What Is The Condition Where Dogs Toenails Fall Off?

Onychomadesis is a condition in dogs where the toenails become detached and fall off. It is also sometimes referred to as symmetric lupoid onychodystrophy (SLO). The main symptom is shedding and loss of toenails on multiple feet, often eventually affecting all feet. While the specific causes are unknown, it is thought to be an immune-mediated disease that leads to inflammation and detachment of the nail beds. Some potential triggers may include trauma, infection, drugs, hypothyroidism, or hyperadrenocorticism. However, most cases are idiopathic (no known cause). Diagnosis involves ruling out other potential causes through lab tests and examination. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and may involve immunosuppressants, omega-3 fatty acids, and avoiding trauma to nails. With treatment, most dogs regrow healthy nails within several months. Onychomadesis itself is not directly life-threatening but can impact quality of life. Early veterinary care and identifying any underlying disease is important.


The most common symptom of canine toenails falling off is the toenails becoming loose and eventually detaching from the nail bed. This occurs due to the disruption of the nail matrix and associated structures that anchor the nail in place. Dogs may first show signs of licking or chewing at their nails due to discomfort or pain (onychalgia). Lameness or limping on the affected paw may also occur.

Detachment of the nail typically starts at the nail tip and progresses toward the base as the condition advances. In severe cases, the entire nail may slough off, leaving behind an exposed nail bed. This can be quite painful and prone to secondary infections. Owners may find their dog’s lost toenails around the house. Most dogs with this condition lose nails on multiple feet, often in a symmetrical fashion.

(Source: https://www.medvet.com/lupoid-onychodystrophy-in-dogs/)


Some of the most common causes of toenails falling off in dogs include:

  • Systemic diseases like lupoid onychodystrophy, systemic lupus erythematosus, and pemphigus foliaceus can lead to autoimmune destruction of the nail matrix resulting in onychomadesis (nail loss).
  • Infections such as demodectic mange and leishmaniasis can also cause nail loss due to damage to the nail bed.
  • Drug reactions to medications like corticosteroids, chemotherapeutics, and sulfonamides can disrupt nail growth.
  • Trauma from injuries, burns, frostbite, or nerve damage can detach the nail from the nail bed.
  • Poor nutrition, especially deficiencies in vitamins and minerals like biotin, zinc, and selenium, can impair nail health.

According to research, “Claw disease in dogs”, systemic disease is the most common cause of onychomadesis, followed by drug reactions, infections, and trauma (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6005070/). Proper diagnosis helps identify the underlying cause to guide appropriate treatment.


To diagnose onychodystrophy or nail disease, the veterinarian will first perform a physical examination of the dog’s paws and nails. They will look for signs of inflammation, nail deformities, or missing nails. The vet will also take the dog’s full medical history to look for potential causes like autoimmune diseases, infections, or trauma.

The most common diagnostic tests for onychodystrophy include:

  • Blood tests – Bloodwork helps rule out systemic illnesses. Elevated blood urea nitrogen (BUN) levels may indicate kidney issues.
  • Biopsy – Taking a small nail clipping for biopsy allows the vet to examine the sample under a microscope. This helps identify abnormalities in the nail bed.
  • Bacterial culture – Swabs of the nail bed can be cultured to test for bacterial or fungal infections.
  • Skin scraping – Scrapings from around the nails are examined for ringworm fungus.

According to the MedVet, “The diagnosis of [lupoid onychodystrophy] is made based on clinical signs, diagnostic tests to eliminate other differentials, and histopathology.” Careful analysis of these factors allows the vet to reach a definitive diagnosis.


Treatment focuses on addressing the underlying cause and providing symptomatic relief. Common treatments include:

  • Antibiotics like tetracycline or doxycycline to reduce bacterial infection (Waisglass, 2018).
  • Antifungals like itraconazole to treat fungal infections of the nail.
  • Nutritional supplements like omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil (Ziener, 2014) and vitamin B3 (niacinamide) to improve nail health.

