Injury to a dog's toenail can cause it to experience profuse bleeding, as well as some pain. However, while such injuries can be quite frightening for the owner, many toenail injuries are not as bad as they first appear. In fact, many injuries can be prevented by taking a few simple steps.
Dog Toenail Anatomy
Dogs have cylindrical toenails, comprised of layers of hard keratin surrounding a narrow thread of nerves and blood vessels. This thread of living tissue is called the "quick." If the toenail is not cut or ground down on a regular basis, the quick will extend from its regular terminal position near the "hook" in the nail toward the nail tip. Dogs have toenails that are permanently fixed in place, unlike cats, whose nails are retractable.
"Quicking" occurs when the dog's toenail is trimmed too close to the nail's nerve and blood supply. It is not unusual for a dog with dark nails to experience the occasional quicking, even if its owner is extremely careful during nail care. Although the dog may vocalise loudly and the nail might bleed quite a bit for a minute or two, quicking is not a serious injury for dogs with blood that clots normally. Having a container of styptic powder on hand while trimming a dog's nails will permit immediate treatment of the injury, slowing or stopping the bleeding and reducing the possibility of infection.
Splitting and Breaking
A dog's toenails can split or break under ordinary circumstances, particularly if the dog is housed or is exercising on concrete or on stone. Nails that frequently split or break may mean the dog has a health or dietary issue. Mike Richards, DVM, writing for VetInfo.com, suggests treating brittle nails using dietary supplements of gelatin, biotin, zinc gluconate or omega-3 fatty acids. However, brittle nails that are accompanied by nail deformities may be indicative of medical issues. Therefore, the dog should be brought to the veterinarian to rule out food allergies, parasites or other more serious conditions. Brittle nails, left untreated, can lead to tearing injuries.
Veterinarian Jim Berg explains that dogs' toenails "grow from the tip of the third bone of the toe and are usually very firmly attached," which means that only the dewclaw is typically prone to being torn from the dog's body. On the rare occasion that the dog's toenail is torn away, Dr. Berg states that "it may be sensitive" and that the area should be kept clean and watched carefully for swelling or sensitivity.
Other tearing injuries can occur if a dog's dewclaw is too long or is brittle and catches on to another object. Because the dewclaw is often only attached to the leg with a small piece of tissue, it may rip away very easily. Treat the wound with styptic powder to stop the bleeding. Once the bleeding has been stopped, determine if the wound requires the attention of a veterinarian.