Before Luke’s recent nail break, I had dealt with a broken nail only once before with our golden retriever, Moses. His happened in the morning and I was able to get him into the vet that day. It stopped bleeding on its own before I even took him there. All they did was trim it up, and he did not need a bandage or anything. In retrospect, I may not have needed to take him in, especially since he always allowed me to handle his paws. One thing I did learn now though is that it could be painful if you try to trim the leftover nail yourself.
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.
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It seems fairly obvious, and I think everyone would know that if your dog is holding their paw up, and showing signs of pain, then a vet visit is in order. However, as is sometimes the case, if they don’t seem to be in pain and you can stop any bleeding yourself, then you might be able to treat it yourself at home. If you’re not comfortable doing that, then by all means, take your dog in! If vet visits are extremely stressful for your dog, like Luke, or if finances are a concern, then in some cases you have the option to try home treatment.
One important thing is that you monitor the nail closely for several days to watch for any signs of infection, in which case you should then get your dog to the vet immediately. You also want to keep your dog quiet for a few days so the nail can heal.
In general, there are three different types of breaks:
- The nail is completely broken off and bleeding.
- The nail is cracked or broken, and still loosely attached (that is what happened with Luke, seen in the photo below).
- The nail is cracked or broken, but still firmly attached. You should see your vet in this case.
#1 is the best case scenario, and the easiest to treat at home. In Luke’s case, #2 turned into #1 by the next morning, when the nail came off on its own, though it did not bleed initially.
First, if it is bleeding, there are ways to stop that if you are dealing with #1 and your dog is not in pain. Apply pressure gently for 10-15 minutes with gauze or a clean cloth. It’s important to do it for that length of time and keep the pressure on consistently. You can also use styptic powder, baking soda, corn starch, or flour. Press it into the wound gently but firmly and it should stop the bleeding. I used the styptic powder* when I clipped one of Sheba’s nails too closely, and it worked very well. Anyone who clips their dog’s nails at home should have some on hand (and I prefer the powder over the stick).
Luke wouldn’t let us handle his paw, but the vet suggested we could try to get him to step into something with the powder in it. We never needed to, because the bleeding stopped on its own every time. I had the same experience with our beagle Kobi when I trimmed his nail too short, and by the time I got off the phone with the vet, it had stopped. In most cases, and in all my experiences, it will stop on its own. Your dog will not bleed to death, but you may end up with a big mess on your hands! However, if it doesn’t stop in a reasonable amount of time, get to the vet.
We considered trying to trim the nail off when it was still hanging. We doubted Luke would cooperate with that so decided instead to wait it out. I’m glad we didn’t try, because I did read it could be painful for them if you did that; and muzzling your dog would be a good idea just in case. Honestly, I don’t think I’d attempt this myself, and you would only want to do so if it was VERY loose. A vet can use sedation so that pain is not an issue.
If you’re able to treat at home, dogs can keep the nail clean on their own, as they would do in the wild. It is OK for them to lick it, as long as they don’t do so obsessively. Luke kept his clean but left it alone unless it had just been bleeding. You could clean it yourself, if your dog cooperates with that, and use something like Neosporin to help ward off infection (as long as they won’t lick it all off). You could also bandage it to keep it clean.
Our friend Beth got to be an expert at bandages when her dog Barley broke her nail! She was even able to bandage it well enough to take Barley on some walks after a few days. As I wrote yesterday, Barley’s nail break was painful and required a vet visit.
The good news about broken nails is that they almost always heal well, infections are rare, and a complete recovery is expected. The nail will grow back in time. Keep your dog off hard surfaces and on a leash if necessary to keep them quiet while it’s healing. Our yard got icy so I had to be more careful with Luke, though we didn’t ever leash him (we have a fenced in yard). As seen in the photo below, both Barley and Luke’s nails have started to grow back already!
