by K Marie Alto January 19, 2022 10 min read
Nail trimming is an essential part of grooming your dog, but it's also tricky and can be stressful for both you and your pup. One false move and you can cut into the quick of the nail, leaving your fur baby bleeding and in pain.
Worse, it can make future nail trims even harder, as your pup will most likely remember the experience and associate the process with pain.
Accidents happen, but understanding the anatomy of the claw, making sure to only use a set of professional dog nail clippers with proper trimming techniques will help minimize the chance of injuring the quick.
And when accidents do happen, stay calm and have the tools you need accessible to stop the bleeding. In this comprehensive post, I cover from the basics of claw anatomy to what to do exactly when you cut the quick. I even threw in a short video on how to apply styptic powder and our recommendation for a 100% natural styptic powder option.
If you are just glancing through the article the review the processsection is the one section you do not want to miss 🐶. You will thank yourself later!
Let’s find out more.
The first thing to do is understand the anatomy and structure of a dog's claws.
Put very simply, claws are curved tubes of a hard material called keratin, the same stuff your own fingernails are made out of. It's a tough material that facilitates digging and clawing at various surfaces, helps give stability on slick ground, and can protect the sensitive tips of your fur baby's toe beans from scraping and damage.
In the center of this nail tube is the combination of a blood vessel and nerve. The blood vessel keeps the nail healthy, oxygenated, and provided with the nutrients it needs to grow. It basically keeps the claw alive. The nerve gives feedback, so your fur baby can tell what's going on beneath those nails.
As the claw grows, so does the nerve and vessel combo. Your goal with trimming your dog's nails is to trim enough away from the tip to shorten the claws and help prevent various toe issues and pressure that can crop up because of longer claws. This includes everything from broken nails to painful toes due to ingrown nails.
"If a nail, especially the dewclaws or "thumbs," grows too long, they often curl around on themselves and can grow into the pad. The sharp end of the nail pierces through the tough layer of skin over the pads and creates an open, ulcerated wound that is very swollen and painful as well as usually infected." – Moncton Animal Hospital.
For obvious reasons, you want to trim enough to shorten the nail, but not so much that you cut into the nerve and blood vessel (called the "quick" in anatomy) and risk infection and pain.
In dogs with lighter-colored nails, this tends to be easier because you can see the pink cone of the quick visible through the nail. Unfortunately, many dogs have black claws, which makes it a lot harder to find the quick without issue.
If you cut a nail too deep and cut the quick, you've likely encountered a suddenly stressful situation. Your fur baby yelps and struggles, and they start to bleed. They might squirm out of your arms and take off, trying to avoid further pain, leaving behind bloody footsteps on the carpet and wherever else they find to hide.
Meanwhile, you're left with a task half-done, an anxious and scared fur baby, and a feeling of remorse from accidentally hurting them in the first place.
The first thing to do is take a deep breath and then help calm down your fur baby. Dogs respond differently to stress and pain. Some, you might need to leave alone to calm down. Others might respond well to soothing voices and snuggles. Some might be distracted by a treat, such as a spoonful of peanut butter. It all comes down to your individual fur baby's proclivities.
Once calm, you'll want to stop the bleeding. You generally have two choices.
The first is styptic powder. A traditional styptic powder is a harsh chemical-based powder that, when applied to a cut, scrape, or other wound, will cause the blood vessels to contract thus stopping the bleeding. It can be found as a loose powder or as a solid, chalk-like pencil. Apply a bit of styptic, and your poor fur baby's claw will stop bleeding almost immediately.
It’s worth noting that these powders are able to work quickly because they contain aluminum compounds and other synthetic chemicals that help to prevent infection.
Fortunately not all styptic powders are created equal. For pet parents looking for safe yet effective options, there are safe organic styptic powders options that eliminate the need to expose dogs to harmful chemicals. Just make sure to pick a USDA certified organic option.
Another thing to keep in mind is styptic powder will sting for a moment as it stops the bleeding. You can try this yourself; they make styptic pencils for humans too, and you can use them if you cut yourself shaving, get a papercut, or any other kind of cut or scrape. It's painful, but short-lived.
Unfortunately, all your fur baby knows is that they're suddenly in pain again, and that can be difficult to handle, particularly with anxious dogs.
The second option is to use a home remedy.
There are several different home remedies, including corn starch, corn starch mixed with baking soda, a tea bag, or bar soap. While these items will help stop the bleeding, they don’t work as fast as a traditional styptic powder, and they also don’t do anything to help prevent infection.
"Several home remedies also work, depending on the severity of the bleeding. A mix of cornstarch and baking soda often works well (or, simply, cornstarch alone), while rubbing a clean bar of scent-free soap or a wet tea bag on the nail at the spot of lesser bleeding can also be effective. No home remedy, however, will be as instantly effective as a styptic powder. Also, keep a clean cloth, paper towels, and ice nearby." – Wahl USA.
