What to Do When Your Dog’s Nail Splits

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Just the other night, I noticed drops of blood on the floor, and though I would love to say it was the first time I saw this, it was a sight I’ve seen before and immediately suspected a broken toenail.

Sure enough, Mira’s nail was bleeding, but it wasn’t a broken nail; instead, it was split in half.

Though I keep my dog’s nails short and had just trimmed her nails, my dogs catch their nails from time to time on the deck.

Because dog nails bleed a lot, the first thing I needed to do was stop the bleeding to understand how badly she damaged her nail.

Seeing that it was split and not broken, I called the vet to make sure it was something I could safely treat at home.

Mira's split dog nail
Just after getting the bleeding under control
Cone of shame after nail clipping
Healed dog nail that split
A week after it healed over

Why Do Dog’s Nails Split and Break?

It is a fairly common occurrence for a dog’s nail to split or break, but the cause of why it happens varies.

Most often, a dog’s nail splits or breaks due to them catching it on something such as the deck, carpet, or rough terrain when hiking.

But dogs can also break their nails from too much pressure, like when jumping and landing wrong.

In addition to accidents, dogs’ nails can be more fragile and brittle from age, illness, or poor diet. Illnesses that can impact the health of your dog’s nails include[1]:

  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Vasculitis
  • Bacteria infections
  • Parasite infestations like ringworm
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Viruses

Related: What Does Your Dog’s Nail Color Say About Their Health?

The Difference Between a Split and Broken Nail

There is a difference between a split and a broken toenail. Both Daisy and Calvin have broken their toenails, and both had to go to the vet immediately.

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However, not all dogs need to go to the vet for a split or broken nail. Often split nails can be treated at home. And it depends on how and where your dog breaks its nail.

A broken nail is damaged horizontally, the nail may still be partially attached or removed completely leaving behind a hole. A split nail is one that is sliced in half vertically exposing the quick.

Regardless of whether it is a split or broken nail, it is an excruciating injury. When a dog splits their nail, they expose the nerves and quick, so the area is very tender.

How to Tell if Your Dog Has a Split Nail

In my case, I saw drops of blood on the floor, but other times you may notice your dog limping, excessively licking their paw, or notice the area is inflamed around the nail bed or toe.

What to Do When Your Dog’s Nail Splits

Most split nails can be treated at home, but in some cases, your vet may need to treat the split nail to ensure it heals properly.

Restrain Your Dog

You will need to restrain your dog; this may take two people.

Additionally, for everyone’s safety, using a muzzle may be necessary to avoid bites. If you cannot restrain your dog safely, you should bring them to the vet immediately.

Broken nails are very painful, and even the friendliest dog may behave out of character.

Stop Bleeding

It is vital to get the bleeding under control. Nails tend to bleed a lot, so it may take a little time to get the bleeding to stop. It is best to wrap the foot with gauze to apply gentle pressure.

If the nail is still bleeding after 5-10 minutes of pressure, you can apply a cauterizing product such as a Kwik Stop Styptic Pads, Remedy Recovery Styptic Powder, or Styptic Pencil.

If you do not have one of these products on hand, you can use cornstarch or flour.

Assess the Damage

After controlling the bleeding, you need to assess the damage to your dog’s nail.

If part of the nail is still attached, you will want to bring your dog into the vet to have it safely removed; usually, they will need to sedate your dog.

If you are unsure, take a picture of it and contact your vet.

Clean and Bandage the Nail

You will want to keep the nail area clean and covered to protect it from further damage and infection.

It is best to use nonstick gauze and a self-adhesive bandage, sometimes referred to as vet wrap. I also used a baby sock as an additional layer of protection.

If you have a breathable dog boot such as HiPaw Nonslip boots, you can put that on over the gauze and vet wrap.

If you do not have a breathable boot, you can wrap your dog’s foot, but you will need to extend the wrap above your dog’s ankle; otherwise, the bandage will slip off.

Be sure not to wrap it too tight as you can cut off circulation to your dog’s foot.

You will want to keep your dog’s nail covered until it heals over; for Mira, it took a week.

Manage Pain

Because of how painful nail splits and breaks are, you may need to contact your vet for pain medications.

Do not use over the counter human pain meds as many are toxic to dogs.

Related: Pain Relieving Essential Oils for Dogs

When to Bring Your Dog to the Vet

Sometimes it is hard to know when to treat something at home or bring them to the vet, especially after hours.

Here are some ways to determine if you need to bring your dog in:

  • If you are unable to control the bleeding
  • If you cannot safely restrain your dog
  • If your dog’s nail is bent to an odd angle
  • If your dog’s nail appears infected

It is best to call your vet or emergency vet hospital if you are unsure whether to bring them in.

How to Avoid Split Toe Nails

Though dog split nails are common, there are a few things you can do to help prevent this from happening:

Conclusion

The good news is that most of the time a dog splits its nail it can be treated at home.

Because accidents like this can happen at anytime it is good to always have some basic first aid items on hand like gauze, vet wrap, and blood stop.

If you are unsure about treating this at home bring your dog to the vet and ask for help, most vets are happy to walk you through what they are doing so you will know how to treat a split nail in the future.

FAQs

Will a dog’s split nail heal on its own?

Yes, most split nails will heal on their own, but it is best to keep them protected from further injury and infection.

Is it okay to let your dog lick it’s split nail?

No, it is not a good idea to allow your dog to lick its split nail. If your dog is licking the area, you will want to use a cone to keep them from further irritating the area.

Should you cover your dog’s split nail?

It is best to keep the nail covered with breathable material until it has healed over to avoid infection and add additional padding for comfort.

Resources

  1. https://www.vin.com/animalicious/default.aspx?pid=756&catId=5860&id=8601421#:~:text=Medical%20conditions%20that%20can%20cause,viruses%2C%20or%20inherited%20cornification%20disorders.
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