One of the most common causes of a toe infection in a dog is a ripped or torn nail. If the toe is properly treated, infection can often be avoided, but serious infections can sometimes lead to toe amputation. Toe infections are rarely fatal when a dog receives treatment.
The best way to avoid a toe infection is to immediately treat the damaged toe. Dog owners will notice their dog limping or blood on its paw. In some cases, the pet owner can treat the torn nail at home by cutting the toenail at the break. Much depends on how comfortable the pet owner feels about this minor procedure, as well as the dog's temperament. Many times the torn nail can easily be taken off. Torn nails are painful, so there is always a chance your dog may bite you.
If the tear is high up near the toe or if the toenail is not easily removed, it's probably best to take your dog to a veterinarian. Don't attempt to remove the nail if it is difficult to take off, as you could inadvertently cause more damage to the dog's toe. Often, a veterinarian will administer antibiotics and wrap the dog's injured toe. If you do remove the nail at home, clean the wound thoroughly and keep an eye on your pet to make certain infection doesn't occur.
Good nail care is the best way to avoid the nail breaking--and leading to an infection. Pet owners tend to do two things that can lead to toe infections: cutting nails too short or not cutting them at all. Both can lead to toe problems for your dog. Older dogs, especially, are more prone to toe infections because the untrimmed nails break off more easily. If not treated, these toes can become infected.
Some diseases can lead to secondary infections of a dog's toes. A dog suffering from a Malassezia (yeast) infection in its toes will constantly lick its feet in an attempt to relieve the itching. A dog diagnosed with bacterial onyxis, a painful condition in which the toenail becomes infected, must often undergo months of antibacterial therapy.
Serious, Persistent Infections
In rare cases, toe infections do not respond to initial antibiotic treatments and sometimes the best option for treatment is amputation, according to Dr. Gary Thompson. Left untreated, the infection can become toxic to the animal and result in death.