“Paddy” was a handsome, playful Gordon Setter. His coat was healthy and glossy, and he had a big, striking, majestic head. He was just four years old, and he loved nothing more than running around in the local woods. Paddy was brought into the clinic with what we first thought was two broken claws, after one of his many exuberant visits to the woods. He had to be brought in on several occasions after this though, with similar symptoms, and he soon was noted to have painful, broken, and split claws on all four feet, and he was very lame. Further workups and investigations, involving samples sent to the Veterinary Laboratory revealed that Paddy had SLO: Systemic Lupoid Onychodystrophy. A painful progressive disease affecting all his claws.
SLO is an uncommon disease of the claws in young adult to middle aged dogs, 3-8 years of age. The nail problem originates in the claw bed causing an abnormal claw make-up. The underlying cause of this condition is unknown, but it is suspected to be immune-mediated. SLO is a slow progressive disease, it normally involves multiple nails on all four feet, initially involving one or two claws, but within a few months, all claws may be affected. It doesn't cause a systemic illness, but it does cause discomfort and the dog’s affected feet are generally very painful. The problem is mainly seen in Large Breed dogs, and predisposed breeds include the German Shepherd dog, Rottweiler, Giant Schnauzer and Gordon Setter.
Typically, the first sign of problems is constantly licking of split claws, and an obvious lameness. The affected claws are generally painful to examine, and the dog may be reluctant to have their paws touched. The claws split and then elevate from the nail bed and a loss of the nail will eventually occur. Over a relatively short period of time all nails on all four paws are variably affected. The claws can regrow, but they will be misshapen, dry, brittle, and crumbly. Bleeding beneath a retained nail, and secondary, bacterial nail bed infections can also be seen.
For a diagnosis, tests involving blood samples for a general blood work up and Thyroid tests will generally be advised to rule out any underlying endocrine, or other systemic disease process, and samples will be taken to rule out bacterial and fungal infections or a neoplasia. SLO is generally diagnosed by Histopathology sampling for examination of a newly sloughed nail, or ideally, from a surgically acquired digit sample, usually the dew claw. Typical changes are seen on examination with inflammatory changes noted within the damaged claw bed on a Histological examination at the Laboratory.
Treatments for SLO can be expected to take several months to appreciate any real response. This is due to the slow growth of the claw tissues in the dog. So, patience and good owner compliance with any advised treatments is required. Also, for this condition often these can be expected to be life-long treatments, as if discontinued, often the dog will have a relapse and recurrence of these painful symptoms. Referral to a veterinary consultant Dermatologist may also be advised.
Typically, Tetracyclines or Doxycycline with niacinamide (Vitamin B3) are used along with supplemental Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, and Vitamin E and Biotin supplements may also be given orally with meals for their nail strengthening and health properties. Specific Prescription Diets enhanced with fatty acids are also sometimes used. Pain relief medications, drugs used to improve the microcirculation, and Immunosuppressive drugs such as glucocorticoids, azathioprine, cyclosporine may also be required.
In some severe, painful cases, which are refractory to all advised treatments, surgical nail removal may have to be required in these cases, to ensure a comfortable life.
If the on-going advised oral drug treatments are successful, the eventual new claw growth will be notably stronger and healthier, and the patient much more comfortable. Diligent regular claw trimmings and daily strict paw hygiene with daily, medicated foot baths are also recommended to be kept up lifelong.
Paddy thankfully responded well to his daily treatments and supplements and his owners kept up with his regular weekly claw trimmings and his daily evening “foot-spa” baths, and he slowly but surely grew back stronger, healthier nails. He was soon out of pain, and Paddy was so happy, looking handsome as ever, running around his favourite woodland walks again.
If you notice any recurrent claw breaking or splitting in your dog, or, if your dog is lame and licking constantly at their claws, and they will not let you examine them closely. Please arrange an appointment at your Vet Practice for a check-up and full assessment of their general claw health by your Vet. This may be something that requires further investigations and treatments.