Cutting a dog’s nail too short and “quicking” a dog’s nail is painful, messy, and can be traumatic for the dogs and their humans! Integrative veterinarian Dr. Julie Buzby shares 3 sure-fire steps on how to quickly stop a dog’s nail from bleeding, complete with instructional photos. Plus, learn how to avoid accidentally cutting the quick in the future.
How to stop a dog’s nail from bleeding in 3 steps
You’re clipping your dog’s nails and you accidentally cut the quick (the blood and nerve supply in your dog’s toenail) with your nail trimmers. How do you stop a dog’s nail from bleeding?
The good news is that when you clip your dog’s nail too short, you can stop the bleeding in three easy steps.
The bad news is that hitting the quick is painful for your dog, nerve-wracking for you, and a bloody mess. It’s an event you and your dog are likely to remember when it comes time for the next nail trim. However, as a practicing veterinarian with 25+ years of experience (including teaching countless dog owners how to trim dog nails), let me reassure you. You can avoid future nail trimming mishaps and confidently trim your dog’s nails again.
First, here’s what to do if you cut your dog’s nail too short and it’s bleeding.
Step 1: First and foremost, remain calm. Do not panic.
If you panic, your dog will pick up on it instantly. Your canine companion will sense that you are stressed and will mirror your attitude. Blood pressure will climb—both for you and for your dog. Increased blood pressure is a natural physiological response to stress.
What does this mean for your dog? As a dog’s blood pressure rises, the blood flow is increased in the cut vessels in the toenail, worsening the situation.
Years ago, as a newly minted veterinarian, I volunteered to trim the nails of my aunt’s uncooperative dog, who had long, black talons, during a family reunion over the Christmas holidays. I successfully trimmed the nails on about 14 toes before inadvertently hitting the quick.
First, a drop of blood appeared at the cut nail tip. As a result, all the family members (who had been standing around watching this as prime-time entertainment) started to panic. My aunt let go of her dog, whereby he zoomed around the room several times, spewing blood all over the floor and carpet.
At the end of the day, my aunt’s dog recovered quickly, and my pride was the only thing that suffered a lingering injury.
Please learn from my experience and do your best to keep everyone involved calm. A healthy dog will not bleed to death from a cut toenail—not even close! While it is unfortunate that you’ve hurt your dog (which none of us wants to do), and while it may be a bit messy, this is not a serious injury.
Step 2: Apply direct pressure.
As taught in basic human first aid, apply direct pressure to your dog’s bleeding nail. You can use anything from a clean paper towel to facial tissue to the hem of your shirt (if you are in a real pinch). Granted, your dog may be a bit gun-shy about you pressing on that freshly-injured nail. However, if you remain calm, this is a doable and helpful step.
Step 3: Apply a clotting substrate to the end of the dog’s nail.
Kwik-Stop Styptic Powder is my clotting substrate of choice. It has a bit of a numbing agent in it for pain, and it generally stops minor bleeding quickly.
I always recommend having Kwik-Stop or another clotting agent nearby before starting a nail trim. By being prepared for hitting the quick, I think Murphy’s Law dictates that you are much less likely to do so!
Before beginning, I recommend pouring a bit of the powder onto a paper plate. By using a paper plate to hold the styptic powder, it is easy to return the unused portion back into the container. Simply fold the paper plate and “pour” the unused powder back into its vial. Be sure to put the plate within your reach but away from your dog so it doesn’t get knocked over.
How to apply styptic powder to your dog’s nail to stop the bleeding:
You can “dip” your dog’s bleeding toenail into the powder, which is a common procedure. However, I prefer the following method to stop a dog’s nail from bleeding:
- Take a pinch of the powder between your thumb and forefinger.
- Press it directly into the end of your dog’s nail.
- Apply direct pressure to the toenail for a minute or two while being careful not to squeeze your dog’s toe.
Essentially, you are “packing” the clotting agent into the end of the nail while applying pressure to stop the dog’s nail from bleeding. It is doubly effective.
