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What are Split Nails?

Split nails in dogs appear as splits and cracks in the nail that can not only be painful, but they can also cause bleeding and infection. While dogs can break or split their nails during normal activity, if split nails are a recurring condition, the cause may be more serious and require veterinary attention.

Onychoschizia, or splitting of the nails, generally appears as splits down the nail that expose the quick, and is a common cause of broken dog claws. 

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Symptoms of Split Nails in Dogs

While a damaged, split nail can easily be seen, they can go unnoticed as they may be covered with fur. However, split nails are often painful, so you may notice your dog showing signs of discomfort. Split nails are often a symptom of a particular condition, so they may be accompanied by other nail issues.

Symptoms of a split nail include:

  • Split in nail, whether horizonal or vertical
  • Bleeding or discharge from nail
  • Bloodstains on floors, carpet, or beds
  • Visible damage to nail
  • Hanging nail
  • Sloughing nails
  • Discolored nails
  • Brittle nails
  • Discolored nails
  • Exposed flesh under nail
  • Inflammation and swelling around nail
  • Limping
  • Favoring one leg or holding up paw
  • Yelping
  • Excessively licking nail and paw

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Causes of Split Nails in Dogs

Several factors can cause nails to become brittle or develop cracks or splits, including:

  • Nail injury – Trauma to the nail can occur during play or normal activity, causing breaks, splits or torn toenails. This can be from hard running on rough surfaces such as asphalt, getting a nail caught in carpet or on a deck, or even from landing wrong on the feet. Dogs who are active during sleep can even snag a nail on their bedding.
  • Nail trimming accidents – Cutting nails too short or incorrectly can result in breaks and splits. Often, cutting too far down the nail can cut into the quick, the blood vessel inside the nail, and can cause instant, heavy bleeding and pain.
  • Age – As dogs grow older, their nails can become more fragile and may suffer from splits due to their brittleness.
  • Poor nutrition – Vitamin or mineral deficiencies, or a lack of enough basic nutrients can upset the natural balance of building blocks in the body, causing brittle nails that can split, along with poor coat quality, lethargy and weight loss. Homemade or poor diets may not offer the right amounts of essential nutrients for proper growth and maintenance. Supplements can overload the body with specific nutrients and also cause an imbalance.
  • Vasculitis – Inflammation of the blood vessels can be caused by infections, allergies, insect bites, or bacterial, fungal or viral infections.
  • Infections – Bacterial or parasitic infections can result in brittle nails that can split. Ringworm causes itchy, dry skin and brittle claws.  
  • Illness – Various endocrine disorders, cancers, viruses and autoimmune diseases can cause split nails in dogs. Symmetric lupoid onychodystrophy, an autoimmune disorder, commonly causes abnormal nail conditions, such as splitting nails, sloughing nails and pain.

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Diagnosis of Split Nails in Dogs

If you notice your dog is bleeding or has a split or broken nail, you’ll likely need to treat it before you go in to the veterinary clinic. However, once you stop the bleeding, you may want to seek veterinary advice, especially if split nails are a recurring condition and not due to an injury.

Your veterinarian will start by asking if there was an incident that damaged the nail, if the split nails are chronic, if there has been bleeding or signs of infection, and if your dog is suffering from any medical conditions. Be sure to relate if there was one split nail, or multiple nails, any prescription medications your dog is taking, and how long you’ve noticed this condition if not caused by a specific injury.  

Often, the vet will treat the injured nail, cutting off any damaged or hanging claw parts, and stop the bleeding. If an underlying medical condition is suspected, they may run tests, including blood tests, a urinalysis, bacterial and fungal cultures and cytology, skin scrapings, allergy testing, UV light testing, or a biopsy. In some cases, X-rays may be beneficial. 

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Treatment of Split Nails in Dogs

Depending on the cause of the split nails, treatment can vary considerably, but usually split or damaged nails can be treated at home. In cases where the condition is recurring, the bleeding won’t stop, the damage is extreme, or there are secondary symptoms such as inflammation or pus, veterinary help is recommended.

Treatment may prescribe include:

Basic first aid

For nails damaged due to injury, basic first aid including trimming damaged sections of nails, stopping the bleeding with a styptic pencil, quick stop powder or cornstarch, and bandaging of area will be performed.

Medications

For split nails caused by bacterial infections, or to prevent or ward off infections due to the split nail itself, antibiotics may be prescribed. Pain medication can be given when damaged nails or infections cause discomfort, and steroids or other immunosuppressant drugs may be part of a treatment plan for autoimmune disease. Oral antifungal medication will be given in cases of ringworm, along with medicated shampoos, creams and ointments.

Supplements

Supplements can be prescribed to help balance essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients in the body. Omega fatty acids are often given to help treat lupoid onychodystrohy, and biotin can be taken to help strengthen nails. 

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Recovery of Split Nails in Dogs

For split nails due to an injury, treatment is generally short and the condition can be resolved within days to weeks. Underlying conditions that are causing the split nails may take longer to treat. Infections can take longer, and some fungal infections may need several rounds of treatments until there is a full recovery. Treatments for cancers will depend on the severity and spread, while auto-immune disorders often require lifelong treatment and management.

Your vet may work on an extended routine for a complete and balanced diet with you that you can implement at home.

Long nails often result in more injuries as they can easily snag and tear on surfaces and objects. Trimming nails regularly ensures they stay a safe length and allows you to keep an eye on any nail issues before there is a serious problem. Be sure to use sharp clippers and practice a proper trimming technique to avoid split nails and cutting into the quick.

Split nails can be expensive to treat. If you suspect your dog is at risk of developing split nails, start searching for pet insurance today. Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Embrace. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

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Cost of Split Nails in Dogs

The average cost of treating split nails in dogs ranges from $200 to $1500.

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Split Nails Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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© 2022 Wag Labs, Inc. All rights reserved.