According to veterinarians, the animal may be in extreme pain so don't dismiss this injury.

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One minute your dog was happily jumping off the couch—the next, he's yelping and holding up his paw. What happened? He may have broken his dewclaw, which is the fifth digit higher up on a dog's paw and equivalent to a human's thumb. "A broken dewclaw refers to a crack or tear of the nail," says Dr. Jose Arce, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and practicing veterinarian at Miramar Animal Hospital in San Juan, Puerto Rico. "The nail can be torn part-way or completely off at the nail bed." Because the nail contains a blood vessel and nerve, this injury can be very painful. Here's what you need to know in case this happens to your beloved pet.

It typically gets broken or torn after a bad landing.

If a dewclaw gets caught on something like carpet or upholstery fibers, the nail can crack or tear. It can also happen after the dog jumps off a chair or sofa, and lands in a way that bends the nail and breaks it. These injuries are uncommon and can usually be prevented by keeping the dewclaw trimmed short.

Know what to do if there's blood.

A dewclaw injury is not the same as accidentally trimming a toenail too short, and bleeding will typically not be resolved with an over-the-counter styptic powder. "While it is not a medical emergency, owners should see their veterinarian for treatment as soon as possible," says Dr. Arce. "A broken dewclaw requires medical attention because the exposed quick—the bundle of nerves and blood vessels within the nail—is painful and can become infected." The broken nail typically needs to be cleaned and cut down above the break, which should be performed with sedation and pain medication, he says. Your veterinarian can make your dog comfortable during the procedure and make recommendations for aftercare.

close up of holding dogs paw
Credit: Albert Cabezas / 500px / Getty Images

Prevent dewclaw injuries.

The best way to keep your dog from getting hurt again is to be sure to trim the dewclaw nails short, says Dr. Arce. "These nails don't come into contact with the ground when your dog is walking, so they don't wear down like the other toenails," he says. Dewclaws need to be trimmed more often to prevent overgrowth and reduce the risk of them snagging.

Here's how far to trim the nail.

Be very careful when it's trimming time. Before attempting it at home, ask your veterinarian to demonstrate the proper technique. You'll want to cut the dewclaw within about two to five millimeters (consult a ruler) of the quick, says Dr. Arce. "For light-colored claws, this is easy to see as a pink triangle at the base of the nail. Dark nails are more challenging; the best strategy is to clip a small amount off at a time while looking at the cut surface for a small gray circle warning that you are nearing the quick." If you don't want to do this at home, schedule regular nail-trimming visits with your vet.

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