The short answer is “No, not always.”; but there are deciding factors.
*Disclaimer: I am not a vet. I am sharing our own experience, and what I learned from research from reputable sources. Always consult your own vet if you have any doubts.
It was just a few weeks ago that our blog friend Barley, from Travels with Barley, broke a nail and had to go right to the vet. Barley was holding up her paw and in obvious pain. I commented at the time that a broken nail was one of my biggest fears for Luke, since he will not let us trim his nails, and he also will not let a vet anywhere near him. A broken nail could conceivably mean sedation for him.
I guess fate decided to mess with us a little, because it was just a few days later when Luke DID break a nail. However, Luke didn’t hold up his paw and his nail wasn’t bleeding. The only reason I noticed it at all was because he was licking his paw, and I checked to see why. This is what I saw:
Yikes! Since it wasn’t bleeding and he wasn’t in pain, we weren’t extremely concerned, and of course it was after the vet’s normal hours. But I was worried because it was hanging off like that and I knew eventually he’d catch it and it would probably tear off.
The Dadz and I discussed trying to trim it off….but we knew what a project that would be since he won’t even let us trim his nails. In retrospect, I’m glad we didn’t even try it and I’ll tell you why in Part 2 tomorrow. As I continued to worry and stress more, I decided to call our vet. They have an emergency phone number and I love that they’re always available to us (we do have an emergency clinic in our area but we’ve never had to use it).
I explained exactly what was going on and we discussed bringing Luke in, but we all know how he is. I expressed my fear that it would catch on something and then really start bleeding. She explained to me ways we could try to stop the bleeding, and that it was not likely it would continue to bleed indefinitely, and he would not bleed to death (yes, that was my concern!). We decided to wait it out, knowing also that we could take him in in the morning if we needed to. She suggested putting him in a crate if it did start bleeding, so we could keep him quiet and contain the blood. We also knew we would need to watch it closely for a while for any swelling or oozing that could mean infection; and we were going to have to keep him quiet and off hard surfaces.
By the next morning, the nail had come off; though we don’t know when or how. It most likely happened when he went outside that morning. Again, it wasn’t bleeding though! When I got home from work that afternoon, I thought it would be safe to take him outside since the yard was mostly covered in soft snow at that time. Cricket wanted to play ball, but Luke doesn’t really chase it much so I figured we were OK. I had some treats and thought I could distract him with some light training. That’s where I was wrong and it wasn’t only a few minutes later when I started to see blood in the snow.
I brought him up on the deck and then into the house. This is a time I’m happy we have wood floors and our throw rugs are fairly easy to spot clean. Once I got him settled down it was in only a matter of a few minutes that it stopped bleeding on its own. I learned it was OK for him to lick it and clean it a little bit himself, providing he didn’t lick it obsessively. All he did was clean up the blood and then he left it alone. He certainly wasn’t going to let me touch it, so bandaging it or cleaning it myself was out of the question.
We went through the same thing the next day, and I considered that I may have to take him out on leash only so he didn’t keep opening up the wound. However, each time it started, it bled less and less so I decided to just keep him as quiet as possible without totally restricting him. That ended up being fine, and I think after about 3-4 days it stopped bleeding completely (I’ve since read that in most cases it will take about 48 hours to heal over).
We got lucky in the way he broke his nail. It can all depend on how it happens as to whether it’s going to be like our friend Barley’s, requiring a vet visit and bandaging, or like Luke’s and able to heal on its own. In those first couple days, I knew that Beth was still dealing with Barley’s bandage and keeping her quiet so I did still worry a bit if we were handling it right. At that point I did a little more research, and learned we were OK to treat at home.
Luke’s nail has completely healed and we never had to visit the vet. I also found an idea for wearing down at least some of his nails, which we’ll be trying. I’ll share about that if it works.
Tomorrow I will tell you what I learned through my research, so that you can know what to do if your dog breaks a nail and going to the vet immediately isn’t the best option for your dog either. I’ll share the different ways the nail can break, when you absolutely should visit the vet, and ways you can try to stop the bleeding yourself at home.
You can now find that post here: When/How You Can Treat a Broken Nail on Your Dog at Home