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What to Do with a Torn Toenail

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Suddenly you notice – there's blood on your dog's paw and he is limping and licking his paw. When you take a closer look you see the problem – a terrible torn toenail. Toenail problems, specifically torn or broken nails, are common in dogs but rarely life-threatening. Nevertheless, they are quite painful.

Nails often get snagged on fabric or carpet fibers, and in an attempt to dislodge the attached material, your dog might pull away, tearing the nail in the process. You might not even notice until you see blood or your dog begins to limp or cry. If left untreated, a torn nail can bleed intermittently and become infected, not to mention the pain and irritation for your dog.

Veterinary Care

Some torn nails can be treated at home if your pet will allow it, but veterinary care can reduce the potential for infection and provide easy removal of the torn nail. Depending on the extent of the tear, removal of the nail at the level of tear is usually sufficient. This is most easily done with nail trimmers. After removal of the broken part, your veterinarian may apply a temporary bandage to stop bleeding. He may also prescribe an antibiotic to prevent infection.

Home Care

If you try to treat your dog at home, remember: a torn nail is painful for your dog and you should take care to avoid getting bit. The following steps are important:

  • Initially, you will have to stop the bleeding. You can use silver nitrate or styptic pencils. If you don't have either of these, try cornstarch or flour. When placed on a bleeding nail, these generally stop the bleeding.

  • Removing the loose nail is the most difficult part of caring for the torn nail. Most often, you can just yank the loose piece of nail off very quickly. If the nail doesn't come off easily, you can try to use a pet nail trimmer and remove the nail at the level of the break. Remember, this will probably hurt your dog for a second. If the tear in the nail is high up and near the base of the nail, don't attempt to remove it with trimmers. If the nail isn't easily pulled off, see your veterinarian for treatment. The last bone of each toe is very close to the beginning of the nail. Without experience, you may end up hurting your dog more than you realize.

  • If you successfully remove the damaged part of the nail, gently wash the area with warm water to remove any debris lodged between the nail and the toe or leg. Then apply a temporary bandage if necessary for bleeding. Take care not to wrap the bandage too tight so circulation will not be damaged. Leave it in place for 12 to 24 hours.

  • If you do not feel comfortable taking care of a torn nail, call your veterinarian. Leaving a torn nail to heal on its own (which will not happen) or allowing the nail to grow out is not a recommended option. This causes persistent irritation and possible repeat breaks.

    Preventative Care

    The best preventative care is to trim your pet's nails frequently. Overgrown nails are most commonly affected.

    For more information on how to trim your dogs nails, see Toenail Trimming.

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