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The essentials

  • All dog nails have a quick — This area inside the nail is home to blood vessels and nerves that are very sensitive.
  • A healthy quick is key to healthy nails — The quick provides blood flow to the rest of the nail, allowing it to grow strong and healthy.
  • Take it slow at first — Your first time trimming your dog’s nails can feel scary! Trim away a little at a time and keep a clean cloth and treats on hand.

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Hearing that familiar click-clack as your dog crosses the room might be your signal that it’s time to trim their nails. But one important factor when trimming your pup’s nails is to be aware of the quick portion and not cause unnecessary injury. The quick is the blood vessel and nerves inside your dog’s nail which provides blood supply and enables the nail to grow. As your dog’s nails get longer, so does the quick. However, if they are trimmed and kept at a manageable length, the quick stays short as well. In this way, consistent nail grooming keeps the quick from becoming overgrown.

Anatomy of dog’s nails

It’s important to understand the anatomy of a dog’s nails before sitting down with the clippers. Some dogs have white or clear nails and some have dark nails. It’s easier to see the quick through lighter nails, but holding the paw up to the light helps, too. Trim the paw fur surrounding the nails to get the best view of your dog’s nails.

The structure of a dog’s nail

  • Bone. The toe bones on a dog’s paw extend outward and meet the quick, which is then connected to the shell or outer nail portion.
  • Quick. This is the part of the nail pet owners need to avoid cutting, as it contains the blood vessels and nerves which send transmissions to your dog’s brain.
  • Shell aka claw. Made up of keratin, this is the nail portion that needs to be trimmed. Like humans, dogs have no feelings in their nails, so trimming this portion should not cause them any pain or discomfort.

The quick in a dog’s nail

It’s fairly easy to identify the quick in a dog’s light nails, as it is visible through the outer shell. The quick looks like a pink triangle, and extends from the paw downward. Sometimes it’s easier to see if you look at the nail from the side rather than straight on.

It can be trickier to find the quick if your dog has dark nails, but it’s not impossible. Try shining a bright flashlight underneath your dog’s nails. The quick should appear as a shadowy area closer to the paw, while the light can filter through the outer nail area. Another way to trim black nails is to start by making very small cuts. The cut surface should appear white. Keep trimming small amounts until the nail’s cut surface turns black at the center. This means you’ve reached the pulp portion before the quick and should stop trimming. It’s important to remember that even cutting too close to the quick can cause pinching and discomfort for your pup, so be extra cautious.

Why is it important to avoid cutting your dog’s quick?

The quick contains both blood vessels and nerves, making it a very sensitive part of your dog’s body. Make grooming and nail care a positive experience for your furry friend by avoiding unnecessary pain.

Pain and discomfort

Because the quick is considered a vascular structure, it’s full of nerves and blood vessels that will cause your dog pain if they are cut. And making this mistake once is enough for your pup to be scared or even traumatized the next time they need a trim. Make your dog’s nail trimming a positive experience by taking it slowly and rewarding them with treats as you go. Dr. Irish recommends spreadable treats like peanut butter or cheese on a flat surface and let your dog lick it up while you trim.

Potential for infection and bleeding

Cutting the quick can cause bleeding and even infection. Most vets recommend having styptic powder on hand if you trim your dog’s nails at home. This powder can be applied directly to the tip of the nail and stops the bleeding. When the bleeding stops, you can get a better idea of the damage and if your dog needs a visit to the vet.

Just like with humans, injuries to your dog’s paws and nails can lead to infection. “A swollen digit can indicate infection,” says Dr. Erica Irish, “especially if your dog has been licking the paw.” An increase in licking, or if you notice redness or limping, means that it’s time to call your vet.

 👉 Trimming your dog’s nails consistently helps the quick recede to a short yet healthy length. Check out our nail cutting guide for tips on how to cut your pup’s nails at home.

When to visit the groomer or the vet

If your dog is experiencing nail problems, whether it has to do with the quick or not, it’s best to check in with a professional.

Ingrown nails and curling nails

This tends to happen when a dog’s nails grow too long and cause damage to their paws. This happens frequently in the dew claws, or nail that is higher up on your dog’s foot which doesn’t get worn down naturally like the other nails. Depending on the extent of damage, your pup may need to visit the veterinarian for treatment of an ingrown or curled nail — especially if the nail has broken through the paw pad and created an open wound.

Split and cracked nails

A fractured or broken nail can be especially painful for dogs. Take note if your dog is excessively licking one area of their paw, as this is a common behavior associated with a damaged nail. Cases of nail trauma should always be checked by a vet, since leaving it untreated can cause further problems and lead to an infection.

Elderly dogs and nail care

As dog’s age, their nails tend to become brittle and require extra attention. Older dogs may become less patient when it comes to their grooming, but it’s a good idea to maintain a regular check on their nails every two weeks. This is the best way to avoid long nails which lead to breaks. If your pup isn’t having it, leave it to the professional groomers to keep their toes in tip-top shape.

Trimming your dog’s nails at home is a simple task if you are armed with the right knowledge and tools. With regular nail-care, you can keep the nail quicks at a healthy length and not worry about unnecessary pain and potential damage.

Frequently asked questions

Will my dog’s nails bleed if I trim them?

Only if you trim the nails too short and cut the quick portion of the nail will there be bleeding and discomfort for your dog.

Where is the quick on black dog nails?

Dogs with black nails have a quick, but it’s more difficult to locate than in white nails. Shine a light under their paw to locate the cloudy area closer to the paw. This is the nail’s quick.

How should I treat my dog’s bleeding nail?

It’s important to stop the bleeding as soon as possible so you can assess the damage. Vets recommend using styptic powder or a styptic pencil on the affected area. This powder will stop the bleeding and help prevent infection. You can also use cornstarch if you have it on hand.

Does walking your dog trim their nails?

Dog nails are naturally worn down when they walk on hard surfaces, but not enough to maintain a short, healthy length. This can only be achieved by trimming.

Can I file my dog’s nails?

Yes, some dog owners prefer to file rather than clip their pup’s nails. A file can provide more control over how much nail you take off, but it is a longer process than clipping and requires more patience from your dog.