Q: I have a small dog. I bought a nail trimmer so that I can clip his nails regularly but it was a disaster the first time I tried it. He zigged and I zagged and then he screamed and blood was everywhere.
I did purchase a trimmer kit that had some powder that was supposed to stop bleeding, but it didn’t work. I kept sprinkling it on, but he got more and more frantic and the blood kept coming. Finally my daughter got home and we managed to put more powder on and then bandage his foot. Do you have any tips to make this easier?
A: It is good to keep the nails trimmed regularly to keep your pet walking comfortably. Some pets that are very active may wear the nails down naturally while they walk and don’t need trimming very often. Most house dogs don’t do much walking on hard surfaces and they need regular trimming.
Start by checking your dog’s nails to be sure that they need trimming. If the nail touches the floor it probably needs to be trimmed. Look at a white nail and see where the quick is located; the quick is the pink fleshy nail bed that grows inside the nail itself.
If you cut into the area of the nail that has the quick, it will bleed. You need to cut the tip of the nail and stay away from the quick. If your dog’s nails are black, it is harder to tell where the quick is located. Cut very small slices of the nail at a time and look at the cut end. When you see a small round smooth area you are getting close to the quick. Be sure to stop before you see any blood.
If bleeding occurs, you need to take deep breaths and stay calm. Try feeding your dog some treats and getting him to lay down and relax. If he gets excited and is running around it can make the nail bleed more.
Once your dog is calm, you can apply the clotting powder. It needs to be applied in large amounts and with constant pressure. You can use your finger to apply it or a cotton ball. Hold a generous glob of the powder on the nail edge and use pressure to hold the powder in place for five or 10 minutes. The bleeding should stop quickly.
The key is lots of powder and steady pressure.
If you don’t have the pet version of clotting powder you can use a styptic pencil or some corn starch. Simply add a little water and make a paste to apply to the cut end of the nail. Use steady pressure.
You can also wet a bar of soap and rub the nail through the mushy outer layer on the soap. Make sure you use generous amounts. Generally a bleeding nail looks worse than it is. The dog is pacing around and smearing blood everywhere and it makes most people queezy.
If the bleeding doesn’t stop, a bandage may help. Bandaging a paw can be tricky because if you wrap it too tight you can cut off blood supply to the toes. Don’t leave the bandage on for more than an hour.
If bleeding is severe or lasts more than 20 minutes you will need to take your dog to the veterinarian.
Clipping your dog’s nails is not like clipping a human’s nails. It is very hard to see the fleshy nail bed and your dog does not always hold still for the trim. Every time your dog has a bad experience he gets more fearful and harder to hold still. There are training routines to desensitize your dog to nail trims. It requires you to work with your dog daily and slowly get him used to having his feet touched and held.
Slowly work up to having the nail clippers close to his feet and click them open and close without touching his nail. Feed treats and praise him. Then barely take a sliver of nail off each time that you trim and give him treats. This builds up his confidence and trust. Clicker training can make this training go faster. I have one on my website at www.bakervet.com. There are many videos on nail trimming techniques online. It may help you to watch these.
I would recommend that you let your groomer or veterinarian trim his nails for a while until he becomes more relaxed and you gain expertise and confidence!
Dr. Susan M. Baker received her degree at the University of Florida in 1985 and practices veterinary medicine in Palm Beach County, Florida.