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Pet first aid: Broken/bleeding nail

The Humane Society of the United States

  • If your pet has a broken or bleeding toenail, don't worry — you can bring them comfort quickly and easily.. Elizabeth Bergstrom

When your companion animal has a broken or bleeding nail, they'll usually make it well known. They may vocalize their discomfort or you may discover an injury by their body language. This can be difficult or scary to handle in the moment, especially if their injury results from a nail trimming attempt.

By following the tips below, you'll be able to spot and manage broken or bleeding nails easily and effectively.


The root of the problem with broken or bleeding toenails in companion animals is often one of maintenance. If a pet's toenails aren't cut often enough, this can result in overgrowth and breakage of the nail.

Other causes include injury to the paw or toes or cutting a toenail too short during trimming (also called cutting the quick of the nail).

Clipping tips:

  • Clip only the sharp tips of your pet's nails regularly using a clipper designed for dogs or cats.
  • If your pet is getting impatient, clip only one paw at a time and allow them breaks to calm down.
  • It may help to swaddle your companion animal in a towel so their other feet don't interfere with your clipping.

Signs of injury

Bleeding from toe

You may discover your pet has an injured nail by finding a trail of blood they've left behind them. This can be alarming (and messy), but once you are able to stop the bleeding you can focus on cleaning up.


If your pet doesn't place as much weight on a certain leg, they may have a broken toenail. Gently inspect their toes to see if this is the case, since limping can be caused by other common injuries.

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First aid

Apply direct pressure to the nail with a piece of gauze or a clean cloth for five minutes, or apply styptic pencil, or styptic powder to the area. These items should be a part of your first aid kit. If you do not have these items available, try the following:

  • Take a bar of soap and push it into the bleeding nail or apply flour or cornstarch to the area with firm pressure for five minutes.
  • If you aren’t successful, wrap the paw like a pad wound. After bandaging the paw, transport your pet to a veterinary hospital.

If you are able to stop the bleeding at home, wait one day (to make sure you do not disturb the clot that has formed) then soak the paw in warm water and Epsom salts. Monitor the site for infection, as evidenced by swelling, pain, redness and reluctance to put weight on the paw. If any of these signs appear, take your pet to a veterinarian.

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