My Dog Stepped On a Nail – What should I do now?

My Dog Stepped On a Nail - Dog with paw hurt after stepping on a nail

“My dog walked on a nail: what should I do?” This is one question that we hear quite often and with good reason. Dogs can hurt themselves when they walk on things like nails and depending on the severity of the injury; they can require surgery to correct.

An injury from a nail is called a puncture. As a dog owner, the first step is to evaluate the wound because you need to determine the severity of it. If the nail is deep stuck on your dog’s paw then you should immediately take your dog to the Vet to have it x-rayed and cleaned. If you find just a small scratch and you are considering treating your dog’s paw yourself, follow these quick steps:

  1. Wash your hands using soap;
  2. If your dog’s wound is bleeding apply pressure with a towel or a gauze;
  3. Clean the wound of dirt and other debris with running warm clear water (don’t use soap);
  4. Inspect and if there’s still debris on it, clean a pair of tweezers with isopropyl alcohol and remove the dirt;
  5. If the cut is bigger than ¼ inch long (6.35mm) or it is bleeding nonstop, you must go see a vet because your dog may need stitches, and also antibiotics;
  6. Else, clean the wound daily and keep it dry. You can use an old clean sock to protect your dog’s paw until the wound is completely healed.
  7. You need to look for signs of infection. If the wound isn’t healing and it is swelling or your dog has a fever he needs to see a doctor.

What To Do If My Dog Stepped On A Nail?

Check For Signs that He’s Hurt

The first thing to do is to look for signs of injury, bruise, or discomfort. As mentioned earlier, the harm might not be deep or visible if your dog merely scratched its paws and walked away. However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t any damage done. So if you can’t find any physical injury, check for signs of bruises or discomfort. Here is how to check for signs of hurt and pain:

  • Wash your hand with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before handling the dog to prevent germs from entering the wound.
  • Take the dog to a quiet place, pet, muzzle, or try to reassure the dog before handling the area. If need be, you can restrain the dog or ask someone (this should be a friendly face, not a stranger) to help hold the dog while you check the area.
  • Gently raise the paws to examine the area. Specifically, check for signs of injury, bruises, and bleeding. If there are no physical signs, you can gently touch the area to ensure there is no damage.
  • Also, check to see if the nail is lodged in the paws. Sometimes, the nail or pieces of it might still be embedded in the paw.

Evaluating the Damage

Once you’ve found the problem, you have to evaluate the injury. Some of the things to look out for here include:

  • Is there bleeding? If yes, how much.
  • Is the injury deep?
  • Is the paw swollen or torn?

Evaluating the damage can help you know if you should go to a doctor immediately or you can treat your dog at home. If the nail isn’t lodged in the paw and the injury isn’t deep, you can first aid as a first response and visit the Vet later.

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How To Treat A Puncture Wound On Dogs Paw

If it’s a minor injury or you can’t get to the Vet immediately, you have to follow these steps to treat the puncture wound. Check here for more emergency care for dog owners.

  • If there’s any bleeding, apply pressure with a clean cloth or sterilized gauze till it stops. Most experts agree to keep the pressure on the area for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Clean the area with a sterilized and clean towel/cloth or rinse under clean, warm water for few minutes.
  • Dry the area with a clean towel and pat dry.
  • If you have in your first aid kit, you can apply Neosporin or Polysporin to prevent infections and promote healing. Check here for more information using Neosporin or Polysporin for dogs. You can get both at any nearby pharmacy.
  • Wrap the area with a sterile bandage to protect the injury from further harm and prevent dirt and germ from entering the puncture. You should be careful while wrapping the dressing so you don’t restrict blood flow.

It’s advisable to add layers of cotton gauze first and then use a dressing square bandage because it ensures there is enough blood flow and prevents the cotton gauze from getting dirty.

  • Clean and change dressing at least once daily.
  • Reduce pressure on the leg for the next few days to allow the paw to heal and watch for signs of any infections.
  • Visit the Vet for more examination as soon as possible. The doctor might also prescribe some antibiotics to prevent infections.

When Should I Take My Dog To The Vet For A Puncture Wound?

You should visit the Vet if the puncture wound:

  • It won’t stop bleeding after 5 to 10 minutes.
  • If the puncture wound is dirty or has something embedded in it
  • If the wound is deep
  • When there are no improvements after two days of taking first aid action
  • When there are signs of infections

How To Know If My Dog Needs Stitches?

Puncture wounds usually don’t require any stitches. However, in some rare cases, your dog might require stitches to treat an injury from a nail. It is always better for the Vet to determine if your dog will require stitches or not, but you can easily tell from the following:

  • If the nail is lodged deep within the paws.
  • If pieces of the nail are embedded in the wound, in such cases, the Vet will need to explore the area and remove the parts surgically.
  • If the injury doesn’t stop bleeding.
  • If the puncture is very deep.

Can Dogs Get Tetanus from Stepping on a Rusty Nail

Studies show it is rare for a dog to get tetanus. This is because dogs have low susceptibility to tetanus compared to humans and livestock. So, it is unlikely that your dog will get tetanus from stepping on a rusty nail if you treat it well. 

In fact, your dog is more likely to get a tetanus infection from foxtails than from a puncture, according to a study done at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. The study examined 35 cases of tetanus in dogs and found that up to 50% of the cases were likely a case of a foxtail tract, and 27% were confirmed cases of a foxtail tract.

Although your dog might not get tetanus from a nail puncture, however, it’s not entirely unlikely. It’s better to let the Vet determine the possibility.

What Are The Signs Of Infection On Dogs?

Signs of infections are one of the things you have to monitor when treating a nail puncture in dogs. If not detected early, they can cause severe or permanent damage to the legs. Common signs of infection include:

  • Fever
  • Excessive panting because of the pain
  • Pus or offensive discharge from the wound
  • Puffy or red paws
  • Depression
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Reluctance to use the legs

Aftercare For Puncture Injury and Final Thoughts

There are clear instructions you should follow regarding the aftercare of your dog’s injury. You should follow them carefully for as long as the wound is open, you see signs of discharge due to infection or for as long it takes for the wound to heal completely. Your veterinary will usually give you instructions on it; they consist of:

  • Keeping the area clean and dry as much as possible
  • Change bandages and dressing at least once daily. When changing the dressing, always check to see the drainage. If it’s clear, it means the injury is healing well. On the other hand, thick, bloody, or discolored drainage may be a sign of infection.
  • Use only clean and warm water to clean the area.
  • Avoid using hydrogen peroxide or any other solutions not recommended by the Vet.

After an injury, taking a dog to a vet is the best practice, but if it is not possible, you can assess how deep the wound is, what type of material caused it, if it has debris on it, for instance. An early assessment and initiating treatment right away may very well avoid further complications and help your dog heal correctly and quickly.

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Sara Santos

Writer, Editor and member of the Council, I am a dog person and I thrive to get the answers that will help you provide the best care a dog can have. You can also find me on my personal blog here.