Don’t forget to watch for infection, and get your dog to the vet if you see any oozing, pussiness, swelling, or signs of pain. I would plan on keeping your dog quiet for at least a week in order to prevent re-opening of the wound. As always, when in doubt, you can never go wrong visiting your vet!
For more information, here are the sources we used:
- The Bark: Cracked, Broken, or Torn Nails by Shea Cox, DVM
- PetHelpful: Vet Approved Tips for Dealing with a Broken Nail
- Dr. Barchas: Damaged, Torn, or Broken Toenails in Dogs
I have a jack russell puppy and his mail started bleeding while we were playing ball. The nail was bleeding but stopped quite quickly and he didn’t help or anything so I don’t know if he’s on pain because when I touch his nail he doesn’t react like it’s very painful. Half the nail seems to be off but it’s still staying quite firm on his paw. I hope it can heal by itself soon because I don’t really want to pay a visit to the vet because I can’t really afford it and only if it was really necessary to go. He seems pretty fine, jumping and still walking around like normal.
I hope he made out OK, Linda? I hope it was a good sign that it did not bleed much, nor did it seem to bother him.
anonymous T says
Hello! My Frenchie has broken her dew claw close to where the nail starts growing i guess? i’m not old enough to drive and my parents are asleep. She’s in minimal pain when i try to touch her paw and there’s only a little blood. Will she be okay until morning?
Hello, I’m so sorry, your 10 pm was the middle of the night for me! I hope all was OK with your Frenchie. If she was not bleeding a lot or in a lot of pain, it was probably OK to wait? If not, I hope you woke your parents up and got her to the vet!
Paula smith says
That sounds like my dog she’s walking like everything is normal I probably will call the vet tomorrow and see what they say she seems like she’s not in pain
I’m glad she doesn’t seem to be in pain. Let me know what the vet says if you can!
Debra MacNeil says
If you can’t afford a vet and can’t cut it…will it fall off? She doesn’t seem to be in pain, just favoring it.
I don’t know for sure, Debra, but Luke’s eventually did fall off. If she isn’t in pain and it’s not bleeding a lot, I would just keep a close eye on it. Try to keep it clean if you can. Luke doesn’t let us handle his paws at all…so we really couldn’t do anything. Sometimes dogs can just heal naturally themselves, in my experience. But I can’t really give you advice, since I’m not a vet, but just share my experience. You could also contact your local humane society to see if they know of a vet who would work with you as far as payment.
Leslie A Baird says
I could afford a nearby vet but they couldn’t take him in. Everything healed great. It would have probably been better if it was debrided, etc.
I think taking them to the vet is probably the best option, if that’s an option for you, which in some of our cases it wasn’t, for different reasons. Luke is so petrified of strangers we have to try to do things at home if possible; and even that’s not easy!
Leslie A Baird says
My dogs center nail/claw split and it looks like it got caught in the carpet and pulled almost off. It looked like there was a 50 percent it would heal, until I came home Friday night and it was bleeding a bit and almost completely off. My vet was booked up for several days and I was afraid to go somewhere else.
I soaked his foot in benzocaine tooth pain reliever and water which perked him up immediately. He ate and walked around a bit. By Sunday it had come almost off, hanging by like a hair. I cut it off with a cosmetic scissor. There was zero blood. The benzocaine was effective. I didn’t bandage it. My dog wouldn’t really let me, but he rests in his dog house/crate a lot. He needs a dental and other treatment, so I am going to the vet in a few days. He should be all right.
What a great idea to use the benzocaine! Luckily Luke’s didn’t seem to bother him, because he’s pretty resistant to having anything done to his paws.
I think keeping them quiet is a big help too – good job!! I’d be interested to know what your vet says about it though.
Leslie A Baird says
It is a moderate injury, his largest claw torn off, but I probably solved it. I am taking him in ASAP. He has some other issues but is generally okay.
You really did a great job. I hope you get his other issues worked out too.
