Dog toenails falling off

My Dog's Toenails are Falling Off?

Nail disorders are relatively rare in companion animals, particularly in comparison with nail disorders in man (1-6), which are numerous and related to various causes (7). Anatomy of the canine claw unit has been well described (1,8,9,10).

Clinical signs (1-4)

Onyxis is by definition the disease of the abnormal looking nail. It can be proximal, distal or it may involve all the nail. It may affect only one nail or be multiple depending on the cause. Perionyxis is the inflammation of the nail fold. Onychoschisis means fissuration (splitting) of the nail. Onychorrhexis is the breaking of a nail which has become brittle. Onychogryphosis is a deformation of the claw. It appears to be elongated and distorted. Onychomadesis is the sloughing process of nails. Onychoclasis is the fracture of the claw. Trachyonychia is a nail disorder in humans characterized by lustreless, longitudinally ridged and rough-surfaced nail plates. Pruritus is rarely observed in nail diseases. Pain is more common. However neither pruritus nor pain will be noticeable in many cases such as onychogryphosis.

Diagnostic approach

This shall be based on history, physical examination and complementary diagnostic aids, including biopsy by amputation or without onychectomy (11).

Consideration of particular diseases (1-4,9)

Traumatic onyxis is a very common disease in the dog. It usually affects only one nail, in particular the thumbnails (digit 1) on the hind legs. The nail is more or less distally broken and pain is usually observed. Diagnosis is clinically obvious. Therapy consists in promptly removing the distal part of the nail with forceps. A bandage is then applied for a few hours. If this is done a few days after the fracture, systemic antibiotics should be used for a week to prevent secondary bacterial infection.

Bacterial onyxis exists in the dog but is much rarer in the cat. In the latter, it is usually associated with an immunodeficient state (FeLV and/or FIV infection, diabetes mellitus etc...). In the dog, it may be idiopathic or secondary to an underlying disease (such as hypothyroidism, or even Cushing's disease). Perionyxis, onychoschisis, onychorrhexis and onychomadesis are usually seen on several nails, with pain as the primary complaint. Diagnosis is made by cytology-which reveals a bacterial pus (degenerated neutrophils, phagocytosis), bacteriology and the response to therapy. Treatment must be based on the removal of broken nails, topical antibacterial therapy and long term systemic antibiotic therapy (based on bacterial cultures and sensitivity testing, Staphylococcus sp. and Gram negative rods often being cultured). Months of careful therapy are needed, until the distal abnormal part of the nail has disappeared. In all cases, and particularly in chronically relapsing ones, an underlying disease should be suspected and, if found, treated. Bacterial pododermatitis, whatever the cause, often leads to bacterial onyxis. Good examples are interdigital pyodermas due to demodicosis and allergic skin diseases. Perionyxis is a prominent feature in such cases. Therapy appropriate to the causal pododermatitis will cure the nail problem if carried out for long enough.

Dermatophytic onyxis is a rare cause of onyxis and perionyxis in the dog, usually with one or a few digits being affected. In Aquitaine, Microsporum gypseum and Microsporum canis have been found to be the dermatophytes which most frequently cause fungal onyxis. Alopecia of the corresponding digit is often observed. Diagnosis is made by Wood's light examination which may reveal the fluorescence of the hair of the digit involved, direct examination and fungal culture of this hair, and histopathology of the nail itself. Skin biopsy and the removal of the third phalanx are unnecessary. PAS staining of the nail is mandatory and reveals the invasion of the nail keratin by the fungal hyphae. Long-term antifungal therapy (griseofulvine, ketoconazole, itraconazole) is necessary until the abnormal part of the nail disappears distally. This may take several months. Other cutaneous lesions should be topically treated simultaneously. Dermatophytic onyxis appears to be extremely rare in the cat. The author has never made such a diagnosis in a feline.

Malassezia perionyxis can be seen in atopic dogs, with a brownish staining of the claw, a greasy exudate in the claw folds and persistent pruritus (12). Malassezia pachydermatis and Candida albicans can be isolated from claws of Bull Terriers affected with lethal acrodermatitis (13).

Onychogryphosis is a classic symptom of canine leishmaniasis. In the enzootic area such a complaint justifies serology and/or a parasitological examination (skin and/or bone marrow cytology). Comprehensive therapy (Lomidine®, Glucantime®, amphotericin B, allopurinol) and a strict follow-up are mandatory.

