How to Trim a Rabbit's Nails

Catherine Gose, CVT
By Catherine Gose, CVT. Reviewed by Melissa Witherell, DVM on May 22, 2023
Rabbit nail trim

Do Rabbit’s Nails Need to be Cut?

A rabbit’s nails can grow quickly and will need to be trimmed if they are kept as pets. In the wild, rabbits are active and constantly on the move–as they run and jump their toenails are naturally worn down by the terrain of their environment. Wild rabbits also spend much of their time foraging for food and digging their burrows, also naturally wearing down their nails.

Pet rabbits usually aren't as active and require regular nail trims. Routine clipping will keep their nails healthy and manageable. Short nails benefit a rabbit’s entire body as they allow for better ease of movement and less chance of injury.

How Do I Cut My Rabbit’s Nails?

Prepare your rabbit for his nail trim by getting him used to having his feet handled before you attempt to cut the nails. This will reduce stress on both you and your rabbit and make the nail trimming experience less intimidating.

While you are petting or cuddling your rabbit, gently handle each foot, spreading the toes apart– ensuring you can visualize each nail. Rabbits have five nails on each front foot (don't forget the dewclaw located on the inner side of the foot) and four nails on each back foot. Set your rabbit up for a successful nail trim by following these instructions:

  1. Place a large towel on a flat surface at waist height such as a table, countertop, or washing machine. Make sure you have plenty of good lighting.

  2. Position your rabbit with his feet down on the towel and his body pressed snugly up against you as if you are cradling a football. Avoid the temptation to hold your rabbit on his back as many rabbits don't like this position and may struggle.

  3. Keep his back legs secure against you so he can't jump or kick—a rabbit's back legs are very powerful, and they can strain their back or even vault off the table when they kick.

  4. Wrapping or “swaddling” your rabbit in the towel will help keep him calm and prevent struggling which can lead to injury while allowing you to work one foot at a time.

  5. To swaddle a rabbit, bring the towel up over his back end first, then wrap the sides over his back and tuck the ends under his body.

How to Cut the Nails

Like people and other animals, rabbits have a blood supply that brings nutrients to the nail. This blood supply is referred to as the quick and is often visible on light colored rabbit nails. The quick will look like a pink stripe inside the nail growing outward from the nail bed. Ideally, you want to trim about a quarter of an inch in front of the quick. Once the clippers are positioned correctly, use one smooth motion to clip the nail. It is recommended to start at the tip and trim small sections off one at a time rather than cutting a lot off at once.

How to Cut Dark Nails

Dark colored toenails can be a bit more challenging. Start slow and use the trimmers to shave off tiny pieces until you see a small dark dot in the center of the cut nail tip. The dark dot is the end of the quick and a good stopping point. If your rabbit's nails are long or overgrown, the quick will be long as well, so go slow and keep your rabbit calm with lots of praise and positive reinforcement.

What Should I Do If I Cut My Rabbit's Nail Too Short?

Accidentally cutting the quick can happen and while it is painful, the discomfort is temporary. It is like when a person's fingernail breaks too short. In the event that the quick is cut and the nail bleeds, apply pressure with a towel or tissue, then dab on a pinch of styptic powder such as Miracle Care Kwik Stop and allow it to clot.

If the bleeding doesn't stop at first, apply more powder and hold it in place with your finger while applying pressure to the tip of the nail. In a pinch, corn starch or flour can also work as a clotting agent. Total clotting time may take a few minutes and it's important to keep your rabbit quiet and calm until the bleeding has stopped.

What Nail Clippers are Best for Rabbits?

Nail clippers used for rabbits should be designed for small animals and have a rounded cutting edge. Small dog nail trimmers can be used, but they may feel big and bulky compared to the tiny rabbit nails–a clipper such as the Kaytee Small Animal Pro Nail Trimmer is recommended for rabbits.

Can You Use Normal Nail Clippers on Rabbits?

Fingernail clippers for humans should not be used to cut your pet rabbits nails. Rabbits have round nails, and human nail clippers are designed for long flat nails. Using regular nail clippers on a rounded toenail can crack or damage the rabbit’s nail.

How Often Should Rabbit's Nails be Cut?

Nail growth can vary from one rabbit to another, but most pet rabbits require nail trimming every 4-6 weeks. Long nails can get snagged or caught and lead to injuries to the nail bed. Routinely trimming your rabbit’s nails will keep them manageable and healthy.

Sometimes veterinary help is needed to manage your rabbit’s nails. If you notice an injury or other abnormalities on your rabbit's toenails it is recommended to bring him to a veterinarian to be examined. In some cases, nail abnormalities or malformations can indicate an underlying health problem.

You can also bring your rabbit to an animal hospital that specializes in exotic pets for regular nail trims if he is too feisty for you to safely do it at home. Many exotic animal hospitals offer appointments for routine rabbit nail trims—call your veterinarian to determine if they handle rabbits and offer this service.

Featured Image: iStock.com/Sasiistock


Catherine Gose, CVT

WRITTEN BY

Catherine Gose, CVT

Veterinarian Technician


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