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Dog foot nail

The essentials

  • You won’t always see blood — While broken nails can result in a few drops of blood on the floor, some dogs might bite excessively or limp as a result of the injury.
  • It can heal by itself (sometimes) — If you notice a minor break or tear in your dog’s broken nail, know that it can take 1-2 weeks to heal. However, intervention can help speed up the process. 
  • Don’t wait if you see the “quick” — An exposed quick in a dog’s broken nail can lead to excessive bleeding which can harm your dog. In this case, we recommend wrapping the area and seeking vet treatment quickly.

Keeping your dog’s nails healthy is an important part of being a pet parent. Untrimmed nails can quickly grow too long and become vulnerable to breaks or tears. On the flip side, trimming your dog’s nail too short can expose the quick, leading to heavy bleeding, swelling, and pain.

Knowing what to do for a dog’s broken nail can help minimize the damage and allow the injury to heal better. We’ll also be covering how to care for your dog’s nails in the first place to help you avoid infection, breakage, and damage overall.

The anatomy of your dog’s toenail

Dog nail anatomy

Before we cover ways to help treat a dog’s nail injuries, we have to look at the anatomy of a dog’s nail. There are three main parts to be aware of: the bone, the quick, and the shell. 

  • Bone. This is the innermost part of your dog’s claw under the skin. It is the foundational point of connection to the dog’s nail bed, which houses the nail and related elements. 
  • Quick. The quick supplies the nail with the blood and nutrients that it needs to grow, fed by a collection of blood vessels under the live tissue surface. Injuries to this part of the nail may require veterinary intervention. 
  • Shell. The shell has multiple layers and covers the quick. This is the part of the nail that gets cut and is made of keratin, like human nails. 

Signs of a dog’s broken nail

Not sure if your dog has a broken nail? Here are a few signs to watch for that can indicate issues with your dog’s nail or other underlying conditions: 

  • Vocalization. Like humans, dogs can make noise to indicate that they’re in pain. If you notice yelping or whimpering when your dog walks, chews their paws, or has their feet touched, it could mean that there is an underlying dermis or nail issue. 
  • Excessive licking. Dogs, on instinct, can lick their wounds and other places of injury. Many experts believe that dogs have adapted this response due to the endorphins released by licking and the antibacterial properties found in dog saliva. However, too much can reopen injuries or cause further harm — so if you notice your dog licking or biting their nails, it’s time for a veterinarian to help. 
  • Limping. Like humans, dogs may want to avoid putting pressure on painful injuries. If you notice your dog limping (particularly on hard surfaces), it could indicate a broken toenail or torn nail area. 

⚠️ While nail damage can be a common injury for your furry friend, it can be very painful. Veterinary care and a vet-approved healing process is the best way to address chronic or acute nail problems. Your vet can offer pain control and can monitor for infections to keep your pet as healthy as possible in the process. 

Types of dog nail injuries

There are many types of injuries that can happen to dog toenails. Learning how to identify each type can help you to proactively protect your dog’s health. Here are a few of the most common causes of damaged nails:

Cracked, split, or broken nails 

Cracked nails can most commonly result from trauma (such as a nasty carpet snag or play injury), and can be more of a risk if your dog has longer nails. Regularly cutting your dog’s nails can help you to get ahead of the problem.

Identification is simple for this one and usually requires just a good look at your pet’s nails. A vet visit can be a helpful first step in identifying where the damaged part of the nail is, the severity of the injury, and how to best treat it.

Nail infection

Nail infections can happen to any pup and are usually a result of injury or bacteria in their environment. Signs to watch for include nail discoloration, swelling, and general irritation. Your vet can help you to address the infection to stop the spread.

Broken dew claw

Dew claws are located higher on your dog’s foot (if they have one at all), rarely touching the ground. Because of this, they can quickly become overgrown and snag on things around the house or outside, causing rips and breakage.

Split or ripped nails

There are many reasons why your dog’s nail might split. Whether it’s caused by fungus, bacteria, or ingrown nail growth, your vet can help you address the problem and keep your dog comfortable.

Overgrown nail

This issue is primarily caused by inconsistent nail trimming. While tile floors and asphalt can help keep your dog’s nails in check, it’s best to set regularly-scheduled nail trimmings for all nails, including the one on your dog’s dew claw.

