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Home > Dogs > Is a Broken Dog Nail an Emergency? Vet-Reviewed Facts

Is a Broken Dog Nail an Emergency? Vet-Reviewed Facts

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Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Marta Vidal-Abarca

Veterinarian, BVSc GPCert (Ophthal) MRCVS

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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You might see blood spots on the floor or carpet first, or your pup might not be as enthusiastic about their daily walk. You may also notice your pet licking their paws excessively. These can all be signs that your dog has broken a nail. You may wonder if it’s an emergency. A pet in pain is always an urgent medical matter from our point of view. Uncontrollable bleeding is also an emergency.

While it may not be an emergency in the same sense as a broken limb or intestinal blockage, it’s worth investigating as soon as you notice something is amiss. It could be an injury worth immediate treatment.


Treating a Broken Nail

The first course of action when dealing with a broken nail is to stop the bleeding. If you’ve ever accidentally clipped a dog’s quick, you know it bleeds—a lot. The blood loss won’t be life-threatening, but it’s a risk and it should be stopped as soon as possible. It is also an open pathway for pathogens to enter your pup’s body and cause bacterial infections.

Applying pressure is an effective method to stop the bleeding. However, a broken nail is also painful. Even the sweetest pup may pull back from the treatment, no matter how important it is. Some dogs may nip or pull away from anyone trying to apply first aid to the wound. However, you can apply continuous but gentle pressure using a clean cloth or gauze or also use a styptic stick to stop the blood flow.

If a stray part of the nail is still attached, this will be extremely painful until it is removed and it can worsen the injury if it catches on something. Sometimes this loose fragment is very easy to remove with a firm pulling or twisting motion, but at other times, your pup will be in too much pain to let you near it and your vet will deal with it in the most appropriate way. We suggest wrapping the site and getting your pup to the vet for further treatment. Your vet can do any additional triage and take any further action, particularly if sedation is necessary. Follow-up care is essential because it reduces the risk of infection and minimizes pain.

Girl cuts the dog's nails
Image By: titov dmitriy, Shutterstock

Concerns With Broken Nails

The greatest concerns with broken nails are secondary bacterial infections. Your dog certainly doesn’t help matters by licking their wounds. The fact remains your pet must use their feet, which also exposes them to bacteria and other pathogens. Elizabethan collars usually work to protect injuries on other parts of your pup’s body, but their feet are another story. You can discuss with your vet whether dressings, boots, or both are necessary until the nail heals and continues its growth.

divider-dog paw

Other Possible Causes

Your first thought may be that a broken nail is a one-off event. You probably break nails occasionally without any undue concern. You cut off what’s left and file the ragged edges. Your vet will take the same approach. While this is true in the vast majority of cases, weakened nails that break or get damaged very often can also be a sign of something more serious and worthy of investigation. Some are probably health concerns you’d never have on your radar.

dog paw nail
Image By: ulisesbeviglia, Pixabay

Nail Bed Melanoma

Cancer isn’t one disease but dozens of health conditions affecting different parts of the body in various ways. Cancer can occur between the first toe bone and nail in a dog. The latter isn’t spared by its development and is often the red flag that something is seriously wrong. The disease can weaken the nails and cause them to break.

Melanoma of the toe can spread by metastasizing to other parts of the pet’s body, mainly the lungs and the local lymph nodes. That action moves the disease to the next stage and complicates its treatment. Some may dismiss it because it doesn’t sound like something serious when it just initially involves toes. Nevertheless, cancer is unpredictable and can take unexpected turns.

Nail Bed Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) can also cause odd but similar signs of something more serious. Large-breed dark-coated dogs are more prone to digital SCC. Toe tumors can weaken the structure and weaken the nails. They don’t normally break without reason. Other signs, such as swelling, redness, and pain, are red flags for further investigation.


Final Thoughts

We can probably all relate to how painful a broken nail can feel. It also carries other health risks related to similar injuries. However, it can also be a red flag even if your pup isn’t in danger of an immediate threat. It’s safe to say that it’s a normal occurrence, but if it is repeated over time or other signs of disease appear, it is worthy of investigation. After all, a broken nail can be a sign and not just a one-time injury.

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Featured Image Credit: Vera Larina, Shutterstock

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