The Only Locally-Owned Emergency and Specialty Hospital in Minnesota

Broken Toenails in Pets

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A broken toenail is considered “YELLOW” – or a semi-urgent case – on our Fast Track Triage system. We recommend having your pet evaluated by your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital within 24 hours. Call ahead of your arrival so the veterinary team knows to expect you, and if your pet’s condition worsens, call the team back to inform them of the status change.


For some, trimming a pet’s nails at home can be very intimidating. No one wants to accidentally cut their pet’s nails too short and cause pain! If you cut the nail too short or discover your pet has a broken (“fractured”) toenail, it’s important to address this common injury and know when to seek veterinary care. 

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The Anatomy of a Pet’s Toenails 

Okay, we know what you’re thinking – the anatomy of a toenail? Yes, you absolutely read that right! It’s important to understand what’s going on within that structure, so bear with us! 

The nail is a specialized, layered tissue that grows from germinal cells in the distal bone of the pet’s foot. It’s easiest to think of the toenail as two parts: 

1. The outer layer 
  • The outer layer is comprised of keratin – a strong protein that forms a protective cover 
2. The inner layer 
  • The inner layer (also known as the “quick”) is comprised of blood vessels and sensitive nerves.
  • When the protective shell is broken/fractured or cut too short, the result is trauma to the quick – which causes both bleeding and pain 

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When to Seek Veterinary Care 

Depending on the severity of the trauma, this type of injury may be manageable at home, or it may require veterinary care. Overall, though, the general rule of thumb is if your pet’s pain and bleeding cannot be controlled at home, seek veterinary care. If your family veterinarian is unavailable, go to an animal urgent care or animal emergency hospital.  

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Common Types of Toenail Injuries 

  • Fractured Nail
    • If the nail is fractured – either in the middle or at its base where it connects to the paw – it will probably result in significant pain (and, usually, bleeding), that cannot be controlled outside of the veterinary clinic setting. 
    • Treatment will vary, but overall, the pet will be examined, receive an injectable pain reliever, and have the fractured toenail removed. Temporary bandaging will be placed, and the pet will often go home with oral antibiotics and an oral pain reliever. 
  • Cut the Nail Too Short
    • If a toenail is cut too short during routine nail care, there are steps a pet parent can take at home to stop the resultant bleeding:  
      • Elevate the paw by placing the pet on its side and elevating the affected foot.
      • Apply firm, constant pressure for about ten minutes with a soft, clean cloth or gauze until the bleeding stops.  
      • If the bleeding continues: 
        • It may help to apply styptic powder (make a thick paste with small amount of water before applying) to the area.  
          • Note: This powder has a temporary sting to it, so be prepared for more pet discomfort when applying it.  
        • Another home-remedy is a thick paste of water and cornstarch, or water and flour applied directly to the nail, with pressure as well. 

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  • Bleeding Won’t Stop
    • If the bleeding (and/or pain) won’t subside, the pet should be taken to the veterinarian for help. In some cases, there may be an underlying clotting disorder or coagulopathy that prevents clot formation and cessation of bleeding. 
    • In other cases, there may be an underlying cause for the brittle nail that needs examination by the veterinarian. Possible causes may include: 
      • An underlying trauma such as an embedded splinter or glass shard 
      • Immune-mediated disease 
      • Fungal infection 
      • Cancer 
  • Displaying Discomfort
    • If your pet is experiencing persistent foot discomfort (licking, lameness, bleeding or other signs), please see your veterinarian for care. The foot and the associated toenails are vital structures for quality of life for our pets!

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We hope this guide helps give pet parents a better idea of what to do if your pet has a toenail injury and when to seek veterinary care. If you are ever unsure whether or not to bring your pet in, you can always call your family veterinarian, your local animal urgent care, or your local animal emergency hospital for guidance.  

More To Know: 

Beth Rausch, DVM, MPH

Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, Fast Track Triage, color-coded triage system, pet emergency, Twin Cities emergency vet, Minnesota emergency vet, Saint Paul emergency vet, Oakdale emergency vet

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