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Vet-Approved Tips for Dealing With a Dog's Broken Nail

Updated on March 15, 2017
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Adrienne Farricelli is a former veterinary hospital assistant and now a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of dog books.

A dog's broken nail can bleed profusely.
A dog's broken nail can bleed profusely. | Source

How to Treat Your Dog's Broken Nail

The treatment involves four distinct steps: inspecting the area, removing any damaged portions of the nails, stopping the bleeding, and disinfecting. After you have performed these steps (or even before, depending on the case), it's best to see the vet just to be on the safe side. Because injured nails are painful, bloody, and prone to infection, you must intervene and provide first aid. This is what the vets recommend:

1) Inspect the Area

After muzzling your dog, inspect the area carefully. It will obviously be red, bleeding, and even swollen. Try to look at the paw without handling the quick area directly and unnecessarily. Your assessment should determine if you need to remove any portions of the nail or if you can skip this step and stop the bleeding. If the nail is split in two and one end is hanging, you will obviously need to remove that hanging portion.

2) Remove a Portion of the Nail

This is where it gets tricky. If a nail is split in half and is hanging, you'll need to snip it off with your nail clippers. Often, the pain persists until the damaged nail is removed, and this must be done to allow the toenail to heal and the new nail to grow. Note: this will hurt your dog, but it should only take a split second to remove it. Often, once that portion is removed, your dog feels better. If your dog appears to be in excessive pain or you feel squeamish about the whole thing, cover the area with a bandage and go directly to the vet so your poor dog can get some relief through local anesthesia or tranquilizers. Also, see your vet if the hanging area is not easy to pull. The last bone of the toe is close to the beginning of the nail and if you don't know what you're doing, you can end up hurting your dog. Your vet can trim the portion of protruding/hanging nail safely so your dog's nail gets to heal cleanly. This is the preferred approach.

3) Stop the Bleeding

If you see lots of blood, don't panic; this blood comes from blood vessels and can be stopped quite easily (unlike the life-threatening bleeding of an artery). The next step is to stop the bleeding, but if it won't stop, go to your vet immediately, as some dogs may be prone to clotting abnormalities (think dobies with Von Willebrand's disease) and may require cauterization.

Ideally, you should keep a styptic powder or styptic pencil such as Kwik Stop in your first aid kit for such emergencies. If not, don't despair, there's a simple remedy and most likely it's in your house. Corn starch or flour (or bar soap, as noted in the video below) packed firmly around the area using a paper towel will do the job. Just make sure you don't succumb to the urge of checking repeatedly to see if the bleeding has stopped, as this may cause the bleeding to start again. Just keep the pressure for 5 to 10 minutes as recommended by veterinarian John A. Bukowski. To keep your dog distracted and prevent him from licking the area, you can keep him on his tummy and give some tummy massages or let him lick a wood spoon with peanut butter on it.

4) Disinfect the Area

The bleeding should have done a good job in cleaning the wound, but you want to take a few extra precautionary measures just in case. Warm water will help remove debris from the wound, according to veterinarian Janet Tobiassen Crosby. Don't use hydrogen peroxide, as this tends to make things worse. Plain neosporin or a diluted betadine solution are better choices. You can then bandage the area (follow the Expert Village's veterinarian advice as shown in the video below) and make sure not to make it too tight!

5) See the Vet

Your vet may bandage the area nicely and prescribe antibiotics and/or pain killers, depending on the extent of the wound. This will help prevent the chances for a nail bed or toe infection.

Note: Take care handling your dog's paw as he may be in great pain and bite. I highly recommend a muzzle, for safety's sake.

Causes and Symptoms of Broken Nails in Dogs

Scruffy's toenails may look quite tough, but they are prone to snagging, tearing, fracturing, and breaking apart. The reasons are several, let's take a look at some.

  • Often, the length of the nail plays a role. Long nails are more likely to get snagged and break than neatly trimmed ones.
  • On the other hand, often, a dog's nail gets cut too short by the owner.
  • A nail might get snagged on the carpet, woven rug, deck boards, or a floor grate while the dog is running.
  • The most vulnerable nails are those on the front paws and the dewclaws.
  • Normally, dogs' nails wear down as they walk on hard surfaces and exercise. The nails of a pet leading a sedentary life and walking on carpets all day may grow quite long.
  • Some dogs are more predisposed to developing brittle nails than others.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dog's Toe Nail Injuries

What if I cut my dog's nail too short?
This happens all the time. Follow the same steps described above.
How do I get the blood to stop?
Apply pressure for 5 minutes, then wrap with gauze. Styptic powder helps.
What is the styptic powder for?
It helps stop the bleeding. It's a great thing to have in your first aid kit.
Lots of belly rubs and affection help keep your dog distracted.
Lots of belly rubs and affection help keep your dog distracted.

Symptoms of Broken Nails

You'll likely know when your dog's toenail is broken, as this type of injury is quite painful.

