Breaking a nail is a big deal for dogs (Oreo is out of commission)

So apparently, splitting a nail is a painful and debilitating injury for dogs. It’s also a fairly common injury, and getting it taken care of can cost a pretty penny. I learned all this last weekend, when my dog Oreo went outside to go to the bathroom in the morning and came back with a bloody toe.

That’s right, my regular hiking buddy ended up injuring himself while going potty, not during some epic hike. You just can’t predict these things.

See how the outer toenail is darker? That’s the broken one.

He was probably chasing a squirrel. I can picture it now, my dog launching off a boulder in the yard in pursuit of a furry red blur. But I didn’t actually see the injury happen. My friend later told me about her dog breaking a nail by simply catching it on a board while running across their deck. Dog injuries are tough to avoid. However, one thing I did learn from this experience is that it’s important to clip your dogs nails on a regular basis. If they’re too long, they’re much more likely to catch on something and possibly break or split.

Anyway — Oreo’s nail break happened on a Saturday. The toenail — which was on his front, right outside toe — was still intact when he came indoors, but it was split down the middle. We didn’t know what to do, so naturally, we Googled it.

From multiple websites, we learned that Oreo would probably have to have his nail removed, and to do that, we should go to a veterinarian and have him put to sleep for the painful procedure. Our regular veterinarian’s office was closed until Monday, but since he didn’t seem to be in much pain (he was able to sleep, and he was eating), we decided we could wait. (It costs much more to take your dog to the emergency veterinarian. We’ve learned from experience.)

Sometimes nail breaks don’t require a trip to the veterinarian. If the nail is only broken part way up, sometimes you can cut off the broken part and staunch the bleeding, and the nail will eventually grow back. However, we could tell that Oreo’s nail was split right to the skin, and likely farther.

Later, I mentioned the injury to my co-worker Julia, who has raced sled dogs for years, and she said it’s one of the most feared common injuries among dog sledders because it can “bench” a dog for the season.

Throughout the weekend, Oreo started to limp on the foot with the broken nail. On Monday morning, I brought him into the veterinarian and sat on the cold, sterile floor of the office while Oreo fell asleep with his head on my lap, submitting to the effects of anesthesia. I covered him with a blanket while the veterinarian inspected his toenail, then quickly ripped the whole thing off with his bare hands.

Talk about a surprise! My shock and disgust must have been displayed on my face because my veterinarian looked up at me and apologized for not giving me more warning. Then he said something along the lines of, “It’s hard to see that and not to think of how it would feel to rip off your own fingernail.”

I was glad Oreo was asleep.

After picking off a bit of remaining nail, the veterinarian explained that what remained — that little pink nub at the end of his toe — was the “quick,” and that the nail would eventually grow back over the quick. However, in the meantime, that little pink nub would be sensitive. Hitting it on things would hurt. But eventually, it would dry up a bit and be less sensitive.

In other words, Oreo shouldn’t be hiking on rocky, rooty paths. Easy walks on smooth paths would be OK.

The good news is that dogs nails grow back a lot faster than human nails. It usually only takes two to three weeks for a nail to grow back down and cover the quick, according to many online sources.

Oreo on the car ride home, looking rather sad.

In contrast — one time I hiked Katahdin in boots that were too small for me, and I stubbed my toes so badly that both of my big toenails turned black and fell off. (Yeah, it wasn’t pleasant.) And it took them months to grow back. I feel bad for everyone who saw me in sandals that summer.

The veterinarian wrapped up Oreo’s paw, which was bleeding a bit from the recent trauma. I then asked him if I could give Oreo any pain killers. (It looked so painful) But he said that Oreo wouldn’t need them, that the most painful part was over. Apparently, it’s more painful to leave the nail on there once it’s broken because the nail is loose and rubbing against the quick.

Oreo sleeping that day.

With another shot, we woke Oreo up. Wide-eyed, he followed me to the car and I drove him home, led him to his dog bed, tucked a blanket around him and worked from home, watching over him. He slept like a rock. The cats, Bo and Arrow, which are normally his arch nemeses, approached his sleeping form a few times that day, as if expressing some concern. Maybe they just missed terrorizing him.

That evening, we fed him chicken jerky and unwrapped his paw. Oreo licked the exposed quick, which the veterinarian said was fine. Apparently dogs don’t really hinder the healing process of a nail because the quick is so sensitive they only clean it gently.

After just two days, Oreo was pretty much back to normal, though he isn’t running around as much as he was before. He avoids the woods, where roots and sticks can easily hit his paw, but he’s enjoying the lawn. The veterinarian sent us home with a special cleaning solution, which we dilute with water then hold Oreo’s paw in a few times a day. He doesn’t seem to mind.

The veterinarian bill was about $225, which is honestly not that much compared to the other Oreo-related costs we’ve incurred in the past four years he’s been in our family. Nevertheless, it cost a whole lot more than the band aid I would have put on my broken nail.

Aislinn Sarnacki

About Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at