Paronychia is an infection of the toenail and surrounding tissue. While this is not a common condition for pets, once the infection has established itself it is often very difficult to cure. Even with the best of medications as well as local treatment, surgical intervention may be required to resolve this condition. Fortunately, while there is some local discomfort present, the infection is usually not life threatening. At the worst, surgical amputation of the toe, the pet usually does very well afterwards.
Most owners suspect something is wrong when their pet begins to lick frequently at one particular toe. Scolding the pet for licking excessively or putting a sock over the toe or painting the area with a bitter tasting substance doesn’t seem to be enough to stop the licking problem. On close examination you may not see any puncture wound or broken nail as the source of the infection. As the licking persists, the hair is removed leaving a red swollen, shiny surface to the skin. The longer the infection is present the more swollen the entire toe becomes. At this point you may notice a limp.
In some of the more chronic cases, the infection can actually eat away at the nail and eventually into the bone of the toe. A radiograph can be taken that will help differentiate between an infection and a cancer. A bacterial culture and sensitivity is very helpful to determine the best antibiotic needed to fight the infection. A fungal culture should also be considered because this is a common site for fungal infections to grow.
Medical treatment includes long term use of antibiotics and/or antifungal agents. Local treatment including soaking the toe with an antiseptic such as Betadine® in hot tap water several times each day for many weeks is also very helpful. If little to no improvement is seen after both oral and local treatment then surgical amputation becomes the best course of action.
Amputation of the toe is curative. Although this is not considered a first choice option, it is the most expedient option, especially if the infection is well established. If amputation becomes necessary the pet seems to adjust rather quickly after the procedure is completed. Hopefully, the amputation option will not be needed and that aggressive medical treatment will be successful in restoring good health to the toe and nail bed area.