How to look after your dog’s claws

Posted by Dr Dog. October 15th 2013.

We’ve all felt the horrible pain of stubbing your toe or catching a nail; hands and feet are very sensitive areas of the human body – and this is no different in dogs.

Dogs’ nails, unlike some animals, do not retract and are therefore susceptible to trauma. Damage can occur in a number of ways, including running, playing or even just by snagging the nail on the carpet or furniture.

Although a fairly minor injury, it is a relatively painful one and can cause the dog a lot of distress. It is much more likely to happen in dogs with long or overgrown nails, so clipping your dog’s nails is a dog grooming essential.

The nail is composed of a shell of horny material known as keratin and inside is a very sensitive nail bed known as the ‘quick’, which in turn is composed of blood vessels and nerves. When the nail is torn or cracked, this area becomes exposed and a broken or misshapen nail will put pressure on the very sensitive structure underneath, until the nail is trimmed back or removed. A dog with a torn nail may suddenly become lame and may have cried out as the damage occurred.

Other things you may notice include;

  • Bleeding from the affected nail.
  • The nail may look damaged or crooked.
  • The foot may have become sensitive and the dog may resent an examination.
  • You may also notice your pet licking at the nail or the foot and the affected toe may appear swollen.

A dog gets its nails clipped

Five steps to follow that will make your dog more comfortable

Stopping the bleeding

Some, though not all, nails will bleed profusely when damaged. A little bit of blood goes a long way, but it is unlikely that blood loss will be significant. It can, however, be distressing for you to see.

Examination of the foot may be uncomfortable for your dog, so care should be taken when the foot is examined. If a muzzle is available you should apply it beforehand for safety.

Do not let yourself get bitten

Your dog must be kept calm and quiet and you should try and apply firm pressure to the area with a clean dry cloth, for a minimum of 10-15 minutes. If this does not seem to be working then flour or corn starch can be used. It must be pressed firmly on the nail (do not be worried about using too much, neither are toxic to your dog). Scraping the end of the nail across a soft bar of soap can also be effective to ‘plug’ the source of bleeding.

If on applying the cloth blood appears to be soaking through do not remove the cloth, as this will disturb any clots formed, simply apply further cloths/padding.

Trimming the nail

If torn and not loose, trimming back the nail to the damaged section will help to stop it from catching further and make your dog more comfortable. Removal of the nail is a painful procedure and is not recommended in the home environment.

Vet with dog

Protection

The nail quick is a very sensitive area and when exposed can lead to further pain and also contamination. Protecting the nail helps prevent the dog from licking it, as this can contaminate the area and cause further irritation. Remember a dogs lick can make things worse, not better.

A bandage dressing should be applied or if not available then a small sock can be sticky taped just above the foot so it covers the whole foot (fairly loose so as it does not act as a tourniquet). This will help prevent further snagging of the nail and can be used until the vet sees it or the nail starts to grow back. Sometimes a tight bandage may cause more discomfort and if this is the case, remove it.

Further protection can be given by using an ‘Elizabethan collar’. This will prevent the dog licking both the toe and any dressing that has been applied. These can be purchased at larger pet stores.

When taking your dog out to go to the toilet you should temporarily place a plastic bag over the foot to keep your dressing dry and to prevent contamination of the foot. Ensure that the bag is removed on return to the home as it can make the dressing/foot sweaty and increase discomfort and increase the chance of infection.

Although most dogs will heal without the need for veterinary medication, the nail bed is an area that can become contaminated and infection can develop. If the dog continues to be distressed, the toe swells or start to look moist, red and inflamed, then veterinary attention should be sought.

The majority of dogs will make a full recovery and the nail will grow back normally.

Occasionally, nail regrowth may be irregular and the nail will need more trimming.

Prevention

Remember, any dog can suffer from a torn nail but certainly keeping the nails short either by clipping or increased exercise on hard ground can help reduce the chances of it happening again.

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