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
Groovy Goldendoodles says
You’re a braver woman than I – I think I would have had to call the vet #chickenpetmom
2 Brown Dawgs says
We seem to always get the ones that split and those take forever. Glad you avoided the vet.
Lynn LaChance says
Good info, want to see the follow up here. So glad all turned out for the best for Luke though, with no vet visits involved!
M. K. Clinton says
Bentley has torn the same dewclaw twice. The firs time, it did not require a vet visit but we did take him for the second time because it bled. He is taking a trip to the vet tomorrow for a nail trim. ♥
I’m glad that you didn’t have to go to the vet!!! Good job. Our dog has split a nail, and ended up having to have the entire nail removed. That was NOT fun.
No, that doesn’t sound like any fun at all!
Hailey and Zaphod says
Thanks for the information. We have only dealt with one nail issue in our dog owning days, so haven’t thought a lot about it!
I like those odds, hopefully that means we don’t see one again for a long time! Knock wood.
The Island Cats says
We never realized the fact that dogs can break their nails. We’re glad Luke is okay…but how did you ever keep that bandage on him? Once Ernie got his claw stuck in Wally’s collar and when Wally ran, out came the claw. There was so much blood…I didn’t know what had happened at the time. I too, didn’t know if it required a vet visit, but I called and they said to bring him in. I guess there’s always the chance of infection, particularly since cats are digging around in litterboxes. They tried to bandage Ernie’s paw, but that bandage only stayed on a day before he had it off. Interestingly, Ernie’s claw grew back! ~Island Cat Mom
No, that was Beth’s dog Barley that had the bandage. We never would have gotten one on Luke, never mind kept it on! I don’t know what Beth’s trick was to keeping Barley’s on (though I did read you could put a sock over it to help, but I think you would then have to tape the sock on too).
You answered a question I had in my mind, which was if cats very often break their nails. I imagine the infection risk is much greater for cats, but hopefully they’re less apt to break one since they don’t run quite as hard as dogs do. But Ernie proved it can happen in odd ways!
Barley is just really patient with me, so she left the bandage alone for the most part. There were a couple times she tried to nibble on it and I’d just trim the frayed part so it did get a little shorter over the weekend, but she was pretty good about leaving it on for the 48 hours the vet wanted to give it to make sure that everything had clotted properly and wasn’t being bothered by her sister! She was more than ready to get it cut off when the 48 hours were up, though!
And Jan, I’ve seen a few cracked nails on Soth when I’ve gone to clip them for him, but his little white paws have never had blood on them and he never seemed bothered by them, so I know that it can happen to cats, but I’ve never had any worries about it. Now that I know about Ernie’s experience, though, the universe will probably throw some weird cat nail issue at us, too! (And I just noticed a broken nail on Rye–but she seems completely unfazed by it and I never saw any blood so we’re just going with it. I’m beginning to think her rough play is the culprit with our nail problems!)
I’ve noticed Sam’s nails splintering a little bit when I’ve clipped them too. But she had one once that was almost grown right around so I have to keep after hers. But so far it’s never been an issue. I know, I’m almost afraid to say that….
I have noticed a couple of Luke’s other nails have broken, but on those just the tips came off and that was it.
I’m so glad that Luke had an easier time with his nail. My parents’ dog ripped off an nail months ago and had a very similar experience. She just had her nail start growing back after it was completely gone. My vet said not to be surprised if the nail looks a little different than before when it starts growing back, so who knows what Barley’s toes will look like now! Thankfully, her nail quit bleeding before I put her in the car to go to the vet–who knew a little thing like that could bleed so much!
Nails and ears are the worst for bleeding. I remember one time when Kobi and Moses got into a scuffle and Moses caught Kobi’s ear. I thought we would never stop it from bleeding (I didn’t know the tricks to doing it back then, and didn’t have the styptic powder).
We finally stopped the bleeding (or it just stopped on its own), and then we found a puncture wound on Kobi’s neck (which didn’t bleed much because we didn’t even see it right away!), and we ended up having to take him to the vet anyway!
I’ve found some little scrapes on Barley’s legs before that I never noticed because there was next to no bleeding! Of course, being the hypochondriac that I am, I’ve panicked and been convinced that her legs were going to fall off 😉 Even though the nail quit bleeding pretty quickly, the amount of blood that came out of it in a short amount of time was way too much for a squeamish person like me 🙂
Luke had some scrapes on the back side of his leg too, and I never saw any blood. Those, he was licking too much I thought, but I’d just keep after him and he finally stopped.
Yeah, I can see where all that blood would be rough on someone squeamish like you! But it’s amazing how having dogs gets us more used to stuff like that. When our first dog was drooling excessively when she rode in the car, I could barely handle that! Now I stick my hand right in their mouths to take stuff out – LOL.
Sand Spring Chesapeakes says
You did get very lucky with Luke, that was a easy break that he took care of himself. Many are much worse and we need to sedate them to take care of them. When they don’t like their nails to be futzed with and then you add a painful broken nail on top of it it’s best to just sedate to not have a bad experience and also they don’t have to feel it. Glad it all worked out.
We did get lucky! At some point we’re going to have to give in to having him sedated so they can do a few things like a nail trim to him. But I need time to psyche myself up for that, because I know it will be an ordeal. I’m just not ready yet (unless we have to).
Christine Caplan says
SO glad this healed up on its own and I’m so sorry this happened. I didn’t know his sensitivity to having his feet touched was so intense… Sherm is like this with other things like putting his harness on and being touched in certain places… I totally feel you. Taking him in is such an ordeal. Hopefully that won’t happen again any time soon. Glad it worked out OK.