For pet parents that prefer a safe, synthetic-free, and natural approach to stopping nail bleeding while also preventing infections, we recommend styptic powders made with natural herbs. Also, choosing a USDA certified organic option will guarantee the quality of the ingredients as well as the safety of your pup.
How do you use styptic powder? 60-sec Video
Before every pawdicure session, make sure to keep both the styptic powder ready and open as well as a small saucer with water.
Applying styptic powder to stop your dog’s nail from bleeding is very straight forward. Simply wet a finger, preferably with water instead of saliva. While licking you finger might be a quick natural response, this process will introduce germs and bacteria into the styptic container and potentially directly into your pup’s blood stream.
Next, stick the wet finger into the styptic container and scoop up some powder, then pack the powder into the bleeding claw. Repeat if necessary.
An alternative to styptic powder is a styptic pencil. Styptic pencils are used similarly, though you may have to moisten them first. Whether you choose powder or a pencil, be sure to read the directions on the product you purchase prior to starting your claw clipping session.
Always use your best judgement to evaluate the injury and assess whether you might need a trip to the vet. Usually, cutting a nail too deep is painful and irritating, but not that dangerous. However, if you cut much too deep, you might expose so much quick that it won't stop bleeding no matter what you do. This might require a trip to the vet to close up the wound, ensure it's disinfected, and possibly even get some kind of pain medication..
You will also want to keep an eye on the over-trimmed nail over the next few days. Keep an eye out for a few things.
Thankfully, most cuts to the quick are relatively minor and will heal over the course of a few days.
You cut the quick, and you stopped the bleeding, so now what do you do? Unfortunately, the chances are good that your fur baby won't let you go back to trimming the rest of their nails. You'll probably want to give it a few hours, or even a couple of days, before trying again.
In the meantime, review what may have gone wrong. There are three main reasons why you might have cut the quick.
The first is a matter of practice. It can be difficult to tell how much nail is safe to trim away at a time, and even experienced groomers make mistakes from time to time. When in doubt, trim less nail, and trim more often.
The second tends to happen if you're trying to use scissors instead of a proper set of nail trimmers. I wrote a whole post about why you should never use scissors to cut a dog's nails and what to do instead.
The third is more a matter of training. If you start when they're still a puppy, you can often get your fur baby used to having their paws handled and their nails trimmed. If you've adopted an older dog, you might have more trouble with that aspect, especially if they've had bad experiences with nail trimming in the past.
Luckily, I also put together a guide on training your dog to let you trim their nails. In it you’ll find a step-up approach to helping your dog get comfortable with nail trimming.
If a traditional claw clipper bothers your fur baby, it might help to try another tool. Grinders for example, are noisy and can be irritating, but they're different enough from clippers that they can sometimes prevent less stress. It's also easier to take tiny amounts of nail off at a time, and make sure you don't get too close to the quick.
Another tip I can give you is to trim less nail, more often. What do I mean?
Dog nails generally start out by growing straight out from the toe, then curve downward. You don't need to trim them so far back that they don't curve, which is a mistake that many novice dog parents make. All you really need to do is trim enough nail back to make sure it isn't pushing their toe upwards, irritating other toes, or causing irritation or damage, especially while your pup is standing.
On average, a dog's nails should be trimmed once a month. Some dogs will have slower-growing nails, and some faster, so adjust this according to your fur baby's anatomy.
Don't let too much time pass between clippings! The longer a nail gets, the more extended the quick will become. When the quick extends out, you can't trim as much back without hitting it.
This is where more frequent trimming can be beneficial. If you trim a little bit every two weeks instead of more every four, you keep the quick pushed back further. Of course, this might be difficult with an anxious pup, so balance out their needs with their attitudes.
Just remember: if your fur baby rebels, snaps, tries to run, or is otherwise in distress, you can stop the process. You want nail trimming to be as comfortable as possible, and it can take a lot of time to reach that point. One of the worst things you can do is use force, restraint, or something like a muzzle to enable nail trimming. All that does is foster resentment and stress and make it progressively harder to train good habits surrounding nail trimming.
So, to sum up:
Once you get all of this down, you should have a much easier time trying to keep your fur baby's nails trimmed.
Trimming your furry friend's nails can be a tricky task for both new and old dog parents alike, so if you have any questions or concerns regarding the process, please feel free to leave those down in the comments section below! Additionally, if you have any stories you'd like to share about your trimming experiences, we'd love to hear them as well!
One more thing, if you are feeling like getting a little special something for your fur baby that is unique, made right here in the USA, 100% pup and cat safe, USDA certified organic and brought to you by a US company, check out Toe Beans online pet supplies store!
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 22K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).
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