Onychorrexis and onychomadesis can be seen in chronic cases of pododermatitis caused by ankylostomiasis. Diagnosis is made by cutaneous histopathology and coproscopy.

An inflammatory skin disease of the digits (pododermatitis) is observed clinically in canine atopic dermatitis and food allergy or intolerance. Onychogryphosis is frequent, often associated with perionyxis and redness of the hair on the digits. The nails may appear reddish in dogs whose nails are normally white but this may be due to secondary Malassezia infection. A diagnosis is obviously reached by evaluating all the symptoms observed in these diseases, by skin-testing, serology and elimination diets. Therapy includes allergen eviction, hyposensitization and symptomatic treatment (systemic glucocorticoids, antihistamines, essential fatty acids, topical antipruritic agents etc.).

Auto-immune (and immune-mediated) dermatoses usually affect several digits.

Discoid lupus erythematosus is a not so uncommon cause of onyxis in the dog (3,9,14). In fact, as the disease is symmetrical, as focal thickening and smudging of the basement membrane zone are not seen and as direct immunofluorescence testing is negative, Danny SCOTT named this disease «Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy» in 1995 (15). It is a real interface onychitis. Onychorrhexis and onychogryphosis are the main features of the disease. Other lesions may be seen in other areas of the body, but this is not always the case. Perionyxis is not always pronounced and skin biopsies of the nail bed area may be unrewarding. Amputation of the third phalanx is often the only way to reveal the typical hydropic and lichenoid interface dermatitis. Alternatively, a 8mm punch biopsy of the nail fold can be performed. This technique is applicable mainly to interface onychitis (it seems that in other conditions the resistance of tissues is higher). Immuno-suppressive doses of glucorticoids (prednisolone) may control the disease. Vitamin E and essential fatty acids (omega-3/omega-6 commercial compound) have been reported to be effective in some cases (3,15,16).

Nails and nail beds may be affected in pemphigus vulgaris (17). Onychogryphosis and onychomadesis can be observed. Severe perionyxis is also present, with erosions around the nail bed which are a source of pain. Diagnosis is made by histopathology either by skin biopsies around the claw or alternatively by amputation of the third phalanx. Biopsies of lesions in other body areas may be diagnostic. Only a guarded prognosis should be made. Immunosuppressive therapy should be carried out (glucocorticoids, azathioprine).

Onychogryphosis and perionyxis can be observed in canine pemphigus foliaceus, particularly in severe forms of the disease. A unique case of pemphigus foliaceus restricted to the claws has been diagnosed by E. Guaguere and J.P. Magnol (9). When pemphigus foliaceus is exclusively confined to the footpads onychorrhexis is often observed. The author has seen 2 cases of pemphigus erythematosus confined exclusively to the footpads, with onychorrhexis. Diagnosis can be made by histopathology. In the extensive forms of the disease (pemphigus foliaceus), biopsy of the skin lesions may be diagnostic. In the localized forms, biopsy of the footpads and/or an amputation of the third phalanx may be diagnostic. Immunosuppressive therapy is necessary.

In the cat, pemphigus foliaceus is a possible cause of severe perionyxis. A thick pus is discovered in the nail bed. Diagnosis is usually made by skin biopsy of the other skin lesions. Glucocorticoid immunosuppressive therapy is helpful.

Severe multiple onychomadesis and/or severe onychogryphosis with ulcerative perionyxis may be seen in the bullous pemphigoid group skin disease (a group of auto-immune disorders with subepidermal clefting as a common feature). They may even be the prominent features of this disease, making it a most painful one. Diagnosis is made by biopsy of the skin lesions, particularly of the digits, if there is ulceration around the nail bed. Alternatively, amputation of the third phalanx of an affected digit may be the only way to diagnose such a condition if only nail disease is present. In one case, the author had the luck to establish a diagnosis of bullous pemphigoid by removing nails from a dog with onychomadesis; a small amount of skin tissue still attached to the claw displayed the typical lesions of dermal-epidermal clefting. Therapy is not easy. Glucorticoid immunosuppression is not always helpful.

Systemic lupus erythematosus, cold agglutinin disease, drug eruption and vasculitis may affect the claws (3,4).

Trachyonychia has been seen in a dog with alopecia areata (18). A cat affected with pseudopelade had onychomadesis (19).

