Toe Injuries in Dogs

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Some basic dog toe injuries include broken or torn toenails, broken toes, dislocated toes, osteoarthritis in the toe, and frostbite. Toes on a dog can be a sensitive area so it's important to know proper care in case they need medical attention. A dog may get a toenail caught on a fence, furniture, carpet, or other unexpected items. Such injuries are often painful, requiring veterinary care and plenty of attention to heal properly.

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Causes for broken or ripped toenails in dogs

A dog may break or rip a toenail (especially if the nail is overgrown, like dewclaws tend to get after an overdue trim) by snagging it on the carpet or rug and then struggling to get loose. If the dog is older, this can be an even more common occurrence due to the brittle nature of their nails. Toenail injuries may be common in dogs but are rarely life-threatening. See your veterinarian if the nail has completely broken off and is bleeding, if the nail is ripped and loose, or if the nail is cracked and bleeding but firmly attached.

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Treating broken or ripped nails in dogs

If the injured portion of a nail has broken off completely, apply pressure to the affected area using a cloth or gauze to stop the bleeding. Flour may help the blood clot. Wash the area and apply a bandage. If the nail is dangling by a bit of tissue, you can pull it off. Get someone to restrain the dog, gently take the nail and grip it securely, and pull quickly and sharply.

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It's important to note that this process is painful for the dog and may require sedation. Due to the sensitivity of the area, be mindful that even a nice pet may bite under these stressful circumstances.

Then, proceed to stop any bleeding. If the nail is cracked, torn, and still attached by more than just a bit of tissue, you must see a veterinarian for appropriate care. Do not attempt to remove or cut the broken portion of the nail, as you can cause further injury and terrorize the dog.

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Causes of a broken and fractured dog toe

Dogs have five toes on each front paw (unless they have had their dewclaws removed as a puppy) and four on each rear paw. Each toe has three bones. The first two toe bones support most of the dog's weight. A broken dog toe or a fractured dog toe can occur when a dog is running and catches the toe on an object or because of an accident, such as falling or jumping from a substantial height or getting run over by a car. Signs that a dog has a broken or fractured toe bone include the dog's toe being swollen, sudden lameness, refusal to put weight on the foot, evident pain, and withdrawn behavior.

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Treating breaks and fractures in dogs

Breaks (fractures) require treatment by a veterinarian, who will likely order X-rays to assess the injury. A splint may be applied. Your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics, like Clavamox, which contains a type of penicillin called amoxicillin. This can help to reduce the risk of infection. They may recommend antiseptic foot soaks and pain medication, such as nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs made specifically for dogs.

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After bringing your pet home, limit their activity and keep them as calm as possible. Your dog's paw will most likely remain in a splint for four to six weeks. Check frequently to see if your dog's splint and bandage needs to be replaced. This could be as often as every one to two days or as infrequent as every seven to 10 days.

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When it is time for your pet to go outside to use the bathroom, place a plastic bag over the bandage or splint on their foot to keep the wound clean and dry. If the area does become wet, call your veterinarian immediately. Do not leave your pet unsupervised outside until they have recovered.

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The type and location of the injury and the activity level of your pet will determine how often to change their dressings. If a more complicated splint is applied, then your veterinarian will need to replace and change the splint. If the bandage is a more simple process, they may teach you to do this at home.

Risk factors for toe injuries in dogs

Dogs who participate in agility and racing competitions are at risk for toe and nail injuries. Trauma to the toes accounts for 6 to 8 percent of sports-related injuries in dogs. Reduce the risk of injury by keeping your dog's nails trimmed so they do not catch on grass, twigs, or other objects. Trim the hair between the pads to prevent slipping. If you feel your dog's dewclaws need to be removed due to persistent injuries, call your veterinarian for guidance.

Other toe injuries seen in dogs

Dogs can develop osteoarthritis in their toes. This painful condition occurs when cartilage breaks down or there is little or no cushioning in joints due to less joint fluid, and the bones may start to rub against one another during movement. Osteoarthritis in the toe is treated with pain medication, joint supplements, and weight management if necessary.

During cold and icy weather, a pet's toes are at risk of frostbite. Toes may become dry and cracked and may bleed. Like humans wear boots in the wintertime, dog boots can protect their paws. They minimize contact with harsh salt or chemicals and prevent snow, ice, and salt or sand from getting lodged between their toes.

If boots don't seem to work for your dog, Vaseline or a paw balm, such as Musher's Secret, can do the trick. Before going out on a walk, coat your dog's paws to create a barrier between the snow, ice, and salt and the paw pads. Just be sure to have a towel handy when you get back inside to wipe it off.

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