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Ask A Vet: What Do I Do If I Cut My Dog’s Nails Too Short?

Dog lovers know that most dogs need to have their nails trimmed. It is a matter of hygiene (and sometimes safety, if your dog steps on your toes or claws at your legs).  Long nails can bruise skin and damage floors.  Eventually, nail overgrowth can harm your dog, too, by forcing him to walk abnormally or growing into the skin. Ouch!

But most dog owners (and their dogs) hate nail trimming. To learn more, see Why Does My Dog Hate To Have His Nails Trimmed. Dogs have learned that sometimes nails get cut too short and so have people. No dog wants to be hurt and no person wants to hurt their dog! Cutting a nail to short is colloquially called “quicking” because we call the nail bed, where the nerves and blood vessels live, the “quick”.  So when you quick a dog, you damage the nerves and vessels and it hurts (a lot) and bleeds (a really lot).

But what if you do cut too close? It bleeds a lot because you have cut into an actual blood vessel that supplies the nail bed, so you can expect more bleeding than an average cut on another body part where only small capillaries are damaged.

  1. Don’t worry too much. Unless your dog has a clotting disorder (and you would probably already know about this), the nail will stop bleeding on its own.
  2. Apply pressure. Firm pressure slows the blood flow through the injury and allows the platelets (components of the blood responsible for clotting) to stick to the wound edges and do their job. Hold a clean cloth on the bleeding nail, if your dog will tolerate it. Press firmly on the bleeding nail tip for as long your dog will let you.
  3. Apply a cold compress or ice. Cool temperatures cause the vessels to shrink. The temporary shrinking also slows blood flow to the area and allows the platelets to adhere to the injury. Although cooling the area may speed up healing time, most dogs do not like the cold sensation on an area that is already injured, so this may not be a feasible option.
  4. Apply Styptic powder. There are commercially available powders that you can apply to hasten clotting in a quicked nail. There are many brands to choose from. The most important point is that these powders burn when they are applied so be aware that your dog will learn the wrong thing from this as well.
  5. Apply a Bandage. No matter what you do to encourage clotting in a nipped nail, most dogs will need some sort of bandage to protect the wound and the furniture. Wrap the entire paw and not just the toe that is injured. The wrap should be firm enough that it will not slip when the dog walks, but never tight. You should be able to place a finger under the wrap. Bandages that are too tight cause the skin to die and fall off.

It is important that you know as much as you can about safely trimming your dog’s nails to avoid ever cutting too close. Be sure that you hold the trimmers with the blade on the side away from the dog’s nerves, so you do not get the cut surface deeper than you intended. Make you that you have already trained your dog to enjoy having you handle his feet before you begin the actual clipping.  Once you have cut too deep, your dog will always remember the pain and will have to be retrained to trust you, but don’t worry, every dog lover has been there and it is very rare for the bleeding to not stop on its own.

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