Learn How To Treat A Dog Nail Separated From Quick
Broken nails are a touchy subject for dogs - literally! It’s extremely painful and distressing to them. If your dog’s nail is broken, there are some key steps to take if you can’t get them to a vet immediately.
Today’s article will focus on when the dog nail is separated from the quick. We’ll first break down the anatomy of a nail, how to stop the bleeding and how to treat it at home.
Disclaimer: The Gentle Dog Trainers team are not veterinarians. Just educated enthusiasts who want the best for our pups. So with this in mind, it’s important to consult a licensed professional in addition to this advice if you can. An emergency vet is always worth calling when your dog’s nail is broken and they are in distress.
However, there are a few things you can handle at home and this is what we’ll cover. We’re not suggesting that you take on 100% of the treatment at home. This is the first port of call to fix the injury short term at home before contacting your vet for more thorough care.
The Anatomy Of A Dog Nail - What’s A “Quick”?
Before we jump into the treatment side of this, let’s do a quick overview of the anatomy of a dog nail so you know what you’re looking at.
Dog nails can break in several ways. Today we’re focusing on when the dog nail quick is exposed.
Before learning how to cut dog nails you need to learn about the anatomy first. There are two main parts of the nail that you need to understand. The first is the keratin outer shell. This is the hard part of the nail that has no feeling. This is because no nerve endings or blood vessels running through them. When you cut your dog’s nails, this is the part that you want to shorten.
However, the complication arises with the second key part of the nail. The “quick”. This is essentially the cuticle of the nail and it is tucked inside the keratin shell. Crucially, the quick doesn’t extend to the full length of the nail. Most of the nail will be the keratin shell, but the quick lies inside closer to where the nail meets the paw.
The quick has plenty of blood vessels and nerve endings. It’s extremely painful if the hard keratin shell separates from the quick. It’s also dangerous because it can easily lead to infection and major blood loss.
This particular problem is more pervasive with the dewclaw. That is the “thumb” let’s say. The innermost nail on each paw. Not all dogs have dewclaws but they can cause quite a few problems. With a broken dewclaw, quick exposed, it’s painful, unsightly and normally quite bloody.
Hence why we must spring into action as soon as possible to do the first rudimentary parts of the treatment. Let’s do that right now.
How To Treat A Dog Nail Separated From Quick: Step-By-Step
Step 1: Call Your Vet or An Emergency Vet
As I stressed before, this is not a job you should do solo. You could end up harming your dog further. As soon as you notice your dog’s nail is broken, call the vet for advice. The next three steps can be done at home as emergency care before you get to the vet. After step 4, let your vet take over. We’ll briefly talk about what you can expect your vet to do.
Step 2: Restrain Your Dog
I cannot labour this point enough. Broken nails HURT. Your dog is likely in quite a lot of pain, limping, yelping or both. Some dogs are less vocal but show their distress by panting excessively and generally appearing unnerved.
The treatment process is also painful. The last thing your dog wants you to do is to touch their broken nail. But touch it you must if you want to stop the bleeding and disinfect it.
So if you have other adults in your household that can help you, do enlist them to restrain your dog while they dog this delicate work. Your helper could give them treats and speak to your dog softly as the treatment is going on. It’s important to keep them as calm as possible and not allow them to mouth the area. This could lead to infection or further damage.
They may want to bite you or your helper as you work on their paw simply as a self-defence reaction. You might want to use a muzzle if you have one to protect yourself.
Step 3: Inspect The Area
Now that your dog has been subdued, have a good look at the broken nail. What is the nature of the injury? Has the nail split? Are parts of the nail coming off? Is the entire nail lifting off from the quick?
All very nasty business but you must have a proper look so you’re not going in blind. Bandaging a broken nail is the worst thing you can do if there are broken pieces attached. So know what is happening before you move to the next phase.
Step 4: Stop The Bleeding
It’s important to stop the nail from bleeding to not incur any major blood loss as well as more easily protect the paw from infection.
We’ve written a full article about how to stop a dog nail bleeding which I suggest you check out.
