Pit Bull’s Nails Turning Red? (Top 5 Causes)

Holding pit bull paw to see color of toenails. Pitbull toenails turning red.

You’re practicing the training basics with your Pit Bull for reinforcement and you ask for their paw. This time, you notice something unusual: your pit bull’s nails are turning red when they certainly weren’t that color before. Why is this happening? What is causing this to happen?

Why are my Pit Bull’s nails turning red? The top 5 causes a Pitbulls nails turn red are:

  • Saliva stains
  • Broken nails
  • Allergies
  • Fungal disease
  • Aging

Determining why your Pit Bull’s nails are red as well as what to do about it isn’t always easy. It can actually be pretty scary. In today’s article, I’ll guide you through everything. First, I’ll talk in more detail about what’s causing the discoloration, then how to treat it.

What Color Should a Pit Bull’s Nails Be?

Holding pit bull paw to see color of toenails

I thought it would be a good idea to start off with a recap of the various colors your Pit Bull’s nails should be when your dog is in good health. After all, without knowing what base color you’re working with, it’s hard to tell when discoloration has occurred.

Here are the common nail colors you may see on your AmStaff or American Pit Bull Terrier.

Black Toe Nails

Black is one of the more common dog nail colors, but did you know the color of your Pit Bull’s nails is determined by the hue of their skin?

Thus, if your Pit Bull has dark skin, it’s natural to see black nails. However, for lighter-skinned dogs, black nails are something to pay attention to, as this discoloration can be a sign of disease or illness.

White Toe Nails

Those very fair-hued dogs will have often delicate white nails. It’s okay if you see some pink in their nails too. When I say pink, I mean a very light shade of pink, not red or maroon. The former is normal while the latter is not!

Brown Toe Nails

It can be hard to tell the difference between brown and black dog nails at first glance, but I recommend you get relatively good at doing so. Brown nail discoloration can be indicative of a yeast infection (more on this later), so it helps to know whether your Pit Bull’s nails were that way originally or have become that color.

Mix Toe Nails

What if your Pit Bull’s nails are several colors to one paw? That’s not abnormal.

It’s also perfectly okay if one paw has black nails and the other white nails. It all depends on how uniquely patterned your Pit Bull’s fur is from foot to foot.

Keeping that in mind, if your Pit is a single color, all their nails should be within the same color family. If they’re not, that’s usually a bad sign.

What Causes a Dog’s Nails to Turn Red?

You checked all four of your Pit Bull’s paws and saw several red nails. Some of the nails were a bright shade of red while others were darker, almost brownish. Since red wasn’t listed in the last section as a color that’s normal for dog nails, you suspect something is wrong.

Here are the 5 reasons your Pit Bull’s nails are red.

Saliva Stains

If you gave your Pit Bull a white t-shirt to lick to their heart’s content and they did so for long enough, that shirt would eventually become pink or even red. No, it’s not from blood, but rather, organic compounds called porphyrins.

What are porphyrins?

These iron-rich organic compounds occur when the body processes iron. Dogs release porphyrins through their tears, saliva, urine, and gastrointestinal tract. If your Pit Bull has dark stains around their eyes, also known as tear stains, these are caused by porphyrins as well.

The discoloration that porphyrins produce can be pinkish, reddish, or even brownish in some instances. Lighter-colored Pit Bulls can stain their fur if they lick at the same spot enough, and they can do the same of their nails as well.

Cleaning the discoloration with a bit of water usually isn’t enough. Sometimes vigorously shampooing your dog can work, but that’s more for fur than nails. You’d otherwise need to white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide to remove the staining.

Of course, saliva stains are a small symptom of what is a larger problem. If you don’t get to the bottom of why your Pit Bull is licking around their feet so much, they’re going to resume doing so after you get rid of the stains and then more stains will appear.  

Broken Nails

One such reason your Pit Bull may be obsessed with licking their feet is that they have a broken nail. By licking the area, your Pit maintains the injury’s cleanliness so it’s less likely to get infected.

This is part of a dog’s wild survival instincts. A little licking is okay, but too much can irritate the injury and worsen it.

A broken nail, by the way, is not like what happens when you’re going about your day and oops, your long fingernail painlessly breaks off. Dogs are susceptible to any of three specific nail injury types and none are painless.

