The poor dog hobbles in with her front paw dangling off the ground, swaddled in a sock drenched in blood. It was all the owner could do to contain the mess before jumping in the car. I’m not completely sure what I’ll find under there, but I’m relieved when it turns out to be a broken claw.
It’s astonishing how much blood can pour out of these things, but it does eventually stop. If the dog is lucky, the claw is completely gone. Perhaps it got stuck between planks on a deck or wedged between rocks on a hike. Wherever it is, it’s not part of the dog anymore. The injury was painful, for sure, but it won’t need much more than a bandage to keep any bleeding at bay and some time to let it heal. In almost every case, the claw grows back normally in a few weeks.
A decision needs to be made, however, if the claw is still hanging around. Often, it’s twisted in an odd direction, causing pain as it gets bumped and jostled with every step. In many cases, it’s so loose that it can be pulled off. This sounds much worse than it really is. One quick motion and it’s gone, leaving the dog much more comfortable without it rankling.
Other times, however, it’s just too firmly attached to do such a thing humanely. This often happens when the claw splits lengthwise. In these instances, the best we can do is trim the nail as far back as possible without causing additional injury. The goal is to cut away the damaged part of the nail and leave only what’s still intact. But if the nail is fully split, we have to wait until it grows out enough that a new, healthy part of the claw has emerged. (Sometimes waiting allows the problem to solve itself, because the broken nail falls off naturally to make way for fresh growth.) Whether we do the trimming right away or later, our hope is that it can be done with little or no pain for the patient. But in some cases—thankfully, a small percentage—anesthesia might be warranted to allow us to really get in there and clean it up.
Most broken nails are chance happenings and don’t indicate a larger problem. But
if a dog seems unusually prone, then preventive measures are in order. Many times, it’s simply a matter of keeping the nails trimmed shorter to prevent them from snagging on anything. Brittle nails may result from a conditions that can be treated with dietary supplements, such as zinc and omega-3 fatty acids. Less commonly, chronic medical problems like infections or auto-immune diseases can leave nails weak and brittle. If this is the case, long-term treatments may be necessary; they’re too varied to address briefly, so be sure to talk through options with your veterinarian.
While most broken nails are simple enough, it’s worth checking with your veterinarian when one happens. Apart from ruling out these kinds of underlying problems, most dogs benefit from at least some pain medication for a few days while the inflammation calms down. But it’s likely to be a simple visit, and your dog should have all four feet—I mean, paws—back in service soon enough.
Dr. Mike Fietz is a small animal veterinarian at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital. He has lived and practiced in Charlottesville since 2003, the same year received his veterinary degree from Cornell University.
Bucky, Buddy Boy, Ringo Star, and Luke (clockwise from top left), and many more furry friends await at the CASPCA.
Take me home!
Visit the CASPCA to meet your new best friend
My name’s Bucky, and these are a few of my favorite things: the great outdoors, all the smells, other dogs, and best of all, people (as long as they scratch my ears).
Buddy Boy here. On weekdays we can hang out, eat pizza (pepperoni’s my fave), and watch TV. And come the weekend, let’s hit the park, because “energy” is my middle name.
Hey there, I’m Ringo Star. And here’s everything you need to know about me: I’m sweet, a great cuddler, love my toys, and am quiet, well-mannered, and good on a leash.
I’m Luke, and I may be shy, but I’m very friendly and excellent on a leash. I also adore other dogs, so I’d prefer a home with a brother or sister—or two!
Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA, noon-6pm daily, 3355 Berkmar Dr., 973-5959, caspca.org