Cutting Rabbits Nails
June 26, 2021
Have you ever carried your rabbit, only to see long scratch marks down your arms?
Rabbit nails can be really sharp. They can hurt you or accidentally break your skin, even if the rabbit doesn’t intend to.
In the wild, a rabbit’s nails will easily get worn down during their day-to-day life. Digging burrows and running on rough dirt and rocky spots gives the necessary wear-and-tear to keep their nails from becoming too long.
But as pets, rabbits don’t do the same rough activities to stop their nails from overgrowing. We have to do our part as pet owners and pay attention to the condition of their nails and clip them when necessary.
Before trimming a rabbit’s nails, though, look for the vein that goes up each nail and try to avoid clipping it. If you cannot find this vein, pinch gently on the clippers before making a cut. If the rabbit pulls their foot away back, try clipping their nails closer to the tip. This is a lot easier if done by two people, but can also be succeeded by yourself.
Skip to section
- Understanding the Rabbit Nail Anatomy
- How long should rabbit nails be?
- What Happens if I Let My Rabbit’s Nails Grow?
- How to Trim a Rabbit’s Nails?
- What if the Nail Starts to Bleed?
- A Note About “Hypnotizing” or “Trancing” a Rabbit
- How Often Should I Trim My Rabbit’s Nails?
- Other Ways to Keep Your Rabbit’s Nails Short
- Final Thoughts
Understanding the Rabbit Nail Anatomy
Like their teeth, rabbit nails are continually growing. They have 18 toenails, 4 on both of their back feet and 5 on both of their front feet.
The fifth nail on both of the rabbit’s front paws is on the inside of their foot. It looks slightly like a thumbnail, although rabbits don’t have opposable thumbs. That’s why this is often the most challenging nail to clip because it has a tendency to lurk in the rabbit’s fur.
Rabbit toenails are claws but they are pretty similar to cat claws, which are extensions of a cat’s toes.
Other than the quick, rabbits do not possess these nerves or pain receptors in the nail. The purpose of their nails is essential to make it easy for the rabbit to dig holes, protect their toes, and stay safe on slippery surfaces.
Their claws can also be used to defend themselves against predators when cornered.
Rabbit nails have a vein called “quick” that goes into the base of all of their nails. This is what you should avoid when clipping your pet bunny’s nails. Otherwise, it will be bloody painful for your pet.
You can easily notice this vein in the rabbit’s nails if they are a lighter color, but it can be hard to see on darker colored nails.
For these dark-nailed rabbits, many pet owners suggest using a flashlight. This can be challenging, but what you need to do is hold the light at the back of the nail to help you find the quick.
Another tip is to squeeze a little pressure on the clippers before you cut all the way through. If the rabbit flinches a little, this indicates you are too close to the vein and need to cut it a little further out.
Avoiding cutting the quick
There is no need to turn your rabbits upside down just to cut their nails. If their nails are very long and the quick is quite high, you can help it recede by what’s known as nibbling.
Clip your rabbit’s nails twice a week or even every other day, just by nibbling a little bit off. As the rabbit’s nails get shorter, the quick will too.
How long should rabbit nails be?
There is no perfect length for a rabbit nail. The indicator that most pet owners use to identify when it’s time to clip their rabbit’s claws is when the nails start to come out beyond the fur of their feet.
For most breeds of rabbits, this is the most reliable way to determine that their nails are getting a little long. However, for short-haired and long-haired breeds of rabbits, this might not work.
Short-haired rex rabbits tend to possess nails that begin to turn sooner than other rabbit breeds. For these rabbits, you should consider clipping their nails as soon as you see that little curl start to build.
On the other hand, long-haired angora rabbits will have nails that are too long if you wait for them to reach their fur length. Monitor their nails and clip them as needed.
Another sign that it’s time to clip your rabbit’s nails is you’re seeing that their claws are curling. The same thing goes if they can’t seem to hop around easily.
What Happens if I Let My Rabbit’s Nails Grow?
Overgrown rabbit nails can cause more than scratch you up. They can get snagged on a carpet or other flooring, making the nail or toe break. Their nails can also start curling in, making the rabbit walk in an abnormal way.
For your rabbit’s health, it’s essential to monitor their nails and clip them every couple of months.
