How to Treat a Dog with a Broken or Ripped Off Nail

Medical articles
Brown dog's paw pad and nails

Breaking a toenail seems like it should be only a minor injury for a dog, but in reality, it usually tends to be a very dramatic problem. For one thing, a dog’s broken or split nail tends to bleed EXCESSIVELY because of the large blood supply to the nailbed. For another, even the most mild-mannered pet will favor the foot with the injured toenail, not wanting to put any weight on that foot, nor letting anyone touch it. Some pet owners will rush their fur babies to the vet’s office thinking their poor dog has broken its leg, only to find that he cracked the nail on his pinky toe. 

How painful is a broken dog nail? 

If your dog cracked a nail, this can be extremely painful. When a toenail breaks or cracks, the sensitive quick, which is a fleshy, pink or red color, becomes exposed. Exposed quick is very sensitive. Imagine how you feel when you have a hangnail that gets snagged or pulled. Now imagine doing something that causes the entire nail to come off, but you have to keep using the injured finger. For dogs, they have to walk on the injured foot, so even a cracked nail is painful for them. Putting any pressure on that toe can really hurt and even the most stoic, tough-natured dogs will favor the injured foot. Understanding why broken nails can be so painful for dogs starts with a dog's toenail anatomy. 

Toenail anatomy 101 

Dog toenails have a similar structure to human fingernails and toenails. They consist of a hard outer layer made of keratin, which provides protection for the sensitive inner part of the toenail. This inner part, called the quick, contains blood vessels and nerves and is the equivalent of our human nail bed. Unlike human fingernails, which tend to lie flat on the fingertip, dog toenails wrap around the tip of the toe, so they make contact with the ground more often, leaving them more susceptible to splitting, cracking, or breaking. This is especially true when dogs engage in activities like digging or running on hard surfaces. 

The Crucial Roles of Dog Toenails 

A dog's toenails serve several vital purposes. While they may seem insignificant, they allow dogs to comfortably perform daily activities. Understanding why nails matter can help you stay motivated to monitor nail health. 


Dogs have an innate love for digging, whether they are seeking out burrowing prey, exploring hidden treasures, or simply indulging in a satisfying pastime. Their toenails play a crucial role in this behavior, providing the necessary traction and leverage to excavate the earth. As dogs dig, their toenails grip the soil, allowing them to scoop out dirt and propel it away from the excavation site. Additionally, toenails serve as braces for the toes, providing stability against the resistance of the ground. Damaged or broken toenails can significantly hinder a dog's digging ability, making it difficult to maintain a firm grip on the soil and reducing the overall efficiency of the digging process. 


Intact toenails provide dogs with enhanced traction, enabling them to navigate various terrains with confidence and agility. Whether they are running on slippery surfaces, traversing rocky trails, or leaping over obstacles, properly trimmed toenails act like cleats, offering stability and preventing slips. However, cracked or overly long toenails can compromise a dog's grip, increasing the risk of slips, falls, and injuries. During sudden stops or quick turns, damaged toenails may not provide the necessary traction, causing dogs to lose their balance and stumble. This can be particularly hazardous in situations where speed and agility are essential, such as during playtime or in competitive settings. Therefore, maintaining healthy, well-trimmed toenails is crucial for ensuring a dog's safety and performance. 


When dogs are running, especially at full gallop, they rely on their toenails to provide traction and propel themselves forward. Each time a dog's paw strikes the ground, its toenails dig in and push off, generating the force needed for powerful strides. Missing or broken toenails disrupt this delicate balance, causing dogs to adopt awkward and inefficient gaits. This can lead to excessive strain on other joints, such as the hips and shoulders, as the dog's body compensates for the lack of grip provided by its toenails. Over time, this strain can contribute to joint pain, arthritis, and other musculoskeletal problems. 


Scratching is not only a pleasurable activity for dogs but also an essential behavior for marking their territory and communicating with other canines. Through scratching, dogs release scent markers from glands located between their paw pads, leaving behind olfactory messages that other dogs can detect. However, broken toenails can make scratching a painful and frustrating experience. The jagged edges of broken nails can catch on objects, causing further tearing and discomfort. Moreover, the exposed quick, the sensitive, fleshy part of the toenail, can become irritated and inflamed when repeatedly rubbed against rough surfaces during scratching. This can make scratching a source of pain and stress for dogs, potentially leading to behavioral changes such as excessive licking or chewing at their paws. This might also be why your dog keeps licking its paw but nothing is there.

