Trimming a rabbit’s toenails is an essential part of pet rabbit care. Naturally burrowing animals, a rabbit’s toenails will continue to grow throughout their lifetime. If they aren’t wearing them down naturally, digging holes like bunnies do best, then their nails run the risk of growing too long, curling, and hurting your bunny’s feet. For this reason, it’s important to maintain your pet rabbit’s toenails, keeping them comfortably short to prevent problems.
If you’re worried about not knowing how to trim your pet rabbit’s toenails, have no fear. Trimming your bunny’s toenails is a snap when you follow these easy step-by-step instructions. Ready to learn how to give your pet a pedicure? Let’s go!
Dress for Success
If your pet rabbit isn’t used to having her toenails cut, it’s a good idea to dress accordingly. If you start out teaching your bunny to lay on its back, from the time that bunny is a baby, this is a much easier task, but not everyone has this luxury. Before you get started, it’s best to be made aware that a frightened rabbit’s main form of defense is to kick – and they will kick wildly if they’re scared. In fact, even the calmest of bunnies can give a good kick when startled. For this reason, it’s essential to gear up.
Before you go to trim your bunny’s toenails, it’s usually a good idea to put on long pants, like blue jeans, and you may even want to put on a long sleeved shirt. This will protect you from getting scratched in the event that your bunny does kick and will help prevent her from being accidentally dropped if she does scratch you.
I usually avoid wearing gloves when trimming a rabbit’s toenails, because it’s just too awkward and clumsy. If your bunny is a real scratcher though, many bunny breeders invest in Kevlar arm socks that cover the forearm and protect from scratches. While you shouldn’t need those, if you clip your bunny’s toenails correctly, it’s an option to keep in mind.
Tools You Will Need to Clip Your Bunny’s Toenails
Before you go to clip your rabbit’s toenails, you will want to ensure that you have all of your supplies on hand for the job. Here is a list of what I recommend:
An Old Towel
Toenail Clippers: You can use either the side-to-side or guillotine style pet toenail clippers or, in some cases, some people find that scissor style toenail clippers work well on rabbits. It’s all a matter of preference and what method works the best and is most comfortable for you.
A small desk lamp or flashlight
An antihemorrhagic agent: Stypic pencils are very common for pet use or, if you’re in a pinch, you can either use a small container of alum or even a bit of cornstarch. Just make sure that you have it open and on hand, in the event of an accident.
A healthy treat: I usually recommend a slice of raw sweet potato, which helps them cope with stress, or a carrot that’s been washed thoroughly.
How to Hold Your Pet Bunny
Finding a position that’s comfortable for you and your rabbit may take a bit of getting used to, but there are two main techniques for you to use when clipping your bunny’s toenails. The first is to gently turn your bunny over and, keeping your legs together, to let her lay back and nestle in the groove between your thighs. Lightly grasping your bunny’s ears between your knees may also help to prevent her from trying to look around; a precursor for the wild kick and flip that so many bunnies are famous for. If your bunny lays quietly, however, you needn’t do this.
The other method is to slowly turn bunny over onto their back, laying them on a towel on your counter top. Keeping the bunny nestled between your arm and the side of your body, this will help to prevent a lot of moving and kicking. It’s often the best option if your bunny doesn’t like to lay on her back.
If neither of these methods is an option, or if you’re still intimidated by your bunny’s struggling, try asking a friend to help you by holding your bunny. Sometimes this is one of the best options and less-stressful on your pet rabbit.
Clipping Your Bunny’s Toenails
Gently grasping your bunny’s paw in your fingers, use your thumb to lightly press on the large pad at the bottom of your rabbit’s paw. This will express the nails for your viewing and you may use your index finger to gently move any longer fur away from bunny’s nails. Don’t squeeze roughly and do this in a calm fashion, helping to reduce stress and make this as gentle and easy on your bunny as possible.
It’s easy to see the blood vessels in the toenails when your bunny has white toenails, but this may be trickier if your bunny’s toenails are dark horn colored or black. A little trick to get around this is to use a desk lamp or small flashlight to shine up through the bunny’s toenails, illuminating the blood vessels within for your viewing. This will help to prevent you from cutting too far back.
Taking your toenail clippers, nip off the end of the toenail just a little bit before the quick (the inner blood vessels). You will want to do this with the 5 toenails on your rabbit’s front feet and the 4 large toenails on his back feet. If the nails are really overgrown, just nip off what you can safely and then, a week later, check them again and nip off a bit more – in most cases, the blood vessels will recede slightly, allowing you to nip off a little bit more at that time.
In the Event of Emergency
Nipping your bunny’s toenails too close to the quick can result in pain and bleeding for your bunny. In some cases, struggling bunnies can also pull a toenail out, but don’t panic. In the event that this does happen, quickly apply the styptic pencil or corn starch to the bleeding toenail and keep it there for a couple of minutes. The antihemorrhagic agent will help to stop the bleeding and you can reassure your bunny with lots of love and snuggles before continuing on.
Sometimes clipping too close or pulled toenails happen – no need to get upset, give up, or get scared. Your bunny will be fine in a couple of minutes and you can continue on.
Finishing Your Pet Bunny’s Pedicure
There’s only one thing left to do, once you’ve finished your bunny’s toenail clipping and that’s to turn your bunny over and to praise her. Be sure to pet and scratch her, letting her know that this is a positive experience. I usually recommend giving her a small slice of raw sweet potato or a carrot as a treat, or she may simply enjoy some quiet time with some fresh timothy hay to munch on.
Ending it on a positive note makes things more easy for both you and your bunny. Just remember that practice makes perfect and that you can train your bunny to accept having her toenails clipped, if you are patient and persistent. After you’ve learned these basic steps on how to clip your bunny’s toenails, just check her toenails monthly and clip them as needed. Congratulations! You’ve passed another step in bunny beauty school!
Personal experience as a rabbit owner and breeder