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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Why does my dog bite his nails?

From the mail bag: My dog bites his rear toenails - not obsessively, but every once in awhile.  I don't mind because I don't have to clip them and I even used to do the same thing (bite my nails that is, not his).

Anyway, I'm just wondering if he could be doing any damage to his toes or feet that I'm not aware of.  It doesn't appear to be allergies, because he just bites the nails.

Have you ever heard or seen this?   

When I was a child, I contracted chicken pox.  Needless to say, the bumps were itchy. But I wasn't supposed to scratch.  I found that if I moved my shoulders up and down, my shirt did a nice job of scratching my back for me.  Long after the bumps and the itching went away, I continued to move my shoulders up and down.

According to this website, some muscle tics can develop in childhood and continue into adulthood. Luckily my shoulder problem didn't last a long time.

Dogs can also develop body tics or compulsive disorders or just plain ol' run of the mill habits.
Your pup's nail biting might be completely harmless but it could turn into something  more serious. Something that your dog might turn to when he is bored or nervous. Or it could just become a habit for no other reason other than repetition.
If it's done too often or too excessively, he could injure himself.  Dog's nail quicks can bleed excessively if injured.

It might have started for no reason at all or maybe it started because of a small sticker embedded in the nail or something.

Here are some things to think about.

1. Get a flash light, and maybe a magnifying glass if necessary.  Look underneath the nail.  If the nails are black, it's going to be harder to see, but looking underneath instead of on top might give you a better view.  Look for a foreign object or fungus or anything that might be bothering him.

2. I wouldn't rule out allergies.  That might just be the only part that itches; or your dog might have other allergy related issues that you haven't noticed. . Or his problem could have started out as allergies but then developed into a habit. Carefully look in between the skin folds between his toes and in between his foot pads - look for irritation.

3. Consider that the issue might be on-going. Maybe he's walking on something irritating often. Certain grass, rocks.

4. I mentioned in this post, that I experience referred pain.   Dogs can have the same issue. Science tells us that if a dog is yanked by the neck, he or she could develop eye problems, back problems and feet problems (normally the front feet).  There might be some body areas that affect the back feet - maybe hips or knees. Additionally, direct pain can make a dog chew on that painful area.  The nail bed might be hurting for some reason.

5. Look for any stress that might be causing the issue.

Some things to research and discuss with your vet
A. Keep a log - of foods eaten, activities done, events, pollen counts, etc..
Then look for patterns.
Does the chewing happen more after a long walk? Do you see more chewing after walks in the woods vs walks in the neighborhood?
Do you see more chewing after an altercation with another dog? After socializing with strangers?
Do you see more chewing after he has consumed certain foods?
Do you see any difference when you check the pollen forecast - Cedar, mold, etc.
Do you happen to notice more urination or watery poop when the nail chewing happens?

B. Keep his feet clean and dry.  After every walk or daily or every other day, you might clean his feet then dry them.  Some suggested things to use (check with your vet first)
Hydrogen peroxide and water
Povidone iodine and water
White vinegar and water (highly diluted)
Or just a rinse in distilled water, then dry

C. Talk to your vet or a holistic vet about mild things you can give internally to help with possible infections (You might not want to start with traditional antibiotics right away)

D. Redirect.
Try to catch him before he starts chewing.  You don't want to startle nor scare, nor excite him. And you don't want to make a big deal. But just try to get him to do something else (so chewing doesn't become a habit).
Breaking habits works much better if we can catch the dog before he starts.  Look for a "tell" - something that let's you know he is about to chew his nails.  As soon as you see the "tell", talk to your dog, toss a ball, give a treat, take for a walk, give him a toy etc.. anything to get his mind off of chewing his nails. Stay calm when doing this.
If you can't catch him before he chews, it's okay to redirect after he starts chewing.  Just be careful that you don't reward the chewing.

E. Treat the whole dog.  You don't have to wait until he is chewing or about to chew.  Capture calm whenever you can and reward it. Keep him busy with food puzzles.  Work on the relaxation protocol, etc..

F. If all else fails, make an appointment with your vet (or you might want to do that first). See if your dog needs medical intervention.
Additionally, you might ask your vet if your dog needs a medical collar when you can't watch him.

Has anyone else had a dog who chews his/her nails? Please tell us about it in the comment section.

Email general questions or comments to Replies might be shared on this blog but names will be changed or left out.

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