Owning a pet is a huge responsibility. We need to feed them, keep them healthy, love them, and groom them. Most domestic pets need to have their nails trimmed regularly, including rabbits.
Trimming your rabbit’s nails is an integral part of caring for them, but if you haven’t done it before, you might not know what to do.
Here, we go through the steps that you need to take to trim your rabbit’s nails safely, along with a few helpful tips.
Gather Your Supplies
For many pet parents nail clipping is a daunting task. Local veterinary clinics will offer nail clipping services and be able to show you how to do it in a safe manner. We recommend reaching out to your veterinary surgery whenever you have health care concerns about your pets.
Before getting started clipping your rabbit’s nails, you should have everything close at hand, including someone who can help you by holding your rabbit.
Using a Helper
If you have someone who can help you with the nail trimming, this will make the job much easier. If this person knows how to properly handle a rabbit, that’s great, but if they don’t, you’ll want to teach them how to safely do so.2
Rabbits need their hind end supported because they can accidentally injure themselves if they struggle. Rabbits have powerful kicks and sadly if they kick out while being handled they can damage their spines and become paralysed.
You can burrito your rabbit,3 which might be your best bet if you have a rabbit that doesn’t like being picked up or held. This way, they stay snuggled inside the towel, and you can take out one paw at a time to trim the nails.
When wrapping your bun in a towel, doing it on top of the table or your lap might prevent your rabbit from escaping. Once your helper has your rabbit in the towel, they should hold them with their paws facing outward so you can easily clip them.
Remember to keep your rabbit calm. If they seem stressed, put them down, and try again later when they seem calmer. This is also where treats can come in handy.
Doing It by Yourself
If you don’t have the option of a helper, you can do it by yourself, but you’ll need to be patient. It will go smoother if you have a calm rabbit, but it will take a while to get the job done if yours is not that cooperative. Treats are definitely your friend here.
Remember that if you’re doing this by yourself, you might only get one claw clipped before having to let your rabbit calm down again. Don’t continue to restrain your rabbit if they are struggling.\
Trimming the Nails
Don’t forget to have your Kwik Stop and treats on hand. Once you have your rabbit in the towel or otherwise positioned for the nail trim, you’ll want to only snip off the very tip of the nail.
The reason that you only want to clip off a bit at a time is due to the quick. Rabbits, like most animals, have a “quick” in their claws/nails, which is the blood supply. If you accidentally clip the quick, it will bleed and will cause your rabbit pain.
If your rabbit has clear nails, you’ll see a pink line inside, which is the quick, so stay away from it and just trim the ends. If your rabbit has dark nails, you won’t be able to see the quick, so it’s essential that you just take off a little at a time.
If you do accidentally nip into the quick, this is what the Kwik Stop (or flour or cornstarch) is for. Before starting the trimming process, ensure that you have the powder ready for use (pour a small amount on a paper towel). Just dip the nail into the powder, which will stop the bleeding and numb the pain (note that if you’re using something like flour, it will only stop the bleeding).
Clip and Repeat
Just keep clipping one nail at a time, and don’t beat yourself up too much if you do nip the quick. It happens to the best of us. Just take a break in between nails if your rabbit starts struggling.
You don’t want your rabbit to start associating nail trimming with stress and pain, so it’s best to just take a few tips off and try again another day. If your rabbit is bundled into a towel for too long, they might start to overheat.
Once you’re done, don’t forget to give your bun a nice treat, even if you only got one paw done, and let them hop away, which will also give them time to settle down.
Why Are Nail Trims Important?
In the wild, rabbits travel across all kinds of surfaces and use their nails for digging. This helps keep their nails short enough to not cause them any problems. Domestic rabbits don’t have the same access to these surfaces, so nail trims are necessary.
Without them, the nails will grow too long and curl inward, making the rabbit walk in an unnatural way to accommodate. This can lead to damage to the joints, which can then lead to things such as degenerative joint disease. The long nails might also snag on something and get torn off.
Additionally, if you go too long between nail clippings, the quick will also grow with the nail until it’s essentially the same length as the nail itself. This problem will take time and bleeding to resolve and get the quick back to where it should be.
What About “Trancing?”
Don’t use the “trancing” technique on your rabbit. This is when a rabbit is placed on their back, and they seem to enter an almost trance-like state. Some rabbit owners believe that this relaxes their rabbits, but it actually does the opposite.
This is behavior that prey animals sometimes use as a means to escape a predator—essentially, they are playing dead. In this position, rabbits are under extreme stress, so you should never put your bun on their back for nail trimming, grooming, or anything else in general.
If you’re nervous about attempting to trim your rabbit’s nails, take them to the vet, where they can walk you through the process and show you the best way to clip your bun’s nails.
The moment that you bring home a new rabbit, you should spend some of your time allowing your rabbit to get used to you and being gently touched. Part of this touching should include their paws. The more they get used to this kind of handling, the easier future nail trimming will be.
Just remember to not get frustrated or angry. Rabbits don’t always want to be handled, and it’s perfectly natural for them to struggle to get away. Approach the nail trim with gentleness and loads of patience, and your bun might even get used to it.
The worst-case scenario is that they will always hate the process and struggle, and this is when you need someone to help and just do a little at a time. The most important thing here is for your rabbit to experience as little stress as possible and have nicely trimmed nails at the end of the day.