First Aid: Torn Nail or Dewclaw

A torn nail is a pretty common injury, and it’s actually something you can usually deal with at home, without making a visit to the vet.

If your pet’s nails are at a good length, you may not ever have to deal with a torn claw. If your pet has super-long nails, you’ll probably face a broken claw or ten. Dewclaws are often at a higher risk for breaks and tears because they don’t get worn down through normal walking. A dewclaw is the solitary nail in the ankle region.

You may notice your pet limping, or favoring one paw over the others. Check their feet; if you find a broken or torn nail, here’s what to do.

1. If a piece of the nail is stuck/dangling, trim it off with clippers. Nail clippers come in two styles: guillotine style, where there is one moving blade, and scissors style, where both blades move.

2. If the torn nail is bleeding, apply styptic powder, corn starch, flour, or tissue to stop the blood flow.

3. If the nail is torn down into the pad, or the bleeding does not stop within a few minutes, the wound may need a vet’s attention.

You may need another person to help hold the pet still – lay the animal on his belly or side. Have your helper drape themselves over the pet’s body (don’t squish them, just enough to hold them more or less still). You may want them to hold the leg steady with both hands, leaving you two hands free to work with. A good trick for general nail trimming that may be useful here is to have your helper cover the pet’s eyes. If they don’t see the clippers coming, they can’t jerk their leg away!

If you’re afraid of making things worse, or too squeamish to deal with the torn nail, don’t feel bad. Call your vet and describe the problem, and they’ll tell you if you need to come in or if you should just let nature take over. Left alone, the dangling edge of the nail will eventually come loose and fall off. Bleeding will stop. And sometimes, licking is the best medicine.