Why does my Dog Chew his Nails? How to Stop it

It can be startling to hear a crunching, crackling sound, and realize that your dog is biting his nails, like a nervous schoolchild.

Although your dog may bite his nails due to anxiety or boredom, you should rule out injuries and disease.  A minor broken or torn claw is easily treated at home; but if pain or blood is present, it should receive veterinary care within 72 hours.  Until then, keep the area clean and treated.  It is vital for owners (not dogs) to keep claws trimmed and clean.

The below infographic shows the most common reasons why dogs chomp on their nails.  Have a look, and then read on for more detail on each of these causes. 

Common Problems with Dog Claws

The most obvious reason cited by veterinarians for a dog biting his claws is a problem with one or more claws.  I take this with a grain of salt, though; because a veterinarian might not see a dog who bit his nails for a non-medical reason.  

There are, though, many things that can go wrong with a dog’s claws.  The first one that comes to the mind of a greyhound owner is injury.  My largest greyhound, Shannon, had more claw trouble than either of my smaller females.  I owe this to the fact that he played harder, ran harder, was simply harder on his claws.  It was not unusual for Shannon to come back indoors with a damaged claw.

Pro Tip: How to Patch a Minor Damage to a Claw (non-painful)

I read this, years ago, as a beauty tip.  If your greyhound has a cracked claw, or there is a chip that is still hanging in there, you may be able to repair it.  

Disclaimer: this works for small areas and superficial cracks.  Never use it if you see any blood or the damage is deep.  

  1. From the paper of a teabag, cut a patch that is large enough to cover the area you wish to repair.  

2. Paint a thin coat of clear nail polish or liquid bandage over the damaged part of the claw.  

3. Press the teabag paper into the wet nail polish, and stay with the dog while it dries.  

4. Apply one more thin coat of polish; and, again, stay with the dog until it is dry.

Check the area a couple of times of day, and be vigilant for signs of infection (warmth, swelling, redness, limping, any show of discomfort).  If you see any signs of infection, remove the repair right away.  Wash the paw with soapy water.  Dry thoroughly.  Spray a pain-free antiseptic, such as Bactine, onto the claw and surrounding toe.  then, press some bacitracin ointment into the crack, wiping off the excess.  If the infection worsens, or is not showing signs of improvement within 24 hours, have it treated by a veterinarian.

First Aid for Serious Claw Injuries

If your dog’s claw is bleeding, he is limping, yelps, or shows any other indication that his claw damage is more serious, perform First Aid on the claw, and call your veterinarian, to have him seen that day.  Krista Williams, BSc, DVM, CCRP, and Lynn Buzhardt, DVM of VCA Hospitals wrote an article with concise instructions on this, designed for the pet owner:

“1. Safely restrain your dog. Have someone hold your pet while you tend to the nail. Remember that even the nicest pet may bite when in pain. A muzzle may help avoid injury. Provide restraint in the form of a hug which immobilizes the dog and makes him feel secure.

2. Control bleeding by wrapping the foot in gauze or a towel and applying pressure to the injured toe. If the bleeding does not stop in 5-10 minutes, apply a styptic pencil, silver nitrate stick, or cauterizing powder to the nail. These items can be purchased at the pet store or in the first aid section of your human pharmacy. If you do not have these products at home, try covering the nail with baking powder or flour. You can also stick the tip of the nail into a bar of soap to help stop the bleeding.

3. Remove the damaged part of the nail. Sometimes, there is a loosely attached sliver of nail that can be trimmed away easily with clippers at home, but most of the time this job is best left to your veterinarian. Keep the foot wrapped in a towel as you proceed to your veterinary hospital.”

Other Claw Problems Common to Dogs

Dr. Jangi Bajwa, a board-certified veterinary dermatologist says that …

“…dogs can also develop infections and diseases in their nails, just like people.”

Dr. Jangi Bajwa

Imagine how hard it would be to keep your toenails clean, if they pointed toward the ground and you walked barefoot all the time!  The two most common culprits of nail infections in dogs are bacteria and fungus, of which there are a number of varieties.

Allergies that can Cause a Dog to Chew his Nails

Another very common reason why your dog may chew on his claws is that he has a larger internal problem.  Often, the trouble is an allergy; but your veterinarian will also consider whether it might be a nutritional deficiency or an auto-immune disease.

