Black nails on a dog are completely normal for some pets. Dogs with solid black coats almost always have black nails. And surprisingly, so do lots of white dogs! It’s also possible for one dog to have a mix of black nails and clear nails on different toes. Dogs’ nails don’t usually change color unless they are bleeding, but some notable infections can cause discoloration and darkening of their claws. So, rather than taking black nails on a dog for granted, join me for a closer inspection of their inky claws.
How do dogs get black nails?
In some species, like humans and cats, nail color stays white regardless of hair color. But the same is not true of our canine pals. Dogs’ nail color varies according to the amount of eumelanin pigment in the claw plate on their nail. The claw plate is also known as the nail’s lateral wall to veterinarians, and ‘the hard bit’ to the rest of us! Eumelanin is a dark pigment, which gives the fur or nails a dark brown or black color. It is produced by melanocytes (pigment producing cells) in the claw matrix – the soft tissue inside the nail which is usually better known as the quick.
Did you know?
The science and study of nails is called onychology, from the Greek words onyx, meaning ‘claw or nail’.
Dogs that have black nails
Some breeds of dog always have black nails. This includes breeds you’d expect to have black claws, because they usually have black fur as well. For example mighty Rottweilers and dinky Affenpinschers. But did you know that some dogs which always have white coats also always have black nails? These include the snowy Japanese Spitz and the sturdy little West Highland White Terrier.
In other breeds, including Labrador Retrievers, nail color is linked to coat color. Yellow and chocolate Labs usually have dark nails, and black Labs have black nails. Dark nails are usually dark brown, but depending on the intensity of pigment in them they can look practically black too! Yellow Lab Bonnie’s nails in this picture are a good example of that:
Dogs with some black nails
Looking after black nails on a dog
Surely you look after black nails in the same way you look after the rest of them, right? Well yes, but sometimes having black nails can make it a little bit harder!
The obvious example is trimming or clipping their nails. When dogs have black nails it’s much harder to see how far the quick extends inside them. For this reason, owners of dogs with black claws may be more likely to ask for help with trimming from a professional dog groomer. If you’re having trouble managing it at home, the video at the top of this article will help.
Black dog nails can also make it harder to spot the symptoms of some common claw problems. For example, the yeast infection Malassezia dermatitis is caused by an explosion of Malassezia yeast. It’s itchy and unpleasant, and one of the tell tale symptoms is reddish-brown marks on their claws. But of course, when the claws are black, those are much harder to spot!
Canine digital squamous cell carcinoma
It’s hard to imagine that something so apparently inconsequential as the color of a dog’s nail can be connected to something as significant as cancer. But there is a surprising link to canine digital squamous cell carcinoma. Canine digital squamous cell carcinoma is a relatively unusual cancer in dogs. It has a long name, but it essentially means ‘skin cancer on the toes’. Dogs with dark coats and black nails such as Rottweilers, Giant Schnauzers, and Black Russian Terriers are disproportionately more affected than other dogs. So much so that it’s referred to as a ‘big black dog disease’ in textbooks and veterinary journals. Among Standard Poodles, black dogs are also much more likely to be diagnosed than light colored dogs. Which has led researchers to hypothesize that the high concentration of pigment in the nail bed might have a role to play.
Black nails on a dog – summary
Some dog breeds always have black nails. Others sometimes have black nails, and yet more breeds can have some black nails and some pink nails. Dark dog claws can make it a bit harder to trim their nails confidently, and you might be more inclined t seek the help of a professional. They can also make it harder to spot the symptoms of some fungal nail infections, and possibly even increase the risk of skin cancer on the toes. However, despite the increased the risk, these problems are still very uncommon, even in black-nailed dogs. And on the plus side, they show any dirt underneath them from a muddy walks less!
If your dog has black nails, let us know what color their fur is in the comments box down below!
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website