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Ouch! That Hurt! – Treating a Torn Dog Nail

Picture of a young dog on a sofa

If you have ever torn a nail, you know much it hurts. When cutting your dog’s nails, you know it doesn’t take a lot to earn a yelp or even see some blood. If you are like most dog owners, you dread dog nail trim day, and you take every precaution you can think of to ensure you don’t accidentally “nick” your favorite canine pal. Yet sometimes, dog nails can get caught on things and end up with a nasty tear. Since torn nails can easily become infected, it is important for owners to understand the steps necessary to treat a torn dog nail to avoid having to take a trip to your local veterinarian.

How to Care for a Torn Nail

Some nails are more prone to accidents than others. Certain breeds have their dew claws removed within a few days of their birth to prevent future painful injuries. However, many breeds do not. Though dew claws can be helpful to many dog breeds, they are also more likely to become caught in fabric and other materials causing them to crack, splinter, or tear. Yet it is not just dew claws that can be on the receiving end of an injury. Sometimes nails are injured through the simple act of clipping them to keep them short. Keeping nails at a proper length is critical for the comfort, health, and safety of your pet. Yet clipping nails can be challenging for owners; particularly if Fido is less than cooperative, or he has black nails, making it very difficult to determine where the quick lies. However, it is important to note that the length of your dog’s nail can increase the likelihood of injury. Proper preventative measures include keeping your dog’s nails short.

The first step to treating nail injuries is being able to identify when there is a problem.  Here are the most frequent symptoms of a torn nail in need of treatment:

  • Favoring a leg
  • Limping
  • Blood on floors, bedding, or furniture
  • Insistent licking of the area
  • Swelling
  • Resisting any efforts for the owner to examine the paw

Though your dog may exhibit any or all of these symptoms, examining the paw is the only way to get a clear picture of the severity of the injury. If your dog adamantly refuses to allow you to look at it, it may be time to call in the professionals by taking him directly to your veterinarian for assistance. Alternatively, you can recruit the help of another family member who can hold the dog’s head away from the paw to allow you to properly assess the situation. Once you have determined what the problem is, here is a list of the steps you  must take to prevent further issues as a result of the torn nail:

Remove any nail fragment.
Unfortunately, sometimes nail injuries only take a portion of the nail. This means that in order to prevent infection, you will need to remove any remaining nail from the paw. This offers the best opportunity for the nail to heal and for regrowth to occur normally. However, this is not always possible.

If you are able to cut off the dangling portion of nail without harming the quick, you may use nail clippers to do so. If not, it may be best to contact your veterinarian who can do the job with your dog under sedation to prevent panic and additional pain.

Stop the flow of blood.
Nail wounds are often evidenced by large amounts of blood. It is important to get the blood flow to stop prior to continuing treatment of the wound. Many owners like to keep a styptic pencil, similar to what many men use to staunch shaving wounds, in their pet first aid kit. Available in powder form as well, this is an excellent means to stop bleeding quickly. Cornstarch is also an effective tool to accomplish this and an item that most people have in their kitchen already. For best results, apply powder to the affected area then wrap with a clean towel or gauze until the bleeding ceases entirely.

Clean and sanitize the wound.
Once the blood flow has stopped, you can now proceed to clean the wound. Removing all traces of dirt and any potentially hazardous material is very important to prevent infection. Make use of warm water to gently bathe the area. Make use of a spray or ointment designed to disinfect and prevent infection. Many people like to make use of Colloidal Silver or a triple antibiotic cream for this purpose.

Bleeding may commence again at this time. If so, simply reapply cornstarch or styptic powder to stop the bleeding then cleanse and disinfect again.

Properly dress the wound.
To prevent bacteria and debris from entering the wound, you must dress it properly. Some people make use of gauze or Vet Wrap to swathe the area. Others use baby socks and simply tape them into place with surgical tape. Most dogs will not like this and will attempt to chew off any dressing you place on the wound. For this reason, it may be necessary to place an Elizabethan collar on your dog to keep him from accessing his foot until the injury heals.

 Change bandages as needed.
Check the area daily and reapply clean bandages on an as needed basis.

Keep the area clean.
For best results, clean and disinfect the area daily. You may discontinue this when the wound is properly healed, and dressings can be permanently removed.

 Be alert for possible infection.
Any sign of infection is a major cause for concern. Infection can appear as a large swelling, pus from the wound, or continued bleeding which may or may not be accompanied by pus. At the first sign of any of these symptoms, you must not delay in taking your dog to your veterinarian for treatment.  Your vet will prescribe an antibiotic which will help eliminate the infection.

Nail injuries happen to the best dogs and their owners, no matter how careful we try to be. While keeping nails to the proper length will help in preventing injury, having knowledge of the correct first aid techniques in case of a torn nail is an invaluable skill that all owners should have in their “dog owner’s tool kit.”

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