How to Keep your Dog’s Nails Trimmed

Take comfort, though!  Greyhounds have HUGE, fast-growing claws; so your buddy may just be doing a little home grooming.  Dr. Marty concurs, stating that ‘a dog biting his nails could be as simple as your pup’s nails being too long. If you can hear your dog’s nails clicking on the floor, they need to be trimmed.”

I must confess that I was awful at keeping with my greyhounds’ claws trimmed.  Even my husband was avoiding it.  Some dog owners can find themselves in this predicament, especially when they have greyhounds.  The below infographic details why this happens to greyhound owners more, perhaps, than owners of other breeds:

What finally turned it around for me was switching from the dreaded clippers to a good-quality nail grinder

I had bought the cheap, as-seen-on-TV kind years ago, and it was quickly cast aside.  Its lack of power made for an uncomfortable experience for my dog, and it was no match for tough greyhound claws.  The one I have linked to (above) is a name brand with a strong motor and a long cord – No rechargeable junk here!  Unlike the Dremel in your toolbox, the Conair groomer is quiet, and isn’t so powerful that it suddenly overtrims or heats up the nail. 

Using the directions that came with the grinder, I was able to trim Lily Greyhound’s nails pretty quickly.  The first session took about half-an-hour; but since then, it takes about twenty minutes.  I trim her nails every two weeks.  I’m still not the most accomplished manicurist out there; so I usually alternate –  One time, I’ll use the coarse grinding attatchment, to bring down the length of the nail.  Two weeks later, I use the fine grinding stone to tidy up my work, and touch up any claws that I left too long the first time.  Now that Lily is 8 years old, I’ve noticed that her claws are growing faster, so I will be adding a session.

When I first got the grinder, I was afraid that Lily would hate it, and snatch her paw away.  As a precaution, I put on her muzzle and had my husband feed her cookies (purely medicinal, of course).  Then, I acclimated her to the grinder, in the following steps (in between each step, I watched for a reaction, but it really went pretty quickly):

  • Without calling her attention to it, I brought out the grinder where she could see it.
  • I placed the grinder next to her.
  • I touched her with the grinder (power off).
  • I stroked her nails with it (power still off).
  • With the grinder several feet away from her, I turned the power on.
  • Then, I moved the grinder gradually closer to her.
  • Finally, I touched a nail with it.  She was a little surprised, but relaxed quickly…and the rest is history!

How to Stop a Bored Dog from Biting his Nails

Shannon was my most habitual nail-biter.  If I knew then, what I know now, I would have put a stop to it.  At the time, he was doing such a good job, and – as I mentioned earlier – I was pretty incompetent at cutting the claws, until I got the grinder.

I did, however, always check his claws, whenever I saw him “trimming,” because sometimes, there was damage to his claws.  The other thing that used to happen with Shannon was that he would molt claws.  This has never happened with any of my other greyhounds; so I think some of Shannon’s trimming may have been him trying to help speed up the molting process.

Greyhounds are pretty content dogs, for the most part. If you think he’s bored, try swapping out his toys once in a while. Spend extra time with him, as described above. They also enjoy when you leave a radio or music on for them.

How to Prevent an Anxious Dog from Nail-Biting

Anxious nail-biting can be worked on by trying to clear up whatever is making your dog anxious.  If you can’t figure out what is bothering him, I find that sitting with your dog and petting him for ten minutes at the same time every day has a calming influence.  It has another benefit, as well – In spending this regular time with him, you may come to realize what is bothering him.

Another thing which owners swear by is a pheremone diffuser, plugged in near the dog’s bed.  These are very good for general uneasiness, and owners even report that their dogs are calmer during thunderstorms, a great plus!

Resources for Further Exploration of this Topic

If your buddy is chewing his paw, this article has plenty of help for you:

If your dog is licking his paws, go to this helpful article:

If your dog is licking his paws, go to this helpful article.

Check out this video for another perspective on doggie nail-biting:

Dr. Marty’s in-depth look at why dogs chew their claws. 

Dr. Jangi Bajwa elaborates on various claw maladies.

Drs. Williams and Buzzhardt have a lot more info about how to treat a claw emergency.

Categorized as Behavior

By Gail McGaffigan

The owner of the Greyhound Homecare website and YouTube channel, Gail has had retired racing greyhounds as pets since 1997. Please visit our channel, too! https://www.youtube.com/c/GreyhoundHomecare