Learning About Dog Toenails and Trimming

By Deb Haines

Most vets go out of her way to explain the importance of nail trimming for optimum pet health. It reduces such injuries as claw and toe fractures, prevents ingrown curved nails and minimizes orthopedic problems that can result from poor claw positioning. A tiny tear in a tiny nail on a single toe can be excruciatingly painful. The pain of a broken nail can be intense.

Nail trimming should be a quick, simple procedure. Unfortunately, this basic grooming task often turns into a stressful experience for people and pets alike. Cutting or filing your dog’s nails regularly should be a routine part of dog grooming ,Whether you’re concerned about hurting your pet or aren’t sure which tools to use, this PVC group file may help make nail trimming much more pleasant for both you and your pet.

It’s a good idea to have your vet clinic or professional groomer show you the ropes the first time around. Have them do the first two paws and then have them watch you do the second two. If you don’t feel comfortable.

Learning the nail anatomy

The Quick

The nails of dogs consist of a central collection of blood vessels and nerves that are called the Quick . The quick is covered by a layer of hard material called keratin, which surrounds these sensitive structures to protect them. The quick is living tissue while the keratin is not. That is why trimming the tip of the nail is not painful for your pet but exposing the quick is uncomfortable. The quick is also attached to the bone, so any damage to the quick can lead to an infection in the bone, which is very serious.

Avoid cutting the Quick

When you trim your dogs nails, the first thing to do is check to see where the quick inside the nail ends. If your dog has light-colored nails, you can see the soft, pink tissue in the center called the quick. The quick includes a blood vessel and nerve and is easier to see on light dog nails.

Cutting through the quick, the vertical pink line in the center of your pet’s nails, will cause pain and bleeding. Always start your cut below the quick to avoid injuring your cat or dog. If you don’t think the nail is short enough, make another small cut, as long as you can do so without coming too close to the quick.

The quick may appear black or gray instead of pink in pets with dark nails. If you’re not sure if you should continue cutting the nail, look for a small gray or white circle inside the nail. If you see the circle, you’re getting too close to the quick and shouldn’t attempt another cut. Styptic powder or cornstarch will slow bleeding if you accidentally cut through the quick.

Exposed quick


Dew claws are short nails on the site of the foot that don’t touch the ground. They are often referred to as a dog’s thumb, but they have a lot less purpose and value to a dog than a human’s thumb does. If you compared a dog’s paws to a person’s hand, the dewclaw would be easily recognizable as, much like a thumb, it is smaller in size and rests farther up on the paw. Dewclaws can be found on the front and rear legs of some dogs and have been passed down from early canines who relied on their dewclaws to help them grip on to certain surfaces. Today, dewclaws are still sometimes used to help your dog grab on to things the best way a dog can, whether that means gripping the ground as she makes a fast, tight turn or helping her hold on to a bone or stick that she’s chewing.

Double dewclaw breeds

In addition to an extra set of dewclaws on a dog’s hind legs, some dogs are born with double dewclaws—two claws that sprout from that same spot. According to Chewy, there are several breeds that sport both rear and double dewclaws, including Portuguese sheepdogs, Icelandic sheepdogs, Saint Bernards, and briards, to name a few. Some breeds are required to keep their double dewclaws if they wish to compete in AKC dog shows, like Great Pyrenees and the Norwegian lundehund, the latter of which has six toes on all four feet, which were once needed to climb jagged rocks.

Treating Dewclaw Injuries

While dewclaw injuries are relatively rare, they certainly do occur. Any nail can become partially or completely pulled off, broken, split, infected, or ingrown (if not properly trimmed). Since most nail injuries are extremely painful and prone to infection (think of all the places your dog’s feet have been!), it is usually best to have them assessed by a veterinarian. He or she can remove damaged nails or trim ingrown ones (under sedation, if necessary), and prescribe any needed antibiotics and pain relievers.

How to Maintain Dewclaws

When it comes to maintenance, dewclaws are no different than your dog’s other nails. Dogs who are extremely active may wear down their nails, including their dewclaws, to the point where nail trims are not necessary. But for most pets who are relatively sedentary, regular trims are needed to keep their nails at a healthy length. Keep an especially close eye on the dewclaw. Since they are not in contact with the ground as frequently as the other nails, they may require more frequent trims.

Questions and Answers by the PVC vets

  1. Nail some how got ripped out. He was bleeding but it’s stopped. Should we be concerned about infection? Is this an emergency?

    Answer ….. Dr.Aaron Vd Raaf …… This is not an emergency as long as you aren’t spotting any swelling or signs of infection. Contact your vet to ask about pain meds and wash a couple times a day with a saline solution. Normal saline solution can be used. Stick to one which has around 0.9% salt (may be labelled NaCl).

You could also make your own. I would recommend calling your vet for a recipe if you choose this as you will find lots of conflicting information online. As long as damage is not severe it should take up to eight weeks to grow back.

2) Dog broke the long nail second toe one in the black circle its bleeding but stops for a little bit she wont let me do anything for her except put a little baking soda on it.

Answer.… Dr. Lisa Fullam …….Unless your dog has an underlying serious clotting problem (which you’d already have seen other signs of, like massive bruising without cause,) then breaking a toenail will not be a life-threatening problem. Since your photo is a “before” shot, I can’t tell where along the nail it’s broken. I will assume that somewhere in the long curve of the nail it snapped and started bleeding. Instead of baking soda, try some plain flour on the broken end to slow the bleeding. Now–broken ends of nails are very tender and even the nicest dog might snap if you or another non-professional tries to deal with this. That said, this is really more a grooming issue than a medical issue. If your local vet is seeing patients, ask if you could see a vet or a tech to shorten the broken nail, IF the broken end is still attached. If the broken end is NOT attached, don’t bother your vet. Once the bleeding has stopped, then see if any groomers are open in your area, and ask about a nail trim, next step will be to learn to trim your dog’s nails yourself–this will prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future, will save you $ by doing it yourself, and will keep your dog more comfortable. Nails this long cause toes to twist.