As a brief overview, you need some kind of coagulant to help you stop bleeding. The most efficient is styptic powder. Styptic powder is available in most pet care stores and on Amazon. It works by fusing the blood vessels and thereby stopping bleeding.
To use the powder, you can either press it on with your finger and apply pressure to the wound. Or you can pour out some of the powder and tip your dog’s nail into it. Then apply pressure on the wound until the bleeding stops (around 5-10 minutes).
This will hurt your dog. You have to make peace with that now. They may yelp and cry or be aggressive but it’s really important you apply pressure so the bleeding stops.
Step 5: Your Vet Will Remove Parts Of The Nail
It’s best that you leave the real surgery to your vet. You’ve done amazingly just by stopping the bleeding and assessing the problem. Now hand over to the professionals.
When transporting your dog, keep the paw wrapped in a towel. If you can, take another adult from your household to console and calm your dog as you drive them to the vet.
Your vet will likely remove the nail in its entirety if all of it is lifting from the quick. If just part of the nail is split, they will remove any dangling parts.
The nail is susceptible to infection and increased pain if it’s left attached to the quick however loosely. Once a nail lifts, it also can’t reconnect to the soft tissue. The only hope is for a new nail to regrow.
“The nail should be trimmed above the break to completely remove the damaged portion and to provide a good foundation for the nail to re-grow.” - Krista Williams, BSc, DVM, CCRP and Lynn Buzhardt, DVM for VCA Hospitals. (1)
Your vet may sedate your dog for the procedure because it is very painful. But generally, because the surgery is so quick, sedation is quite rare. They’ll get it over and done with quickly to minimise unnecessary distress.
Step 6: Your Vet Will Disinfect The Wound
Once any loose parts of the nail are removed, your vet will disinfect the wound. They may use a several different ointments or powders on the wound itself. Then a bandage is wrapped around the paw. They typically prescribe a course of antibiotics for you to give your dog after the treatment too to further fight off infection.
If the wound was particularly traumatic and damaging for your dog, they may also prescribe painkillers.
Step 7: Follow Up Appointments
Your vet will schedule a follow up appointment with you to see how your dog is healing. They need to closely monitor your pup because, naturally, paws are very prone to infection as they are on the ground most of the time.
The follow up appointments may involve undressing the bandage and placing a fresh one, prescribing more antibiotic or pain medication, and giving you further advice on how you can aid your dog’s recovery.
How To Avoid Your Dog Getting Broken Nails
Broken nails are quite common but many dogs never go through any major issues. My dogs are well into their old age and have never broken their nails. A number of factors contribute to whether your dog is susceptible to breaking their nails or not.
Here are some things you can do to prevent broken nails from happening in the future:
- Keep your dog’s nails trimmed
- Buy the best quality dog food you can afford. Nutrition hugely impacts nail health.
- If you notice discoloured, brittle keratin shells or swollen nail beds, contact your vet for advice.
Final Thoughts: Leave The Grizzly Bits To The Professionals
Though it may be tempting to remove a dog nail yourself at home, you should leave the actual surgery to certified professionals. The best thing you can do for your dog with a broken nail is keep them calm and stop the bleeding. Get them to an animal hospital as soon as you can so you know your pup is in good hands!
There are a few signs to look out for if your dog is concealing a nail injury (2):
- Lifting the paw as they walk to avoid putting pressure on the wound
- Excessive licking of their paw
- Bleeding as your dog walks or on their bedding
- Aggression or resistance when you go to look at the nail
- Nail not lying flat on the nail bed. Perhaps it is at an odd angle or appears lifted
- Pink fleshy part of the nail (the quick) is exposed
- Williams, K. & Buzhardt, L. “First Aid for Broken Nails in Dogs”. VCA Hospitals. Retrieved January 3, 2022. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/first-aid-for-broken-nails-in-dogs
- Farricelli, A. May 1, 2021. “Vet-Approved Tips for Dealing With a Dog's Broken Nail”. Pet Helplful. Retrieved January 3, 2022. https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Dog-First-Aid-Dealing-with-a-Broken-Nail