Leslie A Baird says
His toe has made almost a complete recovery. He is cheerful and wants to walk long distances. The new claw is growing in at an alarming rate. He will be completely recovered this week at this time. The incident went on for about four weeks though. It looked like it was going to heal, then it seemed like the claw was being rejected, then it healed again. Finally, it was clear it was going to have to come off.
2 Brown Dawgs says
Lynn LaChance says
okay, thanks, good pointers!
Callie, Shadow, and Ducky's Mom says
That time when Shadow broke her nail, it was so close to the edge of her nail bed that I didn’t feel comfortable taking care of it myself. But if the girls ever just chip a nail, I’ll let it heal on its own providing they’re not in pain. I will keep this post bookmarked though!
You never know when it might come in handy! 🙂
Sand spring Chesapeake says
Some great information. I like the part about stepping in something g to help stop the bleeding if won’t let you touch the paw.
I’m sure I wouldn’t have thought of that on my own, and even though we didn’t need it this time, it’s great to know for the future.
Lauren Miller says
Great post! I haven’t had to deal with a broken nail with the girls because I keep their nails as short as possible but I have had to deal with it in client dogs and it’s no fun! I wish nails didn’t bleed so much. We keep quick stop on hand at all times just in case.
It’s definitely a good reason to keep nails short; although even that might not be a guarantee. Do you do their nails yourself or take them somewhere? I really should take mine (other than Luke who won’t let anyone touch them), because I’m always too conservative when I do it myself.
Barbara Rivers says
Thankfully my pups haven’t broken a nail so far (knocking on imaginary wood!), but one of my daily midday dog walking clients, Bailey, recently did. She had gotten a bath by her owners on a Sunday afternoon, followed by zoomies during which she ran into a wall and broke her nail. Ouch. She was taken to the vet who trimmed the nail and prescribed some sort of ointment/wash to treat the nail with (I didn’t have to do it, the owners did in the morning and at night). We limited playtime for about 2 weeks because she likes to rough house, and now she’s good to go again.
I’m glad Luke is doing well again and I remember reading about Barley’s nail on Beth’s blog.
Dogs that do zoomies are probably prime candidates for broken nails! I don’t even know how or when Luke got his though; those types of dogs are the ones that are the most difficult to have to keep quiet! Luke is so excitable and that’s what was challenging with him.
Monika & Sam says
Going to have to save this post since I’m sure with my posse, we’ll need it. Thanks for sharing.
I hope you don’t end up needing it, but it’s always best to be prepared. 🙂
Brian Frum says
That darn blood sur maks anything scary!
It sure does! Who wouldn’t freak out when seeing all that blood?
M. K. Clinton says
Great information on how to handle a broken nail. I know it scared me when Bentley broke his the first time. It is good to know that it is a fairly common injury and there is no need to freak out. ☺
I think that’s the biggest thing for me, since I tend to panic over every little thing! 🙂
The bloody mess is the worst part of any nail issues.
That’s the truth! I was pretty good with Luke’s until it started bleeding everywhere!
I’m so glad that Luke is back to playing and having fun. Having to keep Barley calm was the hardest part!
I hear you. Thank goodness for things being back to normal, right?
Roby Sweet says
Thanks for the information, and I’m glad Luke is doing well! Our Layla broke a claw last fall (of course over the weekend when the vet was closed!). It bled some but not too much, and it was definitely painful. We took her to the vet & she was put on a pain med and an antibiotic for a few days, plus she had to wear the cone of shame at night to keep her from chewing at it. In a few days, she was good as new, but it was kind of scary for us when it first happened.
Oh, I’m sure it was very scary for you. I’m glad Layla healed up fairly quickly though!
we had to deal so many times with broken dew claws… and they mostly needed a vet visit. Phenny is no tunnel digger by now (knock on wood 3 times…naah…87 times) so we maybe can take a break from broken nails&claws :o)
I remember that with Easy. We will knock on wood 87 times for Phenny too!