Treatment duration varies but often takes 2-3 months to see improvement. Addressing predisposing factors like allergies or autoimmune disease is also important.


The recovery process for dogs with nail loss conditions like onychomadesis can take several months. According to one study, the median time for dogs to achieve >50% nail regrowth while being treated with cyclosporine or fish oil supplements was around 12 weeks (Ziener et al. 2014). However, full nail regrowth can take up to 9 months in some cases.

During recovery, it’s important to prevent trauma or injury to the sensitive nail beds as new nails start to grow in. Vets may recommend using booties or soft bedding to protect a dog’s feet. Recurrence is common if treatment is discontinued, so following the vet’s recommendations for continuing medication and supplements is key for preventing new nail loss (MedVet). Lifestyle adjustments like dietary changes, omega-3 supplementation, and minimizing environmental allergens can also help manage the condition and prevent flare-ups.

With proper treatment and supportive care, most dogs with nail loss conditions can achieve full regrowth of healthy nails over time. However, the underlying autoimmune disorder remains, so continuing treatment and monitoring progression with a veterinarian is essential.

Lifestyle Changes

Making some adjustments to a dog’s lifestyle can help manage symmetrical onychomadesis and improve quality of life. Some recommended lifestyle changes include:

Providing soft bedding – Dogs with symmetrical onychomadesis may experience discomfort and pain from walking. Providing soft bedding can make lying down more comfortable. Memory foam dog beds or soft blankets can cushion a dog’s feet.

Restricting activity – Limiting walks, playtime, and high-impact exercise can help reduce trauma and irritation to affected nails and paw pads. Low-impact activities like short leash walks may be recommended.

Nail care – Keeping nails neatly trimmed can prevent cracking and injury. Use gentle filing instead of clipping when nails are brittle or malformed. Paw wax or booties may also protect sensitive paws.


There are several ways to help prevent toenails from falling off in dogs:

Proper nutrition is important, as deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals like zinc, methionine, and fatty acids can contribute to nail problems. Feeding a high-quality diet rich in these nutrients can help keep nails healthy. According to: https://www.medvet.com/lupoid-onychodystrophy-in-dogs/ a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids may help treat nail conditions.

Minimizing trauma and injury to nails can also help prevent them from becoming damaged or detached. Keeping nails trimmed to avoid cracking and splitting, avoiding rough play on abrasive surfaces, and preventing excessive digging behaviors can reduce risk of nail trauma.

Treating and preventing parasites like demodex mites may help, as mite infections can sometimes cause nail loss. Regular flea, tick and heartworm prevention and deworming are recommended.


The prognosis for dogs with onychomadesis is generally good with proper treatment. However, the condition is considered lifelong and requires consistent management. If treatment is discontinued, the symptoms are likely to recur. Most dogs with onychomadesis can live normal lifespans if the underlying cause is addressed and their nails are properly cared for.

Potential complications include secondary infections that can occur when nails separate from the nail bed and expose sensitive tissue. Dogs that chew or lick at their falling nails are also at risk for further irritation, inflammation and infection. Keeping the dog’s nails short and monitoring for signs of infection are important to avoid issues.

Early intervention, identifying and addressing any underlying disease, and sticking to the treatment plan are key to ensuring the best possible prognosis. With vigilant care and treatment, many dogs with onychomadesis can live happily with only minimal effects on quality of life.

When to See a Vet

It’s important to take your dog to the vet as soon as you notice sudden nail loss or any signs of limping. These can be indications of lupoid onychodystrophy or other nail/paw conditions that require veterinary attention. Waiting too long can allow infections to develop and the condition to worsen.

Signs of infection like swelling, redness, bleeding, or pus coming from the nail bed mean an urgent vet visit is needed. Even if there’s no obvious infection, any lost or damaged nails can allow bacteria to enter, so seeing the vet right away helps prevent secondary infections.

Make an appointment with your vet if your dog is excessively licking their paws or nails, seems painful when their feet are touched, is hesitant to walk or limping, or loses one or more nails suddenly. Alert the vet to all symptoms you observe so proper treatment can begin quickly.

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