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