Why Do German Shepherds Bite or Chew Their Nails?


If you have a German Shepherd, you might have noticed him gnawing or nibbling on his nails. What’s more, if you clip them, your dog will either crunch on them or eat the clippings. But what is the reason behind this curious activity?

German Shepherds chew or bite their nails because they are feeling physically unwell. As such, your dog could either be suffering from allergies, a fungal infection, a broken nail, or boredom. This chewing or nail-biting is usually accompanied by paw licking. 

This article explores the reasons that compel your German Shepherd to behave in this odd manner and how to stop the nail-biting from worsening.

Have you been wondering how to help your furry friend? Read on to find the answer to this question and more on this interesting topic.

Why Is It Important to Identify the Cause of the Nail-Biting?

Most people consider nail-biting and paw licking to be standard behavior for a dog. Others see it as part of grooming. Could they be wrong?

While it’s true that German Shepherds lick their paw now and then, it’s usually because their feet are wet or unclean. However, repeated nail-biting and paw licking could indicate an underlying problem.

Identifying the cause of your dog’s discomfort is thus important as it helps in: 

  • Eradicating the cause  
  • Determining the appropriate treatment 

Inhalant Allergies

Inhalant allergies are the leading cause of repeated nail-biting and paw licking in German Shepherds. The common types are usually environmental or food allergens.

Due to the allergies, the dogs experience itchy skin, particularly on the feet and toes. Due to the persistent itching, they keep biting their nails and licking their feet, creating favorable bacterial and fungal infection conditions.

Once the feet get infected, nail bed infection could soon follow.

If not halted, this vicious cycle could lead to further health challenges, including itchy or watery eyes, runny nostrils, and other respiratory complications.

How Can You Tell if Your Dog Is Suffering From an Inhalant Allergy?

The most common sign is stained feet. If your dog is light-colored, saliva staining can cause his feet to turn brown.

By being vigilant, you can tell when the licking and biting starts. This also helps you to figure out the type of allergy your dog could be suffering from. 

For example, if the symptoms occur soon after a walk, the allergy could be environmental, e.g., pollen. But if it happens after feeding, then it’s most likely dietary.

For more on German Shepherd allergies, be sure to read the excellent article that we’ve written for you linked below. We’ve taken the guesswork out of the equation for you, as this article contains literally all you need to know about German Shepherd allergies:

German Shepherd Allergies: All You Need to Know

Parasite Infestation

If your dog’s paws are tick-infested, he might try to soothe away the itch by licking or chewing them. Fleas and mites can also cause the same reaction. 

Ticks and fleas are easy to spot on your dog’s skin, but this is not so with mites. 

Fleas not only cause flaky skin, but their saliva could lead to minor allergic reactions in some dogs. 

One simple precautionary measure that you can take is to keep your dog free from fleas with topical medication. We find that K9 Advantix II Flea and Tick Prevention for dogs over 55 lbs does the job very well.

As stated, this medicine is topical and not ingested, which we love. We also love how convenient it is, as you only need to apply it once per month, and it begins killing fleas within 12 hours!

Boredom

If your German Shepherd is unoccupied during the day, he may start biting and chewing on his nails. This could also happen once you lock him up in a crate or when you go to work.  

Boredom could also come about if:

  • Your dog has no toys to play with.
  • You do not take him for enough walks.
  • Your dog is kept in a small living area.

Note that your dog might also become destructive as he looks for ways to entertain himself. For instance, he could start chewing on shoes or furniture.

One great way to alleviate your German Shepherd’s boredom and provide him with a bit of fun while you’re away is with a treat dispensing puzzle toy.

We absolutely love the StarMark Bob-A-Lot Interactive Dog Toy. You can actually stuff this toy with a whole meals worth of food (3 cups), and it will keep your GSD mentally stimulated while controlling his eating pace at the same time.

While we don’t recommend feeding your German Shepherd by way of an interactive toy on a regular basis, this one is a great time killer for those occasions that you may have to leave for longer than usual.

Another option for you is a treat dispensing camera. One great treat dispensing camera is the Furbo Dog Camera.

This really is a pretty amazing contraption. It has night vision, 2-way audio with a bark alert, and it actually tosses treats to your dog on your command. It also keeps you from being lonely while away from your pup!

There are also a number of other things that you can do which are useful in keeping your German Shepherd occupied while you’re away. These include:

  • Leaving the television on.
  • Turning on a radio.
  • Hiding treats around your home for your pup to find.

These are just a few examples, but we’ve covered this topic in great detail for you in the post linked below. It’s worth a read, especially if you have to leave your German Shepherd alone on a regular basis.

How to Keep a German Shepherd Busy While You’re at Work

Depression

Don’t think that dogs get depressed? Think again. Depression is a real thing for dogs, especially German Shepherds, as they are highly emotionally sensitive dogs.

A depressed GSD may begin biting his nails as a distraction. It’s important that you understand what may cause this so that you can address your dog’s depression sooner rather than later.

There are many things that can cause depression in a German Shepherd, including:

  • Changes to your schedule.
  • Changes to your dog’s eating schedule.
  • Arguments within your home.

There are a host of other factors that may cause a German Shepherd to get depressed. But no need to worry or get depressed about this, because we’ve got you covered! Make sure that you read this informative article all about German Shepherd depression:

Do German Shepherds Get Depressed?

