dog broken nail

What To Do If Your Dog Has a Broken Nail

Ouch! We all know the feeling of breaking or tearing a nail. As unpleasant as it may be for us, imagine what it might be like for our pets! Knowing what to do if your dog has a broken nail is vital – because, if you don’t act fast, your pup may be at risk of serious pain, bleeding, and even infection.

Your furry friend deserves the best – and that goes for manicure and pedicure treatments! In this guide, we’ll take you through what to look for if you suspect your dog has a broken nail, and how you can treat it. In some cases, you may need to get your pooch into the vet – but here’s what you need to know before that arises.

Why dog nails break

Dogs are, as you know, fairly rambunctious – and with lots of running and jumping about, comes the potential for injury and accident. Your dog’s nails are, for most of their life, pretty tough and hard-wearing. However, one accidental snag here, and too big a leap there, and there may be a crack or split to deal with.

Naturally, the longer the nail, the more likely it will be to snag and catch. This may mean they are more at risk of nail damage and breaking than usual – in which case, it pays to have a nail clipping routine set up so you can keep their claws filed down to a healthy level.

Sadly, as dogs age, their nails can weaken, and brittle claws lead to breakages. While your older pet may not be exercising as much as they used to, they are more at risk than ever from breaking the odd nail! 

Weak nails are also a side-effect of dogs suffering from cancer. If this is the case, it’s worthwhile speaking to your vet about treatment.

Brittle and broken nails can also arise through improper cutting and trimming – meaning it pays to invest in a good pair of clippers and/or to regularly book your pup in for a clip.

What’s crucial to remember is that a broken nail really hurts! Your poor pup has no real way to communicate this with you, so you must make sure to be vigilant of how they walk and carry themselves. But, how can you tell if your dog has a broken nail at all?

How to tell if your dog has a broken nail

Unless you’re actually inspecting your dog’s paws and claws, there are a few tell-tale signs that indicate they may have a broken nail or two. Here’s what to look for.

  • Constant or frequent licking at an affected paw
  • Limping or holding a paw up when sitting or walking
  • Refusing to run or struggling to walk
  • Holding their paws or nails at strange angles
  • Swelling in the affected paws, claws, or toes
  • Spots or smears of blood where your dog sleeps
  • There’s an infection in the paw
  • You can see exposed skin and flesh on their paws
  • Refusal to let you touch their affected paws, toes, and claws

These points aren’t conclusive, of course! If your dog is showing any kind of strange behaviour when it comes to mobility or even letting you get close to their paws, it’s likely time you considered checking for a broken nail.

Of course, while it’s possible to treat a broken dog nail yourself, if your pup really doesn’t like you touching the affected area, it’s time to head to the vet. The last thing you’ll need is to cause your dog more stress and/or pain! We’ll cover this in a little more detail further down.

Why it’s important to fix your dog’s broken nail

If you believe it’s safe to leave your dog with a broken nail hoping it grows back or gets better on its own, think again. Your dog’s nails are extremely sensitive, and are full of essential nerves and vessels. A bundle of nerves and vessels in your dog’s nail is called the quick – it’s essentially tissue.

When your dog breaks a nail, they expose the quick. It’s normally protected by a hard casing made of keratin, but when exposed, it’s at serious risk of infection. This is particularly concerning, too, because the quick connects directly to the bones in your dog’s feet. Leaving a bone infection to worsen could lead to potentially fatal consequences.

structure of a dog's nail with quick and keratin
The quick (in red) is encased in keratin (yellow). Source: Pinterest

It’s also good to check which nail your dog has broken. The nail on your dog’s paw that’s most likely to break is the dew claw. This is the longer, pointier nail that you will normally find higher up on the foot itself – which means it rarely, if ever, comes into contact with the ground. 

Dew claw of a dog

Given that it doesn’t wear down naturally like the remainder of your dog’s paws, it’s likely to be more sensitive to growing brittle and breaking. Just like the other nails on your dog’s foot, however, any breakage needs immediate examination to prevent further pain and infection. Luckily, if it’s a minor break, you can treat your dog at home!

How to treat your dog’s broken nail

Before heading to the vet, you can potentially treat your dog’s broken nail(s) if the problem is mild enough. In some cases, you may need cauterising powder or silver nitrate sticks to treat wounds. If you don’t feel confident or happy using these treatments on your own, you should always call a professional.

Here’s how to treat a dog’s broken nail step by step:

  1. Carefully prepare your dog

    Your dog is likely to be feeling discomfort and/or pain already – which is why it’s important to ask someone to help you hold, or gently restrain your pet while you investigate.

    Remember, as cute and as pleasant as your pup may normally be, serious pain can really change a dog’s mood – and we can’t blame them. If you’re especially worried, consider using a lead and a muzzle.

    This is perhaps the trickiest part to treating a broken nail as some pups may not be cooperative at all! Please remember not to force treatment, or even inspection, if your dog appears particularly distressed, in pain or uncomfortable.

  2. Try to stop the bleeding

    If you’re dealing with a freshly broken nail, it’s likely your dog’s paw will already be bleeding. In which case, it’s important to stop the bleed as quickly and as carefully as possible. 

    If you can, try wrapping up your dog’s paw and nail in a clean or sterile piece of gauze, or a clean towel. Apply pressure to the toe affected, and check after five minutes, then after ten. If it has stopped bleeding, you can then move onto step three.

    However, if the nail or toe is still bleeding at this point, you may need to cauterise the wound. You can do so with silver nitrate (in the form of sticks), with cauterising powder, or even with flour. As mentioned above, these potential remedies may not appeal to all – and if you’re really unsure about how to proceed from here, call your vet immediately.