  • Your pup may yelp, limp, and consistently lick at the wound.
  • If a part of the nail is hanging, your dog may chew it off.
  • You will notice extensive bleeding. The stains may be over the carpet or on the tile floors.
  • The "quick" (the pink flesh part normally covered by the nail) will be often exposed and bleeding.

Recovery Tips: How to Help Your Dog Heal

Generally, dogs start feeling better within 48 hours. Total recovery takes some time, as the nail needs to re-grow so to completely cover the vulnerable quick. Generally, this takes 2 weeks according to Dr. Fiona.

  • As your dog recovers, try to avoid walking him on rocks, sand, snow, or mud for about two weeks.
  • Because dogs tend to lick and chew the area over and over, an Elizabethan collar may be helpful.

The Importance of Pet First Aid

I want to emphasize how helpful it would be if all pet owners would enroll in a pet first aid class. As a former vet assistant and now as a dog trainer/behavior consultant and pet sitter, I find it helpful to attend pet first aid classes and get certified just in case of an emergency. I don't recommend this for professionals only, but pet owners as well.

The examples of how this can turn helpful are many, as you never know what life may throw at you. Most first aid programs require you to re-certify after two years because the pet care field is always advancing and improving. The way you do doggie CPR today, may change tomorrow.

How to Trim Your Dog's Nails Without Making Her Bleed

My Story

My dog's nail accident happened 5 days ago, and she's already recovering greatly. The bleeding stopped after 5 minutes packed in flour, with constant pressure. Then my vet took a look at it. He complimented me for doing the right things and then bandaged the area with vet wrap. He then said if more people attended first aid classes, there would be less chances for complications. He is thinking about holding some in his clinic. What a wonderful idea!

Disclaimer: this article is not to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog's nail is broken, please see your vet. By reading this article you accept this disclaimer.

© 2012 Adrienne Janet Farricelli

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    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 12 days ago from USA

      Kat Matues, glad this info on tips for a dog's broken nail helped you out. It's all info from reputable sources.

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      Kat Mateus 3 weeks ago

      This is the best advice I've found! Thank you so much

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      Tara 3 months ago

      Great article!!!! My dog has a fractured nail and because he was limping I thought it was his leg as I couldn't see anything wrong with his paw! Rushed him to vet after watching him limp around for about an hour and I'm happy I did. Especially because an infection can happen.

      I love the advice you give as well! I'm a firm believer in, if it doesn't seem right take them in! Lots of people think I'm crazy but if I have a feeling they should go to the vet (whether I'm right or wrong) they go... I'd rather take them and it be nothing then be rushing them to the ER in the middle of night cause I didn't take them when I should have!

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      Sharon my Tracey 3 months ago

      Very helpful, my dog has long nails but also very long qicks, I took him to the vet to get them trimmed, but when the young girl cut them they all bled so I try to file them and he does not like anyone touching his paws because of what happened. ...right now he still has his nail on but I am keeping an eye on it because this is not the first time, and only one nail ...

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      Dennis 4 months ago

      My dogs nail is cracked. Then bleeding has stopped and she can walk on it fine. Is there any need to go to the vet?

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 4 months ago from USA

      The nail should be quickly removed, but it can quite painful (even though just a split second). Most dog owners decide to have the vet do this.

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      Slim 4 months ago

      I need helpbmy poor dog bbroke a back pawn nail how do i fix it nail it just hangin there i feel so bad any advice

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 months ago from USA

      Haya, a broken nail does hurt a bit for the first few days, but it's always best to see your vet if your dog seems in pain. I would restrict her activity until it heals.

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      Haya 7 months ago

      My dog broke her nail and she cries and sleep but yesterday she runs and plays with the ball shall i worry?

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 9 months ago from USA

      Hydrogen peroxide kills healthy cells which are needed to help with healing.

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      Andrea Gelsomina Anderson 10 months ago

      why does hydrogen pyroxzide make it worst?

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      Olly 14 months ago

      Hi my name is Olly and I'm 14 years old. I'm round my fathers house and having a late night because it's his birthday, anyway he is asleep now but I can't and ive noticed that my dog Lilly's nail has a whole half off and I can see the bone I will do anything but when I get near her she yelps any idea what to do shall I wake my dad or wait till morning

    • alexadry profile image
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      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 17 months ago from USA

      If the bleeding has stopped, you would need to make sure your dog doesn't lick/chew the area. You may need to have her wear an Elizabethan collar for the night when you cannot watch her. Limit walking over hard surfaces such as rocks/gravel. Usually, improvement is seen in about 48 hours.

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      Jon 17 months ago

      My dog broke her nail and I've cleaned it and wrapped it up but the vet isn't open until Monday, what else can I do. She's a German shepard pup and I want to make sure I'm giving her the best care that I can under these circumstances.

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      Preston59 4 years ago

      Thanks for the info.

    • GiblinGirl profile image

      GiblinGirl 4 years ago from New Jersey

      I never though about doggie first aid but it definitely makes sense to know. Thanks for sharing these tips.