Broken or torn toenails are a common injury in dogs, but can usually be treated at home. The nails highest up on a dog's front feet, known as the dewclaws, tend to break most often, much of the time during a nail-trimming session. It's sort of a paradox: Your dog's nails need to be kept trimmed so they don't snag on anything, but the process of trimming them could lead to injury.
Fortunately, this is usually treatable at home.
Before You Begin
Every dog is different—you know your dog best, but remember that when injured, a dog will instinctively try to protect itself. This means that your dog may reflexively bite or snarl at you, not really meaning to. It may be advisable to use a muzzle when treating a toenail injury, or enlist the help of another person, preferably one the dog knows and trusts.
What You Need
- Nail trimmers
- Clean towel
- Warm water
- Styptic pencil
Stop the Bleeding
It is a good idea to have shaving alum or styptic pencils at home for general first aid so when a nail is accidentally cut too short, you have the necessary tools on hand to stop bleeding. Alum and styptic pencils can be purchased over the counter at drug stores in the first aid supply area.
If you don't have alum or a styptic pencil, you can use flour or cornstarch to help stop bleeding. Pack a small amount in the cut nail end and apply pressure. Holding ice on the cut surface will also help stop bleeding, but some dogs may not put up with the cold.
Trim Any Broken Nail
If possible, remove any of the broken parts of the nail that may still be attached. This broken end often causes the dog more pain and may increase or continue the bleeding every time the torn piece is disturbed.
The quickest way to do this is with a dog toenail clipper. Sometimes the piece is barely hanging on and they can be pulled off (quickly) with your hand.
Avoid using human toenail clippers; dogs' toenails are much harder to cut than people's nails, and you may prolong an already difficult process by not using the proper tool.
Wash the Affected Area
The injured nail needs to be gently washed off. Use warm water to remove any debris lodged between the nail and the toe or leg.
If there is active bleeding, wait before washing. Apply gentle firm pressure with a clean cloth to the area. A firm grasp around the entire foot works best if the dog will allow it. While you're applying pressure, speak to your dog in a calm, soothing voice. If you have a second person helping, they may be able to provide a distraction.
Consult a Veterinarian for Complications
This type of injury often leaves a bloody "stump" of tissue that would normally be inside the toenail housing. This is very tender and sensitive, and you should have your vet take a look at this type of injury as soon as possible.
If a large amount of toenail has been removed, most vets will bandage the area and prescribe a short course of antibiotics as protection against infection. Another method is to use an antibiotic ointment (with frequent bandage changes) on the stump for lubrication and reduced friction and pain.
In severe or repeated injury cases, your vet may recommend removal of the toe.
Sometimes a toenail injury happens without any known trauma or reason. A veterinary examination is important to rule out other possible causes, such as an infection or tumor in the area, weakening the toenail and causing secondary breakage.
How to Prevent Your Dog From Tearing a Toenail
Keeping your dog's nails trimmed will help prevent most toenail injuries. If you're not confident about trimming them or have had problems in the past, take your dog to a qualified groomer.
Dogs are most likely to injure a toenail walking or running on hard, uneven surfaces such as cracked asphalt or gravel, where the nail may become caught. If your dog is prone to toenail injury, avoid these surfaces, or, invest in some doggie booties to protect its feet.