Guide to Clipping a Rabbit’s Nails

Published by emilyatspecklefarm on


Whether you raise rabbits or have a cat, dog, bird, guinea pig or any other furred, feathered, or scaled animals, eventually you will have to clip some nails. This is far and away the animal chore I see people neglect and fear the most. It is scary, you could cause pain, make them bleed and with large animals even cause serious harm. So I understand why people are so hesitant about clipping nails. But, it’s something that you really need to do for both your safety and theirs. 

My mom has the sweetest most rambunctious Boston Terrier. We were ruff-housing on the couch with a blanket and some of his toys. All the sudden without any reason that was obvious to me he yipped, growled and scuttled off. When I finally got a hold of him I realized he had ripped one of his dew claw nails almost completely off; he caught it in the fabric of the couch or blanket. We wrapped it and he went to see the vet. His nails were just long enough to really snag on something. Luckily, after the vets finished what Bonk started on the couch, the nail later grew back. I have also had rabbits break nails off, It’s not nice and totally my fault for neglecting to clip them sooner.  Now maybe you are thinking, ” This isn’t that big of a deal, they don’t have to have toe nails and they can grow back, what’s the big deal?” 


 Let’s think about what our animals do with their feet. They walk, run, climb, dig, clean themselves, bury their pop, catch food, eat, play and fight; about covered it, right? All those things they do combine to create a set of conditions, continual abrasion and the surfaces they come in contact with, that are perfect for an infection.

 What starts out as a broken toe nail, could easily turn into a nasty infection that will cause your animal far more discomfort and danger than clipping could. This post is directed at small animals, but this is just as, or more, important in large animals. Horses, goats, cows and all the others, can become lame from poorly cared for feet. Infections can be caused by compacted litter, manure or foreign object; they can be life threatening and cause a great deal of pain.
I want you to have the knowledge to clip nails safely and confidently. I hope this little explanation will be helpful but I still encourage you to talk to someone with experience clipping nails who’s willing to show you how they do it; a vet or groomer is a great place to ask. Even if you have your pet groomed and never plan on doing it yourself at least learn how; that way you will be prepared if the need arises. I know a lot of fur and feather groomers are using a dremel to trim and shape nails, and beaks on birds. I think this is awesome and totally want to learn how to use that method as well. 



Clipper- There are two major styles you will see: the guillotine kind where you squeeze the handle and the blade moved to cut the nail that’s inserted through a hoop or the type that are basically shaped and used like scissors. It’s easy to cut too far with the guillotine kind and unless you spend the money to get a good pair, they will be dull when you buy them or become dull very quickly. I prefer the scissor like ones because I can better see what I’m doing and in my experience, even the cheap ones are sharp. But, I would like to have a nice pair of guillotine type for clipping dog nails since they make it easier to cut large thick nails.


DO NOT try to use a pair of scissors or human nail clippers. Unless the nail is tiny,  scissors or human clippers will crush the nail; which will cause your animal discomfort and possibly split the nail. 

In 4-H I got in the habit of wearing long sleeves when working with animals, especially rabbits. I have mostly got out of the habit but still do when I clip or plan to handle rabbits a lot. It gives you just a little more protection from those nails and people can be allergic to the hair so it can also prevent you from getting a rash. Not to mention that you can wear it over your cloths and just peel the hair incrusted shirt off when you are done.

Flour, cornstarch or septic stick/powder– Any of these will work to stop bleeding. In my experience a septic stick only works for small over cuts/nicks. Cornstarch or septic powder are your best choices.
 You will also need access to water if you’re using a septic stick (there should be full instructions on the package). 

Preemptive action

 Grooming and being able handle an animal in emergencies are excellent reasons to take the time to make your animals comfortable with being handled.  Teach them that being handled in general and having their feet, head, ears and sensitive areas handled in particular, is nothing scary, usually includes special treats and happens regularly.
A monthly nail trim is usually a good rule of thumb. Make it a routine like flea treatments or anything else you do monthly. However, If it’s not needed then or you find that your animals nails need trimmed less often, by all means change your frequency accordingly.


