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Dog foot nail

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.

What causes a dog’s nails to break?

Like humans, dogs’ nails are made up of a hard protein called keratin. Beneath the keratin shell is a collection of blood vessels and nerves called the quick. There are a variety of reasons that can cause broken or split nails in dogs. Understanding the causes of broken toenails can help pet parents figure out how to treat them.

  • Damage or trauma. As extensions of dogs’ toes, canine nails undergo lots of wear and tear. Catching a nail on things like carpets or grass can cause splits or breaks while running or playing.
  • Improper grooming. Dogs nails’ naturally wear down on hard surfaces like sidewalks. But, many claws still need trimming to avoid overgrowth. Longer nails are more vulnerable to snagging and breaking. But, cutting the nail too short can expose the quick, causing bleeding and pain.
  • Medical conditions. Some canine conditions can cause part of the nail to weaken, split, or fall off. One such autoimmune nail disease, called symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy (SLO), causes several abnormalities in dogs’ nails, including breaking.
  • Nutritional deficiencies. As with human nails, dogs’ nails need proper nutrition to stay strong. In particular, biotin and omega-3 fatty acids can support skin and nail health.

👉 If you suspect your dog’s nail problems may be nutrition-related, schedule a vet appointment for your pup. 

Steps to take for excessive bleeding

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

  1. First, pet parents should apply gentle pressure to limit blood loss.
  2. 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.

For minor nail breaks, at-home options can help limit the damage. Serious breaks need professional veterinary treatment, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Left untreated, broken nails can lead to limping, inflammation, nail bed infection, and more.

Seek treatment for serious breaks

After you stop the bleeding, the next step for a seriously broken or torn-off nail is to visit the vet. Broken nails can be very painful for dogs ! So, vets often recommend sedation to keep dogs comfortably asleep while treating them. But, this isn’t always necessary if your dog can keep calm while awake.

The first thing a doctor will usually do is to clean the toe. This may mean trimming or cutting the broken nail bits, shaving the fur around the nail, and removing any debris.

👉 Infection is always a risk with paw or nail problems, so keeping the affected area clean is vital. 

Next, a vet may cauterize (seal off) the nail near the quick to stop excess blood flow. Lastly, the paw should be bandaged tightly to keep things clean while the nail regrows. Some vets will prescribe antibiotics or pain medication to reduce the risk of infection and aid in recovery. While your dog heals, it’s a good idea to use an E-collar or cone to keep them from licking or chewing at the wound.

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

Slight nail breaks with minimal bleeding can often be safely treated at home. Yet, it’s important to take the right precautions to reduce infection risk and promote proper healing. Here are a few at-home tips and advice 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 placing a muzzle on your pup before tending to their injury.

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 a gauze or clean towel to stop the blood flow. You can also use a coagulant such as Kwik Stop or other styptic powder or a styptic pencil.

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

Clean and disinfect the wound — Use warm water to wash away any blood, dirt, or debris. You can also use an over-the-counter antibacterial or antiseptic spray to speed healing and relieve pain and discomfort. A bandage can help keep wounds clean, but in serious or difficult cases, bandaging should be done by a professional vet.

Nail grooming tips for dog parents

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. So, maintaining nail length is important in preventing breaking. Trimming your dog’s nails might seem daunting, but the process is simple and can be learned with practice.

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.

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.

Hold the paws firmly but gently — You don’t want to hurt your dog, but you also don’t want them squirming out of your grasp. Find a healthy middle ground to keep them comfy.

Clip only the tip of the nail — Cutting past the curve can risk exposing the quick, potentially causing heavy bleeding. 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 careful.

👉 If you’re having trouble finding where the quick begins, it may be best to take your dog to a groomer. 

Don’t forget the dewclaws —  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 tend to need extra attention to avoid growing too long.

Dog nail anatomy

Dog nail anatomy

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.

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.

How do you treat a dog’s broken nail?

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

Should I let my dog lick their broken nail?

No! Licking or chewing at wounds can lead to infection or complications. Consider an Elizabethan collar or cone if your dog won’t leave their wound alone.

How can I prevent my dog from breaking their nails?

Proper nail grooming is important, as short and trim nails are less likely to snag on objects, causing splitting or breaking.