Can You Leave A Broken Nail On A Dog?

Broken nails are a common injury for dogs. A dog’s nails can crack, split, or tear off completely, often while playing or exercising. Broken nails can be very painful and lead to infection if left untreated. It’s important to know the signs of a broken nail, how to treat it properly at home, and when it requires emergency veterinary care. Leaving a severely broken nail unattended can lead to significant pain, inflammation, and possibly permanent damage. This article provides an overview of broken nails in dogs, covering the causes, first aid, treatment options, and prevention.

Causes of Broken Nails in Dogs

There are several common causes of broken nails in dogs:

Natural wear and tear. As a dog’s nails grow, they can become brittle and prone to cracking or splitting, especially as a dog ages. Older dogs may experience more nail breakage due to natural aging of the nails.

Injuries from playing or walking. Active dogs that run and play a lot can catch or jam their nails, causing nails to split or break. Similarly, walking on rough surfaces can put stress on nails and lead to cracks or chips.

Getting nails caught on surfaces. A dog’s nail can get caught on fabrics like carpets or bedding as they run and play. Or their nails may get caught on outdoor surfaces like sidewalk cracks. If the nail snags hard enough, it can rip or tear off.

According to WebMD, some other causes include bacterial or yeast infections of the nail bed, allergies, nutritional deficiencies, and repetitive trauma like constantly tapping on a hard surface [1].

Signs of a Broken Nail

There are several signs that may indicate your dog has a broken nail. These include:

  • Bleeding or discharge from the nail – This is one of the most obvious signs of a broken nail. You may see blood or a clear/yellowish discharge coming from the nail if it is cracked open or the quick is exposed.
  • Limping or licking paw – If the broken nail is painful, your dog may limp or hold their paw up. Excessive licking or chewing at the paw is also common.
  • Cracked or split nail – Carefully inspect each toenail and look for any cracks or splits in the nail itself. Even if the nail is still partially attached, a deep crack can indicate a break.
  • Loss of nail – In some cases, the entire nail may break off or be pulled away from the toe. This will leave the nail bed exposed and likely bleeding.

If you notice any of these signs, examine your dog’s paws and nails closely to determine if a nail is damaged. Even small cracks in the nail should not be ignored.

Dangers of Leaving a Broken Nail

Leaving a broken nail untreated can lead to several issues for dogs. Some of the main dangers include:

Pain and Discomfort

The exposed quick of a broken nail is very sensitive and can cause significant pain for dogs (source). Even small breaks or cracks in the nail can be uncomfortable. Dogs may show signs like limping, licking the paw excessively, vocalizing when the nail is touched, or seeming more lethargic.


Broken nails provide an opening for bacteria to enter and cause infection. Signs of infection include discharge, redness, swelling, and a foul odor from the nail. Infections need to be treated promptly with antibiotics from a vet to prevent spreading and further complications (source).

Further Injury

If the broken section of nail is still partially attached, it can catch on surfaces and tear further. This can expose more of the quick and cause additional pain and bleeding. The loose nail section could also become embedded in the dog’s paw pad leading to a secondary injury.

Embedded in Paw Pad

If the broken nail penetrates a dog’s paw pad, it can cause significant pain and require surgical removal. Puncture wounds can introduce bacteria deep into the paw tissue leading to abscesses or infections. Embedded nails need to be addressed promptly by a vet.

Treating a Broken Nail at Home

If your dog’s broken nail is not bleeding profusely, you may be able to treat it at home. Here are some tips for caring for a broken nail without needing to see the vet:

To stop minor bleeding, apply pressure to the tip of the nail with a clean towel or gauze pad. Hold for 5-10 minutes until bleeding stops. You can also use a styptic pencil or powder designed for pets to cauterize the wound (PetMD).

Once bleeding is under control, bandage the paw with gauze and medical tape or a self-adhesive bandage. Make sure not to wrap it too tightly. Keep the bandage clean and dry by changing it daily (VCA Hospitals).

Keep the nail clean by gently rinsing with saline solution or antiseptic wash. Apply antibiotic ointment to reduce risk of infection. Do this 2-3 times per day.

For pain management, administer over-the-counter pet-safe pain medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. You can also try cold compresses and elevated rest to reduce inflammation and discomfort.

Monitor for signs of infection like swelling, redness, oozing, or foul odor. Seek veterinary care if these occur.

When to See the Vet

In some cases of a broken nail in dogs, it’s best to seek veterinary care. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, you should take your dog to the vet if there is excessive bleeding that cannot be controlled with pressure, or signs of infection like redness, swelling, and discharge around the nail.

