Dog Nail Clipping Tips — Treating an Exposed Quick

When you accidentally clip a dog’s nail too short, it’s important to keep the foot clean and free of debris in order to promote healing and avoid infection.

The treatment will depend on how short you’ve cut the nail. If you nicked the very tip of the quick, minimal care is required, whereas if you’ve cut it very short, a bit more care will be required.

The first matter of business: stop the bleeding. This is much easier said than done! If you have styptic powder on-hand, dip the dog’s nail in the powder. It serves to numb the exposed nerve and it promotes clotting, which will slow and ultimately stop the bleeding. Re-dip the toe as the powder gets rinsed away by the blood. Repeat until the blood has stopped flowing. Allow the dog to rest for a period of approximately 15 minutes.

Once the bleeding has stopped, you must disinfect the toe and assess the damage. If possible, wash the dog’s entire foot with warm water and anti-bacterial soap. If the toe is extremely painful, it’s unlikely the pet will allow you to thoroughly wash the foot. Instead, use hydrogen peroxide to moisten a paper towel and wipe down the entire paw, including the pads, the nearby nails and the toes. Fill a small bowl with hydrogen peroxide and dip the dog’s injured nail in the liquid or pour a bit of disinfectant over the broken nail.

The quick is comprised of densely-packed nerves, so this can be an extremely painful injury and one that’s very prone to infection.

Once the foot has been disinfected, it’s time to examine the injured nail. If you nicked the very end of the nail, the quick will be barely visible. The dog won’t be limping or favoring the foot. This is a minor injury that can usually be treated at home.

Alternatively, if you cut deep into the quick, the center of the dog’s nail — about 50% of the area comprising the tip — will be exposed quick, which looks dark pink/red and pulpy. The dog will likely be limping or staying off the foot entirely. This is a more serious injury that will require treatment at the veterinary clinic.

Treating a Minor Broken Nail on a Dog

For minor injuries, once it’s disinfected, treatment is fairly simple. Apply a generous dab of antibiotic ointment to the tip of the nail to stave off infection and to prevent air flow over the nail (this can irritate the exposed nerve, causing pain.)

Wrap the dog’s foot and ankle with a couple layers of rolled gauze, using a figure “8” pattern. The loops of the “8” should go around the foot and the ankle. Once the foot is wrapped, place a child’s sock over the foot and tape it around the ankle to hold it in place. Alternatively, use a layer or two of self-adhering bandage.

At night, a sock alone will suffice. Also, if your dog is fairly inactive, you may not need any gauze; the sock may suffice.

This will keep the dog’s nail clean and free of debris. Avoid walks for a few days to promote healing. Also, when you go outside for bathroom breaks, place a plastic bag over the pet’s foot to keep it clean. Use a bit of tape around the pet’s ankle to hold the bag in place.

The bandage will need to be changed twice daily until the nail grows out — this usually takes just a few days.

Notably, bandages are rarely recommended for pets. But foot, toe and nail injuries are one exception to this rule.

Treating More Serious Nail Injuries

More serious nail injuries will require treatment at the veterinary clinic. These injuries are extremely painful, so pain medications are typically prescribed, in addition to antibiotics.

Not only is this injury painful, but it’s also slow to heal since the nail will need to grow out a fairly significant amount. This means the dog will have an exposed nerve and blood vessels for a week or longer, so antibiotics are a must. The rich blood supply in the quick makes this type of injury potentially life-threatening, as it’s extremely easy for bacteria to enter the bloodstream via the exposed quick. This can result in a blood infection, which is a potentially deadly situation. This is why antibiotic treatment is so important for nails that have been clipped too short or broken off at the base.

Perform the same cleaning and bandaging process discussed above; this will keep the pet’s foot clean until you can get him to the vet.

The vet will apply a durable bandage that can be left on for several days. If your dog messes with the bandage, you may need to outfit him with a “cone” or an inflatable e-collar in order to keep the bandage in place.

Of course, if you observe any signs of infection, a visit to the veterinarian is in order. Signs of a problem include redness, swelling or tenderness in the pet’s toe, foot or leg. Also, if a seemingly minor injury just doesn’t heal or if it appears to be more painful than expected, this is a sign of a problem.

A rule of thumb when your pet is injured or sick: your animal should be improving as time passes; the situation should not be getting worse. If the situation fails to improve with time or if it’s getting worse, this is a sign of a problem that requires veterinary attention.

See our related article on nail clipping tips for a frightened dog who struggles and squirms during a pedicure. Employ these tips to limit the chances of exposing the quick!

Photo Source: Sarah Williams on

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Mia Carter is a professional journalist and animal lover. Her furry family members include 6 dogs and 12 cats. She is also a feral cat colony caretaker. Carter specializes in pet training and special needs pet care. All of her animals have special needs such as paralysis, blindness, deafness and FIV, just to name a few. She also serves as a pet foster parent and she actively rehabilitates and rescues local strays and feral kittens.

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