Dog first aid: How to stop a dog’s nail from bleeding
Treating your dog to a spa day is usually a great bonding experience for you and your pet. Generally speaking, the two of you will come away from the experience looking, feeling, and maybe even smelling better than before. But what happens when a puppy pedicure goes wrong and suddenly you’re dealing with a dog nail bleeding all over your bathroom floor?
It’s time to flex your dog first aid skills. In this post we’ll show you how to stop a dog’s nail from bleeding, talk about the importance of proper nail care, and explain why a cracked, bleeding nail might mean pushing pause on your long Sunday strolls together (temporarily, of course). At Waggle Mail, we believe in preventative wellness, empowering dog parents with tools, tips, and products that will help them provide the very best head-to-tail care. However, even the most proactive parent should expect to face at least a few dog first aid emergencies along the way.
We designed this series to help you feel prepared to handle all kinds of canine crises, from a dog nail bleeding to food allergies.
The down-low on dog nail bleeding
Proper nail care is important for your dog’s health and mobility. Nails that are cut to the proper length (we’ll call it the “sweet spot”) allow your dog’s toes and feet full, normal range of motion and functionality.
Cut your dog’s nails too short and they may start to tear, twist, or crack.
Keep them too long and they can change the mechanics of your dog’s feet and legs.
How do you find the “sweet spot”? We’ve put together a diagram that should help, but let’s start with some basic anatomy.
Dogs’ nails are composed of a hard wall, a crumbly interior sole, and the quick or nail bed that has a blood supply. To keep everything as it should be, we recommend nail trims every 3-4 weeks (or every 2 weeks if your dog isn’t spending much time on abrasive surfaces like concrete). The key to success is to slowly cut your dog’s nail in small slivers at a 45 degree angle. Think of it like making nail confetti—and yes, your dog may try to eat it.
As you can see above, cutting black nails is a little trickier, but slow and steady will keep you from cutting the quick.
Once you’ve mastered the basic nail trim, you can round out any sharp edges by angling your trimmers (more on tools in a minute) on the outside edges of the nail, taking off small chunks as you move around.
If seeing this diagram makes you feel uneasy about attempting an at-home pedicure, don’t be discouraged. Many dog parents avoid nail trims out of a fear of cutting their dog’s nails too short and causing them to bleed.
The good news is that nail trims are rarely cause for concern. Don’t let fear or one bad experience win!
How to trim dog nails: Tips for successful trims
There are a few essential skills and strategies to—pardon the pun—nail down for an optimal dog nail trimming experience:
EXPERT TIP: Dr. Sophia Yin’s dog body language poster is an excellent resource if you need a refresher in how fear and anxiety can manifest in dogs.
- Start early. Puppies nails need trimming, too. If your dog is still a pup, you can start a nail trimming regimen as early as 8 weeks. Just make sure to gradually accustom your pup to accept handling of their paw first. The sooner the better, however, if puppyhood is a thing of the past don’t worry: it’s never too late to start.
- Stay calm. Dogs are extremely perceptive animals; they feed off our energy. Doing your homework on how to trim your dog’s nails and how to stop a dog’s nail from bleeding (which you’re doing right now!) will help you approach the situation with a sense of ease that can put your dog at ease, too.
- Follow your dog’s lead. Body language goes two ways. Watch for non-verbal cues your dog is feeling stressed; head turning and refusing to take treats are two often-overlooked examples. If signs points to stress, slow it down to one nail at a time and offer plenty of praise as you go.
EXPERT TIP: Some smooshed face (brachycephalic) breeds don’t do well in certain positions (like lying on their backs) as these can restrict air flow. If, as you’re trimming, you hear loud snorting and/or their gums turn purple or blue, it’s time to take a break so your dog can calm down.
- Get a grip. Literally. Traction is important in case your dog get spooked and tries to make a quick getaway. Get creative with things like platforms, benches, pillows, chairs, and yoga mats to ensure your dog is both safe and comfortable.
- Watch out for sensitive feet. Dogs toes are chock full of nerve endings, which means they can be ticklish and extra sensitive to touch. Some dogs don’t like having their nails trimmed simply because it feels weird having their toes handled. If you think your dog has sensitive feet, start by petting them in a less sensitive area (like their back or shoulders) then gradually work your way down to their toes. Applying consistent pressure will prevent a ticklish response.
