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How to Prevent Dogs' Nails From Bleeding When You Cut Them

Susan was educated at the Montreal School of Dog Grooming and became a certified esthetician for dogs and cats in 1988.

This article will show you how to safely trim your dog's nails without accidentally cutting into the quick and triggering bleeding.

This article will show you how to safely trim your dog's nails without accidentally cutting into the quick and triggering bleeding.

Why Does My Dog's Nail Bleed When I Cut It?

Inside each nail on a dog, there is a vein called "the quick." If you cut this vein, the nail will bleed. This is why it's important to learn how to safely cut your dog's nails. Using the correct technique will make the experience easier for both you and your dog. Let's start out with the basics.

Where Is the Quick Located?

On white nails: It is quite easy to spot the quick on white nails because it shows up as a red dot against a cross-section of the nail and as a skinny, pink line through the core of the nail. As you cut a white nail, bit by bit, the quick will begin to appear as a tiny red dot. That is the beginning of the vein, and the cutting should stop before you cut too deeply.

On black nails: Seeing the quick on black nails can be hard. When cutting them, the interior cross-section of the nail will be whitish or grey and oval-shaped. It is here that the beginning of the quick will look like a tiny black dot. Cut small layers off to get an idea of how far back the quick is. If you cannot see the quick, sometimes it is better to do five small cuts for each nail instead of taking the chance and cutting off one large chunk.

How Close to the Quick Should I Cut?

It is necessary to cut as close to the quick as possible to ensure that the nail is short enough. This forces it to retreat so that the nail gets shorter month by month.

If the nails are extremely long, the quick might also be long, so do not be surprised if you cannot remove much of the nail. It can take a few months of cutting before the quick is forced back into the nail bed.

The proper cutting angle to avoid cutting the quick located inside the dog's nail.

The proper cutting angle to avoid cutting the quick located inside the dog's nail.

Can a Dog Bleed to Death From a Broken or Cut Nail?

A healthy dog will not bleed to death when the vein in the nail is cut or broken. It can be quite intense when the blood does start to flow, but a healthy animal's body will be able to stop the flow in due time.

How Do I Stop a Dog’s Nail From Bleeding?

There are ways to stop the bleeding. One such product I recommend is called Kwik Stop. It is made of styptic powder, which basically causes coagulation at the site of the wound. When cutting a dog's nails, I always have a small, open pot of the powder ready beside me just in case.

Always avoid causing the nail to bleed as it can cause some pain, but sometimes it is unavoidable. If you do cause bleeding, just remember not to panic because you might cause the animal to panic.

First Aid for a Bleeding Dog Nail

When the vein in the nail is cut, it is best to act fast:

  1. Take some of the Kwik Stop onto your finger and press it firmly into the end of the nail. The bleeding should stop immediately.
  2. If it doesn't, take a little more of the powder and repeat the process. Consider holding a clean cotton ball or gauze on the end of the nail.
  3. Remember not to panic. A bleeding nail bed is rarely life-threatening and easy enough to deal with if you remain calm.

Why Cut the Nails if There Is a Chance They Will Bleed?

Dog nails should be kept short. When they are long, they can cause toe deformities and pain or crippling malformations and arthritis. Long nails can also break and cause bleeding and pain when the quick is damaged. The nail bed can even become infected.

Regular walking on pavement or playing ball on asphalt can wear the nails down so that they do not need cutting or do not need cutting as often. Unfortunately, the dewclaw—the claws higher up on the paws—are not affected by normal wear and should be kept short and filed so that they don't get stuck on blankets or toys and break.

The classic nail cutter: the guillotine. Note the different sizes for the cutting area. The hole has to be big enough for the nail to fit inside.

The classic nail cutter: the guillotine. Note the different sizes for the cutting area. The hole has to be big enough for the nail to fit inside.

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What Equipment Is Needed to Cut Dog Nails?

There are a few styles of cutters available, so choose the one that is best for you. You must feel comfortable with your equipment in order to do a proper job. You should also have a small pot of styptic powder if the quick is accidentally cut. It's also handy to have a file to take off sharp edges. So in summary, you will need:

  • cutters
  • styptic powder
  • a nail file

The Guillotine Cutter

One very popular style of nail cutter is called the guillotine. Its small blade can be replaced when dull as most kits come with spares. When buying a guillotine cutter, be advised that there are a few sizes to choose from based on the size of the nails of the dog.

If you are not sure which to get, go with the larger one since it can cut any size of nail. The smaller ones are good for a cleaner cut for miniature dogs. Used properly, this type of grooming device can be a strong, functional tool.

Plier Cutters

This style of cutter is a favourite of mine. It is solid and fits well in the hand. It can be used on all sizes of animals—from birds to large dogs. It should always be held vertically when cutting to avoid cracking the nails.

The blades of the deluxe pliers will stay sharp for many years and should never need any form of sharpening. Remember: You get what you pay for, and paying a little extra for a strong set will save you money in the long run.

Nail File

Again, there are many types of nail files on the market; you can spend a little money or a lot. The best nail file, though, is a homemade version. Here's how to make one:

  1. Take a piece of wood (approximately 3" x 1/2" x 1").
  2. Round the ends off so it will be comfortable in the hand.
  3. Glue strips of medium sandpaper on one side and fine sandpaper on the other.

At just about no cost, you will have a functional nail file that will work better than any on the market.

How Do I File the Nails?

When filing the nails, it is really important to remember to only go in one direction on each side of the nail. Stroke in one direction and do not go back and forth (in other words, top side to bottom side only) or you can cause chipping, breakage or cracking. When smooth, do the other side of the nail: top side to bottom side. Regular filing can actually replace nail cutting entirely.

Note: Some dogs will take to having their nails filed rather than cut.

Consider Muzzling Your Dog if They Are Fearful

If there is any danger of the dog biting when the quick is cut or if he or she has a huge fear of having the nails cut, a muzzle should be used. Remember that there can be a certain amount of discomfort if you nip a nerve in the quick or have to deal with bleeding. Often, a dog is very embarrassed by their bad behaviour once it is over, but a human should never put the dog in the position of such a grievous mistake as biting.

A Muzzle Saves Both You and the Dog

Since nail-cutting should be a regular affair, get a proper muzzle that fits your dog. Yes, it is saying that you don't completely trust them, but a dog is a dog, and accidents happen. Sometimes, it is better to be safe than sorry, and there is no shame in muzzling.

Your confidence and the dog's confidence become one while grooming, so if you feel nervous about one-inch teeth tearing your arm apart, the dog will feel it, making him or her nervous as well and more prone to biting if pain is involved. Also, remember to talk to them calmly and happily—tell them how wonderful they are and give hugs and kisses when the job is done.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2016 Susan May Gudge


Cam on April 23, 2018:

Very helpful.

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