Dog with a cracked nail showing his paw.

What To Do About Your Dog's Broken or Cracked Nail

Written By Olivia De Santos | Canine Coach, Professional Writer & Video Content Creator.
Edited & Fact Checked By Renae Soppe | Double B.A Journalism & Science. 
Last Updated: 18th January 2024

Has your dog got a broken or cracked nail and you’re unsure what to do?

You’re in the right place! Today I’m going to go through the step-by-step process of what to do about your dog’s broken or cracked nail in detail.

We haven’t a moment to waste so let’s dive right in!

Disclaimer: I am not a vet, however I’ve used the best veterinary advice available I could find to answer this question as thoroughly as possible. If in doubt, check with your vet for personalised advice.


How to Know If Your Dog’s Nail Is Broken

Unless you are a true saintly dog owner that checks your dog’s paws obsessively, nail injuries can go unnoticed. Especially relatively minor ones.

Related: Common Dog Nail Problems.
Related: What To Do If Your Dog Has Nail Problems.

But even minor dog nail injuries can breed infections that make a small crack a lot more serious. (1)

With that in mind, here are the signs your dog’s nail may be broken:

  • Limping or hopping
  • Excessive licking of the paw
  • Bleeding
  • Swollen paw
  • Withdrawal
  • Aggression
  • Whining/yelping

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s time to check their nails and act.

Related: Should You Trim Your Dog's Dewclaws?


How to Solve Your Dog’s Broken or Cracked Nail in 9 Steps

If you’re certain that your dog has a broken nail, here’s what to do:

1. Restrain your dog

Your dog may be in shock if it was a sudden injury.

Or perhaps they’ve had the injury for a couple of days and are excessively licking the area.

Whatever the case may be, you need to keep your dog calm and still. Both are tricky states to be in with an injured paw.

If you can, restrain your dog or ask another person to help you.

If your dog is prone to aggression during paw handling, you might consider muzzling them while you investigate the damage.

2. Assess the damage

I can imagine how distressing it is to see your pup in pain, limping or even bleeding.

But before you act, take a deep breath.

You need to stay calm to help soothe your pup while they are injured. Remember that dogs can sense your anxiety. (2)

Once everyone is calm, it’s time to get a closer look at the paw.

You want to ask yourself:

  • Is the nail fully cracked, partially broken, or just chipped?
  • Is there any bleeding? If so, how much bleeding?
  • Is there any swelling? If so, how much swelling?
  • Is there any pus?

This initial assessment will help you figure out the severity of the situation.

If there is any pus, don’t try to solve the issue yourself. Pus means infection.

So skip to step 6 and take your dog to the vet for medical care ASAP.

3. Stop the bleeding

If the broken nail is bleeding, that’s the next port of call.

To stop the nail from bleeding, we recommend you use styptic powder.

Styptic powder or ferric subsulphate is a blood coagulant. It works quickly to clot the blood and stop the bleeding.

Related: What To Do If Your Dog's Nail Separates From Quick.

You can find it easily on Amazon, local pet stores, or horse liveries.

Apply a small amount to the bleeding area and apply gentle pressure for a minute or two.

This will likely be uncomfortable for your dog so make sure they are restrained properly.

You can also try homemade alternatives like baking powder or balled physical soap – but these are less effective.

If the bleeding doesn't stop or seems severe, skip to step 6 and consult your vet.

4. Trim and clean the nail

If the nail is partially broken or chipped, you might be able to solve it at home.

Does that thought make you cringe? No problem – leave it to the experts! Go straight to your vet and don’t worry about trying to solve it yourself. Even for minor breaks, it can be safer to trust your vet.

But if you feel confident enough, you might be able to carefully trim the loose or hanging piece using a sterilised pair of dog nail clippers.

However, if the nail is fully cracked or the bleeding is severe, it's best to avoid trimming it yourself.

Related: How Long Should Dog Nails Be?

Instead, just focus on getting the area clean and safe for your journey to the vet.

To clean the area gently, dilute a mild antiseptic solution in warm water. Soak the paw in the solution for a few seconds. Pat the paw dry with a soft, clean cloth so that the nail isn’t harbouring moisture.

5. Use protective booties

Whether you’ve managed to solve the chipped nail at home or you need to take your pooch to the vet, protective booties can help keep the area clean and sanitary.

There are such things as dog socks and dog booties. These come in handy when your pooch has a nail injury.

So once the area is clean, dry, and not bleeding, pop on a dog booty or sock to reduce the risk of infection.

Just make sure the bootie fits comfortably and isn't too tight, as that can cause further discomfort and cause more damage.

