What to do when this inevitably happens to you.
Similar to our fingernails, dogs are equipped with nails of their own. In dogs and cats, they are more appropriately referred to as claws. The total number that they have ranges from 16–20 depending on if they’re blessed with dewclaws or not. The potential issues that come with having claws are effectively the same as what we face with our nails.
For starters, they require trimming from time to time to keep them from overgrowing. I was recently faced with a more dramatic problem than a simple prophylactic nail trim, though. In the late evening, I received a text message and a somewhat graphic picture from a friend of mine asking what they should do about their dog’s broken nail. If you’ve ever experienced this issue before you know that it can be an absolute mess due to the profound blood supply to the structures beneath the claw. A good, clean break of the claw will bleed extensively. Add to that, the discomfort that comes along with a broken claw, and you’ve got a rough experience for your furry friend.
That being said, a broken nail would rarely constitute a medical emergency. Unless your dog has an underlying condition that prevents them from controlling their blood loss adequately, the amount of blood you see is unlikely to be problematic. Your carpet, couch, and car upholstery on the other hand could be in serious trouble.
So, is a broken nail something that warrants an immediate trip to the veterinarian?
If the break happens in the middle of the day, it’s probably worth trying to get in with your primary vet so that they can remove the broken piece of nail and place a bandage. This will sometimes require a little sedation, depending on the severity and the amount of stress your pet feels. If the broken portion of the claw has completely fallen off, then there is really nothing medically necessary to be done. Placement of a bandage is still common in this scenario and simply protects the exposed, sensitive tissue until the body can lay down its own protection. It has the added benefit of protecting your soft or absorptive surfaces by keeping your little pup from re-traumatizing the area and causing the bleeding to start anew. Your veterinarian may also send a few days of an anti-inflammatory home which can help with the pain.
If you encounter this injury in the middle of the night or after hours, you can usually get away with placing a light wrap around the affected limb at home. You can reassess how it looks and how your dog feels in the morning and decide whether you’d like to see your primary vet then. Usually, within 24–48 hours, the paw feels as if nothing’s happened and your dog will be back to normal. The claw itself; however, can take several weeks to months to fully grow back, similar to if you, for example, smash your own finger under a hammer and lose your nail.
Fortunately, these wounds seldom become infected and require antibiotics. I believe in my three years of practice I have had to treat just one broken nail with antibiotics. All of the rest healed on their own with limited intervention.
While this injury can be a bloody mess and can cause your pet some discomfort, it rarely constitutes a medical emergency. With the added volume hitting our emergency centers nowadays (at least in my area); I know from experience that many owners are being turned away with pets that have broken claws. If you do choose to bring your pet to an emergency center for this you will generally have an extensive wait time. Often, by the time that you’re seen the bleeding has long since stopped anyway.
Broken claws are an extremely common injury in dogs and while they are scary, they are often something that can be managed at home. Hopefully, this helps provide some peace of mind the next time you encounter this injury. While the bleeding, and injury itself, can appear quite concerning most dogs shake off any discomfort and pain within a couple of days. Thanks for reading!
Note: This is a generalization of a common injury in dogs. Some instances can constitute more severe injury and, as mentioned, rarely could a life-threatening outcome result. If you are ever worried about your pet, you should seek the advice of your veterinarian.