The quick grows along with the nail
If you just let your rabbit’s nails grow, the quick will grow along. This will make cutting their nails more difficult.
Clipping too much off of the end of the nail will indicate you’re cutting into the quick.
To get the rabbit’s nails down to a perfect length, you’ll have to clip a little bit off the end of the nail each week or so. This will provide the vein some time to adjust to the size of the nail again.
It will stress your rabbit’s feet
Rabbit nails, when left growing, start to curl inward. This can cause a lot of stress on their feet.
What happens is that your pet will have to downshift its weight and walk in an abnormal way. This can slow your rabbit down and prevent them from binking around, which is essential for their health.
The unnatural movements caused by overgrown nails will also place extra strain on a rabbit’s leg joints. It can also put stress on the more sensitive parts of their feet. This can be a contributor to conditions like arthritis and sore hocks (when a rabbit gets sores on the bottom of its heels), making it very painful for the rabbit to move around.
Likely to snag and break
Overgrown nails are also pretty likely to get snagged on something, such as the carpet, and break off. Although not life-threatening, this can be bloody and frightening.
Getting one of their nails snagged on something can also make a rabbit’s toe break. This is something that is very hard to detect but can create pain for your pet. To avoid this, it’s essential to keep your rabbit’s nails clipped and trimmed.
How to Trim a Rabbit’s Nails?
Clipping a rabbit’s nails can be very difficult. It’s one of the most challenging tasks of grooming a rabbit. That’s because they will usually kick and struggle as you patiently try to keep them still and get their nails trimmed.
If you ever sense that you can’t get your rabbit’s nails clipped on your own, or you’re worried that you’ll clip the quick, consider going to a vet instead.
Tools you need
If you are working with a partner, the only tool you need is a pair of animal nail clippers. You can use a spring-loaded clipper for a quick cut or just use a smaller handheld clipper for more control.
But remember, you should NOT use scissors or human nail clippers. These will make it hard to get a clean-cut, and you are likely to end up ruining the nail.
Rabbits have round nails, so clippers that have a rounded edge are excellent. Human nail clippers are created for thin, flat nails, but will somehow work in a pinch.
Many pet owners prefer safety scissor-style clippers. If you can’t find nail clippers built for small animals, those designed for cats are often a safe bet.
It all comes down to what is most convenient for you and to your rabbit.
It’s common for your bunny to get antsy at grooming sessions. You know how those autonomous types can be. Nonetheless, you can use a towel to safely restrain them in a burrito style.
Rabbits with light-colored nails impose less of a challenge because their quick is easy to recognize. Meanwhile, you can use a flashlight to find the quick of your dark-nailed bunny.
Styptic Powder (Magic Dust)
In case you cut the quick accidentally, styptic powder and applying a few seconds of pressure will end the bleeding. This is an investment you won’t regret.
Need we say more? Treats can be used as a distraction for a squirmy rabbit, a bribe, or a peace offering.
Clipping the nails with a partner
Clipping your rabbit’s nails with a partner is by far the easiest choice. If you have anyone who can lend you a hand, we recommend asking them for help.
One of you should have the task of keeping the rabbit still and calm, while the other works the clippers to trim the rabbit’s nails.
The person carrying your pet should place the rabbit with its paws facing outward. That way, the other person can access all of the nails. Alternatively, you can set them in a half cradle in your arms. Your task is to keep the rabbit calm and as still as possible.
With all the rabbit’s nails facing outward, you should be able to simply clip them one by one. Sometimes you’ll need to stop while the rabbit is calmed down or is repositioned. Doing so will allow you to reach the claws easily.
Clipping the nails by yourself
We won’t sugarcoat this, but clipping a rabbit’s nails all by yourself will not be an easy task. Keeping your rabbits calm while you handle their feet and find their nails is surely a great challenge. This whole procedure can take a lot longer than it seems it should.
If you have a calm rabbit, you will likely be able to succeed through this process without too much trouble. However, most rabbits are feisty and you will have to constantly go back to step one just to calm your rabbit down again.
Despite this, we can say that with patience, you will surely succeed.
Put your rabbit on a table
Make sure you have a towel on the table so your rabbit will be more relaxed. Pet your rabbit and give them a relaxing massage.
