Keeping your rabbit’s nails trimmed is important for both their health and comfort. Wild rabbits (and pet rabbits with access to soil for digging) naturally wear down their nails digging burrows. But many pet rabbits will need the help of their human friend to keep their nails the right length.
If a rabbit’s nails get too long, it changes how their feet contact the floor. This can cause discomfort when moving around, it can also lead to sore hocks (click here to read more about this). If the nails get extra long they can start to curl around, twisting the toe and making it very difficult to walk. Long nails also have a higher risk of snagging and breaking. A broken toenail will bleed a large amount and is painful to the bunny.
Regularly tending to your rabbit’s nails is a necessary part of caring for bunny. When done properly it should be quick & painless.
How often should I clip my rabbit’s nails?
There is no one size fits all answer – but it is usually every 1-2 months. Some rabbits just grow nails faster than others. Your rabbit’s lifestyle plays a large role in this. If they have access to digging in the dirt or walking on scratchy surfaces (like a driveway or concrete patio) it can help naturally wear down the nails. Once a month I have a “rabbit health day” where I groom, weigh, and check their nails. I find most of my rabbits are good with every other month clipping.
Equipment for Clipping Nails
Before getting bunny, assemble all the tools you will need.
- Sharp nail clippers – I use large human toenail clippers, but you can also use pet nail scissors or guillotine-style pet nail clippers.
- Styptic Powder or cornstarch
- A flashlight can be helpful
- A favorite treat to reward your good bunny (my go-to is raspberries!)
Securely hold your rabbit
While nail clipping should not cause any harm to your rabbit, it can be stressful for them. With practice, you will become more confident in handling your rabbit. Then the entire process will go much smoother and will only take minutes.
I put down a towel on my kitchen countertop. This is a comfortable height for me to hold the bunny and the lights are bright in there so I can see what I am doing. The towel helps keep the rabbit from slipping around and makes her more comfortable.
Hold the rabbit close to your body as you pull him to an upright “sitting” position. Hold him to your body with your non-dominant arm across his abdomen. Use your non-dominant hand to steady the nail, leaving your dominant hand free to handle the clippers. When doing his back feet, you will want to support his bottom and rock him back a bit to cradle him.
Keep the rabbit as upright as possible, it is not necessary to put your rabbit on his back. Being on their back is a stressful position for them to be in. Many rabbits will “zone out” or go into a trance when on their back. You might think this means it is a relaxing position, but the rabbit is just so stressed he is playing dead.
Trimming difficult bunny nails
The more you handle your rabbit, the more they will get used to it. It’s best if you can start doing this as young as possible. But what if you rescue an older bunny, one who maybe wasn’t well cared for and isn’t used to handling? Or what if your bunny just has a difficult personality and hates being held? Try wrapping the rabbit in a towel, exposing one leg at a time for trimming. It might help to have an assistant there to help you. Be very careful to keep your face away from the rabbit’s powerful back legs so you don’t get kicked.
Do not yell at your rabbit and definitely don’t swat him. He is just scared, and acting aggresively towards him is only going to make it worse. I start by placing the rabbit on the towel, then pet and settle her down before we get started. Then I gently get her in position. I like to talk or sing to my rabbits the entire time using a low, quiet voice. They might not understand my words, but they definitely respond to the tone!
Finding the right place to cut the nail
Now that you have secured your rabbit, push aside the foot fur to find the first nail. Rabbits have 4 nails on each back foot and 5 nails on each front foot. The 5th nail on the front is lower down on the foot, sort of in a “thumb” position. I find these nails grow slowly and don’t need to be trimmed as often.
When you look at the nail, you should be able to see a darker, reddish section towards the base of the nail. This is the blood supply for the nail, called “the quick“. You need to be very careful not to cut into this part of the nail. If you nick it or cut into it, it will bleed profusely. The quick is easiest to see on rabbits with white nails. If your rabbit has dark or black nails you can use a flashlight to illuminate the nail. Nicking the quick is really easy to do by accident, and will likely happen to you at some point. This is why you want to have styptic powder on hand. This can stop the bleeding. If you don’t have styptic powder, you can also use cornstarch.
If you are trimming your rabbit’s nails reguarlly it will likely just be a small amount you are trimming off, as shown in the photo above. Ideally rabbit nails will be just barely sticking out beyond the feet fur. As the nail grows, so does the quick. If you have not trimmed the nails in a very long time, the nails will be long, but the quicks will also be long. You will not be able to cut them to an ideal length in one sitting. In that case, cut them as short as you can. Then try again in 3-4 days. The quick will receed as the nail gets shorter.
Reward your good bunny!
The last step is to reward you bunny for being such a good patient (even if he wasn’t!). I always reward my bunnies after grooming or nail trimming. It’s a good way to get them to associate this event with something positive. I usually choose some type of fruit like raspberries or apple slices.