For a while we actually were able to do a couple nails while distracting him with peanut butter on a plate, but at some point he decided that wasn’t going to happen any more. We’ve really worked with him so much on having his feet touched. He’ll let me do it to an extent, until he sees any implement in my hand.Then he just freaks out and leaps away. It’s hard to trim a nail on a moving target – LOL.
One of the only things Luke IS good about is having his harness put on. At least that’s something!
Dolly the Doxie says
Goodness I had no idea a broken nail was so serious. I have a friend with some sort of disease in his which is very bad. I hate to have my nails trimmed. We walk on pavement a lot so that keeps them down some, mom has just been letting the vet trim them but that’s only once or twice a year. Our Petsmart does walk-ins now so mom got me set up in their system and took me over. I actually went with the groomer, she got me hooked up on her table and I was not afraid, she even ground them. Of course mom stood outside watching through the window saying I was a good girl, but then I was put in the sink and had my glands cleaned, yikes! Anyway glad that Luke is going to be all right. Love Dolly
Thanks, Dolly! You are a very good girl to let them trim your nails. Although it’s not a guarantee there won’t be a break, the chances are much better if they’re kept nice and trimmed.
Brian Frum says
Yep, that can sure be a bit scary! When I first read the post title I thought it said broken tail, yikes!
Broken tails are definitely much scarier! We actually had that with more than one cat, and it’s definitely not good!
Monika & Sam says
Because we walk a couple times a day, both dogs seem to have their nails filed naturally on sidewalks which is a good thing because Sam in particular hates it when anyone touches his toes. Glad you were able to dodge that bullet! Luke’s guardian angel must have been keeping an eye on him.
I don’t remember ever having to trim nails on our first two dogs. We’ve never walked on a lot of hard surfaces, but we did hike with them more and maybe that made the difference, I don’t know.
Yes, Luke’s angel was definitely watching over him, judging from other comments, we got pretty lucky with this!
We use a piece of sisal on a board, similar to a cat scratcher and taught Tu-Lei to scratch that. As the motion is similar to digging she really enjoys it. I can cut her dew claws but she’s not very keen on the dremel either. Hope your idea for Luke works, he seemed very restrained with his licking and I’m glad the nail sorted itself out.
It is surprising to me that Luke was so restrained with the licking….most dogs wouldn’t be.
I saw on the internet someone who put sandpaper on a board, so very similar to what you do. We’re giving it a try, and Luke has started scratching it a little already! The dew claws will still be an issue though, so eventually Luke will have to go to the vet I’m afraid.
Two French Bulldogs says
Oh poor baby. Mom has the stop bleeding stuff on hand just in case. We never dealt with a broken nail thank goodness
Lily & Edward
We’re so glad to hear that, and we hope you never have to deal with one either!
The Daily Pip says
Ouch, glad the bleeding stopped on its own. Breaking a nail is a fear of mine as well, but I also really don’t like trimming nails – afraid I will cut too much off. Ruby is fairly easy to trim, but I am always still nervous and probably wait too long between nail trims. Our first dog Pip HATED having his nails trimmed and always made a big stink about it.
Looking forward to part two of the story.
I worry so much about cutting off too much too (and since I’ve done it that makes it even worse!). I actually just got some clippers that help with that, and I’ll be writing a review once I get a chance to try them. So I am always conservative too, and also wait too long between trims. Cricket puts up a fuss about it, but at least she lets me do it, unlike Luke!
I’ve had the same experience but I also spent a long time with one specific horseback riding instructor who happened to know a fair amount about minor vet care too. She taught me a lot about when to worry and when to watch. We had 3 dogs (1 mine,) 1 cat, and 7 horses, dealt with pulling out porcupine quills, broken dog nails, strains/sprains, abscesses in hooves, and ragged teeth. With her knowledge and instruction, we were able to solve most of those issues ourselves. The ragged teeth required a call to the horse dentist 😉
It’s hard to determine when, but watching for the right signs, like you did, is the most important thing.
Good for you! I’m not sure I’d have the nerve to take on a lot of that stuff on my own, but with help what great things to learn too.
I think as you said, trying to determine when we can do it ourselves is really the tough part. It’s tough to find the balance between running to the vet for every little thing, and when to wait it out at home.
Oh goodness no, if she hadn’t had 30+ years of animal care under her belt and many Vets who willing provided her with education, there is NO WAY I could have dealt with that stuff on my own. I would have been FREAKING OUT! LOL.
It is tough, though. I am often giving advice to a friend of mine who doesn’t have much money. She is certainly willing to spend what she has if necessary but minor stuff – like when her dog broke a nail, or broke out in hives but didn’t have any other signs of allergic reaction (Benadryl) or when he ate a whole bunch of black tea (hydrogen peroxide – makes ’em vomit.) But I have sent also sent her to the vet when I am not sure, those were easy fixes, but the ones that can’t be watched externally as easily, those especially need to go to the vet.
Maybe you could convince Luke to file his own nails using a scratching post from the cat? Glad his nail has healed up fine without the vet visit.
That’s actually kind of the idea! That board in the photo has sandpaper on it. We’re already working on getting Luke to scratch it. It will only work for his front paws though, and not the dewclaws either, but hopefully it will at least be something to help a bit. We’ll see how it goes.
oooh poor Luke… to look at a damaged nail is like to look directly in the face of freddy kruger… same fear factor for me LOL. I’m glad no vet visit was needed and it looks much better now…