Are you concerned about the health and condition of your rabbit’s nails? Don’t worry — we’ll take you through all you need to know. Our guide will tell you exactly what you can do to help take care of your pet’s nails and what issues to be mindful of.
Firstly, make sure you always handle your pet sensibly. Secondly, ensure that the nail clippers you use are specialist for this purpose. Thirdly, purchase some styptic powder in case of accidents. You’ll want to reduce your rabbit’s stress by working quickly but without rushing, and do be careful not to cut the “quick” of the nail.
The guidance below offers clear advice.
Why Should I Have to Trim My Rabbit’s Nails?
Just like our own nails, a rabbit’s will continually grow. This is not really an issue for wild bunnies due to all their physical activity such as digging, which will keep their nails worn down. However, your pet’s nails can become problematic and will require occasional maintenance, as a pet rabbit is likely to be less active than a wild one.
If steps are not taken, excessive nail growth can change the stance of your pet, which could mean placing needless strain on the backs of a rabbit’s feet. Without trimming, this can lead to mobility issues and cause your rabbit joint discomfort. Nails that are too long can also become stuck, torn, or pulled out entirely, which could cause your pet significant pain.
Your vet can trim your rabbit’s nails for a small fee, but cutting them yourself is easy, and I can teach you how. Ideally, the task will need to be performed every couple of months, or perhaps every month, so learning to do this yourself will be more cost effective.
Cutting: The Equipment You Will Need
Certain essential items should be obtained to ensure this task is carried out effectively:
- Good lighting (flashlight)
- Specialist nail trimmers
- Styptic powder
- A helper (could be useful if your rabbit is big or aggressive)
Using nail clippers especially made for this task is highly advisable for both your rabbit’s health and your own convenience.
However, the best clippers might not necessarily be advertised as being specifically for rabbits. The key is to buy curved blades that come with a sharp, circular opening within which the nail can be placed. Strong handles are also best, and any good pet store should have some options to choose from. They should not be too expensive, but avoid a cheap alternative for this kind of work.
Some owners may be inclined to use products made for human nails, as no doubt they will have some to hand. These are not as reliable, however, because your pet’s nails need a swift and smooth cut, and human nail trimmers risk crushing them instead.
In the event of an accident, styptic powder is ideal and is used by vets to stop nails from bleeding.
The nail’s quick is usually visible, as it is a blood vessel running into the center of your pet’s nail. This is why you need to avoid an excessive cut. A rabbit that has had this blood vessel damaged before is likely to become aggressive when you trim their nails, so be conservative with your cuts.
In the event that the quick is cut, a little styptic powder will stop the blood flow as well as help your rabbit with the pain. If you don’t have any to hand, other products that can have this effect include baking soda, bread flour, and cornstarch.
How to Hold a Rabbit While Nail Trimming
Knowing how to hold a rabbit while carrying out this task is essential. Though mostly gentle, a rabbit can be aggressive if held poorly, and its kick strength can actually be enough to break its back if it is panicked. Do all you can to ensure your pet feels comfortable being handled and remain cautious if they seem nervous.
The best approach is a secure and gentle hold close to your own body. On your lap can work well, or on an easily accessible raised surface. A nice, thick towel will suit your rabbit’s grip and usually allows them to feel comfortable.
When picking up your pet, avoid squeezing or cuddling. This can panic them. Rather, they need to feel secure.
All rabbits are individuals, so if your own proves difficult to work with in this way, having a friend or family member assist you is a good idea. You can clip the nails while they hold your pet in a gentle but secure manner. This method can be very effective and, once carried out successfully a couple of times, is likely to increase your pet’s trust in the process.
An effective handling technique for most rabbits can involve supporting their back with one hand and using another to support their hindquarters. Importantly, if they start to struggle, simply put them down rather than holding them tighter. This will tell them they can be released from your grip if they need to be, so they are likely to quickly feel secure again and allow you to continue with the task.
CRUCIAL: AVOID FLIPPING A RABBIT ONTO ITS BACK
This might feel like a reasonable way of getting the job done as it will cause your pet to become rigid, sometimes referred to as “trancing.” The problem is that this is a fear-induced state and does not reflect a feeling of calm at all. Being in such a vulnerable position is distressing to rabbits and other prey animals, causing them to play dead. Using this method for nail trimming will not improve their behavior toward you, leading to distrust.
The Cutting Process
With your rabbit in a firm but comfortable position, a number of additional factors might also help with the task:
- Quality lighting
- Identifying and avoiding the quick
- Making sure excessive fur does not impede your work
- Steadily cutting all the toes one at a time
- Speed without rushing
Quality Light, Quality Trim
During the cutting process, having a torch to assist is a great plan. Quickly lighting up the nail you are planning to cut will allow you to be sure you are not cutting the quick or anything else you don’t want to cut. Speedy and accurate work is best for your pet and will keep them confident for the next time. Most smartphones have excellent torches these days, and they can be positioned easily to shine light through your rabbit’s nails. This should show you how close to the quick you are.
Avoiding the Quick
As already mentioned, avoiding the quick is a crucial part of the process to avoid pain and bleeding. A cut blood vessel will cause a rabbit distress, but it can usually be clearly identified, as it is positioned at the center of the nail’s base, sticking out from the toe. Some rabbits do have dark nails, however, which complicates things. Nevertheless, for all kinds of nails, professionals recommend the press-press-cut approach. So, what does this entail? Basically, when positioning the nail clippers for a cut, give two light squeezes before the actual cut. If you are too close to the quick, your rabbit will feel the pressure and react, so you know not to cut. Extended nails have no feeling, and so if the rabbit is comfortable, it’s because you are not close to the quick and are fine to proceed.
Another problem, however, arises with an overly nervous pet. If your rabbit has poor reactions, then the advice is to trim just the very tip of the nail to build up confidence. Cutting the quick or being overly forceful with handling is not going to improve your pet’s trust.
Make Sure That Fur Does Not Obstruct Your View
Being able to see exactly what you are doing is crucial. Take some time to gently move fur aside; brushing or trimming some of this will also help to inform your work. Sometimes it’s easy to move fur aside with your fingers, and this won’t cause your bunny any pain. Another tip, if your pet’s fur is particularly dense, is to dampen the fur close to the nails. This will make it less pronounced and should allow for the nail to become clearly outlined.
Every Toe Is Important
A rabbit has four nails on its back feet, so there’s no need to be looking for a fifth. They also have four on the front paws, along with a dewclaw that is similar to a thumb. This can sometimes be overlooked as it is higher up than the other toes. It still needs trimming, though, so become familiar with it and be sure to count which nails have been cut as you go along.
The time it takes to cut a rabbit’s nails will impact on how they behave. Speedy and accurate work will keep them calm, and you should get better at this the more you do it. Your pet is reading you as much as you are reading them, so if they can become familiar with the process, this will prevent them from panicking. Some owners have success by adding food incentives, while making a fuss of your bunny can also help those who enjoy the attention. No doubt you know your bunny better than anyone, so look to read their responses.