The first type of nail injury is when your Pit Bull’s nail has broken or cracked but the nail isn’t at any risk of coming off.

The injured nail is bleeding and has led to the red nails you see now. Your Pit Bull’s paw is likely bleeding as well, but if they have darker fur, this is easy to miss.

A broken but intact nail might seem like a best-case injury because hey, at least the nail is still there. Yet since the damage may be under the nailbed, these injuries are among the worst for your Pit Bull, as they’re likely to be in a lot of pain.

You can’t do much for your dog at home with broken but intact toe nail injury either. The best thing to do in this case is is take your Pit Bull to the vet.

Discovering a nail injury where the nail is hanging by a thread can make you feel sick to your stomach, and rightfully so. Yet sometimes that’s what happens if your Pit Bull’s nail got snagged on something.

What remains of the nail will be red with blood, as will your dog’s paw. Again, going to the vet is the best course of action.

You can attempt to remove the nail if it’s really on its way off, but if you don’t feel comfortable with that, let your vet do it. Home removals could hurt your Pit Bull and cause them to bite out of shock when you pull the nail off.

What if your Pit Bull has no nail left? This is the third type of nail injury. While it looks the grisliest, it can be the easiest to treat at home.

You need to staunch the bleeding, applying pressure for periods of up to 10 minutes and then stopping to see if the bleeding has abated. If it hasn’t, I always recommend taking your Pit to a vet or an emergency room. They’re bleeding severely and need professional attention.


If your Pit Bull is itching constantly at their paws yet their nails are all intact, another reason could be due to dog allergies.

Dogs, like people, experience a reaction to allergens because their immune system recognizes the allergen as a foreign invader. Even if the allergen didn’t cause a reaction before, it’s happening now.

The allergen, a type of protein molecule, reaches the blood and attaches to antibodies. This new molecule-antibody combo connects with mast cells, which are a type of tissue cell. The mast cell produces histamines, the chemical that causes your allergic reactions (and your dog’s too).

That’s why you’re prescribed antihistamines for allergy symptoms.

So What Can Pit Bull’s Be Allergic To?

Let’s talk about that now.


The environment a Pit Bull lives in can cause and worsen their allergies. Just as we people can be allergic to mold, so too can dogs. Dust can also cause a reaction in your Pit Bull, as can pollen. Yes, the same pollen allergy that makes your spring season miserable every year could be doing the same to your Pit, unbeknownst to you.

Some of these allergies may appear seasonally while others affect your Pit Bull all year long.

Food Ingredients

If your Pit Bull isn’t allergic to the world around them, then they could very well have a food allergy. Ingredients such as fish, rabbit, pork, soy, lamb, chicken, egg, wheat, dairy, and/or beef may leave them with swelling and discomfort.

Most dogs with one allergy tend to have several, which may include other food allergies or environmental allergies.


Fleas are disease-spreaders, so you don’t want them around your dog anyway. Another reason to have a good flea prevention plan in place for your Pit Bull is that they may have a fleabite allergy.

It’s not the bite itself that makes your dog itchy and sore, but a flea’s saliva. Anywhere they’re bitten could be scratched to death as your Pit Bull desperately tries to get some relief.

How do you know your Pit Bull has an allergy? Keep your eyes peeled for these symptoms:

  • Licking at one area obsessively
  • Runny, itchy eyes
  • Recurring ear infections
  • Ear itching
  • Sneezing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Inflamed, red skin
  • Swollen facial features, including earflaps, eyelids, lips, and ears
  • Hives
  • Overall itchiness

It’s not that allergies directly lead to red nails in your Pit Bull, but that all their licking and scratching can break open the skin around their paws, making the nails bloody and raw. There’s also porphyrin discoloration to worry about from the licking.

Fungal Disease

The fourth cause of Pit Bull nail discoloration is a fungal disease. Two such diseases may lead to nail reddening: yeast infections and onychomycosis.

Yeast Infection

The healthy flora of a dog’s skin should contain some yeast. The problem arises when yeast proliferates to the point where the flora balance is disordered.

Although Pit Bull breeds aren’t more susceptible to canine yeast infections like Boxers, English Setters, and Shih-Tzus are, they can still get this fungal disease.