  3. Carefully trim away the damaged part of the nail

    Once bleeding stops, you can try to remove the broken or damaged area of the nail with a pair of clippers. If you can, try removing the hanging or broken piece of nail above the break. However, the break may be too severe – or too sensitive – to attempt at home.

    In any case, this part of the treatment is sadly going to be fairly uncomfortable for your pet – so take slow, gentle care. If you clip the nail and bleeding occurs once more, don’t panic. 

  4. Clean and disinfect the wound

    Be sure to wash and clean the wound carefully with warm water, and apply canine antiseptic spray or cream to help prevent infection.

    You may need to bandage your dog’s paw if the wound is particularly severe. Be sure to use sterile bandages and wrappings snugly around your dog’s paw – making sure it’s neither too tight, nor too wet.

    Be sure to change the bandage once a day while it’s healing. If you notice further swelling, redness, oozing or bleeding, you may need to ask for further help.

    In some cases – if your dog’s paw wound is particularly serious or painful – they may need a course of antibiotics. This is to help stave off any current infections that may have arisen, and/or to prevent conditions getting any worse.

    Your pup may also need a course of pain medication if the wound is too severe. While our dogs aren’t able to tell us outright if they have particular problems, it is easy enough to tell if they are in serious pain or under stress.

How long will it take for my dog’s nail to grow back?

You can typically expect a dog’s nail to grow back – after a break – within six to eight weeks. This means taking particular care of your pup in the interim. Make sure not to over-exercise them – and to ensure they don’t land on their affected paws from too high up.

The severity of the nail break will, of course, dictate how long it takes for your dog to recover from their broken nail. In some cases, a nail may need to be removed altogether. But, if you ensure you clip your dog’s nails carefully, you should have little cause to worry about breaks occurring at all in future.

When should I call a vet?

If you’ve not already noticed – we recommend that you call a vet or an animal medical professional as soon as possible if you are worried about the condition of your dog’s nail, or if you feel they need specialist care.

In our collective experience, it’s certainly better to be safe than sorry. If your dog has a minor split or break in their nail, this can often be easy to remedy – if you know what to do at short notice!

A qualified vet you know and trust will help to check the broken nail and to advise on any medication needed. As mentioned, a broken nail that’s left untreated can cause potentially serious problems in the long run. In the short term, it is at least going to cause your dog a lot of pain and discomfort.

We’d advise investing in a branded dog first aid kit at least, to ensure that you are well-prepared with hygienic gauze and ointment if needed. Given that dogs are perhaps more prone to accidents and stumbles than we are, it makes sense to have some form of safety provision on side!

You should, however, never leave calling a vet until the last minute. Trying to treat the wound yourself and assuming it will simply get better is never a good plan of action.

How can I prevent my dog from breaking a nail?

When it comes to dogs breaking nails, prevention is always going to be better than a cure. While you may not be able to do much to prevent an older or especially poorly dog from breaking brittle claws, there are ways you can be more mindful of healthier pups throughout the day. For example:

Keep claws trimmed regularly

Whether you choose to trim nails and claws at home, or invest in the services of a doggy manicurist, it’s very important to keep those pins healthily filed. Otherwise, your dog is going to risk getting its nails caught in something – whether it’s a loose strand of carpet, a rug, or mud outside, a snag could lead to a serious tear.

Again, your vet may advise you on an appropriate schedule to which you should trim your pet’s claws. Nails vary from dog to dog, as well as from breed to breed, so don’t immediately assume that there is a stringent timetable you have to stick to.

That said, try and set up a regular plan so that your pup’s claws are cared for. Abandoning them even once or twice could cause breakages!

If you are interested in learning how to cut your dog’s nails at home, take a look at our handy guide on how to cut a dog’s nails.

Invest in a fantastic pair of doggy nail clippers

If you want to give doggy manicuring a try from home, the great news is that there are plenty of different leading brands and clippers out there for you to try. In fact, we run down our favourite dog clippers for UK owners elsewhere on the blog!

While you may be tempted to choose a cheap pair of clippers to ‘get the job done’, think of this as an investment in your pet’s health! Cheap clippers made by brands you may not have heard of – or with very few reviews online – may be cheap in their build and design, too. Therefore, consider investing in Thunderpaws or Wahl, for example, as these are household names with years of positive reviews behind them.

You may also wish to try dog nail grinders, too – an interesting alternative to clippers that may be more efficient – and perhaps less painful for your pup. As always, this will vary from dog to dog – so make sure to read reviews and find a fit that suits your pet’s comfort levels (not just your bank balance!).

Be mindful

If you have a very active breed of dog – such as a border collie – it’s likely they will be getting themselves into all kinds of active mischief. While you may not have eyes on your playful pup all hours of the day, it pays to be vigilant of where they run, and how they land after jumping!

This is especially the case when it comes to older dogs. As your dog gets older, it becomes more important that you watch them closely – while they may not be as active, they are more prone to accidents, injuries and infections.

Should I treat my dog’s broken nail myself?

If you have a dog first aid kit and a good pair of clippers – as well as someone who can help to carefully hold your pet while you treat them – there’s nothing to say you can’t treat a broken nail at home. But, to be extra careful, call your local vet as soon as possible if you can’t stop the bleeding, or if the break appears worse than you first imagined.

Now you know what to do if your dog has a broken nail, be sure to treat them carefully! After all, breaking a nail isn’t fun at the best of times – now, imagine having to walk on them all day long! 

By following our advice, you’ll be able to get your dog’s nail back into a healthy condition in no time – and always ask for help, too, if you need it.

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