In Man, Raynaud's disease is due to a spasm of digital arteries due to cold, which may be either secondary (e.g., to SLE) or idiopathic. It is a cyanotic/hyperhaemic and painful disease. Three female dogs (2 Boxers of 3 and 4 years of age and a 5 year-old mongrel) were suspected by the author to ha

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Dog toenails falling off/double toenails?

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Toenail Falling Off: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options

A toenail that falls off can leave you with an unsightly toe that can cause embarrassment. The medical name to describe a toenail that separates from its nail bed and falls off is onycholysis or onychoptosis. The most common causes of this nail disorder are fungal infection or a toenail injury. However, other types of infections and skin conditions can also cause the toenail to break off. Before the toenail falls off, you may also notice signs of damaged toenail such as it becoming thick, crumbly, and discolored.

There isn’t much you can do when a toenail falls off apart from waiting until it grows back, which may take up to 18 months. However, there are some natural ways to treat thickened toenails to prevent them becoming loose, separating, and eventually dropping off. For example, tea tree oil can kill off fungal infections and stop a toenail crumbling and breaking off. Also, keeping your feet dry can help to prevent fungal and other infections from damaging your toenails.


This article looks at the various reasons why toenails can fall off and what you can do about it. You will learn that there are more reasons than just toenail fungus and trauma to blame for toenails separating from the bed and coming off. At the end of the article, you can find natural treatment options to address the underlying causes of losing a toenail.

Toenail Falling Off – Symptoms

The medical name for a detached nail that eventually falls off is onycholysis and this can affect toenails and fingernails. Vanessa Ngan from DermNetNZ says that the loosening of the toenail from its nail bed usually starts at the tip of the nail and spreads back.1

Usually, one of the first signs of a toenail falling off is some discoloration of the nail. Vanessa Ngan says that part of the toenail may become yellow, white, or green. If the toenail has been injured, you may have bruising under the nail which looks like a yellowish, black spot.

Depending on the underlying cause why you lose a toenail, you may notice other changes in the toenail and nail bed. For example, researchers from Harvard Health report that fungal infections can cause the toenail to thicken and develop a coarse and uneven edge. If the separation of the toenail from the bed is caused by a side effect of medicines or thyroid problem, then the toenail may just become loose from the bed and fall off.2

Generally, onycholysis is a painless condition and there isn’t usually any pain when the toenail detaches itself and comes off. However, if the nail tears off from parts of the nail bed where it hasn’t separated, the condition can be very painful. Dr. William Blahd on WebMD says that if the reason for the nail coming off is due to injury, you may experience pain and secondary infections.3


Causes of Toenail Falling Off

Let’s look in more detail about the various causes of a toenail falling off and why it can become detached from the toe in the first place.

Repeated trauma or sudden toenail injury

A common reason why toenails fall off is due to repeated trauma. Tight-fitting shoes, a heavy object injuring your toe, or improper pedicure techniques are all to blame for toenails becoming damaged and eventually falling off.

The Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology reported that even something as simple as constant pressure from footwear can cause toenail separation from the bed which leads to the toenail falling off.  Also, injury to the nail caused by manicure and pedicure procedures can cause infection and nail bed injury. 3

The Cleveland Clinic reports that frequent injuries to the toes can cause the toenail to fall off from running. This is a condition called “runner’s toe” or “jogger’s toe” and it is often experienced by athletes and marathon runners. Podiatrist, Dr. Georgeanne Botek says that blood blisters can cause the toenail to go black that eventually lift up the toenail which will eventually fall off.4

If your toenail has been injured and you notice bleeding under the nail, you should promptly care for your toenail to prevent it falling off. Dr. William Blahd on WebMD says that simple techniques like putting crushed ice on the injured toe and keeping the foot elevated can help prevent black toenails that drop off.5

You can also prevent losing a toenail due to injury by wearing appropriate footwear. For example, in heavy industries and building work, you should wear shoes that protect your toes from injury. Also, if you enjoy running to keep yourself in good health, wear running shoes that have some extra space for your toes but don’t allow your feet to slide inside your shoe.

Toenail fungal infection

Another common reason why one or more toenails can become detached and fall off is a fungal infection. Yeasts and fungi called dermatophytes can get under the nail and eat away at the tissue in the nail bed. This dislodges the nail and it may start to crumble or fall off.

The Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences reported on the fungal causes of onychomycosis and the effect on the toenail. Fungal infections can cause thickening of the toenail which becomes loose and can be easily removed. Other signs that your toenail is infected with a fungal infection are discoloration, a flaky appearance, and damage to the nail bed.6

Professor Amanda Oakley from DermNet says that Candida albicans can also affect toenails and can cause the nail to lift up and crumble. Usually, the toenail on your big toe or pinky toe is affected. Candida toenail infections will also discolor your nail and cause the toenail to become yellowish. You may also notice redness and swelling around the cuticle.7


To treat nail infections caused by fungi or yeasts, you should use a topical antifungal treatment. At the end of the article, you can find a natural home remedy using tea tree oil for treating fungal nail infection.

Bacterial infection

Sometimes, bacterial infections can get under the nails causing them to separate from the nail bed and fall off. Some strains of bacteria can cause nail infections that turn them green.

The journal Clinical Interventions in Aging says that constant exposure to water, harsh soaps and detergents, and constant trauma to the nail can aggravate nail infections. Studies have shown that elderly people are more at risk of toenail loss and fingernail loss.8

Viral infection

Damage to the nail bed causing the toenail to become loose and fall off can also be the result of a viral infection.

Some studies into the causes of toenails repeatedly falling off have found a connection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. The American Journal of Dermatopathology reported that small repeated traumas to the toenail can cause a viral infection in the nail bed. This can lead to repeated episodes of the nail growing in and then dropping off.9

Psoriasis of the toenail

Psoriasis can affect the toenails and fingernails causing them to become separated from the nail bed and come off. Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes the overproduction of new skin cells. Apart from psoriasis affecting the nails, the condition causes the skin on the palms to flake and generally affects the scalp, soles of feet, and genitals.

According to the Brazilian Society of Dermatology, around 80% of psoriasis suffers will also develop nail psoriasis. Damage to the nail is caused when the nail plate becomes thicker. This can cause the toenails to become pitted, turn white in color, crumbly, and eventually drop off.10

If you suffer from psoriasis and need to get relief from the discomfort the skin condition causes, please read my article on the best natural remedies for treating psoriasis.

Toenail dermatitis (eczema)

Dermatitis (eczema) is another skin condition that can make you lose one or more of your toenails. Dermatitis can be caused by irritants or allergic reactions to allergens. In some people, dermatitis affects the nail bed and results in the typical symptoms of onycholysis like loss of toenails, fingernails, and crumbly nails.

The journal German Medical Science reported that some causes of nail damage are exposure to harsh chemicals and soaps, prolonged immersion in water, and repetitive trauma. Researchers found that very often, damage to the nail caused by eczema happened before signs of eczema on the skin occurred.11

You can help soothe the discomfort eczema causes by using essential oils such as tea tree oil, lavender oil, and chamomile essential oil. You should remember to dilute 2-3 drops of essential oil in a carrier oil like sweet almond oil or coconut oil before applying to the affected skin.


You can also try out one of my great natural remedies for dermatitis relief.

Too much moisture on toenails

Constantly exposing your feet to too much moisture can cause your toenails to weaken, become loose, and eventually fall off. According to DermNet, this could happen if your feet are immersed in water for a long time.1

However, according to Doctor of Podiatric Medicine, Dr. Myron Bodman, a combination of repeated micro traumas in a moist environment (for example, in shoes) can cause infections to get into the nail bed and result in loss of the nail.12

Uncommon Causes of Toenail Loss

Apart from the common reasons why toenails fall off like trauma and fungal infections, there are some other uncommon reasons that can cause you to lose a toenail.

Some medications can cause loosening of the toenail making it fall off. Dr. TIlmann Oppel reported in the journal German Medical Science that medications for rheumatoid arthritis, some antibiotics, and some antivirals can cause nail shedding.11

DermNet reports that anemia can cause changes in the nail that make them brittle, crumbly, and can cause toenail loss.1 Some other signs of anemia are pale skin, shortness of breath, and cold hands and feet.

A thyroid disorder can be a reason why a toenail breaks off easily and doesn’t grow back properly. Researchers from Harvard Health report that one of the symptoms of an overactive thyroid gland is nails that easily fall off.2 Dermatologists say that once the issue of hyperthyroidism has been addressed, your nails should regrow properly and not fall out again.