How to treat your dog’s minor nail break at home

Slight nail breaks with minimal bleeding can often be treated safely at home. However, it’s important to take the right precautions to reduce infection risk and promote proper healing. Here are a few at-home care tips for your dog’s broken nail:

Keep a pet first aid kit on hand — Being prepared in the event of injury is a big part of responsible dog ownership. First aid kits often contain things like gauze, bandages, or antiseptics to help treat minor injuries at home.

Muzzle your dog if need be — Dogs in pain will sometimes lash out or bite. If you fear this might happen, consider putting a muzzle on your pup before tending to their injury. You can also ask a trusted friend to help gently hold and soothe your dog so you have proper use of both arms as you trim.

Remove broken nail bits — You can use dog nail clippers to trim away any damaged pieces. If the cut is too close to the quick, you may want to err on the side of caution and visit the vet.

Stop the bleeding — Apply gentle pressure with gauze or a clean towel to stop the blood flow. You can also use a coagulant like Kwik Stop or other styptic powder or a styptic pencil.

👉 In a pinch, regular flour or cornstarch is safe to use to help stop the bleeding, too.

Steps to take for excessive bleeding or worsening injury

One of the most common results of a dog’s broken nail is bleeding. Often with breaks, the quick’s blood vessels are exposed, leading to heavy bleeding.

  1. Pressure – Pet parents should apply gentle pressure to limit blood loss.
  2. Wrap – Gently wrap your dog’s paw in a bandage or towel, and remove the broken nail piece, if possible. Make sure the wrapping isn’t too tight and don’t leave bandages on for longer than 24 hours.
  3. Vet – If the bleeding isn’t stopping or your dog seems to be in a lot of pain, it’s best to see the vet for more help.

How to help avoid nail breaks

As with many canine conditions, prevention plays a big role. In the case of broken nails, proper nail grooming is a must. Long nails are at greater risk of snagging or getting caught and breaking or tearing off. Trimming your dog’s nails might seem daunting, but the process is simple and can be learned with practice. Here are a few tips to keep the process easy and safe for both of you:

Make your dog comfortable — Many dogs don’t like their paws touched, so be sure to work gently. Have a treat or two on hand to reward your pup for sitting calmly and patiently, and speak to them in a quiet, soothing voice as you go. It can make the difference between a hectic ordeal and a simple nail-trimming session!

Find the right tools — Nail care for dogs often includes either clippers or a nail grinder. Some dogs may prefer one to the other, so if one isn’t working for you, try switching things up. You can also ask your vet for recommendations.

Clip only the tip of the nail — Cutting past the curve can risk exposing the quick, potentially causing heavy bleeding. Instead of making a large chop at first, work little by little, and don’t cut too far up. This can be tricky if your dog has black nails and you can’t see the quick, so be extra mindful.

👉 If you’re having trouble finding where the quick begins, it may be best to take your dog to a groomer. They can help you to identify where your pet’s quick is, as this can vary from pet to pet.

Don’t forget the dew claws —  A dew claw is a dog’s toenail on the upper, inner part of the front feet. Since they don’t wear down through contact with the ground while walking, they may need extra attention to avoid growing too long.

“Some dog breeds have intact rear declaws or even double dew claws as part of the normal breed characteristics, so watch for those in Pyrenees or Briards or Beaucerons. Anatolian Shepherds are also known for having double dewclaws.”

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

Frequently asked questions

Is a broken dog nail an emergency?

Not always. If the bleeding is minimal, there are ways to treat broken nails at home, like using styptic powder to stop bleeding and wrapping it with a clean bandage. However, if bleeding doesn’t stop, please take your dog to the vet.

Can a dog’s broken nail heal on its own?

Yes. Dogs’ nails heal even quicker than humans’, and can return in as little as a few weeks with proper care. Regular trimming can keep nails healthy and shortened, lowering the risk of breakage from snags or trauma.

How do you treat a dog’s broken nail?

Broken nails can be treated by cleaning and bandaging the wound. Vets may prescribe antibiotics or pain medication to combat infection and relieve pain.

How can I prevent my dog from breaking their nails?

Regular nail trims are the best way to keep dogs from breaking their nails. Short and trim nails are less likely to snag on objects, causing splitting or breaking.