Every now and then, I lament the fact that I have to be so independent when it comes to taking care of my dogs. I’ve trained both my dogs to be still and calm during a nail clipping session, and I’ve taken care to research my tools and techniques – but with one tiny mistake, it is very easy to clip a nail just a hair too short, and end up with a bit of a mess on your hands.
Who knew one little nail could bleed so much? I’ve nipped their paws once or twice when I was first learning, but never have I seen so much bleeding from one clip as I have when I tried to clip Leroy’s nails recently. I figured out very quickly why the professionals are just that, as I hastily tried to stop the bleeding and calm down a giant baby boy at the same time.
So now that the trauma has passed, do you think I’ll be heading to a groomer for the next nail clipping session? Of course not. Next time I’ll just be more careful. Leroy and Janice trust me and are trained to let me do their grooming. But one thing I will be adding to my routine is a method for stopping bleeding fast, just in case anything like this ever happens again. Here are seven of my favorite methods that I’ve found in my research:
1. Styptic Powder or Pencil
If you search for a cure for bleeding dog nails, you’ll run into styptic pencils or powders right away. (They also come in pads for easy wiping.) These products are made for dogs, cats, or birds, and serve only one purpose: to stop bleeding. They aren’t specifically made for nails only, but any kind of cut or nip that an animal experiences.
Styptic solution is a very fast-acting chemical that stops bleeding, but be aware that it does cause a bit of a sting. You may need a partner to hold your dog down. The pads are good for wiping a large area, while the powder can be sprinkled on an area. The pencil is my favorite, however. With these, you can apply the solution directly to the bleeding area and nowhere else. There’s no cleanup, either.
Styptic solution works by forcing the blood vessels to contract, so that they can’t carry a lot of blood to the site of the injury anymore. You can find some solutions with benzocaine to help reduce the pain as well. If you don’t see these in the pet supply area of your store, check by the shaving section in the pharmacy, as people can also use them for minor cuts.
2. Corn Starch or Baking Soda Paste
If you aren’t a fan of wrestling with your dog when the styptic solution hits, you may prefer the tried and true corn starch and water paste solution. This may sound like an old wives’ tale, but everything points to this working just as well as other methods. Simply make a thick, sticky paste out of the two ingredients and paint onto the nail with a Q-tip. Leave this on the nail for at least a few minutes, adding layers if any sloughs off. You can also use baking soda if you don’t have any corn starch on hand.
The paste acts as like a bandage, but also helps to heal the blood vessel itself, so that the bleeding isn’t just blocked, but totally stopped.
3. Bar Soap
When I heard about this one, I thought that someone out there on the Internet must be pulling my leg. But it’s true: pressing your dog’s bleeding toenail firmly into a slightly damp bar of mild soap will help to clean the wound, stop the bleeding, and coagulate the blood. You’re trying to get a wad of the soap to stick to the nail, so you may even want to press the nail through the bar entirely (if it’s a thin bar).
Use a mild and unscented formula, though, to avoid getting any unnecessary chemicals into the wound. Once the nail is firmly pressed into the bar, hold it there for about five minutes to let the soap stick to the nail. The only downside to this method is that the soap can fall off pretty easily, and you have to keep doing it till the soap sticks like a temporary bandage.
4. Keep Pressure Off It
If you’ve watched a lot of action movies, your first instinct when you see bleeding might be to apply pressure. That may be true for the initial rush of bleeding – but once the blood has slowed down, the best thing to do for your dog is to keep pressure off the wound. It can make the bleeding start up again.
This can be difficult, as I quickly found out with Leroy. Making an active dog be still and keep his paw relaxed is hard work! It’s best to keep it like this for at least half an hour after the major bleeding stops, just to let the coagulating begin uninterrupted. The only thing you should do beyond this point is to very gently hold a paper towel or cloth in place to catch any bleeding. Otherwise, simply let the paw get to work healing itself.
This is the perfect time to give your dog a Kong filled with treats to keep them occupied, or to offer another mentally challenging toy.
5. Head to the Vet
While it seems silly to go to a vet for cutting a nail too short, there are situations in which this is the best solution. For example, if the nail is still bleeding steadily in half an hour, a vet trip is in order. If the toe becomes very swollen or red and stays that way for a few days, a vet trip is in order as well. These things are signs that your dog’s paw isn’t healing properly, and you may have accidentally caused more damage than you realize. The vet may want to wrap the entire paw to keep it safe from further damage, and check to be sure that no nerves were injured.
