What to do When Your Dog has a Broken or Bleeding Nail?

Nail injuries, most dog owners will at one point have to deal with one. While minor damage to the nail that is superficial and not bleeding, most of the time can be dealt with at home, moderate and severe nail injuries will require more intervention. Injuries to the nail can be extremely painful, and when the quick of the nail ends up damaged, the injury can also bleed profusely. So, what to do when your dog has a broken or bleeding nail?

The Nail

To provide the right care for a broken or bleeding nail, it’s useful to understand the autonomy of a dog’s toe and nail. Dogs have, most of the time, five toes on each foot. In some cases they have an extra nail located higher up on the foot, which is called a dew claw. All these toes have nails, including the dew claw. 

The nail itself consists of a harder outer shell made of keratin, which provides protection to the sensitive quick which is located within the nail. The quick consists of a central collection of nerves and blood vessels and is connected to the bone in the toe. The quick is living tissue, the keratin casing is not. When cutting a nail, you aim to only cut the keratin layer, and not the quick. When the quick ends up damaged, it will bleed, and being an open wound it’s susceptible to infection. Infections of the nail can be dangerous, as the quick is connected to the bone, and the infection can easily spread leading to a bone infection.


First aid for a broken and/or bleeding nail

  1. Gather the supplies needed and safely restrain your dog. Nail injuries can be very painful, and pets in pain can respond in ways not expected. Some dogs are so sensitive about their nails they may need to wear a muzzle while treating their injury.
  2. Minor nail injuries where breaks and splits did not damage the quick, can often be dealt with easily by removing the damaged part. When clipping make sure to avoid cutting into the quick. 

When the quick is involved in the injury the nail will be bleeding. When the part of the nail that broke off is still slightly attached to the other side of the nail, this will need to be removed. For moderate injuries you can trim the nail above the break to remove the damaged part of the nail. Keep in mind that this will be extremely painful for your dog as you will be clipping into the quick, and veterinary advice should be sought afterward to discuss the need of antibiotics. A vet can also remove the damaged part for you if you lack supplies, or your dog doesn’t allow you to help him.

While not life-threatening, for severe nail injuries it’s advised to visit a vet as soon as possible. An example of a relatively common severe nail injury is when the nail gets (almost) fully ripped off at the base of the toe. Due to the pain this injury causes, it may be required to remove the last part of the nail under sedation. 

  1. Nail injuries where the quick is involved can bleed profusely, which at times can be hard to stop. And whether you deal with the nail injury at home, or go to the vet, it’s advised to try and stop or slow down the bleeding first. For someone that has never seen a nail bleed, the amount of blood may be shocking, but it’s important to stay calm. Wrap the foot and put pressure on the injured toe for 5 to 10 minutes, and see if this is enough to stop the bleeding. If this doesn’t work, you can use a styptic pencil or powder if you have this in the first AID box of your dog. Other products that can be tried are cornstarch or flour. 
  2. Preventing infection after a nail injury is important. The quick is attached to the bone, and when it gets infected, it can lead to a bone infection. Consult with your veterinarian if antibiotic ointment or oral antibiotics are required. Prevent further contamination of the damaged nail by a bandage, and have your dog wear a cone if they are trying to lick the injury. While healing, monitor your dog closely for any signs of infection such as licking their feet frequently, or discoloration and swelling of the base of the nail.
  3. The nails are extremely sensitive, and depending on the severity of the nail injury, pain management may be required. This can be provided by your veterinarian. Do not give any human pain medication to your dog, as some common human painkillers are toxic to pets

How to prevent nail injuries?

How hard we may try and prevent them, nail injuries just sometimes happen. Dogs play outside, they may land wrongly while playing and running, and nails get damaged. Overgrown nails increase the chance of nail injuries, so by keeping them trimmed you can reduce the chance of injuries occurring.  A sign of overgrown nails is that you can hear your dog walk (clicking sound). You can find our article on nail care here. Another way to prevent injuries is by ensuring you feed your dog a complete and correct diet. Areas first affected by non optimal diet, are coat and nails, and hence a good diet will promote strong and healthy nails.  


Nail injuries can be minor, but may also be serious. Veterinary advice should always be sought for moderate and severe breaks where bleeding has occurred. A bleeding nail injury indicates that the quick has been damaged, which leaves it open to infection, and as the quick is connected to the bone, the infection may lead to a bone infection and antibiotics may be required. By seeking advice from your vet, you can prevent a relatively minor problem turning into a large one. 

Would you like to know more about our pet care services? Feel free to contact us, we will be happy to help.

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