3) Dog was limping a little bit yesterday and I couldn’t figure out why but I just now noticed his toe nail is broken and he won’t let me touch it at all.

Answer ... Dr. Maria Patink ….Most often, dogs need some sedation and pain management so that the broken part can be removed and if the nail bleeds that it can be cauterized. Then the foot may need a bandage, depending on how it all goes. Your dog should be sent home with pain management and sometimes antibiotics are also given. All the nails on your dog’s paw are extremely long which increases the risk for breaks like this.

4) Dogs toe nails, dry, brittle and crack along with pads

Answer…. Dr.Beth Alene… I would see if your vet thinks it can be Symmetrical lupoid onychodystrophy (SLO) which has also been called canine symmetrical onychomadesis and symmetric lupoid onychitis.

5) Dog’s toe nail appears itchy and looks like has cracks in it.

Answer… Dr. Maria Patink …Has anyone used a clear tape to sample some skin cells from the nail bed and then look at the samples under the microscope? I have seen a few patients have fungal infections that present like this…spoke to you about Malasezzia? Testing the skin in the area to rule in/out a bunch of possibilities would be a good idea. Seek out a veterinary dermatologist. They will be the best source for finding the underlying cause and treating it best.

6) Broke a toe nail and now has exposed quick.

Answer … Dr .Lauren Abrahamsen…..sometimes if the nail breaks but part of it is hanging on, that can be painful everytime they walk (kind of like a bad hangnail/ingrown nail). depending on how its hanging on, sometimes its best for a vet to pull it off and sometimes the dogs have done a doozy and need to be sedated to fix it… usually once that piece of nail is gone, the most painful part is over and the exposed quick is tender for a few days, but calluses up pretty quickly. if its bleeding, you can go to petsmart and get something like kwik stop that stops the bleeding and also has a numbing agent in it. as long as it stays clean and dog doesnt chew at it (so maybe use a loose bandage or e collar?) they heal up quickly (once the nail piece is gone)… so most likely don’t need to see your vet.. but if he seems really painful a visit might be a good idea to have it checked and get some pain meds. I almost never rx antibiotics for them unless its infected or its a dog where it would be impossible to keep his foot clean

7) Dog has something going on with her toe nail. I can tell it’s painful. My question is does something like this warrant a trip to the vet?? Will it possibly heal on its own??

Answer …. Dr. David Jeffrey ……There’s always the chance that something like this heals on it’s own but I recommend you have a vet look at it in person. They can safely trim away any mobile pieces if needed as parts of the nail that move are going to be an ongoing source of pain. They can also give you pain meds as those hurt a LOT as anyone who’s had a finger nail or toe nail ripped up off your finger will tell you. They heal up just fine though as long as they don’t get infected.

8) Dog has cracked and bleeding nail

Answer…Dr. Janice Griffin ….It looks like the nail is likely cracked up close to the nail bed. If the cracked nail is moving and irritating the sensitive quick this can be very painful for your pet.I would recommend having a vet take a look.They will likely remove the cracked portion of the nail. Antibiotics and Non -steroidal medication for pain and inflammation would prevent infection and make your pup more comfortable.

9) Dew claw broke off

Answer….Dr. Sara Castro ….Nail will need to be removed under sedation, I’m afraid. Pain relief is also in order.

10) My dog is in horrible pain and I feel helpless. He won’t bear weight on the foot at all and is on meds from vet for pain.

Answer ….Dr. Rachael Sexton….I’d recommend to have the nail cut off where the split starts now because it keeps irritating the structures around the nail, antibiotics, restricted exercise, an nsaid for pain meds to reduce the inflammation.

11) I went to go clip my dogs nails and noticed her licking one paw. Looks to me as if the nail has split / started to get infected maybe ? She’s not lame and it doesn’t seem to be painful to her. Anything I can do for her?

Answer … Dr. Tammy blizzard …..See how it’s thickened and read at the base of the nail? I would bring her in for this and get a diagnosis and relief.

12) dog split one of his nails. The top part of the nail is loose and it is cracked all the way to the skin. Does this warrant a vet visit?

Answer …. Dr. Dana Anholzer…The quick is exposed and the broken piece of nail on the top is likely painful whenever it is touched. Typically I recommend having the broken portion removed, cleaning the area, and applying a light bandage like a sock or bootie for a few days. It will take time for the new nail to grow in. Depending on how attached the broken piece of nail is your dog may allow you to remove it (Some of these I’ve only had to pluck away gently) or may require a vet visit if more attached or extra sensitive to be cut away. Monitor for swelling, discharge, odor, or pain that may indicate need for pain medication and/or antibiotics.

Video by veterinarian explaining how to properly trim a dogs nails…

How to cut your dogs nails safely …. https://www.petmd.com/dog/grooming/evr_dg_how_to_trim_a_dogs_toenails

First Aid for broken nails for dogs ….https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/first-aid-for-broken-nails-in-dogs?fbclid=IwAR0m7JkM5QbjjIzOQvE542kOR_Hq7erb1p2U065SB3iBJKkvbqNAW7WMsOI#:~:text=Provide%20restraint%20in%20the%20form,cauterizing%20powder%20to%20the%20nail

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