Is It Ok If A Dog Loses A Nail?

It’s not uncommon for dogs to lose a nail occasionally. While losing a nail can seem alarming at first, it’s usually not a serious issue if treated properly. Nails may fall out or need to be removed for a variety of reasons – they can crack, split, become damaged or infected, or detach after getting caught on something. With care and attention, most dogs recover well from a lost nail and go on to live a healthy, active life. This article will explain the causes of lost nails in dogs, what to look for, when it’s an emergency, treatment options, and how to prevent nails from being lost in the future.

Causes of Lost Nails in Dogs

The most common causes of dogs losing nails are trauma and injury. This can happen if the nail gets caught on something and ripped off or broken. Hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt can wear nails down over time and lead to nails falling off. High impact activities like running and jumping can also cause nails to crack and break off.

Injuries that damage the nail bed like getting stepped on, having a heavy object dropped on the paw, or getting a nail caught in a door can detach the nail. Severe bites, burns, frostbite, and chemicals can also damage nails and cause them to fall out.

Infections like dermatitis, pododermatitis, and nail bed infections can cause inflammation that leads to nails becoming brittle, weak, and prone to falling off. Systemic illnesses like cancer or autoimmune diseases can also affect nail health.

Allergic reactions to medications, chemicals in grooming products, lawn chemicals, and other topical irritants can inflame the skin around the nail bed and lead to lost nails. Yeast infections between the paw pads can also spread to the nail beds.

For sources see: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/first-aid-for-broken-nails-in-dogs, https://wagwalking.com/sense/can-dogs-nails-fall-off

Signs of a Lost Nail

There are several signs that indicate your dog has lost a nail. The most obvious sign is visible nail loss. Take a close look at your dog’s paws and toes to spot any missing nails. However, not all lost nails will be plainly visible.

Bleeding is another common sign of a lost nail. If your dog suddenly starts licking at their paw excessively, check for any bleeding nails. The quick of the nail contains blood vessels, so a lost nail may result in significant bleeding. Apply direct pressure with a clean towel or cloth to control the bleeding if you observe any.

Limping or favoring the paw with the lost nail is also common. Your dog may avoid bearing weight on that paw due to pain and discomfort. Observe your dog’s gait and posture carefully to spot any limping or change in typical movement.

Excessive licking, chewing, or biting at the affected paw can indicate pain and irritation. Your dog may lick persistently at the site trying to soothe discomfort from the lost nail. Pay attention to any changes in your dog’s normal licking behaviors.

If you notice any of these signs, inspect your dog’s paws thoroughly. Look at each toe and nail bed to identify the source of the issue. Knowing the specific nail affected will help inform any first aid or veterinary treatment needed.

Risks if Left Untreated

Leaving a lost or broken nail untreated can lead to some serious risks for your dog, including significant pain, infection, and permanent nail loss.

The most immediate risk is pain. A lost or broken nail exposes the quick, which contains nerves and blood vessels. This area is extremely sensitive, so even a minor injury can be very painful for dogs (MedVet, 2016). Your dog may limp, lick excessively at the paw, or even cry out when the nail is touched. Allowing continued pain is inhumane and stressful for your pet.

Another major risk is infection. Once the protective nail is gone, dirt and bacteria can enter and infect the quick. Signs of infection include redness, swelling, discharge, and a foul odor. Infections that go untreated can spread, leading to loss of the nail or serious systemic illness (WebMD, 2022). An infected quick is also more prone to continued bleeding.

Finally, leaving the nail bed exposed long-term increases the chances of permanent nail loss. The damaged nail will likely fall off eventually as the tissues heal and scar. If the nail matrix (growth center) is damaged, a new nail may never grow back. This will leave your dog permanently missing the nail on that toe.

First Aid for a Lost Nail

If your dog loses a nail, it’s important to administer first aid right away to stop bleeding and protect the exposed nail bed. According to VCA Animal Hospitals (source), the first step is to stop the bleeding by applying gentle but firm pressure to the nail bed using a clean towel or gauze pad. Hold pressure for 5-10 minutes until bleeding slows. Next, clean the nail bed gently with saline solution or mild soap and water to prevent infection. After cleaning, apply a sterile bandage or light wrap over the nail bed to keep it protected. The bandage should not be too tight. Limit your dog’s activity to prevent further injury and discourage licking or chewing at the bandage. Keep the bandaged paw dry and elevated on a pillow if possible.