6. Consult your vet

You don’t really need a special reason to consult your vet on this.

Because I’m such a scaredy cat, I would probably go straight to the vet if there’s even a hint of nail trouble.

You might be braver than me!

But you’ll definitely need to consult your vet if:

  • the nail is fully cracked
  • the nail or toe pad is bleeding heavily
  • the nail is exuding pus
  • your pup is in considerable pain

Don’t delay! Get your vet on the phone.

They can provide professional advice and care. If they need to cut or trim the nail, they’ll have access to anaesthetics to make your pooch more comfortable during the procedure.

Related: How To Cut Black Dog Nails.

They’ll likely prescribe pain and antibiotic medication if needed too.

7. Monitor for infection

The healing process after a nail injury is especially delicate.

Why? Well, your dog’s paws have contact with all kinds of pathogens during your dog’s day-to-day life. Plus, it is almost impossible to force them to rest and not use their injured paw.

Therefore, you need to keep a close eye on the healing process.

Signs of a nail infection include:

  • increased swelling
  • redness
  • discharge or pus
  • unpleasant odour
  • discolouration

If you notice any of these symptoms, schedule a visit to the vet immediately.

Because nail infections are far more serious than you might think.

“Since the nail bed or quick is attached to bone, prevention of infection is crucial. Bone infections are serious problems and only certain antibiotics are effective in treating them.” - VCA Hospitals (3)

Infections can escalate quickly, so early intervention is key.


How to Prevent Your Dog’s Nails from Breaking or Cracking

So you’ve been through the process of helping your pup heal from a broken or cracked nail.

How do you make sure it doesn’t happen again?

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Trim your dogs nails regularly

    Nail care is a very important part of your dog’s grooming routine. You should be clipping or grinding your dog’s nails at least once a month. Get your dog accustomed to nail care so that you have smoother nail grooming sessions in future.
  • Avoid playing on excessively rough surfaces
    While it’s true that walking your dog on hard surfaces can naturally file your dog’s nails to a degree, excessively rocky or uneven surfaces can put a strain on your dog’s paws. Nail injuries are more likely to happen if your dog is likely to trip or use their nails to grip a difficult surface.

    If you’re planning on hiking with your dog and a tricky surface is likely, consider investing in dog shoes to protect their paws.
  • Feed your pup a nutritious diet

    Ensuring your dog has a balanced diet packed with vitamins and minerals is vital for optimal nail health. So feed your dog the best quality dog food you can afford.  Look out for food with added nutrients like biotin and omega-3 fatty acids that can contribute to healthier, stronger nails. You can also get these in supplement form.
 

Of course, accidents happen so a broken nail isn’t entirely preventable. But these three tips will give your dog the best chance at growing and maintaining healthier nails.


My Final Thoughts

I hope this article helped you learn what to do about your dog’s broken or cracked nail. It can be a nerve-wracking experience but remember to stay calm. By assessing the damage calmly and quickly, you can provide the appropriate care and consult your vet when necessary.

Emergencies like this happen, but a thorough nail care routine is the only way to prevent it from happening again.

Want to master your dog’s nail care? Read these next:


FAQ

Can a dog's broken nail heal on its own?

A dog’s broken nail can heal on its own within one to two weeks if the break is minor. (4) If there is a lot of blood and swelling, it’s unlikely to heal without medical intervention. Regardless, if you notice your dog’s nail is broken, do your best to treat the nail or contact your vet to help aid the healing process, reduce any pain and prevent infection. 

References

  1. Hollinger, H. July 19, 2017. “Bacterial Claw Infection in Dogs”. Wag Walking. Retrieved August 9, 2023. https://wagwalking.com/condition/bacterial-claw-infection
  2. Buehler, J. October 19, 2017. “Dogs really can smell your fear, and then they get scared too”. New Scientist. Retrieved August 9, 2023. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2150956-dogs-really-can-smell-your-fear-and-then-they-get-scared-too/
  3. Williams, K. Buzhardt, L. “First Aid for Broken Nails in Dogs”. VCA Hospitals. Retrieved August 9, 2023. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/first-aid-for-broken-nails-in-dogs
  4. Spanner, A. October 1, 2021. “Help! My Dog Has Broken A Nail”. Walkerville Vet. Retrieved August 9, 2023. https://www.walkervillevet.com.au/blog/dog-broken-nail/

Olivia De Santos


Olivia De Santos is Gentle Dog Trainers Canine Coach, Professional Writer and Video Content Creator.

Olivia has over 10 years of experience writing professionally and is a dog Mum to Pip, her Podengo and Blue, her Flat-coated Retriever. She loves writing pieces to help people to be better dog owners.

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