Tis the Season of Torn Toenails
Gotta love Minnesota in the winter. Massive temperature fluctuations, snow, ice, bonding with your neighbors over getting cars unstuck (I actually enjoy this one). We get to chip feces out of our yards to avoid a massive poop-melt in the spring, and try to convince our furry friends that eliminating outside is still a good idea.
On a more positive note, local frozen lakes become massive off-leash dog parks, everything is crisp and clean, skijoring becomes a commonly heard word, and Huskies, Bernese Mountain Dogs, and other snow-loving breeds can be seen lounging in snow-covered yards.
As a veterinarian, I equate the cold season with the season of broken, or torn, toenails. The “perfect storm” of long nails, frigid temps, and poor footing, create excellent conditions for broken nails on our canine friends. Warmer seasons bring with them more time outdoors for most dogs, Mother Nature acting as a natural emery board, keeping nails shorter and less prone to trauma, as well as higher humidity, keeping our hands, and their nails, less prone to cracking.
Those dogs that appreciate and even thrive in colder weather, subject themselves to an unseen threat, the broken toenail. Slippery surfaces and brittle (often longer than normal) nails combine to cause undue stress to the nails when grasping for better footing. This commonly results in a nail that cracks/breaks/tears somewhere between the tip of the nail and the nailbed. This cracking severs the blood vessel and exposes the nerve that runs through the middle of the nail (the “quick”) causing significant bleeding and pain.
The most common sign of a broken nail is abrupt bleeding from one or more feet after playing outside. Many dogs limp on the affected leg and others lick the foot excessively. Exposure of the blood supply along with licking can make a broken toenail prone to infection. If an infected nail is left untreated the bone that supports the nail can become infected, creating a more serious situation.
Treating the broken nail typically involves trimming the affected nail back beyond the site of the fracture. At Westgate Pet Clinic, we often sedate dogs for this procedure to keep them calm and supply pain control. A variety of methods can be used to keep the freshly cut nail from bleeding and a bandage is often placed to protect the nail while it heals. Medication is often prescribed to control pain and infection. If normal prior to the fracture, most nails grow back normally over the next few months.
The best prevention of torn or broken toenails is routine trimming to keep the nails short. Many dogs are apprehensive to have their nails trimmed and need training with positive reinforcement to create a positive mindset when it comes to nail maintenance. Starting with handling of the toes as a puppy will often create positive experiences throughout life with nail trimming. Lifestyle can influence how often nails need to be trimmed. How a dog walks or runs, as well as the typical surface the dog exercises on, can dictate how often she needs her nails trimmed.
There are some medical conditions that can alter the health of the nails leading to greater susceptibility to fracture. Allergies, autoimmune disease, infection, vasculitis, and hormonal disease can all make the nails less healthy. Your veterinarian can help determine if your dog is likely to have any of these.