When to See the Vet

If your dog loses a nail, you will need to see the vet promptly in certain situations. Some signs that indicate a visit to the vet is necessary include:

  • The nail is severely broken or lost, exposing a large portion of the quick.
  • There is persistent bleeding that cannot be stopped with simple first aid after 15-20 minutes of pressure. As noted by MedVet, significant bleeding warrants a vet visit within 12-24 hours.
  • Signs of infection develop around the nail or nail bed, including redness, swelling, discharge, foul odor, and warmth in the area.

A severely damaged nail with exposed quick has a high risk of developing an infection. Persistent bleeding can also lead to other health issues if left untreated. Therefore, it is recommended to have your vet assess the injury in these situations. They can provide proper treatment to stop bleeding, protect the nail bed, prevent further damage or infection, and support healing.

Diagnosis by Vet

When you take your dog to the vet after a lost nail, the vet will first do a physical exam to assess the injury. They will look for signs of bleeding, infection, damage to the nail bed, and pain. The vet will also feel the leg and paw for any swelling or fractures that could indicate an underlying injury.

If the nail was lost due to significant trauma, the vet may recommend x-rays to check for any fractures or other injuries to the bones and joints in the paw and leg. X-rays allow the vet to get a clear picture of the bones and ensure there is no unseen damage.

The vet may also recommend blood work, especially if there are signs of infection. Tests like a complete blood count and blood chemistry panel can detect the presence of infection and help monitor your dog’s overall health status.

With the physical exam, x-rays if needed, and bloodwork, the vet will be able to fully diagnose the severity of your dog’s lost nail injury and recommend the appropriate treatment.

Treatment Options

There are several treatment options available if your dog loses a nail:

Antibiotics

Your vet may prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection, especially if the nail bed is exposed. Common antibiotics used include amoxicillin and cephalexin. They help fight bacteria and prevent further infection of the nail bed (Source: https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/evr_multi_antibiotics).

Pain Medication

Your vet may prescribe pain medications to keep your dog comfortable as the nail heals. Common medications include NSAIDs like carprofen, deracoxib or meloxicam to control inflammation and relieve pain (Source: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/pain-medication-for-dogs).

Bandaging

Your vet may bandage the paw to protect the nail bed while it heals. This prevents debris from getting into the wound and provides padding for the sensitive nail bed (Source: https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/first-aid-broken-nails-dogs).

Nail Removal

If the nail is partially torn but still hanging on, the vet may remove the rest of the nail to prevent further tearing and promote healing. This is done under anesthesia (Source: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/nail-trim-dogs).

Other Medications

Vets may recommend additional medications like sedatives to keep the dog calm and prevent licking or chewing at the wound as it heals (Source: https://www.petmd.com/dog/care/accidental-dog-nail-removal-what-do).

Recovery and Aftercare

After a lost nail, it’s important to allow proper healing so the nail bed can recover. Here are some tips for aftercare:

Keep the paw bandaged. Wrap the paw in a clean bandage or sock to keep dirt out and promote healing. Change the bandage daily.1

Limit activity. Don’t allow your dog to run, jump, or play until the nail bed has fully healed, usually 7-10 days. Take short leash walks for bathroom breaks only.2

Monitor for signs of infection like swelling, redness, heat, discharge or foul odor. Seek veterinary care if these develop.3

Pain medication may be prescribed for the first few days. Follow dosage instructions from your vet.

Once the nail bed has fully healed, normal activity can resume. Be cautious of the new nail growth which will be tender at first.

Preventing Lost Nails

There are several steps dog owners can take to help prevent their dog’s nails from getting damaged or falling off:

Regular nail trims – Keeping your dog’s nails trimmed to an appropriate length is crucial for preventing lost nails. Nails that are too long are more prone to snagging and ripping off. Aim to trim them at least every 2-3 weeks. If you hear them tapping or clicking on the floor, they are likely too long.

Avoid rough play – Try to discourage too much rambunctious play that involves scratching or scrambling on rough surfaces. This can put extra stress and strain on the nails. Provide your dog with appropriate chew toys instead to satisfy their playful urges without being too rough on their paws.

Pad protection – When walking your dog outside, be mindful of hot pavement or rocky terrain. These surfaces can damage tender paw pads and exert pressure on nails. Consider dog shoes/booties to shield paws if needed.

Taking precautions with regular trims, playtime, and paw protection can go a long way in promoting nail health and preventing painful lost nails.

Scroll to Top