Drat! I broke a nail!

Drat! I broke a nail…

Before I became a vet, broken nails always seemed like a bit of a tempest in that proverbial teapot. I mean, c’mon Mom, how bad can it be that the manicure will be less than perfect for a few weeks? Drama Queen!

For a dog, however, a broken nail is indeed cause for drama. Poor pooches have to walk on their fractured nails and that hurts. As well, a break at the wrong spot often produces more blood than a good Tarantino movie. Where is that number for Hillcrest?!!

Unfortunately for our dog friends, they tend to break or rip off nails quite a lot. A relative’s little Squirt recently avulsed a nail, pulling it upwards from the nail bed and she was in a lot of pain. Her “Mum” emailed for help and it seemed like a good conversation to share…

”Hey Dr. Kitty,
A quick vet question for you if you don’t mind. Squirt seems to have split a nail and now she’s hobbling around. There isn’t any blood or anything else going on with it, but she’s clearly upset and it’s hurting her to put pressure on it. What should I do? Would gluing it back together be a terrible idea?”

”Aaaarggh!! Poor Squirt and poor you. Although it’s not a big medical problem, broken nails hurt and dogs hate having their feet touched, so treating the problem can become a bit of a rodeo. Your absolute best choice would be to come for lunch tomorrow and let me take care of it. But since it’s a two-hour drive, let’s see if I can help from a distance…

I doubt if you’ll be able to keep her still enough to glue it and let it set; aside from which you have to be careful not to let glue hit the underlying tissue. Gluing is out, so here are a few suggestions:

Plan A: If the fractured part of the nail is quite loose, it should be pulled off, either by you or a vet (mmmm, lunch). Either way, unless we put her under general anesthesia (overkill), it’s gonna hurt like heck for a few seconds, then all will be well. If you think it’s loose and want to try getting it off yourselves, do it when your local vet is open in case there’s a lot of bleeding or you can’t get the broken bit off completely. Be prepared, it is going to hurt, but it’s usually one of those “ow ow ow ow, where’s supper?” kind of things. Use a pair of slender pliers, quickly grab firmly on the loose bit, pull hard and hope she doesn’t bite you.

Plan B: If the broken part is not obviously loose don’t even try to pull it. If you can possibly manage, cut the nail as short as possible*. That stops it from pushing on the floor when she walks and it may be all you need to do. In the event it still hurts, you should take her to your vet.

*If you accidentally cut through the quick, it will bleed for a while. Try applying cornstarch, icing sugar, the end of a match or one of those white pasty things guys use when they stupidly cut themselves shaving. So maybe none of this worked and you’re cursing me…I did offer lunch.

Regardless of what you do, give her some pain medication (I’ve deleted the details here because what was right for Squirt won’t necessarily be right for every dog. Your own veterinarian can give the best advice based on weight and current medical conditions.) Give yourselves several beers.  If you end up at a vet clinic, be sure to tell them you gave the pain meds (don’t admit to the beers). Clean the fracture site with peroxide (a bit of iodine in water is better) twice a day for a week.  I doubt she’ll tolerate a sock, but she won’t help the wound by licking, old wives’ tales aside. At the first sign of infection, odour, swelling, discharge…off to the most convenient vet. And/or call me.

Happy spring.


P.S. I think I’ll make this into a column — “Oh drat! I broke a nail…”