Yellow nail syndrome is a rare condition that can cause one or more nails to fall out. According to DermNet, the toenails may appear thick, yellowish, and appear to stop growing. Some topical vitamin E solutions have helped restore nail health.13

Natural Treatment options for Toenail Falling Off

If the toenail has been damaged and shows signs of an injury like discoloration and bruising, there is usually little you can do to repair the damaged nail. However, you can use crushed ice immediately after a toenail injury to minimize the chances of nail separation. You can find below detailed instructions on how to care for your toenail after injury.


Doctors from the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology say that you should cut off any unattached nail. This will prevent the rest of the nail tearing off and causing more injury to the nail bed. Also, you should keep the affected toenail as dry as possible to help speed up the healing process.14

Dermatologists say that other treatments for toenails falling off involve treating the underlying cause of the problem. For example, if you lose toenails because of a fungal infection, you should treat the infection to restore good nail health. You can do this using tea tree oil.

Antifungal tea tree oil

Being a natural antifungal agent, tea tree oil has a number of benefits for skin and nail health. Tea tree oil can help cure dandruff and get rid of acne naturally. A topical application of tea tree oil can also help to rid your nail of fungal infections to stop them crumbling and becoming loose.

The Journal of Family Practice reported that tea tree oil is just as effective as some antifungal nail treatments. One study found that treating fungal-infected toenails with tea tree oil was just as effective as the pharmaceutical drug clotrimazole (used to treat yeast infections). After 6 months of therapy, both groups had the same success in getting rid of toenail fungus and onychomycosis.15

How to use:

Tea tree oil can be used to get rid of fungus from the toenail without diluting. This is what you should do to get rid of onychomycosis:

Gently file and trim any crumbly and loose bits of the nail. Put a few drops of tea tree oil on the end of a cotton swab. Paint the tea tree oil on the affected toenail to cure onychomycosis and prevent the toenail from falling off. Repeat 2 times a day. Repeat for several months until all signs of fungal infection are completely gone.

You should remember that diligence is necessary because it may take several months to completely get rid of the fungal infection. This is because the infected nail has to grow out before the fungus disappears completely and a new, fungus-free, nail grows back in.

How to treat injured toenail

If your toe has been injured, quick treatment can help to reduce bleeding under the nail and prevent it turning black. Prompt home care for your toenail can also help prevent infections to your toe that can make it fall off.

Doctors from the WebMD recommend using ice to prevent bruised toenail. This is what you should do as soon as possible after injuring your toenail.17

  • Put crushed ice in a sealable plastic bag and wrap in a thin towel.
  • Keep your foot elevated to prevent blood flowing to the injury.
  • Hold the ice pack on for 10-15 minutes on the injured toenail, then rest for 5 minutes.
  • Repeat for 2-3 times each session to reduce the chance of developing damaged toenail which can cause it to fall off.

Remember to see your doctor if the swelling and buildup of blood under your nail is painful or if you have any other concern.

How to Prevent Losing a Toenail

There are a number of ways to prevent losing a toenail by caring for your feet and nails. Dr. Melanie Hecker on Medscape recommends some practical ways to prevent and avoid losing toenails:16

  • Trim your toenails to a comfortable length to prevent repeated trauma from everyday walking.
  • Wear proper fitting shoes to avoid repeated trauma to the toenail and especially your big toe.
  • Keep toenail beds dry and free from moisture to prevent toenail fungus. You can use a hairdryer on a low heat to dry toenails after showering.
  • Avoid using harsh soaps to wash your feet.
  • Don’t allow your feet or toenails to come into contact with irritants.

Read these related articles:

Article Sources

DermNetNZ. Onycholysis. HealthHarvard. Onycholysis. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2015 May;29(5):848-53. ClevelandClinic. Tips to protect your toenails. WebMD. Nail problems and injuries. Indian J Pharm Sci. 2008 Nov-Dec; 70(6): 710–714. DermNetNZ. Fungal nail infections. Clin Interv Aging. 2015; 10: 265–267. Am J Dermatopathol. 2015 Apr;37(4):329-33. An Bras Dermatol. 2014 Mar-Apr; 89(2): 312–317. Ger Med Sci. 2003; 1: Doc02. StatPearls. Onychomycosis. DermNetNZ. Yellow nail syndrome. AOCD. Onycholysis. J Fam Pract. 1994 Jun;38(6):601-5. Medscape. Onycholysis treatment & management. WebMD. Nail problems and injuries.
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