When a dog catches a toenail on something, his instinct is to pull away from the object quickly and with force to free his paw. This can tear the toenail and cause pain. The movement of the torn area then causes more pain with each step the dog takes. Signs of a torn toenail include profuse licking at the paw, limping and bleeding. Virginia veterinarian Dr. Candy Olson says dewclaws are the most frequently torn toenails. Not all tears are emergencies, but all are painful and most should be seen by a veterinarian to ensure optimal healing without infection. Deep tears that continue to bleed require immediate vet attention.
Place your dog’s torn toenail under a stream of running water for about two minutes to clean it if the injury appears not to require emergency treatment.
Dip the tip of a styptic pencil in water, and touch it to the toenail to stop minor bleeding. Rotate the tip of the pencil on the bleeding area. A styptic pencil is an alum or silver nitrate stick that works as an astringent to close pores and stop bleeding. If the torn nail will not stop bleeding or is bleeding profusely, take your pet to a veterinarian immediately.
Examine the torn nail. If the tear is lateral and appears as a sliver on the side of the nail, it may be possible to snip the hanging part off with dog nail cutters. If the break is horizontal and close to the nail bed, call your veterinarian. Anything you do to a torn nail will be painful for your dog, and most torn nails will require a veterinarian's attention to heal properly.
Protect the injury. Restrict the dog's activities. A cloth bandage or a sock and adhesive tape can provide a temporary protective covering. Make sure any bandage you apply is loose enough that it does not restrict circulation in the area.
Take your dog to your veterinarian as soon as possible for examination and treatment of the injury. The vet may need to trim the torn nail to promote proper healing, and he may prescribe an antibiotic. Follow your vet's advice on followup care.