2001-Mon Jan 16 12:37:25 MST 2017
Vetstreet. All rights reserved.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
Finding a broken toenail on your pet’s foot can easily be attributed to vigorous backyard
digging or an exuberant session on the
scratching post, but a broken nail may sometimes signal something more serious and should always merit at least a call to your veterinarian. Here are some examples of problems that a broken toenail or painful toe can signal.
Bacterial, fungal and yeast infections are common in the feet and nail beds of
dogs and cats, especially those with allergies to substances in the environment like dust, mold and pollen. A botched
nail trim or a broken toenail can also lead to a nail infection if the site is exposed to contaminants. Signs of an infection may include
excessive foot licking or limping. You may notice redness and oozing from the junction between the nail and toe. Severe infections can cause nail discoloration and the nail may become brittle. Your veterinarian may advise soaking the area and may prescribe oral antibiotics or antifungal medications to resolve these conditions.
Veterinarians have long been aware that large breed, dark-coated dogs like black Labradors,
Briards and black standard Poodles have an increased risk of developing a certain type of malignant (cancerous) tumor in the toes. These tumors, called
squamous cell carcinomas, can destroy the bone and cause the nail to break easily. You might notice some blood spots on the carpet or your dog licking at one particular toe. An interesting feature of toe squamous cell carcinoma is the fact that light-colored (white, cream, apricot and red) purebred standard
Poodles seem resistant to developing this tumor (although keep in mind light-colored dogs of other breeds can and often do). A fascinating recent genetic study explored the connection between toe squamous cell carcinoma and coat color in Poodles and identified two genes linked to coat color that are involved in the manifestation of this worrisome tumor. The researchers found that one of the genes, which is protective against the tumor, is lacking in black-coated
Poodles. Since the study was limited to Poodles, the information cannot be generalized to all light-colored dogs. Additionally, whether this seeming immunity to toe squamous cell carcinomas extends to some of the designer Poodle mixed breeds, such as
Labradoodles, is unknown at this time. Regardless of coat color, any dog with toe swelling should be examined by a veterinarian, who may recommend radiographs (X-rays) and possibly a
biopsy of the toe.
Melanoma, a cancerous tumor of pigment cells, behaves differently in dogs than in humans. We fret about freckles and other pigmented spots on our human skin. However, in
dogs, pigmented spots on the skin are usually benign because malignant melanoma occurs in the mouth and at the junction between the nail and the first toe bone. Like toe squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma of the toe can destroy the bone, weaken the nail and cause the nail to break off. In the early stages of this deadly tumor, you may see redness or weepiness at the junction between the nail and the toe. If left untreated, toe melanoma tends to spread throughout the body, making early detection a lifesaver. As with squamous cell carcinomas, detection requires a visit to a veterinarian, where a
radiograph of the toe and potentially a biopsy are likely interventions.
Melanoma is extremely rare in
cats and, while squamous cell carcinoma does occur in kitties, it does not typically do so in the feline toe. But in a strange twist of cancer behavior, cats can get toe tumors. These bizarre tumors just happen not to originate in the toe. When a cancer specialist like me examines a cat with a swollen toe, our first impulse may seem strange to the cat’s family because we are very anxious to X-ray the cat’s chest. The reason for this is that the chest X-ray will determine if the toe swelling has spread (or metastasized) from feline lung cancer. This odd occurrence in
cats is well known to veterinary oncologists as lung-digit syndrome. Identifying lung-digit syndrome is critical since there is no real treatment and palliative care measures should be instituted immediately.
For all these reasons, if you notice your pet licking his feet beyond normal grooming behavior or if you come across a broken nail, check each one of his toes for swelling, oozing or pain. Licking at one particular toe, especially if there is swelling or redness, should not be ignored and a trip to your veterinarian is in order. Early detection of a toe tumor can increase the chance that successful treatment can be employed to make your
pet a cancer survivor or at least help extend the length and quality of his or her life.
More from Vetstreet:
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Get all the best pet news and information sent right to your inbox!
Thank you for subscribing!
Electronic cigarettes may be growing in
popularity, but their higher concentrations
of nicotine can poison cats and…
Are you handling your pet the right way?
Our vet shares five things your pup wishes
you knew about picking him up.
We combed through 505,270 kitten
names to determine the hottest male
and female monikers of the year.
We scoured our database of 1.1 million
dogs to find out which male and female
monikers reigned supreme this past…
The laid-back American Wirehair’s crimped, coarse coat requires almost no brushing or combing.
Check out our collection of more than 250 videos about pet training, animal behavior, dog and cat breeds and more.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.