Changes in the Toes or Nails of Giant Schnauzers

By Katharina Keil & Gudrun Draeger

Translated by Enid S. Lagree

Editor's note: This article appeared in the July 1991 issue of Pinscher and Schnauzer, the monthly magazine of the German Pinscher‑Schnauzer‑Klub. Five photographs accompanied the article. Photos not reprinted in Steps.

Reprinted from Giant Steps Jan.-Feb. 2004


Changes of the toes or nails occur or can occur in all breeds of dogs. What is striking, however, is that there is a breed disposition (above average predisposition) for toe and nail problems in Giant and Standard Schnauzers.

In Giant Schnauzers mainly the blacks are affected (we never saw a single case in a pepper/salt.) In Standards the number of affected dogs is almost the same in blacks and pepper/salts. One must be suspicious of heredity when a collection of cases in a single breed is found.  In American literature there is a conspicuous absence of anything written on the subject. Are these toe and nail problems limited to our German lines? 

Disorders of the toes or nails are many faceted and include infections of the nail beds, the nails, and the toes themselves. The cause for these disorders can be bacterial or fungal. Tumor formation is another problem. The tumors are almost always malignant but they do not always metastasize. Some degree of lameness of the affected legs is typical. Very frequently one sees distorted nail growth; for example the nails will suddenly become very long, splinter, break off, and will not grow back normally. When only one toe is affected there is a high probability that a tumor is present rather than an infection, which normally affects a number of toes. 

Below is a case study:

Female Giant Schnauzer‑4 years old.

  • March '88: Splintered nails growing on all four paws.
  • April 88: Splintered nails removed and submitted for laboratory examination; tests revealed a bacterial infection. Appropriate treatment prescribed.
  • May 1988: After showing some improvement, the nails splintered again. Test results revealed a fungus infection. Appropriate treatment prescribed.
  • June '88: Another bacterial infection; then after treatment a period of remission until March '89. This dog suffered a reoccurrence of infection of the nails the following spring, which continued.

Often, even after an apparent 100% recovery, from either bacterial or fungal infections, long‑term success is not achieved. The same is true for tumors of the toes. It is important to note that after repeated microbiologic exams, the cause may be clearly defined. However, when the problem reoccurs, the cause may not be the same. Therefore treatment must be varied. It was striking in this case, that the disease was confined to the nails and the nail beds and the toes were not involved.

Once obvious swelling is visible, it is too late for the treatments prescribed above to be successful.  Instead, it is recommended that in such cases early amputation of the affected toes and not just the nails is essential. A complete pathological examination of the toe should follow. Because antibiotic therapy for the inflammation of the toes is rarely successful, amputation is warranted to spare the dog a lengthy recuperation. Immediate (don't wait weeks) amputation of a toe with a malignant tumor is highly recommended to minimize the opportunity for the tumor to metastasize. 

The following case history:

Female Giant Schnauzer whelped 1981

  • October 87: Right front nail inflamed.
  • November 87: Nail is very smelly, removed. Pathology: chronic inflammation.
  • January 88: Removal of the right front thumb-nail. Pathology: chronic inflammation.
  • June 89: Two right front nails and toes removed. After treatment complete recovery.
  • August 90: Splintering of a back right nail.
  • September 90: Amputation of the nail and the toe. Pathology: malignant cancer.
  • February 91: Amputation of the left front thumb-nail; Pathology: cancer
  • March 91: Back right nail is broken, did not grow back, clear swelling (photo 1)
  • April 91: Amputation of the back right nail. At the same time amputation of a toe on the front right with an extremely long nail that suddenly became very painful, (photo 2) Pathology: front right cancer, back right: chronic inflammation.

With so many operations it is obvious that the dog had to live with only two toes on two legs. Photos four and five show that the dog has no difficulty in walking and is much happier without the painful toes. Afterwards, in a statement, the owner indicated that his dog was once again living a full and happy life. 

This article is reprinted with permission by Enid S. Lagree and first appeared in the GIANT HOTLINE, a publication of the South Central Giant Schnauzer Club.

Help! Has Your Giant Had a Toe or Nail Problem?

The article, "Changes in the Toes and Nails of the Giant Schnauzer", caught my eye because in the late `70s our first male Giant, Geffroi, developed an infection of the toenail bed that started with one toe and eventually included every nail on all four paws. Five Giants followed Geffroi into our lives-two of which also experienced toe and nail problems. Our current Head Boy Giant is missing two toes but as the article points doesn't appear to notice their absence. 

The authors, Keil and Draeger are correct when they suggested that there is a dearth of information about the subject in American Veterinary literature. Beyond the P& S magazine article, I've only seen one other article on the subject of claw disorders. Entitled "Lupoid Onychodystrophy in Dogs", it appeared in the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association (May/June 1995, Vol. 31) and describes an infection of the toe nail beds affecting all the claws. 

This article is available for review online under Canine Claw Disorders via Google. The authors of the article point out that "Claw disorders of the dog are the focus of very few publications in veterinary medicine. This paucity of published information is, in part, due to the fact that claw disorders rarely are encountered as the sole manifestation of dermatological disease in dogs. In addition, the definitive diagnosis of claw disease often requires the surgical amputation of the third phalanx of an affected digit. Many owners, understandably, are hesitant to have this done to their pets." 

I have never seen anything in print concerning inter-digital cancers or cancer of the toes or toenail beds. However I know of a number of Giants besides mine that have had inter-digital melanomas removed as well as toes due to squamous cell carcinoma. 

It would be most interesting to hear from Giant Schnauzer owners with dogs that have experienced nail and toe disorders of any kind. If there is enough of a response perhaps we can include a review of the replies in the Giant Hotline. I'm not expecting lengthy case histories but would appreciate information such as: 

color and sex of the dog
age of the dog at the onset of the problem 
description of the progression of the problem 
veterinary diagnosis 
prescribed treatment 
success of the treatment 
did the problem reoccur or did any other problems involving the toe and nails crop up later?

You can e-mail me at:  Or reply by mail: #7 Prospect Street Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971. After October 15th: P.O. Box 513 Clifton, TX  76634 

This article is reprinted with permission by Enid S. Lagree and first appeared in the GIANT HOTLINE, a publication of the South Central Giant Schnauzer Club

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