Dog biting his nails

Why Dogs Bite Their Nails: 7 Reasons

When a dog bites its nails, it is unlikely to attract your attention. There isn’t any kind of loud noise or a lot of movement, so it’s an easy sign of miss. However, it is often a sign of a larger problem. This problem could be physical or mental.

Either way, it’s not something to ignore if it persists. Obviously, you shouldn’t freak out and run to the vet every time your dog bites his nails. However, a persistent habit of nail-biting will probably not exist without some kind of underlying reason.

Dogs Bite Their Nails To Trim Their length

If your dog is biting their nails, it might just be a grooming behavior. When a dog’s nails get too long, they can become a little more sensitive, and the dog will often try to gnaw them off. Dogs don’t always do this, so keep that in mind.

If you think that your dog might just be trying to groom itself, the obvious answer is to help them do so. Trim their nails for them, and be careful. A dog’s paw-nail will have a vein inside of it, which is commonly referred to as the “quick.”

When you trim your dogs’ nails, be sure you do not cut into this vein under any circumstances. It will cause them a lot of pain, a fair bit of bleeding, and it will also expose them to the possibility of infection in an area that is difficult to bandage.

Dog 's nails

Dogs Bite Their Nails For Cleanliness

Sometimes, a dog will damage one of their nails in the course of their normal rowdy activities. When this happens, they will often try to gnaw off the remaining piece. If this is the case, don’t interfere because it’s a good thing.

Although dogs do not lick themselves all over for grooming purposes as a cat does, they do still sometimes lick their paws and nails for the purpose of cleaning them. They will often chew their nails a little bit in the process.

If they only do it when their paws are dirty, then you can probably write it off as a grooming behavior and thus, no great cause for alarm. If they lick and chew regardless of the condition of their feet, then you can safely say they aren’t grooming.

Dogs Bite Their Nails Because Of Allergies

One common explanation for this behavior is an allergic reaction. When a dog has a reaction to certain pathogens, it causes a general irritation of the skin. Since the paw pads are very sensitive, they tend to become particularly inflamed.

This irritation causes the dogs to lick and chew on their feet, including their nails. Unfortunately, this only helps the infection to spread faster. Not only does it aid the spread of the original bacteria, but it also aids in the growth of new bacteria.

This often results in an inflammation of the nail beds, meaning the skin just around the nails. At this point, they will really begin chewing on their nails a lot. The most common cause of this problem is a bacteria called Atopy.

Atopy is by far the most common cause of this kind of inflammation. This condition is also often accompanied by watery eyes and a runny nose. Respiratory issues can also result if the problem becomes severe enough.

This kind of infection tends to be seasonal. Your dog is most likely to have this problem in the spring or the fall because that is when this type of bacteria thrives. This bacteria is common in the environment and thus, very hard to avoid.

Your Dog Could Have Dry Skin

Big dog is scratching

Sometimes, dry skin can irritate the paws and nail beds of a dog in a manner similar to a microbial infection. One way that you will be able to recognize this is by looking closely at their skin.

If your dog simply has dry skin, it will be crusty and flaking off, but it should not be discolored at all. There may even be a little cracking to the skin, but there should be no discoloration.

The best way to deal with this problem is through the use of a moisturizing cream or lotion. However, you should not use a product that is intended for humans. Your vet can probably recommend a good solution that is intended for canines.

Dogs Bite Their Nails Because Of Fleas

As you might expect, fleas are not picky as to which part of the canine body they infest. When they start to infest the areas between your dogs’ toes, it can cause the skin around the nails to become very tender and raw.

If your dog has a serious flea problem, they will probably be chewing on themselves all day long. If this includes a lot of nail-biting, you can bet that the fleas are probably responsible for that as well.

This is yet another reason to make sure that you always keep up with your dog’s worming needs. Any lapse in their worm treatments can make little problems like this one a whole lot worse.

Your Dog Could Have Mange

We have already talked about the fact that nail-biting is often linked to an inflammation of the nail beds. Sometimes, this kind of inflammation can be caused by mange. There are two kinds of mange, but only one need concern us here.

Sarcoptic mange is the first kind. This one doesn’t concern us because it is so easy to recognize. It involves discoloration of the skin and massive hair loss. If your dog has sarcoptic mange, they will probably bite their nails, but that’s the least of your worries.

Sarcoptic mange requires some serious medical attention. If it goes too far, your dog will basically end up looking like one big scab. Not only will they look like some kind of rotten zombie dog, but they will also be very uncomfortable and unhappy.

Demodectic mange is the other kind. This infection is characterized by small lesions and large pus-filled sores. Demodectic mange is caused by a type of mite called Demodex. Thankfully, human skin is toxic to these mites, so they are no threat to us.

Why Dogs Bite Their Nails: 7 Reasons

There are many medicines that can be used to treat demodectic mange, but most of them focus on dealing with the mites. The mites keep the infection going by continually spreading it around, so they have to be removed by any means necessary.

I have a home remedy for demodectic mange that has served me well in the past. Before I tell you about this, I should mention that I am not a veterinarian, nor any other kind of doctor. Take my advice for what it is worth.

You can purchase pure sulfur at a pharmacy or a garden store. By mixing this with a dog lotion, you can make an ointment that will keep the mites away, while at the same time ensuring that your dog will not dig and bite to spread the infection.

Sulfur is not toxic to humans or dogs, except in very large doses. It has a terrible smell, which works to its advantage in this case. As soon as your dog gets a whiff of the sulfur, they will abandon all thought of scratching and digging.

I have used this remedy on myself, for athlete’s foot, and it is quite effective. The sulfur creates an environment in which bacteria and other contaminants cannot live. By keeping the mites away, you give the sores time to heal.

As an added bonus, the sulfur will help to alleviate the itching, making it even less likely that your dog will dig at the afflicted places. When you apply the sulfur, it is good to rub it in, as this will scratch their itching and relieve them greatly.

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Your Dog Could Be Bored Or Anxious

Why Dogs Bite Their Nails: 7 Reasons

Once you have ruled out all the medical causes, it is time to look at behavioral causes. There is always a chance that your dog is biting their nails because they simply have nothing better to do.

You can try to deal with this problem through the use of toys and other items of play; there really is no substitute for the attention that a dog needs in order to be mentally and emotionally healthy. Don’t forget that dogs are pack animals.

Dogs require the validation of their master, and no toy can replace that need. There is nothing wrong with giving your dog plenty of play implements, but it is important to understand the limitations of this method.

If you absolutely cannot dedicate additional time to take your dog on walks, play tug-of-war, or make them fetch, consider getting a second dog. Having a companion can do wonders to alleviate your dog’s boredom.

Anxiousness can be another possible culprit. If your dog seems really jumpy and prone to bolting, combined with a lot of nail-biting, this might be your problem. This is where you will have to be very patient and try to reassure the dog as much as possible.

Anxiousness is usually the result of fear, so the key to addressing the problem is to identify the source of your dog’s fear. There must be something that is making them nervous, so you may need to take a close look at your housemates if you have any.


As you can see, nail-biting can have a number of potential causes. It is tempting to ignore a problem like this since the signs are not always obvious. However, nail-biting should always be a reason to take a look at your dog, if nothing else.

Remember, any habitual gnawing of the claws and paws is abnormal for a dog. It is normal for them to do this once in a while, but a frequent habit will not be present without some kind of reason.

The reason could be large, or it could be small. It could be physical, or it could be mental. Either way, the health of your dog depends on your ability to recognize this reason and take appropriate corrective actions. We wish you and your dog the best.

"If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two."
-- Phil Pastoret

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