While trimming a dog's toenail too short can cause panic-stricken thoughts of ambulances and emergency rooms, it needn't be a major disaster. Even if blood starts to flow, a little planning and preparation beforehand can make the experience a lot less traumatic for both you and your dog.
The center of a dog's nail, called the quick, contains soft tissue supplied with blood vessels and nerve endings. Nerve endings register pain, and clipping a nail short enough to nip the quick causes sharp pain. If the dog yelps, jerks or tries to bolt, restrain him and reassure him until both of you relax. Next time you trim nails, hold your puppy in a position that is comfortable for you both but keeps him under control. Sometimes having a helper works, if only to wave treats under the dog's nose to keep his mind off what's happening to his feet.
If your puppy's nail starts to bleed, remain calm and apply one or more blood-stopping remedies. Many of these can be found in your bathroom or pantry. A styptic pen, like guys use on shaving nicks, works fast, but can sting. More painless are things like ice, a cotton ball or a dip into some cornstarch or flour. What you're after is something to help clot the blood. If the nail doesn't stop bleeding with these, place a folded tissue or a wad of toilet paper over the bleeding area and apply pressure for a minute or two. Keep the puppy in your arms or lap and off his feet. If the nail is still bleeding after 30 minutes, contact your vet to see if cautery -- using an electric spark to seal off the leaky blood vessel -- is needed.
Not to sound unsympathetic, but your puppy isn't going to bleed to death or be emotionally scarred from a clipped nail. He may be touchy about his feet next time you try to trim his nails, but time and sweet talk can help him over this. Handle his toes often when you're petting him and insist gently but firmly that he learn to tolerate this. You'll both feel braver about nail trimming if you do this, but if home manicures are just too stressful for you or your dog, have an experienced groomer or veterinarian do them.
Toes to the Grindstone
The latest thing for dealing with doggy digits is nail grinding. That sounds like medieval torture, but it's a lot less likely to cause pain or bleeding. It means using a small electric moto-tool with a sandpaper tip to file down a dog's nails much like you use an emery board on your own nails. There are some issues with this, but nothing insurmountable. The dog needs to get used to the sound and vibration of the tool, but it you begin by introducing it gradually on his body, he can learn to accept it as a massage, even on his feet. When working on the nails, remember that grinding generates heat that can become uncomfortable, so work on one nail for a brief time and then switch to another, even on another foot. Practice grinding on scrap wood or plastic and even your own nails until you develop a fine touch before attempting to give your puppy a new nail-do.
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