Realizing that your dog has an injury can be upsetting, and knowing that your dog might be in pain is difficult to accept. But as a pet owner, it is your responsibility to not only comfort them but help ensure that the injury properly heals.
While you may ultimately need to see a veterinarian to treat a dog nail separated from the quick, there are some actions that you can take at home. You should trim/remove the broken portion of the nail, stop the bleeding, bandage the wound, and monitor the injury for infection.
Understanding the symptoms of a nail break and how to properly care for this extremely common and specific injury is essential as a dog owner.
What Causes a Dog’s Nail to Break?
Dogs injure their nails in a variety of ways. Simple, everyday actions can result in this injury, from a snag on the carpet during playtime to a hard landing once your dog hops over a log during a walk. It’s challenging to predict when this will occur.
Additionally, older dogs’ nails can become dry, which increases the likelihood of breakage. Another common reason for nail breakage is if your dog’s nails are a bit longer than average; a longer nail can snag more easily.
Sadly, a nail trim can also lead to a nail injury if you or the person cutting your dog’s nail trims too close to the quick. Your dog might yelp, and the dog’s nail might bleed.
Dogs with dewclaws (the nail higher up the paw along the leg) can sometimes get them snagged in brush when running through it. Read My Dog Has a Dewclaw Injury to learn more about this specific condition.
What Are the Symptoms of a Dog Nail Separated from the Quick?
Because the dog’s nail bed is very sensitive, your dog will usually vocally alert you if they are experiencing a nail break or split—some other common symptoms including excessive licking, a swollen paw, some blood, or limping.
If your dog’s nail has been pulled away from the quick but is not bleeding, it does not mean that it does not need attention. If the dog’s nail is broken and has an exposed quick, treatment is needed immediately to reduce the risk of infection.
How to Treat an Injured Nail
You will need to treat the injury to your dog’s nail. While it might be uncomfortable for your dog, it is critical to control the situation and bandage the wound. The exposed quick is basically an open wound and very susceptible to infection. And a dog’s paw is constantly being exposed to bacteria wherever they walk.
Inspect the Area
The paw and nail area might be irritated, red, or swollen. At first, try to only observe the paw without touching it or your dog. Assess the site to determine if the nail is still attached or if there is still active bleeding. If some of the nail is still attached, then it must be removed.
You may notice a fleshy pulp-like exposed tissue. This is the quick, which holds both nerves and blood vessels. This is very sensitive and your dog won’t like you touching it.
Remove a Portion of the Nail
If a nail is split in half, it will likely require removal. What’s more, the pain your dog is experiencing will likely continue until the nail is removed because of the pressure from the askew nail. Please know that the removal will be painful, but your dog will experience relief as soon as it is over.
If you are concerned about your ability to remove the nail promptly, contact your vet to help. Dogs, even the kindest, might bite out in pain, so be prepared to respond quickly. This is when having trained your dog to wear a muzzle comes in handy. If you have a muzzle, put it on your dog before you begin to work on the nail.
If you are not confident that your dog won’t bite you, a vet can help you trim the portion of the remaining nail and clean the injury so it heals cleanly.
Stop the Bleeding
Begin the process by stopping the bleeding; one way to help curtail bleeding is tightly wrapping a clean towel and maintaining pressure. Additionally, a local pet store will have a silver nitrate stick or styptic pencil that will help safely cauterize the injury. If you do not have access to those products, use flour or baking powder.
If you trim your dog’s nails as part of routine maintenance, you probably already have styptic powder or a styptic pencil (or if someone in your household shaves with a classic razor).
Disinfect the Area
Using warm water, rinse the injury paw and make sure that any dirt or debris is removed. If you have a pet antiseptic or a wound spray, applying it to the nail after washing it is the best time. Some pet-friendly wound care offers numbing comfort as well, which can help comfort your dog.
We use Vetericyn, a wound care spray that we keep as part of our dog first aid kit. It’s excellent to have on hand for various cuts and abrasions.
Bandage the Paw
Using a bandage, gauze, and some first-aid tape, loosely wrap your dog’s paw so that it is covered. If you do not have these first aid materials, you can use a clean sock to slide onto the paw to protect the injured nail, then tape the top of the sock so it does not slip off their foot.
Change the Bandage Every Day and Keep the Area Clean
Regardless of whether you use gauze or a clean sock, make sure that the covering is changed every day and that the wound is clean and not infected. Infection can look like a couple of different things; it might be swelling, discharging pus, or there may be additional bleeding.
