For us humans, breaking a nail is a pretty mundane accident; it’s more irritating than painful.
If you break your nail at the cuticle, though, it will hurt a lot and you can expect quite a bit of blood. Similarly, if your dog separates their nail from the quick it can be very painful for them.
Dogs have the same experience. They often break their nails while playing or digging and it’s no big deal, but it’s much worse if they break it down to the quick, which is the canine equivalent of the cuticle.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the anatomy of a dog’s nail so you can tell where the quick is and how to avoid accidentally cutting it when trimming their nails.
We’ll also look at what makes it more likely for your dog to separate their nail from the quick and how to prevent it, plus how to treat a broken nail if it does happen.
DISCLAIMER: We are not veterinarians. This article is for entertainment purposes only. If your dog is experiencing any health problems including a broken nail please contact your vet.
Canine nails are basically made up of two parts. The first is a keratin outer shell that makes up the majority of the nail. These are useful for digging and scratching and they don’t really feel anything.
The second part, inside the keratin shell, is the quick. This is similar to a human cuticle and is a thin vein that starts at the base of your dog’s nail.
It may stop about halfway through the nail or it can run almost all the way to the tip, depending on the dog.
If you get a close look at a dog with fairly light nails, you will probably be able to see the shadow of the quick through the keratin which makes it easy to cut their nails without hitting the quick.
If they have dark-colored nails, though, it can be almost impossible to see the quick until you are right on top of it!
The nail on the “thumb” digit of the paw is called the dewclaw. Like human thumbs, it is the most useful and dexterous of the digits on their paw, and therefore also most likely to get injured.
How Does The Quick Get Injured?
There are a few common ways that dogs injure their nails so that the quick becomes exposed.
The most common cause is, of course, accidental breakage that happens while they’re playing.
Nails shouldn’t break while dogs are playing, and dogs will actively scratch their nails on rough surfaces to keep them short and manageable, but accidents do happen.
They are more likely to break to the quick in such an accident if their nails aren’t properly trimmed.
Overly long nails are more likely to break, and if you don’t trim your dog’s nails regularly, they tend to grow out of control.
This encourages the quick to grow closer to the end of the nail, leaving it more exposed in the case of breakages.
Poor nutrition can be another factor because it can result in weak nails that are more likely to break.
This will likely be accompanied by other signs of malnutrition such as lethargy and a coat in generally poor condition.
Finally, pet parents will often accidentally cut down into the quick when trimming their dog’s nails.
This is particularly common for dogs with small nails since there isn’t much room for error, and for dogs with dark-colored nails since it is much more difficult to detect where the quick is when cutting.
How Do You Know When The Quick Is Exposed?
It is usually immediately obvious if your dog’s quick has been exposed. You can expect a squeal or bark, blood around the nail, and for your dog to start licking the affected area to try and relieve the pain.
If the break happened when you weren’t around, though, you will have to identify the issue using the remaining symptoms.
The pain can cause them to limp as they are avoiding putting pressure on the area, and they are likely to still be licking the area to try and deal with the pain.
When you get a closer look at the broken part of the nail, you should notice two sections with the inner section being a darker color. If you can see both of these sections, the quick has been exposed.
How To Minimize Problems With Your Dog’s Nails?
Minimizing the chances of your dog developing problems with its nails is pretty simple.
It starts with a good diet that includes all the nutrients that dogs need to grow strong nails. This means a diet that is high in animal-based proteins and healthy fats.
Calcium, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids are also important.
The next step is to keep their nails properly trimmed so the quick doesn’t grow too far down the nail. Keeping them relatively short means that they will also be less likely to break while playing.
Dogs’ nails need to be trimmed about once a month. This is something you should be able to do yourself, but if you struggle with it, a vet or dog groomer will deal with them pretty quickly.
If you are nervous to use clippers because you have cut into your dog’s quick before, a nail grinder (we like and recommend this Cordless Dremel) can help you cut the nail back more gradually so that fewer accidents happen.
Also important is keeping your dog calm. If they get nervous and try to jerk themselves out of your reach, you are also more likely to have an accident.