In a bind, if you don’t have dog-specific styptic powder on hand, you can use these home remedies:
- A moistened human styptic pencil
- Baking soda or baking powder
Use these substitutions in the same way as described above to stop a dog’s nail from bleeding.
Need more help learning how to stop a dog’s nail from bleeding?
It’s important to know what signs to watch for as you are trimming your dog’s nails. The goal is always to avoid painful over-trimming!
Take a look at this series of photos to get more information on successfully dealing with a bleeding toenail.
The image above shows the area just before the quick (the blood and nerve supply) on a dog’s trimmed toenail. I’ve coined the term “pre-quick” to describe this area of the nail.
This is an important landmark that signals that you should not trim the nail back any further. Think of it as a stop sign for the nail trim.
The quick can be hard to identify, especially in dogs with black nails. I recommend trimming just a few millimeters at a time until you see this “pre-quick,” then stop trimming that nail.
If your dog’s nail looks like this, you’ve trimmed the toenail too far and nicked the very edge or beginning of the quick. The dog’s nail is oozing a tinge of blood. Stay calm!
This image shows how to pack Kwik-Stop Styptic Powder into the end of the dog’s toenail.
By applying pressure, the blood droplets moisten the styptic powder and create a “seal” on the end of the dog’s toenail. Be careful not to squeeze the dog’s toe.
In this case, the dog’s toenail was just slightly oozing and the styptic powder quickly sealed the wound. If your dog’s nail is bleeding heavily, continue applying direct pressure and repacking with the clotting substrate until the bleeding stops. (Follow the three-step instructions above.)
Important disclaimer: If your dog’s nail does not stop bleeding in 10 minutes OR if your dog has completely or partially torn off a toenail (resulting from an injury), please seek veterinary care.
Setting yourself up for dog nail trimming success
The unfortunate thing when a nail is quicked is not so much the present situation for your dog, but rather, future nail trimming sessions.
Our four-legged friends have very long memories when it comes to pain, so hitting your dog’s quick will likely negatively impact your next nail-trimming experience. However, you can work through it and ease your dog’s fears with patience, and positive reinforcement, by taking it slow and having the tools and techniques that make nail trimming easy.
Make sure you have the right tool for the job
Using the right tool for the job can greatly increase your nail trimming success. Over the course of my veterinary career, I have found the holy grail of dog nail clippers. In fact, not only do I recommend them to my veterinary clients, I carry them in my purse for dog nail-trimming emergencies!
Pet stores have so many options for nail trimmers; it can be overwhelming to choose. If you’re using dog nail trimmers that crush the nail, have a safety guard (a “guide” that gives you a false sense of security), or don’t give you enough control as your trimming, nail trims may be a frustrating experience. Please don’t give up!
I invite you to learn more about my dog nail trimming kit, which includes nail trimmers that cut like a knife through butter, styptic powder, and my 7-step reference guide on nail trimming with confidence. I’m confident that with the right tool and a little know-how, you can do this!
More tips for successful nail trims
That Christmas holiday gathering when I clipped the quick on my aunt’s dog’s toenail is still a vivid memory. My Uncle Kippy still enjoys teasing me about it, twenty years later! However, it showed me how important a successful nail-trimming technique is, and inspired me to develop an exact formula for efficient and pain-free nail trims.
One of my biggest recommendations is to touch your dog’s feet often. If your dog knows the only time you grab his or her paws is to trim nails, they’re going to be more stressed. A good goal is to try to touch your dog’s feet for at least 30 minutes each day. That way, they’re used to paw touching when it’s nail trim time.
Here are more helpful tips and resources on how to trim your dog’s nails:
- Dr. Buzby’s Nail Trimming Without Blood, Sweat, or Tears Master Course
- 7 Tips for Successful Dog Nail Trims
- How to Clip Dog Nails: Turning Scary Task into Success
What concerns do you have about cutting your dog’s nails too short?
Please comment below. We can all learn from each other.