Torn Nails and Your Dog

Torn Nails and Your Dog
Vet Buzz from Bill Barboni, DVM and Chris Pitts, RVT,
Marin Pet Hospital, San Rafael, CA

Funny as it sounds, a broken nail really can ruin your dog’s day. A break or tear in the nail can occur with normal play and exercise. The nail can get caught and twisted, or strike a hard surface and break.

A broken nail can be very painful and cause your dog to limp. In addition, the nail could bleed a lot, depending on where it broke. If your dog will let you touch his paw, the easiest way to contain the blood on your way to the veterinary office is to apply a clean sock; just put it on your dog’s foot the same way you would put it on yours.

At the veterinarian’s office, the affected nail is trimmed back to the point just past the break. Your dog may or may not need sedation to have his nail trimmed back; it will depend on where the break in the nail occurred. Generally speaking, the closer to the nail bed the break, the more likely the need for sedation. The caveat is that if the nail is just hanging on by a thread, the veterinarian may be able to trim the nail without causing further pain to your dog.

In most cases, a small bandage will be applied for several days to keep the nail bed clean and dry, and to prevent scuffing the damaged nail and making it bleed again. If your dog’s bandage gets wet, call your veterinarian ASAP. Usually, no bandage is better than a wet bandage. In addition, antibiotics might be prescribed.

The easiest way to prevent a broken nail is to keep your dog’s nails clipped short. How your dog wears his nails as he walks or runs will determine how often you will need to have his nails clipped. We have patients who need trimming every four weeks, while others can go as long as four months before they need a trim.

If you want to learn how to trim your dog’s nails, ask your veterinarian or groomer if they will give you a lesson. It can be a little nerve-wracking at first because no one wants to over-trim, or “quick,” their dog’s nails. But with a little practice, nail trimming can be a fairly straightforward procedure. To help yourself, your vet and your groomer, handle your dog’s feet often. Handling the feet can come in the form of teaching you pet to shake with you, or just giving your dog a little paw massage. The more comfortable your dog is with having his feet handled, the easier trimming nails will be for all concerned, especially if he will require medical attention.

If a break occurs, keep calm and realize it is usually not as bad as it looks, but medical attention may be needed. In some cases antibiotics may be necessary to keep an infection at bay. Once a broken nail is trimmed back, your dog can be back at regular play within a few days. Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed on a regular basis can help prevent breaks from occurring in the first place. If you’re lucky, when you take your dog in for a mani-pedi there will be a place nearby where you can get one, too.

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