Why a lost claw can be a warning sign for your pet

Vets CornerThere are many people who wouldn’t think about taking their dog to the vet just for the loss of a nail. But this could be the first signs of Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy (SLO), and if not treated, it can lead to lameness or maybe something more serious. So let Paul Boland tell you what you need to know about a disease which attacks a dog’s immune system.

SLO is an autoimmune disease which specifically attacks an animal’s toenails. The phrase autoimmune simply means the body’s immune system is attacking itself instead of foreign substances such as bacteria or viruses. However, if the immune system reacts to things which are essentially benign, then an allergic reaction is created.

The disease often starts as claw loss but may also be present as dry distorted, split, fragmenting of the claws and interestingly, it is usually highly localised and other skin abnormalities or systemic illnesses are not seen.

Although SLO seems to be appearing more frequently recently it is likely that it is a newly-recognised old condition rather than a new disease. It is probably more common than it appears, because in many cases it is not diagnosed correctly.

The damage occurs while the claw is forming at the root and as a result the damage you see has probably occurred a few months earlier. The outside of the claw is hard dead material and is the same as the human finger nail. The centre is called the quick and is the living part of the nail which had a blood supply and nerves. The nail forms at the root which is located deep inside the toe near the bone and it takes a newly formed nail 3-4 months before it emerges and becomes visible.

What are the Signs of SLO?

SLO can be incredibly painful and is a very unpleasant experience for both the owner who can see the distress their pet is in and the dog who can experience significant amounts of discomfort and will become lame.

Signs of SLO are

– Multiple nail loss starting with one paw and then moving onto the others

– Pus surrounding the base of the nail.

– Receding, separation or splitting of the quick

– Strong odour and infection around the nails.

What causes SLO?

No one really knows what causes SLO but because it only affects certain breeds it is thought that it might be due at least in some small part to genetics. Other triggers may be vaccinations, allergies, or diet.  A number of dogs have also been diagnosed with Hypothyroidism at the same time SLO has been diagnosed. A full thyroid panel may be indicated to evaluate this common hormonal disease.

Is it contagious and will it go away by itself?

Unfortunately there is no cure for SLO and the only hope is treating and managing the condition. It’s not at all contagious or infectious and other dogs which come into contact with Buddy cannot catch it.

What can you do to help?


One of the possible triggers of SLO could be food related. Your pet’s diet needs to be well-balanced to ensure that your dog receives all the nutrients he needs to maintain excellent health. In order to maintain a well balanced diet I would recommend using a food supplement such as Paltinum naturals. This contains rice and barley which are kind to a dog’s digestive tract and is also a valuable energy source. it also contains chicory extract, which may help to promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria and thus aid digestion.

Nutritional Supplements


Niacinamide is often mistaken for Niacin and both are forms of Vitamin B3. Niacin is converted to niacinamide when ingested in amounts that do not exceed physiological requirements. Be careful not to use Niacin as this can lead to what’s known as the Niacin flush if used in the required quantities. A Niacin flush also affects us humans and leads to flushing, burning, tingling and itching if taken in high doses. For a medium sized dog I would suggest 500mg of niacinamide 3 x day

Vitamin E

Unlike most nutrients, vitamin E does not appear to have a specific role in a required metabolic process. The major function of Vitamin E is probably that of a chain breaking antioxidant that prevents the formation of free radicals. I would suggest 400IU vitamin E 2 x day

Fish Oil

omeganatural-oilThe importance of EPA and DHA is now becoming better understood and it is thought it can contribute significantly to inflammatory response. EPA and DHA are also believed to be essential for the maintenance of healthy skin function and immune function.

There are many varieties of fish oil available with widely differing levels EPA and DHA, but I would recommend Omega Natural and suggest 1000mg of fish oil 2 x day with the highest levels of EPA and DHA you can find.


Biotin is also known as Vitamin H. Biotin is synthesized in animals by intestinal microflora. It is often recommended in supplements for Hair and Nails as it seems to increase the thickness of fingernails, toenails in humans and claws in animals.


Tetracycline would be routinely given by many vets for this disease. Tetracycline is an antibiotic which also suppresses antibody production. As with all pharmaceuticals tetracycline should be used with caution in dogs as its eliminated from the body via the glomerula filtration and a build up of the drug over a period of time and can affect the renal function.

I would recommend that if you are to use antibiotics that you should give your dog a good probiotic as antibiotics will deplete the good and bad intestinal flora.


Steroids affect the immune system very quickly by suppressing it however the usual side effects of steroids can be expected including GI bleeding.

How long will it take to see results?

Because the damage occurs while the claw is forming at the root, it can take over 12 weeks before seeing the beneficial results of this course of action. Once the positive results have been seen I would suggest continuing the regime for the rest of his life.

The prognosis for nail re-growth is good. The disease tends to remain a life-long problem with afflicted dogs, but it is also one that can almost always be controlled.  With luck, over 6-8 months, new nails will re-grow and your pet will be pain-free – although some nails may remain deformed or friable.