Wrap around and pull
You want to place your rabbit on the end of the table against your body so they will feel secure. Make sure that you always keep yourself between your rabbit and the edge of the table. You don’t want them to fall off. Place your hand on top of your rabbit’s head to encourage them to stay calm during the next step.
Clip the nails on the first front foot
Try to finish all five nails. The “thumbnail” on the inside of the foot is always the most difficult to find. This step will surely take a long time because your rabbit will keep dragging their leg back.
If your rabbit does not cooperate at all, you can try setting them in a half burrito in a towel. Make sure that their front legs are hanging out in front of them. Repeat the second and third procedures with the other front paw.
Hold your rabbit up on its hind legs
Carry your rabbit underneath their chest, keeping them held up against your body so they will feel secure. Then slowly clip the nails on your rabbit’s back feet.
Most rabbit owners find the hind legs are easier to clip than the front legs. But if your rabbit keeps getting out of your grasp, rearrange how you’re handling the rabbit and try again.
After you’re done clipping their nails, give your rabbit a yummy treat and let them stroll around as they please.
Most rabbits will certainly be very mad at you for a short time after clipping their nails. Just leave them alone for a while until they are ready to forgive you. Over time, as you manage your rabbit more and get used to clipping their nails, this method will get easier and your rabbit will get used to it.
What if the Nail Starts to Bleed?
Cutting into the quick and making your rabbit’s nails bleed can happen. Mind you, this can be bloody and frightening. None of us want to hurt our rabbits or any of our pets, so seeing them bleed so much can be unsettling.
While it is a little uncomfortable for the rabbit if you clip into the quick (kind of like when we humans break a nail), this is not a life threatening situation. Your rabbit will surely recover in no time and wonder why you are causing such a fuss.
If you accidentally clip into the quick and the rabbit’s nail starts to bleed, just use a cotton ball with a little cornstarch to help stop the bleeding.
Apply a little pressure to the cotton ball against the nail for a couple of minutes. After the blood has stopped flowing, let your rabbit go free.
They will lick their nails to wipe the “wound” and then proceed to hop around like normal.
A Note About “Hypnotizing” or “Trancing” a Rabbit
Some rabbit owners will carry their rabbit on its back so it goes perfectly still, as if in a trance, when clipping their nails.
This is in fact very cruel as the rabbit is scared and playing dead is part of its prey animal response. Please, never do this to your rabbits.
You can either carry your rabbit with its backside while being supported, as if it is sitting up to cut the nails. You can also place it on a towel on a countertop, and very carefully pull the foot to the side to get to the nails.
How Often Should I Trim My Rabbit’s Nails?
Most rabbit nails will be required to be trimmed every 1 to 2 months.
Rabbits that are provided areas with rough flooring or places they can dig into enable them to normally wear down their nails a little bit in their everyday life. Therefore they might not require their nails to be trimmed as often.
It’s best to monitor the length of your rabbit’s nails every month or so, just to make sure that they are not at risk of growing too long.
Other Ways to Keep Your Rabbit’s Nails Short
You can also help your rabbit keep their nails short, so you don’t have to clip them frequently. To do this, you’ll need to provide your rabbit with a variety of rough surfaces to walk on, not just soft carpet.
For example, letting your rabbit some space to hop on hardwood flooring can be helpful. You can also provide your rabbit with some digging surfaces to help them wear down their nails. You can use cardboard boxes, cat scratcher mats, and corrugated cardboard cat scratchers for your rabbit to have fun digging into.
This will also provide your rabbit a chance to use its natural burrowing abilities without causing any damages to your house or furniture.
Giving a rabbit these other materials will not entirely replace the need to clip their nails, but it should reduce the need to trim their claws frequently.
A rabbit can kick and hurt its back when struggling. So, handling them with care is extra important during nail trimming.
They’ll feel more secure when held close to your body or on a solid surface. When possible, ask another person to hold the rabbit, carrying their back end, while the other person performs the clipping. This is also where using a towel comes in handy.
Remember, if your pet bunny becomes too worked up, it’s okay to take a break for some petting or treats until it calms down.
Want your rabbit to be happy and healthy?