For dogs and cats, a broken nail can really sting. Your pet may yelp or cry when it first happens, or when you try to get a closer look at the nail.
Also, injured toenails tend to bleed more than you might expect. That may feel scary to you as a pet parent, especially if you haven’t seen this type of injury before, but don’t be alarmed — it’s normal.
Fortunately, toenails do grow back. The amount of time a nail takes to regrow varies depending on how far down it was broken. While it regrows, your primary focus will be on protecting the fragile new nail and keeping your pal comfortable.
What causes broken toenails?
This problem is most common in dogs and cats whose nails have grown too long.
In cats, long nails get stuck in carpets, scratching posts, and other objects, and then break. For dogs, long toenails might get caught and snared on the ground, plants, or other objects, or even split down the middle when jumping down from furniture or the car.
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Broken toenails can happen to pets with well-groomed nails, too. Often it’s just bad luck—catching the nail at a bad angle on the sidewalk or while playing. But some pets, especially seniors, may be at a higher risk because they have nails that are more brittle and fragile.
What are the symptoms of a broken nail?
If you see the broken nail, you’ll know for sure. However, it may be difficult to see, since there’s a good chance your buddy won’t want you to touch or examine the area.
That’s because the “quick”—the inner part of the nail that holds a blood vessel and nerve ending—is exposed. Unfortunately, that exposure causes pain.
If you can’t get a good look at your dog or cat’s paw, here are some clues that you may be dealing with a broken toenail:
- Sudden yelping or crying during play.
- Bleeding from one of the paws.
- Excessive licking of the toe or paw.
- Your buddy is reluctant to let you touch the paw.
If you notice these symptoms, it’s best to come for a vet visit right away, to prevent pain and infection. An infection at a broken toenail site can spread deeper, even down to the bone, so it’s important to be sure it’s healing well.
If your pet allows it, you can try to hold a clean cloth or shirt over the toenail, because gentle pressure can stop the bleeding on your way to the vet clinic. But, if your pal resists, don’t try to force it.
How are broken toenails treated?
Once you and your pet are at the vet clinic, we’ll examine him and confirm the problem is in fact a broken toenail. After that, treatment usually involves the following steps:
- A thorough cleaning of the area. Usually, we’ll soak the paw in a gentle antiseptic solution for a few minutes, and then dry the area. Some pets do well with this, while others may need sedation to prevent pain and fear.
- Removal of any dangling or broken pieces of the nail. This portion of the nail no longer provides any protection, and if not removed it can cause additional pain.
- A soft bandage. The bandage serves three purposes:
- Pressure to prevent bleeding.
- Protection from reinjury.
- Cushioning to keep your pal comfortable.
- Medications to take home. This often includes pain medications or antibiotics.
- Restricted activity until the new nail is strong enough to handle playtime.
Continuing care at home
Bandage care is important, and you’ll receive instructions on how to manage the bandage at home and whether it needs to be changed.
Be sure to give pain medications and antibiotics as prescribed—that way, your pet will avoid an infection, and be much more comfortable. Also, never give human medications without checking with your vet first, as many are dangerous to pets—instead, stick with the medications sent home, and call the veterinary practice if you feel your pet isn’t improving.
Your buddy may start feeling better thanks to the bandage and medications. But, it’s important to keep them on “bed rest” and shorter walks until your veterinarian tells you otherwise. A little patience will help them avoid reinjury, so your pet can get back to normal playtime as quickly as possible.
Preventing broken toenails
The best way to prevent a broken toenail is to keep your furry friend’s nails trimmed to a healthy length. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Regular toenail trims at home, the groomer’s, or the veterinarian’s office. Depending how fast your pet’s nails grow, this may be done every two weeks to every few months.
- Provide scratching posts and other scratching surfaces for cats. This allows them to perform some of their own nail maintenance at home.
- For dogs, be sure they have enough walking time. Walks outside, especially on sidewalks and other rough surfaces, can help to file the nails down and allow less frequent toenail trims.
- Keep your pal on a nutritionally complete and balanced diet, for healthy skin, fur, and nails.
With a few “healthy nail habits,” you can give your fur baby the best chance of avoiding a painful broken toenail. But if it ever does happen, we’re here to help your pal feel better fast!