If any of those infection symptoms last for longer than a day, see your vet so you can get antibiotics to kill the infection. After several days of proper care, the nail injury should be healing nicely.
If your dog is well trained to hold a down-stay, you can soak your dog’s paw in a solution of Hibiclens, an antimicrobial and antiseptic soap, and warm water for 20 minutes twice a day. Here is one of our guys wearing his muzzle to keep him from licking/chewing the wound while he takes a soak. Training does have its benefits!
How Can I Prevent My Dog’s Nail from Breaking?
Longer nails and excessive rough play are a sure-fire combination that often leads to broken and split nails. Furthermore, sometimes nutrition can lead to weaker nails and will cause easy breakage. By getting into the habit of trimming your dog’s nails at least monthly, you have the opportunity to check the condition of your puppy’s nails regularly.
Short nails are less prone to snag on indoor or outdoor rough ground. If you are unsure about your nail trimming skills, the next time you visit your veterinarian’s office, ask for a quick training session on the proper method to trim your pet’s nails.
It helps to watch your veterinarian or a veterinary technician trim your dog’s nails properly so you can repeat the process at home. Alternatively, you can schedule regular nail trimmings at your vet or local pet groomer. Sometimes it’s easier to let the groomer be the bad guy and avoid the stress altogether. Just be sure you stick to a schedule so your dog’s nails are maintained at the proper length.
If your dog’s nails are naturally dark (vs. recently turned black), clipping nails closely can be a real challenge. Understanding the procedure and having the right equipment is essential. Nail clippers specifically designed for dogs are necessary, particularly since dull nail trimmers can lead to breakage.
If you build nail trimmings into your regular bathing routine, your dog will understand that it is a regular happening, be more open to the action, and you will keep their nails short and safe.
You might also ask your vet about fish oil supplements for dogs, which when taken regularly can help your dog’s nails grow stronger and thicker, along with other benefits including cardiovascular health.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about nail breaking and splitting.
Why are broken nails such a problem?
Dog’s nails are a collection of blood vessels; the nerves are called the “quick.” Keratin surrounds the nail ending for natural protection. Please note that the quick connects to the bone, so an infection due to breaking or splitting can lead to an infection in your dog’s bone — a potentially serious issue.
Most pups have five toes with nails and a dewclaw (though many dogs have them removed as puppies). If your dog walks on concrete, the main nails are dulled from the walking, but the dewclaw will continue to grow – be sure to keep an eye on it since its unimpeded growth will make it prone to breaking or splitting.
When should we go to the vet?
Most of the time, dog owners can treat a nail injury at home. While the condition is temporarily painful for your dog, if you follow the at-home care protocol, your dog should recover within a few days. Obviously, if there are any signs of infections, like continual bleeding, pus oozing from the nail, or swelling, then visit the vet immediately.
How to keep my dog from chewing on a bandage or sock?
First, apply tape to bind the bandage or sock more securely to the foot or leg of your dog so that it is less likely to slip. If you see your dog biting or otherwise licking the bandage, startle them and distract them with an activity or a bone. If you feel comfortable, have your dog sit with you and keep an eye on its movements, distract your dog from the irritation of having a bandage by giving them lots of attention.
If none of these tactics work, you may have to fit them with an elizabethan collar/cone or similar alternative to keep them from removing the bandage and licking/chewing the wound.
Is a broken dog nail an emergency?
Usually, a broken or split nail is not an emergency. Still, if the nail is dangling half on or there are already signs of infection, it could be an issue that needs veterinary intervention.
Furthermore, if bleeding from the nail continues for an extended amount of time, then the blood loss might be concerning and need veterinary intervention. Be sure to address any active bleeding before you clean or bandage the injury.
Can a dog’s exposed quick or broken nail heal on its own?
With basic care and first-aid treatment, a dog’s broken nail will heal. If left unattended, the most severe consequence that might occur is an infection that could potentially be serious. A simple wash in warm, clean water and the application of an antiseptic will lend healing properties to your dog, and they will be on their way to recovery in a few days.
If anything abnormal or unusual occurs, scheduling an appointment with your vet is always a good idea to protect your dog and their health.
How long does it take for a dog’s nail to grow back and cover the quick?
Keep in mind that it can take 2-3 weeks for a dog’s nail to fully grow back and cover the quick. This is actually quite fast compared to the rate a human’s nail grows.