Dry Skin

Dry skin can be itchy and irritating. Your dog could be suffering from dry paws; hence the nail-biting or paw licking could be his futile attempts to help ease the discomfort.

Unfortunately, paw licking worsens the situation since it dries out the skin even more.

On checking further, you may also discover that the paws have flakes of dandruff while the skin could be red and bumpy. 

An itchy dog is an unhappy dog, and this is the last thing we want. Here is useful article that will help you in dealing with an itchy German Shepherd:

Itchy German Shepherd? Why and What to Do

Health Conditions

Your German Shepherd could be suffering from Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy (SLO). This autoimmune condition causes their nails to break or come off, and your dog will start biting their nails with great intensity during this period.

A fungal infection on the nail bed or an untreated wound may make your canine companion itch. To relieve the discomfort, your dog might try biting on his nails, thus making them swollen and painful. 

Other probable causes of nail-biting include:

  • Hormonal imbalance: This could result in thyroid issues, and the evidence is fur loss or thinning hair.
  • Painful paws: This could be due to an injury from a bruise, sprain, broken claws, or protruding object such as a thorn.
  • Self-grooming: Occasional nail-biting and chewing is normal and part of dog grooming since long nails can lead to injury or make walking a painful exercise.

How Do You Stop Your German Shepherd From Nail-Biting?

German Shepherd paw

So you’ve notice that your GSD is biting his nails – now what? Let’s take a look at what you can do to help with this behavior.

Visit the Vet

If you notice your German Shepherd constantly biting his nails and licking his paws, visit your veterinarian. 

At the vet’s, they will check your dog for any signs of problems such as parasites or bacteria. In case of allergies, they will help you figure out the cause and how to stop it.

Additionally, a visit to the vet is necessary if you inspect your dog’s paws and notice the below conditions as well:

  • Smelly paws
  • Fur loss
  • Swollen claws or inflamed skin 

Alleviate Dry Skin

If your dog’s skin is very dry, avoid too much washing since this strips the skin and fur of oil. For a German Shepherd, having a bath once every three months is adequate.

When you do bathe your German Shepherd, make sure that you are using a shampoo that is gentle and has a proper pH balance.

We’ve continually used Burt’s Bees for Dogs Natural Skin Soothing Shampoo with Honey and find have been quite happy with the results.

For healthy skin, a healthy diet is crucial. Ensure that your dog’s meals are nutritionally sound to avoid dry skin, brittle fur, and other related ailments. 

For more on how to deal with a German Shepherd that has itchy skin, as well as a super thorough feeding guide, be sure to read the 2 articles linked below:

Itchy German Shepherd? Why and What to Do

German Shepherd Feeding Guide: All You Need to Know

Our feeding guide is literally the best one on the internet – and we stand by that. So make sure to check it out!

Keep Your Dog Entertained

If your German Shepherd’s nail-biting is due to boredom, do what you can to keep him entertained.

Provide him with toys he can play with and take him out for walks every day. Also, ensure that your GSD gets at least an hour of exercise every day.

Dogs are social animals, and they thrive on human affection. Not spending time with them makes them experience anxiety, which also leads to nail-biting. Therefore, avoid leaving your dog alone for more than six hours at a time.

Other interventions include:

  • Spraying your dog’s paws with bitter spray to discourage nail-biting.
  • Providing some chew toys to ease your dog’s need to gnaw.
  • Keeping your dog’s senses well stimulated through play, exercise, and training.
  • Protecting your dog from fleas, mites, and other pests by using a monthly preventative treatment.

How to Prevent Your German Shepherd From Nail-Biting in the First Place

There are some simple and straightforward ways to prevent your favorite pet from biting and chewing on his nails. Try the following:

  • Follow a strict grooming routine to keep the nails well clipped and prevent overgrowth.
  • If there’s a broken nail, cut off the hanging part immediately. If you leave the dog to bite it off, bacteria in his mouth could lead to a serious infection.

We’ve also got you completely covered with all you need to know about German Shepherd grooming in this article linked below:

Grooming a German Shepherd: All You Need to Know

Is Nail-Biting Dangerous for Your German Shepherd?

If your German Shepherd bites his nails every so often, there’s no cause for alarm. However, too much nail-biting and paw licking can cause lick granulomas, which eventually turn into huge sores. 

Take your dog for a checkup the minute you notice little sores. If these sores get infected, they could cause more serious problems for your dog.

Final Thoughts

As we have seen, if your German Shepherd bites his nails occasionally, there’s no cause for alarm. However, if this becomes habitual, there is a need for intervention. 

So, if the nail-biting gets out of hand, make sure that you take your dog for a checkup so that the vet can identify the underlying cause and recommend a workable solution.

Do not let this problem spiral out of control, as it easily can if you are not vigilant in observing your GSD. It’s much better to err on the side of caution and have your vet look into it if you are unsure if your GSD’s nail biting is an issue.

Hunter Reed

I've owned and trained German Shepherds for over 20 years now. While I've lived in many different places and traveled extensively - the places change, my dogs don't. German Shepherds have been my constant companions. I love every aspect of training them and simply just having them around. I also enjoy sharing my knowledge about German Shepherds with the world, and I encourage all future dog owners to consider one as a companion as well. Read my story here.

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