What tool should I use to trim my dog’s nails?
The best way to stop dog nail bleeding is to master technique and invest in the right tools for the job.
Just because your dog lets your touch their paw with your hands doesn’t mean they’ll instantly accept a foreign, metal object. Toenail clippers look, feel, and sound a great deal different to a human hand, making it important to gradually acclimatize your dog (and yourself) to the tool.
There are dozens of dog nail trimmers on the market. No brand is “best,” but you should choose a pair that are:
EXPERT TIP: Before you try a toenail clipper on your dog’s nails, test it out on a straw or a piece of uncooked pasta. Building your own comfort level with the tool will reduce the chances of you accidentally cutting your dog’s nail too short and causing it to bleed.
- Have two blades that cross (scissors or pliers style)
- A fit for your hand
Avoid guillotine-type trimmers. Because they apply pressure throughout the nails, these trimmers tend to offer less control and create more discomfort.
How do I stop my dog’s nail from bleeding?
With your trimmers and treats in hand, you’re ready to start snipping.
…or are you?
Naturally, the best way to stop a dog’s nail from bleeding is to prevent it from happening in the first place. But if an accident does happen, you should have the following supplies on hand to help stop the dog nail bleeding:
- Paper towel (to apply pressure to the wound)
- Commercial silver nitrate sticks or styptic powder (including in our Waggle Mail Dog First Aid Kits, along with other first aid essentials)
- Cornstarch, baking soda, or flour (suitable alternatives found in most household pantries)
Steps to stop dog nail bleeding
If the worst happens and a nail cut too short starts to bleed, don’t panic. Remember how we said dogs feed off our energy? If you panic, they’ll panic, and an increase in blood pressure can make for a mess.
Fetch your backup supplies and follow these steps:
- Apply pressure to the bleeding dog nail with either a paper towel or a small cloth
- Grab a pinch of cornstarch (or your commercial product of choice) and quickly release pressure to apply
- Push the product onto the tip of the bleeding toil nail and apply direct pressure for 10 seconds
- After 10 seconds, stop to check if the bleeding has stopped. If yes, great! Move on to your next nail. If not, reapply and hold for another 30 seconds.
- If after 15 minutes your dog’s nail is still bleeding, wrap the paw in a towel or bandage and let your dog rest for another 15 – 20 minutes.
How long will a dog’s nail bleed for?
EXPERT TIP: If a dog nail has been cut too short and the quick is exposed, it will be more predisposed to bleeding after a walk. If your dog’s nails bleed after a walk, consider protecting their feet with socks or booties when outdoors until the toe nail has a chance to grow. If they’re too embarrassed to walk the block in booties, try out a few of our favourite doggy boredom busters or a mental enrichment toy from one of your dog’s Waggle Mail subscription boxes (hint, hint).
This is a tough question to answer because it really depends on the dog and the severity of the injury. If pressure and rest aren’t slowing the bleed, you’re well off to call your veterinary support team.
Remember that it’s rare for a bleeding toe nail to signal an underlying condition; frightened as you might feel, they’re typically little more than a routine emergency that can easily be handled from home. Some dogs have more brittle toenails than others and tend to bleed more when cracked or split.
What should I do if my dog has torn or cracked nails?
Sometimes, when a dog’s nails get too long they can catch on things and either tear or break. If you’ve ever broken a nail, you know how uncomfortable that can be. Canine toe trauma is usually followed by excessive licking and picking; if you notice your dog is favouring their foot, try an e-collar or a protective bootie.
If the tear seems severe and your dog won’t let you tend it once they’ve calmed down, book in with your vet to make sure they haven’t hurt other parts of their toes or paws. Often there is still a substantial chunk of nail still attached; vets can administer numbing agents and anti-inflammatories to relieve pain and prevent further discomfort.
Once the hangnail and bleeding have been handled, expect it to take at least a few weeks for your dog’s nail to fully heal. As a dog parent, you’re on duty to monitor for signs of infection (discharge, swelling, and pain). Catching an infection early prevents the need for harsh antibiotics, x-rays, or even a professional foot wrap.
Want more ways to protect your pet? Subscribe to Waggle (e)Mail for more dog first aid resources and exclusive email offers to help make your dog parenting experience the very best it can be.
Dr. C. Beck
Registered Veterinarian, Founder & CEO