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My Dog Keeps Chewing Their Nails - Is This Normal?

 
By Matthew Nesbitt, Journalist specialized in animal research. April 20, 2020
My Dog Keeps Chewing Their Nails - Is This Normal?

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While taking care of a dog's coat is essential for their well-being, it is only part of their grooming requirements. Ensuring their nails are kept in good condition is also vital, especially in terms of mobility. Wild dogs will need to rely on hard surfaces in nature to ensure their nails are shorter, but dogs in the domestic environment need us to intervene. Some people may think that a dog biting their nails is a way to simply keep them short, but this is not likely the case. When a dog chews their nails compulsively, there is usually a greater worry present.

AnimalWised looks at why your dog keeps chewing their nails and shows you why this is not normal canine behavior. We also look at some of the ways we might be able to treat this problem.

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Reasons why your dog keeps chewing their nails

The first thing to know if you see your dog keeps chewing their nails is that it is unlikely a serious health condition. This doesn't mean it is easily treatable, but in most cases their physical health isn't in immediate jeopardy. The reasons for a dog's compulsive chewing of their nails are more likely to be related to psychological issues and general nail care.

Your dog may keep chewing their nails due to:

  • Boredom
  • Neglect of nail care
  • Allergies or injury
  • Interdigital cyst
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder

To better know why your dog is biting their nails, we will look at these different causes individually. However, if you are concerned about your dog's behaviors, you will need to take them to the veterinarian to achieve a proper diagnosis.

Boredom

While some breeds or individual dogs may have higher energy levels than others, all dogs will need sufficient mental stimulation to stave off boredom. Dogs need regular walks for various reasons. While exercise is vital, they will also need time to interact with their environment and other dogs, as well as burn off excess energy. If they are unable to do this, boredom can arise.

When a dog is bored, they may carry out many behaviors to relive their frustration. Chewing their nails is something a dog might do when driven to distraction. It is similar to other chewing behaviors, such as chewing shoes, biting pillows or similar destructive behavior. However, while we can replace furnishings, if a dog continues to chew their nails, it is possible they will cause an injury.

If a dog keeps chewing their nails due to boredom, we need to find ways to engage their cognition. This means taking them out more regularly, playing intelligence games and generally keeping them stimulated.

My Dog Keeps Chewing Their Nails - Is This Normal? - Boredom

Neglect of nail care

It is important to know that clipping a dog's nails is an important part of their grooming routine. When a dog's nails become too long, it is a problem. You can tell a dog's nails are too long because they grow past the paw pads. When this happens, they can snag on carpet fibers, get caught on other material and even curl round into the paw pad itself, resulting in injury.

When a dog's nails are too long, they aren't only at risk of breaking a nail, but it can permanently affect their general mobility. Some dogs will have access to hard surfaces which allows them to wear their nails down. Others may have a more sedentary life, meaning their nails won't be naturally trimmed. Senior dogs also have more mobility issues, so we may have to trim their claws more often than younger animals.

The dog may keep chewing their nails to reduce their size and the irritation they cause. For this reason, we need to check on our dog's nails regularly and trim them when too long. We have a video at the end of this article which shows you how it is done, but you can always take them to the groomer if you lack confidence.

Allergies or injury

Boredom is not the only reason a dog may chew their nails to relieve frustration. If there is an injury to their paw pad or nail, they may chew to relieve this discomfort. While an injury may be caused by overgrowth of the nails, it is also possible that they could have stood on something sharp, been stung by an insect or incur some other injury.

When a dog has allergies, the skin can become dry and itchy. While it may look like the dog keeps chewing their nails, it may be that the dog is actually trying to relive their skin problems. It is likely the dog will also be licking their paw. Contact dermatitis is a particular allergy which might have this as a symptom. This is due to their paws touching something on the ground which results in an allergic reaction.

Parasitical infestation may also lead to itchiness on their paws. This is not the case with all parasites, but ringworm is known to affect paws as well as other areas of the body. Treatment will depend on the cause. If it is an injury, any foreign material in the skin will be moved and the tissue repaired. Parasites will be treated with antiparasitical medication, often in the form of a topical cream. Allergies will be treated by removing the allergen from their day-to-day lives.

Interdigital cyst

Perhaps the most uncommon reason why your dog might keep chewing their nails is due to an interdigital cyst. A cyst is a neoplasm, i.e. an abnormal growth of tissue. When they grow between the digits of the dog's paw pads, they often go unnoticed. This is especially the case in longhaired dogs.

Although it may look like a dog chews their nails, it is possible they are trying to get into the space between their digits. We need to check these spaces when we are clipping their nails to ensure there are no abnormal appearances. You can read our article on the topic to know more about the reasons for interdigital cysts in dogs.

My Dog Keeps Chewing Their Nails - Is This Normal? - Interdigital cyst

Obsessive compulsive disorder

Compulsive chewing of a dog's nails may be something known as a stereotypy. This is a repeated or compulsive behavior which is a sign of an underlying psychological problem. Unless the dog has a developmental disorder, it is usually due to stress or anxiety. However, there are many different triggers for obsessive compulsive behavior in dogs. This could be past trauma or even issues associated with a particular breed.

We need to address the underlying condition if we want our dog to stop compulsive behavior. This will first entail going to a veterinarian to ensure the cause isn't medical. Some illnesses may cause neurological problems, especially in older dogs. However, even the pain of an illness may result in such behavior. After this point, we will need to take the dog to a canine ethologist to understand the psychological reason.

The ethologist will be able to help implement treatments to prevent such stereotypies as chewing their nails. These are often related to removing stress from the dog's environment.

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Keeps Chewing Their Nails - Is This Normal?, we recommend you visit our Behavioral problems category.

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