) acid and docosahexaenoic (DHA), which are both associated with the health of canine nails, skin and coat.
In a small clinical trial published in the Swedish journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica in 2014, dogs with symmetrical onychodystrophy were treated with either the immunosuppressant cyclosporine (35-40 mg of EPA+DHA/pound body weight) or fish oil. This was done once a day for six months. The study concluded that both cyclosporine (an immunosuppressant drug) and fish oil (which provides 35-40 mg EPA+DHA per pound of body weight once daily for six months) were equally effective.
Fish oil is primarily made from cold-water fish, such as salmon, anchovy, and sardine. Introduce fish oil slowly to your dog so that it tolerates it. Use an amount that contains 10 mg EPA+DHA per pound body weight per day for healthy dogs or 30-40 mg per pound daily for dogs with health problems.
Look for the certification seals of the National Animal Supplement Council and the International Fish Oil Standard to ensure quality when sourcing or manufacturing.
Collagen supplements might help, too. Collagen is the main structural proteins found in connective tissue and skin. It determines the strength, elasticity, and durability of hair, nails, teeth, and bones. As dogs age their ability to produce collagen decreases. This makes them more vulnerable to injuries, painful joint and bone conditions, and poor coat, skin and nail health.
Supplementation can replace lost collagen, helping a dog to maintain a healthy, moisturised skin, a shiny, soft coat and strong, long-lasting nails. Fresh animal proteins, bones, and tendons all contain collagen. Bone broth or giving your dog chewable bones can be helpful, as well as collagen supplements that are sold widely. Dogs should consume 8 grams of collagen daily per 25 pounds.
Brush-on nail hardener is a great alternative to Super Glue
Super Glue is not suitable for use on dogs. It can cause pain, swelling, and infection if it’s applied to broken or split nails.
Moisturize your toes for stronger nails
Winter is a tough season for dog nails due to the cold temperatures, low humidity and salts and chemicals that melt ice. Protect your dog’s toes when it’s freezing outside.
Musher’s Secret, and other products that moisturize and reduce brittleness of the nails can help to prevent nail splits. You can find herbal salves containing calendula flowers, horsetail herb (shavegrass), or myrrh oil at your local natural foods store. These are safe to use on dogs’ nails and will not damage them. Massage a moisturizing or salve into your dog’s nails, paw pads and nail bed every day or two. You can also make your own products to keep the nails of your dog strong and supple.
When should I consult a vet about my dog’s nails?
If your dog has broken or split nails repeatedly, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. The underlying cause could be a fungal or bacterial infection, an autoimmune disorder such as lupus or pemphigus, allergies, ringworm or other bacterial infections. It may also be an endocrine disorder or an infection called symmetrical lupoid nychodystrophy, which begins in the nail bed of the dew claw and causes pain, disintegrating and misshap
Make a note of every broken or split nail that your dog experiences on your calendar. If he gets more than two per year, you should discuss it with your vet.
Which dogs are at the highest risk of having their nails broken or split?
Nail splits can occur in dogs that are older, athletic, or have long or weak nails.
The genetics also play a part. Amelia White DVM, DACVD is a professor at Auburn University and a veterinary dermatologist. She says that breeds predisposed for autoimmunity caused nail breaking are the Boxer (German Shepherd), Golden Retriever (Golden Retriever), Greyhound, Labrador Retriever (Labrador Retriever), Miniature Schnauzer Rottweiler and Siberian Husky. Breeds that are prone to allergies and cause dogs’ nails to be broken and chewed include Golden Retrievers, Terriers and German Shepherds.
Why are my dog’s nails splitting? Whole Dog Journal.