If your Pit Bull has an undiagnosed environmental or food allergy, this weakens their immune system so they’re more likely to develop a yeast infection. Immune-suppressing diseases and hormonal imbalances may also make these infections recurrent.

Yeast infections can affect any part of a dog’s skin, but they happen more often around the ears. The paws are another popular spot for a dog to have a yeast infection.

The symptoms of a canine yeast infection include itchiness, irritated skin, or red skin. Your Pit Bull’s nails can turn red from a yeast infection in one of two ways.

Again, as your dog itches nonstop, that can discolor their nails. So too can the darkish discharge that develops in the nailbeds in severe yeast infections.


The second fungal disease that may cause nail discoloration in your Pit Bull is called onychomycosis. Organisms such as Microsporum gypseum, Trichophyton mentagrophytes, and Microsporum canis cause the dermatophytosis that kickstarts onychomycosis.

One of the fungal organisms will get into your Pit Bull’s claw bed, typically after a trauma such as cutting your dog’s nails too close.

The infection begins from there, leading to symptoms like discoloration, redness, swelling, and itchiness. In severe cases of onychomycosis, your Pit Bull may limp and even have claw deformities.  

Onychomycosis is not to be confused with onychogryphosis. This is a claw condition as well, but it’s when the claws grow too much and curve, so it’s unrelated here.


In some instances, your Pit Bull’s nails turning reddish-brown isn’t anything to be concerned with. As your Pit Bull ages, their nails can naturally change color just as their fur can.

Nails that started out black can commonly fade to lighter brownish-red as your dog ages. This is obviously a best case scenario when it comes to your Pits nails turning red.

Does Your Pit Bull Need to See a Vet If Their Nails Are Red?

Now that you know more about why your Pit Bull’s nails are red, what can you do about it? The best avenue is taking your Pit to a vet where they can be professionally assessed.

If you’re curious about the most common treatments your vet might recommend, Here’s what your vet can do:

Treatment for Nail Injuries

Bring your Pit Bull to the vet immediately if they have a bloody nail injury. Your vet can extract a loose dog nail swiftly.

They can also staunch the bleeding with styptic powder and then treat the injury. Your Pit’s injured paw may be wrapped up for a while and you may be encouraged to let your dog rest rather than jump, play, and run.

If you’re anything like me when it comes to taking your dog to the vet for injuries, having their paw wrapped up and being on “time out” for a couple days is like hitting the lottery. I’m always assuming the worst.

Treatment for Dog Allergies

It can be impossible for you to tell whether your Pit Bull is allergic to pollen or the chicken in their food, but your vet will have a good idea of what’s causing your Pit’s symptoms.

The vet will often start by suggesting an elimination diet for your dog. Instead of eating their regular food, they try a new diet with ingredients they’ve never eaten.

If this food produces no allergy symptoms, then your vet will slowly reintegrate the ingredients of the old food one by one to rule out which is causing the dog’s allergies. This can take weeks but is well worth it.

If your vet is sure your Pit Bull doesn’t have a food allergy, they’ll request a skin test to determine if your Pit Bull’s allergies are environmental.

Treating food allergies is as simple as avoiding that ingredient in your dog’s food going forward. For environmental allergies in your Pit Bull, your vet may suggest a variety of treatments.

Your options are often, immunotherapy, steroids, hypoallergenic vaccinations, immunosuppressants, tick and flea medications, antihistamines, antibiotics, and/or medicated shampoo.

Treatment for Dog Fungal Diseases

What if your Pit Bull has a yeast infection or another fungal disease? First, your vet will often try to confirm a fungal disease with a swab, especially if your Pit has yeasty discharge.

Then they’ll prescribe antifungal shampoo, spray, wipes, cream, or medication for your Pit to take. This medication will kill the fungus. Once the symptoms abate, your Pit Bull won’t feel so inclined to bite and itch at its paws.

I hope learning more about the changes in your Pit Bull’s body and having a little more insight into the causes and possible recommendations will help to put your mind at ease. We often feel such a deep love for our pets and thinking of them in pain can often cause us to feel the same or more.

That said, I wouldn’t trade my dog for the world 😉

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