If you have a dog, it is quite likely that at some point in time your dog will tear, crack or break a nail.
Dogs are active creatures, and their nails can get caught on any loose material while they run and play. If a nail is caught, it can tear or break off completely. In some cases, the nail may crack rather than break.
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.
Another common cause of a cracked or broken nail is nail clipping. When a dog’s nails are being trimmed, 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 also more likely to break or crack when a dog is walking or running on asphalt, concrete or a similar hard surfaces. In addition, some dogs are just born with weaker nails, making them more susceptible to damage.
Symptoms of a Damaged Nail
The following signs are all possible indications that your dog has injured a nail:
- Favoring a paw by holding it in the air rather than walking on it
- Limping or visibly not putting weight on a particular paw while walking
- Blood on the floor of your dog’s bedding
- Constant licking of a particular 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; if he resists your efforts, pack him up and take him to a vet.
If your dog allows you to examine his 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 really need to get to the veterinarian’s office for proper treatment, possibly with your pet under vet-supervised sedation. It’s a painful injury.
The idea is to remove the remaining piece of nail to prevent further injury and to allow for proper healing and regrowth of the nail.
Some pet owners report using pet nail clippers to cut off the remaining nail just above the point where it’s broken or torn. This may make a clean cut in the nail that will increase the chances of the nail growing back properly.
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 the pet emergency kit out: A styptic pencil or powder applied to the wound will stop the bleeding almost immediately, as 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.
Clean the Wound
Once the nail is removed, you will need to clean and disinfect the toe to prevent infection.
Bathe your dog’s paw in warm water, and be sure that all traces of dirt and debris are gone. Spray a pet antiseptic on your dog’s toe; it will disinfect the area and will also relieve any discomfort from the open wound your dog may experience.
If the wound bleeds again, apply pressure or use a styptic pencil or powder.
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 collar (E collar) around his neck for a few days until the wound heals.
Change the Bandage
Change the bandage or sock every day to assess the state of the healing process and to keep the area clean. Remove the bandage and bathe the dog’s 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. The 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 two or three 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.)
Treating a Broken Dew Claw on a Dog
Broken dew claw treatment varies slightly, as your vet may recommend removal of both of the dew claws completely if injury occurs to one.
This is a common procedure performed by vets on several different breeds of dogs. After healing, your dog will be able to run and walk just as before.