Read our guide to how to get a dog to tolerate nail trims.
What To Do When The Quick Is Exposed?
If you think your dog’s quick has been exposed, the first thing you should do is stop the bleeding by applying pressure with a clean cloth.
Once the blood has stopped flowing and you can get a closer look at the nail, you’ll be able to see whether the problem is the quick, or if they have injured themselves in some other way.
If the bleeding doesn’t stop after about five minutes, this indicates a serious problem and it is worth trying to get an emergency appointment with your vet.
Clean the wound and try and keep it clean while it heals since the exposed quick is at risk of infection. This is challenging!
Putting a bandage on your dog’s paw can be pretty pointless, as they will probably take it off by themselves pretty quickly.
The bandage also gets grubby pretty quickly, so they are still at risk of infection.
Depending on the extent of the damage, it can take anywhere from just a few to more than ten days for the nail to grow back around the quick.
If they have lost the nail completely, it might take two months for the nail to grow back. Do what you can to keep the area clean and protected from infection during this time.
This could mean doing things like letting your dog spend more time indoors to prevent them from getting the wound dirty in the garden.
When taking them out for exercise, you might want to consider using dog boots to protect the area, if they will tolerate it.
If not, it is a matter of cleaning the wound when they come in. You could apply an antibiotic ointment to the area to help further ensure against infection.
If the bleeding won’t stop or the nail wound looks very serious, you should speak to your vet. There are a few things they will do that you won’t.
They will probably cut around the nail in such a way as to promote faster growth and prevent your dog from further injuring itself as a result of the broken nail.
They may dress the wound if it seems necessary, and provide you with antibiotic medication and/or painkillers.
Is a torn dog nail an emergency?
In most cases, a torn nail is not an emergency for a dog. Even if they break into the quick, which will cause them a lot of pain, the nail will grow back. You just need to keep the area clean and monitor for infection.
How long does it take for an exposed quick to heal?
How long it takes your dog to heal from a broken nail and exposed quick depends on the extent of the injury, but it shouldn’t take more than ten days for the keratin shell to regrow in a way that is designed to protect the quick. If the nail has ripped off completely, it could take around two months for it to regrow.
How do you push the quick back on a dog’s nails?
If your dog’s quick has started to grow too far down the nail, you can train the quick to recede over time. This is done by trimming the nail a little bit on a frequent basis to just beyond the quick.
The keratin part will grow back relatively quickly and should elongate without the quick. Over time, this will train the quick not to extend too far into the nail and it will start to recede.
Should I wrap my dog’s broken nail?
It is not really worth it to try and wrap your dog’s foot for a nail injury. They will make short work of any wrapping and it is very hard to prevent them from reaching their paw with their mouth.
It is better to try other techniques to keep the wound clean, such as keeping them inside and cleaning the wound regularly.
Can I walk my dog after a broken nail?
Whether you can walk your dog after a broken nail depends on the severity of the wound.
If they are in enough pain that they are limping, it is better to let them rest up. If the wound is exposed, it is best to avoid places where they might pick up dirt and potential infections.
If you do take them for a walk, make sure to clean and disinfect the wound afterward.
Caring For Your Dog’s Nails
Lots of dogs go through their entire lives without ever having problems with their nails, even if you don’t pay them much attention.
Dogs naturally scrape their nails against rough surfaces to file them down and keep them in good condition.
Other dogs will have problems, though Maybe they don’t get out enough to file their nails, or they have weak nails due to nutrition problems.
When that’s the case, you need to give them some extra care by changing up their diet and keeping their nails properly trimmed.
Trimming dogs’ nails isn’t challenging, but you do need to be confident with what you are doing. This makes it less likely that your hand will shake and you will accidentally cut into the quick.
Also, if you are nervous, your dog will sense it which may make it more difficult for you. If you can’t manage yourself, consider taking them to a dog groomer once a month.
They can also deal with other issues you don’t give enough attention to, like cleaning inside their ears and trimming hair in sensitive areas.
Are you caring for your dog’s ears?
Read our guide to canine ears and what to do if your dog develops an ear infection.