I commonly see pets with dry, brittle, flaking nails. Some dogs will shed the entire outer covering of the nail, leaving the bone, nerves, and blood vessels exposed. This is commonly seen in a condition called SLO, or Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy. SLO can affect any breed, but is commonly seen in dogs three to eight years old. Traditional veterinarians classify this as an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the cells of the nail bed, causing the nails to loosen from their attachments and slough off.
From a TCVM perspective, this disease is considered to be a Liver Blood and Yin Deficiency. The liver blood controls the growth of nails. Other problems that may be seen along with poor nail growth include dry eyes, vision worse at night, dry and brittle hair coat, dandruff, and lethargy. These dogs may also suffer from anxiety, panting, increased thirst and urination, and red eyes. The tongue will be dry; it may be pale if the blood deficiency is predominant or red if the Yin deficiency is predominant. Dry kibble diets contribute to excess heat (Yin deficiency) and deficient blood.
Traditional medical treatment for SLO includes antibiotics, anti-inflammatory medications such as NSAIDs, immunosuppressive drugs such as cyclosporine or steroids, pain killers, niacinamide, and omega 3 fatty acids. Studies comparing use of omega 3 fatty acids alone to use of omega-3-rich diets showed similar response, proving that diet plays an important role in the treatment of disease.
I have had great success treating this disease without the use of harsh drugs, by using food therapy and herbs. Acupuncture may be added for particularly resistant cases. Foods that will nourish Liver Blood and Yin include eggs, sardines, salmon, dark leafy greens, beef, duck, pork, pork lung, liver, heart, carrots, dates, and honey. Omega 3 fatty acids should be supplemented in high amounts. Thirty to forty mg per pound of body weight is generally recommended. If the pet does not have good digestive function (soft stools, vomiting), soft stools may be seen with the higher doses of fish oil.
Herbal formulas that treat Liver Blood and Yin Deficiency include Si Wu Tang and Liu Wei Di Huang Wan (Rehmannia Six).
These diet and herbal recommendations will be helpful for any pet with dry brittle nails or coat, even if they do not suffer from a serious disease such as SLO.