Nail injuries, however minor they appear can be extremely painful and might lead to substantial lameness.
The reason for potentially severe bleeding and pain is the quick, which is a collection of blood vessels and nerves. If you ever cut the quick while trimming your dog’s nails, you’re familiar with the outcome.
Why do nails break?
The longer the nail, the easier it snags on things; indoors and outdoors. A nail can even break with an unfortunate landing after a jump. Trauma is the most common cause of toenail injuries.
Other potential dog nail issues include:
- ingrown nails
- bacterial infections
- fungal infections
- immune-mediated disorders
- congenital disorders
This is especially likely when the problem involves multiple nails. Further, problems can pile on. For example, a nail trauma can lead to secondary bacterial infections, while other issues can contribute to a higher likelihood of the nail breaking.
Further information: Dog Nail Problems You Should Know About
Dewclaws are seemingly useless nails that are located higher up on the foot. Because they don’t get into regular contact with the ground, they don’t wear down as much as other nails and require special attention. Dewclaws are also most likely to fracture.
While it appears that dewclaws serve no function, with closer observation, you would find that is not the case. When the dog is in motion, the dewclaw helps to:
- stabilize the carpus during gallop or canter
- supports carpal ligaments during turns
A dog without dewclaws has a higher potential for injuries to carpal ligaments. It leads to more stress on their elbows, shoulders, and even spine.
Further information: Function of Dewclaws 101
Avulsion versus fracture
An injured nail can break or split in half. Avulsion, on the other hand, is when the nail completely rips out of the nail bed.
Since she came to us, Cookie already had only one dewclaw on her left leg. We don’t know what happened to the other one; perhaps she ripped it out before we adopted her.
Her injury never bled, and she never limped. However, I think some initial damage happened a day or two before we realized there was a problem.
The first signs
The first thing I noticed was that she was less eager to go for her walk. She always looks forward to getting outside. In the past, every time she hesitated, it was the first red flag that something was wrong.
The day before we discovered the injury, she yelped while we were outside. I didn’t see what happened, and Cookie has a history of unexplained random yelps. Despite our best efforts, we never figured out the cause(s).
It wasn’t until the next morning when the issue became clear. As I was going to apply Cookie’s wrist wraps to go out for a walk, I found this thing sticking out sideways from her foot. It looked so odd that at first, I wasn’t sure whether it wasn’t some foreign body. Even though it was at the location where a dewclaw is supposed to be, it looked more like an embedded thorn of some sort.
I lightly touched it, and I got a major pain response in return. Upon further examination—getting my glasses to peer at it, it became clear that it was Cookie’s dewclaw, sticking out in this unnatural angle. While this was the first time any of my dogs suffered a nail injury, I was quite certain it had to come out.
My concern was how it could be removed without pain and without anesthesia because Cookie’s body doesn’t tolerate sedation.
Getting in touch with the veterinarian
I took a couple of photos and sent them to Cookie’s veterinarian. The veterinarian did agree that the nail was likely ripped from the nail bed and will have to come out.
However, she was confident she might be able to get that done with local anesthetic alone. We arranged an appointment for early in the morning, and we decided to fast Cookie in case she did need to go under. Until then, Cookie had to take it easy to avoid pain and complications in the form of an infection.
Fortunately, it was an easy fix. The veterinarian examined the dewclaw and was confident she can remove it with local anesthetic.
Cookie complained more about the injection than she did about the dewclaw removal. One good pull took care of things and Cookie could go back home.
She had to wait a couple of days to return to her normal activity, mainly to make sure the area heals and doesn’t get infected.
Preventing nail problems
Regular nail trimming is the most important step in preventing nail injuries. However, mishaps can still occur; Cookie does get her nail trimmed regularly during each of her physical therapy visits.
Cookie’s nails are not fragile. On the contrary, they are hard and strong—it takes a lot of strength to clip them. That might, however be the reason why her dewclaw avulsed rather than broke.
Non-weight-bearing toenail inside of dogs’ front legs, located about halfway to the wrist.
Dewclaw that ripped from the nail bed.