Pet talk
Columns, Pet Talk

Pet talk

June 14, 2017

By Maneka Gandhi

In this week’s Pet Talk, Maneka explains how puppies can be taught to sit?

What to do if my pet has a broken toenail?

A broken toenail on your pet’s foot can easily be attributed to vigorous backyard digging, but a broken nail may sometimes signal something more serious and should always merit a call to your veterinarian.

Here are some examples of problems that a broken toenail, or painful toe, can signal.

  1. Nail Infections: Bacterial, fungal and yeast infections are common in the feet and nail beds of dogs and cats, especially those with allergies to substances in the environment like dust, mould and pollen. A botched nail trim, or a broken toenail can also lead to a nail infection if the site is exposed to contaminants.

Signs of an infection may include excessive foot-licking or limping. You may notice redness and oozing from the junction between the nail and toe. Severe infections can cause nail discolouration and the nail may become brittle.

Your veterinarian may advise soaking the area, and may prescribe oral antibiotics or anti-fungal medications to resolve these conditions.

  1. Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Veterinarians have long been aware that large breed, dark-coated dogs, like black Labradors, Briards and black standard Poodles, have an increased risk of developing a certain type of cancerous tumour in the toes. These tumours, called squamous cell carcinoma’s, can destroy the bone and cause the nail to break easily. You might notice some blood spots on the carpet, or your dog licking at one particular toe. A fascinating, recent genetic study explored the connection between toe squamous cell carcinoma and coat colour in poodles, and identified two genes linked to coat colour that are involved in the manifestation of this worrisome tumour. The researchers found that one of the genes, which is protective against the tumour, is lacking in black-coated Poodles. Since the study was limited to Poodles, the information cannot be generalised to all light-coloured dogs. Additionally, whether this seeming immunity to toe squamous cell carcinomas extends to some of the designer Poodle mixed breeds, such as Golden doodles and Labradoodles, is unknown at this time. Regardless of coat colour, any dog with toe swelling should be examined by a veterinarian and subjected to radiographs and possibly a biopsy of the toe.

Melanoma of the Toe: Melanoma, a cancerous tumour of pigment cells, behaves differently in dogs than in humans. Malignant melanoma occurs in the mouth, and at the junction between the nail and the first toe bone. Like toe squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma of the toe can destroy the bone, weaken the nail and cause the nail to break off. In the early stages of this deadly tumour, you may see redness, or weepiness, at the junction between the nail and the toe. If left untreated, toe melanoma tends to spread throughout the body, making early detection a lifesaver.


As with squamous cell carcinomas, detection requires a visit to a veterinarian, where a radiograph of the toe, and potentially a biopsy, are likely interventions.

  1. Feline Toe Tumours and Lung Cancer: Melanoma is extremely rare in cats and, while squamous cell carcinoma does occur in kitties, it does not typically do so in the feline toe. But, in a strange twist of cancer behaviour, cats can get toe tumours. These bizarre tumours just happen not to originate in the toe.

When a cancer specialist examines a cat with a swollen toe, his first impulse may seem strange to the cat’s family because he is very anxious to X-ray the cat’s chest. The reason for this is that the chest X-ray will determine if the toe swelling has spread (or metastasized) from feline lung cancer. This odd occurrence in cats is well known to veterinary oncologists as lung-digit syndrome. Identifying lung-digit syndrome is critical, since there is no real treatment, and palliative care measures should be instituted immediately.

For all these reasons, if you notice your pet licking his feet beyond normal grooming behaviour, or if you come across a broken nail, check each one of his toes for swelling, oozing or pain. Licking at one particular toe, especially if there is swelling or redness, should not be ignored and a trip to your veterinarian is in order.

Early detection of a toe tumour can increase the chance that successful treatment can be employed to help extend the length and quality of your pet’s life.

My cat bites me when I pet her. Why?

Typically, a friendly cat seeks out human attention, only to turn on his lavisher of attention once the affection seems to have gone on for too long. Despite the perplexing nature of this uniquely feline way of acting out, a couple of possibilities have been proposed to explain why cats might do this:

  1. It may be a manifestation of so-called status-induced aggression, in which cats seek to control a situation.
  2. There may be some neurologically significant negative stimulus associated with being petted at length that affects these cats in particular.
  3. These cats may be especially subtle at letting humans know when they’re unhappy, so that their change in attitude appears more sudden than it truly is.

Over time learn to recognise the very subtle warning signs associated with your cat’s displeasure, before it reaches the biting point.

How can I teach my puppy to sit?

The Sit is one of the easiest skills to teach. A puppy who sits on command is easier to manage until he learns more self-control. For example, when you teach your dog to sit when the doorbell rings, he is less likely to jump up on visitors when the door opens.

To Teach ‘Sit’: Get on your puppy’s level, either on the floor or in a chair next to him; Hold a treat close to his nose and let his head follow the treat as you move your hand up; As his head moves up, his butt will lower; When his butt hits the floor, release the treat to his mouth. Immediately praise him for his brilliance; Repeat multiple times every day. Pair the behaviour with the word “Sit.”

Don’t hold the treat so high that your dog tries to jump up for it. Instead, hold it in your closed hand just high enough that he stretches his neck. Every time his rump hits the floor, tell him “Good, Sit!” This is a great game for children in the house to play with your dog. Repetitions are important, but your dog will tire of multiple reps. Rather, play the sit game with your dog in short bursts multiple times every day. Reinforce the sit in other situations, like mealtimes. Have him sit before you put his food bowl on the floor, or before you open the door to take him on a walk. If he breaks the sit, remind him of his job with a quiet “Oops, try again” before you open the door. If this command is reinforced every time you ask your dog to sit away from the door, he will be less likely to bolt and run when the door opens. In this respect, the sit command can be a lifesaver.


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