What to look for if you suspect your dog has a broken toenail 

Sometimes the nail will become avulsed, meaning it will be attached to the base of the nail, but not the quick- it may look like the dog has two nails instead of one. Sometimes the nail gets ripped off completely leaving behind only the shorter, blunted quick. Bleeding is common, especially if the nail only partially comes off. In this case, every time the dog puts pressure on the paw (e.g. when he walks), it will cause the broken nail to irritate the quick and cause more bleeding. Some dogs only bleed for a short period of time, and others don’t bleed at all (or more commonly, the bleeding isn’t noticed). Usually, a dog with a broken toenail will limp, guard the injured foot, and lick it frequently. He may not let anyone try to look at it or touch it. He may hide, act scared, or even skip meals. 

What to do if your dog has a broken nail 

You can try to remove the toenail if it is barely attached, but in general, it is best to just avoid messing with the injured foot altogether. Most dogs are in so much pain that they will bite anyone trying to touch the nail. If the dog is bleeding heavily and you can’t make it to the vet right away, you can try gently wrapping the entire foot in a light bandage. If his foot is extremely dirty, you can try rinsing it and drying it, but again, dogs are usually experiencing too much pain to allow you to do this. Wrapping the foot can also help prevent a partially torn nail from getting snagged on something and causing more pain and bleeding. Be sure the wrap is not too tight- you don’t want to accidentally cut circulation off to the foot. 

How to treat a broken dog nail 

Do not give any over-the-counter pain medication. While it’s tough to see your pet in pain, most pain medications are not safe for dogs. You don’t want to create a more serious problem than the one he already has. Keep him quiet and in a small space so he can’t run around and further injure the nail. 

What to expect at a veterinary visit for an injured dog nail 

Once at the vet’s office, your veterinarian will start him on pain medication. He or she may need to sedate him to remove the broken nail. The quick will need to be cleaned carefully and usually a bandage will be placed. Depending on the severity of the injury and how much quick is exposed, the bandage may need to stay on for several days. Your dog may be sent home on antibiotics to prevent infection, as well as pain medication to keep him comfortable. Once home, the bandage (if used) and injured foot will need to be kept clean and dry. Do not allow your dog to lick his injured nail. If he won’t leave it alone, you may need to purchase an E-collar (i.e. Elizabethan collar; known to some as “the cone of shame”) for him to wear. Give all medications as prescribed. Pain usually subsides within a few days. Risk of infection usually passes after about a week. Note that sometimes the nail doesn’t grow back normally if the cells at the base of the nail (where the skin meets the nail) were damaged. Have your vet recheck it if you are not sure if it is healing well. If you want to avoid costly vet bills, explore our pet health insurance for dogs and see how you can save. 

Why do my dog’s toenails keep breaking? 

If broken toenails are a common problem with your dog, there may be an underlying issue causing them to break. Chronic or persistent fungal infections, immune-mediated or hereditary diseases such as lupoid onychodystrophy, and nutritional deficiencies can lead to brittle nails that break easy. If your pet likes to dig, broken toenails can be a common problem as well. Have your vet assess your pet to see if an underlying problem might be causing the frequent nail breaks. Once a diagnosis is reached, therapy can be started to hopefully improve nail health. 

How to prevent a dog broken nail 

Preventative nail care is crucial for dogs. This includes regular trimming, filing or grinding. Pet parents can also utilize scratch boards for naturally wearing down nails. Monitoring nail length and condition routinely can significantly reduce risk of painful breaks.  

Keep your dog's toenails trimmed regularly to help minimize the risk of him snagging a toenail on something. If he is averse to toenail trims, consider a nail Dremel. Frequent walks on abrasive surfaces, such as concrete sidewalks, may also help keep the nails short.  

Try to discourage your pet from digging or provide a safe area for him to dig that won’t tear up his nails (e.g. sandbox). If digging occurs because of separation anxiety (e.g. he tries to dig his way out of a kennel or crate), talk to your vet about ways to help him get past his anxiety. If broken nails keep occurring, have your vet assess your pet to see if an underlying issue is causing the problem. 

Get Comprehensive Care for Broken Dog Nails  

Dog nails play a vital role in their daily lives, from digging and running to scratching and gripping. When these important tools get damaged, it can significantly impact their comfort and well-being. While veterinary care is essential for treating broken, split, or damaged nails, these visits can add up over time, causing financial strain. This is where pet health insurance steps in to provide a helping hand. 

Embrace Pet Insurance takes the guesswork out of pet care budgeting with customizable plans that cover nose-to-tail care, including injuries like broken nails. This allows pet parents to focus on their furry friend's recovery without worrying about the cost. 

At Embrace, we believe every dog deserves a lifetime of love and protection. Our comprehensive plans ensure your pup gets the care they need, when they need it, whether it's a minor nail issue or a major illness. We also provide compassionate claims support to make the process as easy as possible. 

Protect your pup and your wallet with pet insurance from a company that understands the bond between pets and their parents.