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My dog’s dew claw is broken and bleeding. What should I do?

dew claws broken

Dolly caught her dew claw on the carpet. One minute she was fine, next there was blood everywhere and she was busy licking her foot. I wondered what on earth was wrong. When she let me have a look I could see that she’d ripped the nail on her dew claw almost clean off. 

I called the vet and off we went for some help. As she had almost detached it completely the vet removed it. Dolly was given painkillers and the wound dressed with a cute roll of vet wrap to cover it up for a few days. Eventually the nail grew back as if nothing had happened.  

Did you know that your dog’s dew claw is actually a very interesting part of their anatomy? Don’t assume that these claws are simply vestigial and serve no purpose and any injury to the dew claw needs immediate attention. 

Which claw is the dew claw?

It’s the one on front legs that if it were on your hand, would be the thumb. Here’s a picture to help you identify it.

Copy of dew claws
Which claw is the dew claw. This one.

What do you do for a snapped, cracked or broken dew claw?

A broken dew claw, whether split or dislocated, is extremely painful for your dog and requires medical attention.

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You can perform some immediate first aid at home, especially if there is some bleeding to take care of, but then contact your vet for professional treatment. 

How to provide immediate first aid at home

Remember to do your best to keep your dog calm at all times during this situation, even if they need emergency care. They may be in pain when the claw breaks or tears if the injury is deep in the quick or connective tissue.

Be mindful that this might cause your dog to growl or snap at you if it is severe. Offer reassurance that everything is OK and stay calm. If you panic, they will panic. 

  1. Stem the bleeding
    If you notice a tear to the dew claw or cut into the quick, there will probably be some blood to deal with. The best thing to do here is to use styptic powder ( or even flour)  to stem the bleeding as soon as possible. Make sure you cover the entire nail with powder and gently apply pressure with a clean, lint-free cloth until the bleeding stops. This reduces blood loss but may also help to calm your dog. 
  2. Apply a dressing
    Then you can apply a simple dressing to the paw to reduce the risk of infections in the nailbed or the dog irritating the injury. I used a sterile pad from our pet first aid kit and used a bandage wrap ( stretchy slightly sticky tape) to keep it in place.
  3. Call the vet. They will ask you questions over the phone and then advise on what to do next.
How to bandage a dew claw properly

Can you leave a damaged dew claw if it’s not bleeding?

A broken dew claw could lead to further issues of infection because of its connection to the bone so it’s always best to call the vet. The sooner you ease your dog’s discomfort and lessen the risk of infection, the sooner they will be back to their old selves again.

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Never attempt to snip off the nail. If it is only cracked and not bleeding then you’ll probably be advised to keep it clean and just wait for the crack to grow out naturally.

When should I take my dog to the vet for a broken nail?

It is always better to be safe than sorry when dealing with any sort of canine injury. If your dog is showing any of the following signs, please call your vet for help.

  1. Continuous or lots of bleeding
  2. Licking or biting at their foot
  3. Swelling in the toe or their foot
  4. Lameness or won’t put their foot on the ground
  5. Sounds that indicate pain, like whimpering, snappy, growly or clingy

Take your dog to the vet for a better examination of the damage and wound cleaning.

will a broken dew claw heal itself?

You might find that there is nothing wrong and that the nail will recover with time and TLC. But, there is the risk that the tissue around the tear or break could become infected. This is even more problematic when we consider the connection to the bone. The last thing you want is a minor mishap turning into a septic infection. Your vet will be able to provide any necessary treatment and dress the wound more professionally. 

Is it better to let the dew claw grow back or remove it entirely? 

This all depends on the nature of the injury. A break to the nail isn’t too big a deal if there is no sign of infection. Your vet can trim back the claw to smooth it off, clean around the area, bandage it up and let the claw regrow.

Torn dew claws, where the whole claw is torn from the bone, are removed and the wound cleaned. This is also the case if there is still some connection to the bone.  Where possible, it is best to let the claw regrow and heal because of its benefits to the dog. 

Dew claws are more important to your dog than you might realise. 

There are some dog breeders that advocate removing dew claws to avoid any problems down the line. 

Some may also choose to do so for cosmetic reasons. However, this shows some disregard for the purpose of this little tool.  It isn’t as redundant as you might think as some dogs will use them for a better grip on their food. This made more sense to their carnivorous hunter ancestors, but it still works for pet dogs with tasty bones too. 

If the dew claw is attached by bone then it has a definite purpose. That might be as extra traction when running and stabilising the wrist joint. Some dogs need their dew claws to climb trees or to get out of water if they have broken through ice, like Huskies.

For dogs who have double (polydactyl) dew claws – like St Bernards, or rear facing dew claws, they will probably be removed to prevent injury.  But cutting of a dew claw means that some muscles will atrophy because they won’t be used anymore. This could lead to arthritis for your dog, especially if they are sporty or working.

Dew claws require regular attention to prevent damage or injuries. 

The dew claw requires grooming just like the other nails on the dog’s paw. In fact, you may need to do so more often with this claw. Your dog’s other nails should maintain a pretty good length and smoothness with regular wear, especially if they get to walk on hard floors or on city streets. Smaller companion dogs that spend more time in carpeted rooms may need more help. 

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However, the position of the dew claw further up the leg means that it doesn’t get the same sort of wear. 

As a result, it may grow longer than the others with the potential for deformities and injuries. It is important to maintain the right length to stop the claw from growing in the wrong direction or becoming brittle and broken.

Use nail clippers or scissors and separate the nail from the leg before cutting so that you don’t catch and cut the skin.

Be careful not to cut the nail too short or into the quick ( the blood vessel that runs through the nail) . You can shine a light through the nail to see the quick if you can’t see it clearly.

There is the risk of breakages or injuries while grooming too. 

With that said, there are times where the dew claw will become injured – either through tears or breakages. This could happen if the dog injures its paw while running or playing. Or, there may be accidents while grooming. Experienced owners could misjudge the location of the quick in this claw or use too much force. In the worst case you may find it fell off or split. In the best, it may just be a little loose or rough. 

Give the injury time to heal 

While some of these dewclaw injuries may seem minor to us, and the dog may forget about it soon enough, you need to give it time to heal. A tear needs to heal up to form a strong connection to the bone so dogs don’t make things worse the next time they play. There is also the risk that a small wound could still get infected if dirt or bacteria gets in. Finally, you don’t want your stubborn pet pawing or biting at the swollen uncomfortable area and making things worse. 

To summarise

In short, while many dew claw breakages and tears are fixable with the right treatment, we can’t overlook the seriousness of the injury nor the importance of the claw. Be careful when grooming, dress any injuries that occur, and always seek professional help from your veterinarian.

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