6. Potassium Permanganate
At the vet, you may find that your dog needs to have a special powder called potassium permanganate applied. This is what my vet uses, and he says it’s the preferred method by most vets. This disinfectant can actually be purchased online, and using it is pretty simple.
The powder looks like purple crystals. Wet a Q-tip and dab into the crystals so that they stick. Then press the Q-tip to the wound and hold it there for about 30 seconds. This should effectively stop the bleeding thanks to a very quick-acting coagulant. The key is to hold the crystals in place firmly during that 30 seconds to get the right effect.
7. Learn to Spot the Quick
The only reason that a nail would bleed is if you cut what is known as the “quick”, the center of a dog’s nail that carries blood to the end of the paw. This quick is filled with nerves and blood vessels, so it’s very sensitive and very good at bleeding. For some dogs, these are easy to spot – within the clear nail, you’ll see a dark or a pinkish vein that ends before the end of the nail. Just don’t cut that vein, and you’re fine.
However, what if your dogs have black nails? Leroy’s are very dark, so finding the quick would be impossible. In this case, you’ll need to have a little bit of patience. Start by cutting the very tip of the nail, and then inspect the underside. If you don’t see anything other than black nail, keep trimming tiny bits at a time. The quick looks like either a gray or a white circle right in the middle of the nail. Once you see that, you’ve reached the edge of the quick and should stop trimming.
As I have now learned, dogs who’ve had a quick cut are a little fidgety with the next go around. You may need to invest in some special treats, or be prepared to spend a lot of time with nail grooming until they get used to the idea again.
8. Bonus! Choose the Right Tools
You know I couldn’t leave you with just seven things to do, right? Here’s one more trick for ensuring that your dog’s nails don’t bleed when you clip them: choose the right tools. Your clippers should be sharp enough that you don’t have to saw away at the nails, and easy to use. If you have a hard time wielding the things, then you are more likely to make a mistake trying.
This is also a good time to evaluate the type of clippers you are using. Standard guillotine-style clippers are usually harder to control for very fine movements. If you are worried about cutting your dog to the quick again, try a dremel. This tool lets you sand bits of nail off instead of clipping, so it’s easier to go slowly. This may be better for dogs with black nails, or dogs with very dainty paws whose nails are too tiny for any clippers to trim with accuracy.
What Not to Do
There are a few things that can make the situation much worse, should you find that you have accidentally cut your dog’s quick. The first is to panic. Dogs can pick up on your emotions and act on them. If you see a lot of blood and start to freak out, your dog will start to get excited, hyper, overwhelmed, and more. All of that leads to uncooperative behavior, the inability to sit still while you deal with the matter, and a sense of unease around clippers ever again.
Simply stay calm and assess the situation. Now that you know how to stop the bleeding, you should have one of these plans in place already. Go get whatever tool you intend to use to stop the bleeding, and apply it. Wait and watch to be sure the paw is healing just fine. Reassure your dog as you do all this, or offer them their favorite treats to keep them calm.
It is especially important to stay calm if you have multiple dogs. I know that Janice was watching just a few feet away when this happened with Leroy. I think that if I had panicked, Janice would have thought to herself, “There’s no way I’m letting that near my paws!” Instead, I was able to keep both dogs calm enough that I could finish grooming them easily.
The other thing that you shouldn’t do is stop trimming your dog’s nails just from one bad experience. Nail trimming is an important part of grooming that makes dogs more comfortable, gives them more mobility, and protects your flooring and furniture (not to mention your legs if your dog jumps!). If you simply give up on keeping their nails trimmed, it won’t take long for those nails to start causing problems. It will take time to get your dog to trust the clippers again, but keep at it till they do.
If you decide after a bad run that you simply aren’t interested in trimming your dog’s nails anymore, take them to a professional groomer. You may need to plan to be there the first few times, to reassure your dog if they have become a little clipper-shy. Have some favorite treats with you, and it shouldn’t take long for your dog to get back into the swing of things. A groomer may also be willing to show you a few tricks so that you can go back to trimming their nails yourself if you want to in the future.
I know that if this happens to me again, I may have to swallow my pride and visit a few groomers myself.