Toe Injuries in Dogs

Some basic toe injuries in dogs include broken or torn toenails, broken or fractured toes, osteoarthritis in the toe, and frostbite. Such injuries are often painful, requiring veterinary care and plenty of attention to heal properly.

Paw of a Dalmatian
Veterinary care helps prevent infection with any kind of toe injury.
credit: Image Source White/Image Source/Getty Images

Broken or Ripped Toenails

A dog may break or rip a toenail by snagging it on the carpet or rug and then struggling to get loose. Toenail injuries, common in dogs, are rarely life-threatening. See your vet 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.

Treatment of Broken or Ripped Nails

If the injured portion of a nail has broken off completely, apply pressure to the toenail using a cloth or gauze to stop the bleeding. Silver nitrate or flour may help the blood clot. Wash the area and apply a bandage. If the nail 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 quickly, sharply, pull. Then proceed to stop any bleeding. However, 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.

Broken and Fractured Toes

Dogs have five toes on each front paw and four on each rear paw. Each toe has three bones, the first two supporting most of the dog's weight. Breaks and fractures can occur to toes when a dog is running and catches his 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a dog has a broken or fractured toe bone include sudden lameness, refusal to put weight on the foot, evident pain and withdrawn behavior.

Treatment for Breaks and Fractures

Breaks and fractures require treatment by a veterinarian, who will likely order X-rays to assess the injury and may apply a splint. Your vet may prescribe antibiotics, such as penicillin, to reduce the risk of infection. He may recommend antiseptic foot soaks and pain medication such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

After bringing your pet home, limit his activity and keep him as calm as possible. Change bandages every two weeks or when they become soiled. Your veterinarian can show you how to do this. Your dog’s paw will most likely remain in a splint for four to six weeks.

Risk Factors for Toe Injuries

Dogs who participate in agility and racing competitions are at risk for toe and nail injuries. Trauma to the toes accounts for 6 percent 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. Never surgically remove your dog's dewclaws. Dewclaws provide stability and support, especially when your dog is turning or making corners in agility competitions.

Additional Toe Injuries

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

During cold and icy weather, a pet’s toes are at risk of frostbite. Toes may become dry, cracked and bleeding. Protect your dog’s pads by spreading a salve or Vaseline on them before and after walking in freezing weather. Bag Balm is commonly found in drug stores. Keep walks short. Find a set of doggie boots that your dog will accept to protect his feet outside during cold winter months.