Depending on if the nails are dark or light you might be able to see the quick/cuticle; the pink live part. That is what you don’t want to cut and make sure to leave nail around it.  If it’s been a long time since their nails were cut the cuticle could be grown out and it might take a while to shrink back to normal.  If that’s the case, for a few months trim once a week or whenever they can be clipped again.

The black line shows where I would stop removing nail

To start out establish the length of nail you think should be removed. You can estimate that by looking underneath and at the side of the nail. Where the cuticle ends, is where the nail starts to thicken and from underneath you can see that the divot in the nail becomes shallower and wider as you get closer to the body and the cuticle.
Don’t make fun of my illustrations! It was the best I could do with Paint.

Then clip just 1/3 of that total length; don’t try to take everything at once. By taking part you can look at a cross section of the nail; that will give you a really good idea of how close to the live part you are regardless of the color of the nail.

 When you look at the face of a clipped nail you can see two distinct portions. There is an upper waxy part of the nail and a lower portion that is more chalking. As you approach the quick, there will be less and less chalk and more of the waxy portion. The shape of the nail will also change, become wider and with a shallower concave underneath. By gradually removing small portions of the nail you minimize your chance of cutting into live tissue.

 Oh No!!
 In the event that you do have an accident and there is blood, the most important thing you can do is not freak out. Once you loose your cool, the animal you are working on is going to go bananas. Take a breath; it’s extremely unlikely that a nail cut too short will kill them. Get out whatever you brought as a coagulant, apply and wait until you are both calm again and the bleeding has stopped.

  Positions To Clip In

 Depending on what you and your rabbit are comfortable with and the area you have to work in you have a few options:
-work alone or with another person
-place the rabbit on a table or other surface
-set down and place the rabbit in your lap
-crouch with the rabbit in your lab
-place the rabbit on its back in your lap or on a surface
-give the rabbit feed/treats to keep them occupied
-put the rabbits head in your armpit to keep them calm
-have the other person restrain/calm/occupy the rabbit.  In extreme situations you can have them use a towel when restraining, this is usually only done if you think you will be bitten otherwise.

In my opinion, what you end up doing has a whole lot more to do with what the rabbit feels like that day and the area you have to work in than what you have planned. If how you are doing things just isn’t working try something else, don’t force the situation.
It’s a great idea to give treats before and after, I like apple pieces, so they know clipping nails isn’t an all bad experience.

If you are having hot weather, wait until the evening to clip or wait until you know a a cool day is coming. There is no reason to make a stressful situation something that could be potentially fatal by getting them hot and stressed when it’s already going to be a hot, exhausting day for them. 

The most important things to remember: get your rabbits use to being handled, have all your equipment at hand while you’re working, go slow and don’t freak out! You can totally do this, good luck and let me know how it goes!
If you have any tips for nail clipping newbies, please share in the comments! Widgets

This post is participating in the 120th Homestead Barn Hop, check it out to find other great blogs like ours!

Categories: Uncategorized


Modern Homesteaders · July 23, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I loved your article, it was very informative…would love it if you hopped on by our blog hop on Sunday…The Homesteaders Hop.

    Emily Swezey · July 23, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Thanks for visiting! I’m glad you learned something new about clipping nails. I checked out your blog and would love to take part in your blog hop, Thanks for the invitation!

steph · May 14, 2018 at 5:39 pm

this is great! i’ve had my bunny for over a year and have never had the guts to try administering his mani/pedis myself, even though i bought clippers soon after i adopted him. but it’s a real PITA to haul him to someone to clip, and he’s 10x more difficult when someone comes to his home. but due to all sorts of scheduling conflicts, he was over a month overdue for a trim… so i finally mustered up the courage and wrangled him myself this morning, and while neither of us enjoyed it, we both survived! no blood, some objecting grunts by him, and i was so proud of both him and myself!! i found these tips only afterwards, but they’re great and i’ll employ them in our next trimming session!! thanks for sharing.

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