At some point your dog will probably tear, crack or break a nail.
The dew claws — the nails found higher up on the front of the foot — are most susceptible to tearing and breaking because they are more loosely attached than regular nails, putting them more at risk.
One common cause of a cracked or broken nail is nail clipping. When you’re trimming the dog’s nails, it takes only a small jerk of his paw to cause a nail to break or chip, and if he yanks hard enough, he could tear a nail partially or rip it out completely.
Nails that are too long are more likely to snag and be torn — and long nails are more likely to break or crack when a dog is walking or running on asphalt, concrete, or similar hard surfaces. In addition, some dogs are just born with weaker nails, making them more susceptible to damage.
Symptoms of a Damaged Nail
- Favoring a paw by holding it in the air rather than walking on it
- Limping or visibly not putting weight on a paw while walking
- Blood on your dog’s bedding
- Constant licking of a paw
- A visibly swollen paw or toe
- Resistance when you try to examine a paw or toe
If you are comfortable doing so, examine your dog’s paw if he exhibits any of the above symptoms. If the toe is sore and injured, he may not allow you to examine or touch his foot — and if so, it’s time to go to a veterinarian.
If your dog does allow you to examine the paw, you might still consider a muzzle or at least a helper who can divert your dog’s attention, and his mouth, away from your hands as you examine him.
How to Treat a Torn Dog Nail
If your dog has broken the nail down to the quick, you need to get to the vet’s office for proper treatment, possibly with your pet under sedation. It’s a painful injury.
1. Carefully remove the remaining piece of nail.
The idea is to remove the remaining piece of nail (the piece of nail that’s dangling) to prevent further injury and to allow for proper healing and regrowth of the nail.
Some people report using pet nail clippers to cut off dangling piece of nail just above the point where it is broken or torn. This might make a clean cut in the nail that will increase the chances of the nail growing back properly. However — and this is a big however — Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS, says this would not necessarily be a wise thing to attempt.
“It is unlikely you’ll be able to trim the nail back without cutting the quick — which is extremely painful and results in bleeding,” Dr. Elliott advises. “Therefore, this is best done under sedation, unless the crack is at the tip of a very long nail.”
2. Stop the bleeding.
Removing the nail may cause your dog’s toe to bleed, especially if the breakage occurred at the quick of the nail. Make sure you have your pet emergency kit out:
- A styptic pencil or powder (affiliate link) applied to the wound will stop the bleeding almost immediately. It contains a cauterizing agent that seals the wound.
- If you don’t have a styptic pencil or powder, you can apply some regular flour or cornstarch to the wound and compress with a towel for a few minutes until the bleeding stops.
3. Clean the wound and disinfect the toe to prevent infection.
Bathe the paw in warm water, and be sure that all traces of dirt and debris are gone. Spray a pet antiseptic on the toe — this will disinfect the area and relieve any discomfort from the open wound.
If the wound bleeds again, apply pressure or use a styptic pencil or powder.
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4. Bandage the paw.
Dogs don’t like having their paws bandaged, so this can be a tricky procedure. You can try wrapping the paw in a loose-fitting bandage, using first aid tape to hold in place.
Another method is to place a clean sock on the paw and tape it into place. A sock often works better than a regular bandage because it’s less restrictive for the movement of the paw, which makes it more likely that your dog will not pull it off.
If your dog pulls the bandage or sock off, you may want to place a plastic cone (Elizabethan collar, or “E collar”) around his neck for a few days until the wound heals.
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5. Change the bandage every day and keep the area clean.
Change the bandage or sock once daily to check the healing process and to keep the area clean. Remove the bandage and bathe the paw in warm water.
Check the paw for the following signs of infection:
- Swelling of the toe
- An oozing pus discharge
- Bleeding that may or may not be mixed with pus
If you see signs of infection, take your dog to the vet immediately. Your vet will most likely prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection. If the wound is healing as it should, place a new bandage or sock on the paw. If your dog is wearing an E collar, after 2–3 days, the wound should be healed to a degree that your dog will not lick it and the E collar can be removed.
Remember to follow your vet’s instructions — exactly.
In this video, Dr. Candy Olson, DVM, explains more:
Treating a Broken Dew Claw on a Dog
Broken dew claw treatment varies slightly, as your veterinarian may recommend complete removal of both of the dew claws if injury occurs to one.
This is a common procedure for certain breeds. After healing, your dog will be able to run and walk just as before.
This pet health content was reviewed by a veterinarian.