It is not unusual for dogs to break their nails, but just like us, breaking or tearing a nail can be a very painful experience. Your dog may break part of their nail off completely or tear the nail so that some of it remains. This might be a result of your dog catching their nail on surfaces such as soft furnishings or grassy areas, or they might injure their nail whilst running around. If your dog breaks their nails often, it may be a good idea to take them to the vet, as this can be a sign of SLO (Symmetrical Lupoid Onychodystrophy), a disease affecting the nails.
Although extensive damage may have to be treated by a vet, there are things you can do at home to help.
Dog Nail Structure
The outside of a dog’s nail is made of keratin. This part of the nail is hard and dead, so it is not painful for dogs when it is cut. However, inside of the nail is a supply of blood and nerves known as the ‘quick’. If your dog’s nail is damaged deep enough to reach the quick, then it will bleed a lot and be painful for them.
What do I do if my dog breaks a nail?
If your dog hurts its nail, they may yelp or limp around. If you suspect a broken nail, do the following:
1. Restrain your dog
Your dog will be in pain, so it is important to restrain them properly when you are looking at their paw. This will prevent your dog from causing any further damage to their nail by moving around. A muzzle may be used as an extra precaution – even if they are usually friendly, your dog might snap if they are in pain.
To restrain them, wrap your arms around your dog and bring them close to your body, whilst holding their head away. If your dog likes to wriggle, get someone else to hold them whist you look at the nail.
2. Examine the nail
Try to take a look at what’s going on with your dog’s broken nail. Is the nail broken off entirely, or is some remaining? Is it wonky? Bleeding? Take care, as many dogs will find this painful and may snap. If you’re struggling to see the nail, or you aren’t sure what you’re looking at, it’s usually best to take your dog to the vet for them to take a look.
3. Stop the bleeding
Your dog’s broken nail might bleed a lot but do not be alarmed – applying pressure to the area should stop the bleeding after some time. Get some paper towel (or gauze if you have it) and gently press it against the broken nail until it stops bleeding. If this is taking a long time, you might want to use a ‘styptic pencil’ on the area. These can be found at your local pharmacy or in a first aid bag and can help the nail to stop bleeding. Never use a tourniquet to stop a bleeding nail—it will do more harm than good.
Although your dog’s nail is likely to stop bleeding after 10 minutes or so, you should take them to the vet if it is still bleeding a lot after a prolonged period. They can stop the bleeding and also check whether your dog has a clotting disorder.
4. Remove the broken part of the nail
If your dog has torn their nail so that part of it is still attached, the broken bit of the nail must be removed to prevent further damage.
If you have nail clippers designed for dogs, then you can attempt this at home. Make sure that your dog is safely restrained then cut the nail where it is hanging off. However, this is tricky to do and may prove difficult if your dog is in pain and moving around, in which case it may be best to let the vet cut it off.
Wrap your dog’s paw in some paper towel or cotton wool (or even a sock) for your journey to the veterinary clinic. You may also want to apply a plastic ‘cone of shame’ or ‘buster collar’ to your dog to prevent them from licking the area whilst you travel to the vet’s.
5. Cleaning the nail
Once the bleeding has stopped, it is important to clean the nail, so your dog does not get an infection. Dip your paper towel or cotton wool into some warm water with salt and gently clean the nail. Be sure to remove any grit or dirt that may have entered the nail but be careful not to be too rough. You may find it easier to pour the salty water or the disinfectant into a tub and put your dog’s whole foot in.
Most dilute disinfectants designed for human cuts will be fine to use on the wound too.
After following these steps, it is important to monitor your dog for signs of infection. If your dog’s nail continues to bleed, or they still appear to be in pain after the event, then you should take them to the vets. The vet may prescribe your dog some painkillers, or antibiotics if they suspect an infection, or may bandage the foot. Be aware of your dog licking the nail, as this could encourage infection—place a collar to prevent licking.
How to prevent nail breakage in dogs
To reduce the risk of your dog’s nails breaking or tearing in the future, it is a good idea to keep them cut short. You can do this yourself with dog nail clippers or take them to the groomers. Your dog should naturally wear their nails down when out on walks so make sure your dog is getting enough exercise, especially on hard surfaces.
If your dog is repeatedly breaking nails and bothering with them, you should mention it to your vet. SLO is an unusual disease that often goes undiagnosed for some time because it’s so rare. It causes nails to become brittle, wonky, and painful, and makes them more prone to breakage and loss. Treatment is simple, but takes a long time to work.
In summary, if your dog damages its nail, be sure to keep it clean to reduce the risk of infection. It is always a good idea to get your dog checked over by a vet if you have any concerns about them.
Featured Image Credit: PorporLing, Shutterstock