Maintaining Nails

by: Lisa Correia, Certified Master Groomer

Keeping your dog’s nails short is an integral part of maintaining your dog for show. Long nails exert pressure on your dog’s nail bed and disturb the natural alignment of the foot. Feet then become splayed and reduce your dog’s traction. Short nails keep the dog’s feet tight and pain-free.  Cutting and filing the nails is what will create a desirable tight foot.

Nail Anatomy
Your dog’s nails are made up of three different layers.  On the outside, you have the hard outer shell; this can be black or white.  Just below that is the second layer called the inner shell.  This is the layer that you probably notice is grey and can crumble when cut, especially if the nail is allowed to grow too long.  Running through the center of the nail, just below the second layer, is what is known as the Quick.  The Quick is a blood vein that allows the nail to grow.  The longer the nail is allowed to grow, the longer the Quick gets as well.  Letting your dog’s nails get too long, increases your chances of cutting into this nail and making your pet bleed.  But don’t worry! Although it may be uncomfortable for your dog if you cut into the Quick,  they will never bleed out.  There are simple ways of stopping the bleeding as well. 

Cutting your dog’s nails
Now that you know that your dog won’t die from cutting his nails, let’s talk about how to get them done.  To start, you need a good pair of nail clippers.  Nail clippers need to be sharp to go through thick, hard nails.   Know that they will not stay sharp forever.  When the clipper cannot quickly go through the nail, or you see the nail crumble and shred, it is time to replace your nail clippers.  There are two types of nail clippers to choose from, guillotine and plier. The guillotine style has a blade that you place your dog’s nail through.  The cutting action comes from underneath the nail through the softer tissue, allowing for a quick cut.  The plierversion allows you a bit more control on how to cut the nail but comes with the price of slower cutting and more pressure on the nail itself.  You want to choose the nail clipper that best fits your hand to lessen the chance of nicking the quick.  Either way, you want to cut at a 45-degree angle, away from the dog,  from the bottom of the nail to the top.  If you use the plier type nail clipper, you can go back and trim off the sharp edges on either side of the bottom of the nail. 

Filing your dog’s nails
Filing is an essential step for nail health.  Sharp edges can not only cut you; they can create wounds on your dog from their scratching themselves. Sharp nails can also damage your hardwood floors.  Filing can happen in one of two ways.  The first is with a traditional nail file.  This is a slower way of filing nails, but if your dog is patient, it is more economical.  The second way to accomplish smooth nails is to use a rotary tool, also known as a dremmel. The rotary tool quickly and easily buffs your dog’s sharp nails into a smooth and blunt edge.  The rotary tool can also take down a long nail immediately, without the hassle of breaking out the nail clippers. Diamond bits for rotary tools are professional dog groomers’ favorites.  The bits keep their edge and quickly, yet easily grind the nail to smooth perfection.  Diamond bit sets come with a large bit with a coarse grit.  The large bit is for taking down nails quickly.  The smaller bit is made with a finer grit.  This bit is best suited for buffing down any sharp edges.  Diamond bits that have a concave body allow for the perfect placement for the nails to be quickly and easily shaped.

Bleeding nails will stop!
Let’s put your mind to rest.  Your dog will not die if you expose a quick.  Depending upon your dog’s anxiety level, he may bleed quite a bit or very little.  Either way, you can get the nails to stop bleeding, and your dog will heal from the cut.  Actually, you may be doing the dog a favor by “quicking” him.  When you cut into the dog’s quick, you are causing the quick to recede.  When the Quick decreases, cutting your dog’s nails next time will be easier. 

To stop nails from bleeding, we suggest using styptic powder. When you start your nail cutting process, make sure to have your jar already open.  This lessens the anxiety of having to get the jar open when you see blood, and you can quickly address the issue. When you see the nail bleeding, quickly squeeze the base of the nail where it meets the toe, between your pointer finger and your thumb.  Take a paper towel with the other hand and dab off any excess blood.  With the same free hand, take a pinch of the powder and hold it one the end of the nail for about 15-30 seconds and then slowly release the pressure. If the nail continues to flow, repeat the process.  Generally, one application is all that is needed to stop the bleeding.

Cutting your dog’s nails may seem like a daunting task, but it is a necessary one to keep your dog healthy, pain-free, and show ready.