Additionally, if part of the nail is still embedded in your dog’s paw, only a vet can safely remove it. Leaving an embedded nail fragment can lead to infection. You should also see the vet if your dog seems to be in severe or ongoing pain or discomfort from the broken nail. They can provide pain medication and assess if the nail damage requires medical treatment.

While some broken nails can be treated at home, it’s important to monitor your dog closely and get veterinary care if bleeding can’t be controlled, there are signs of infection, part of the nail remains stuck in the paw, or your dog is in obvious distress. Your vet can provide the proper treatment to prevent further complications from a broken nail.

Vet Treatments for Broken Nails

If a broken nail is severe, involves the quick, or shows signs of infection, it’s important to take your dog to the vet for professional treatment. The vet will assess the injury and determine the best course of treatment, which may include:

Assessment and Trimming – The vet will examine the broken nail and trim away any jagged edges or damaged parts of the nail. This helps improve healing and prevents further injury (VCA Hospitals).

Medications – Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent infection. The vet may also recommend anti-inflammatory medication or pain relievers to keep your dog comfortable (PetMD).

Splinting – If the nail is cracked but still partially attached, the vet may apply a splint to immobilize and protect it while it heals.

Surgical Removal – If the nail is severely damaged or detached, surgical removal may be necessary. This is done under anesthesia and helps prevent complications.

In most cases, veterinary treatment helps dogs heal from broken nails quickly and without complications. Follow your vet’s at-home care instructions for medications, bandaging, and activity restriction.


After your dog has received initial treatment for a broken nail, proper aftercare is crucial for healing. Here are some tips for caring for your dog after a broken nail:

Keep the bandage clean and dry. Replace bandages daily, and check for signs of dirt or moisture. Wet bandages can lead to infection. Use a plastic bag or bootie when taking your dog outside.

Prevent licking and chewing. Dogs may try to lick or chew at their hurt nail. Use an Elizabethan collar and monitor your dog closely. Licking can introduce infection. Chewing can cause further injury.

Monitor for signs of infection like swelling, redness, oozing, foul odor, and fever. Infections require veterinary treatment with antibiotics. Seek prompt vet care if you notice these signs.

Allow nail to fully regrow before trimming. It takes several months for a broken nail to completely regrow. Avoid trimming the nail until it has fully regrown to prevent pain or bleeding.

Continue pain medication as directed by your vet. Pain relievers will keep your dog comfortable during recovery. Don’t stop medications without your vet’s guidance.

Return for follow-up appointments. Your vet will want to monitor healing and make sure the nail is regrowing properly. Follow your vet’s recommendations for rechecks.

Preventing Broken Nails

There are several steps you can take to help prevent your dog’s nails from breaking in the first place:

Trimming nails regularly – Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed to an appropriate length will minimize the risk of breaks and cracks. Use a proper nail clipper and take off just the tip of the nail to avoid hitting the quick. Trimming a little at a time every 1-2 weeks is ideal.

Using scratching posts – Providing scratching posts made of sisal, cardboard, or wood allows your dog to naturally file down and condition their nails. This reduces brittleness and cracking.

Avoiding rough play – Hard play on rough surfaces can cause nails to catch and split or break. Try to discourage overly rambunctious play, especially on hardwood or cement.

Protective footwear – For dogs that spend time outdoors on harsh terrain, booties provide a protective barrier against cracks and breaks. They distribute pressure and minimize trauma to nails.

When a Broken Nail is Normal

Occasional minor breaks in a dog’s nails are normal and nothing to be too concerned about. Dogs are active animals and it’s not uncommon for them to snag or crack a nail from time to time, especially active breeds. As long as the break is not severe, the nail is not fully torn off, and there is minimal bleeding, it’s usually safe to monitor the nail at home.

Look for signs of infection like redness, swelling, discharge, foul odor, and excessive licking or chewing of the nail. Also monitor to make sure the break does not extend and lead to the nail splitting all the way up. As long as you don’t observe any worrying symptoms, mild broken nails tend to heal within a few weeks as the nail grows out. The new nail will usually come in normally. Just keep an eye on the nail and look for any abnormalities.

Occasional minor nail breaks are a normal part of an active dog’s life. While monitoring for signs of problems, broken nails that are not severe can usually heal on their own within several weeks as the nail regrows. But if you notice any signs of worsening injury or infection, contact your veterinarian right away.

Scroll to Top