Mar 18, 2014

Trimming Nails

Nails in need of a trim.
Part of good rabbit husbandry (whether you breed them or just keep one as a pet) is trimming nails.  Even if your rabbits live where they can dig to their hearts' content, their nails can still get too long.  Letting the nails get too long for an extended period of time can lead to sore hocks from making the rabbit sit oddly.  Some people trim rabbit nails on a monthly basis, but I haven't found it necessary to trim nails quite so often.  Different rabbits grow their nails at different rates.  Some rabbits may need a trim every other month, others may only need a couple trims a year.  Just keep an eye on their nails, and cut them when you think they need it.

Before you get started, make sure that you have everything you need, within easy reach.  Obviously, you will want something to cut the nails with.  I've always preferred the guillotine-style clippers.  There are also scissor types.  Or, you can use human toe-nail clippers.  You will probably also want to have something for stopping bleeding, in case you cut a bit too far.  Styptic pens, QuikClot, or cornstarch are all options.

Buck on his back, ready for a nail trim.
You'll need to figure out the best method to gain access to each rabbit's nails.  I prefer to flip the rabbit onto its back (either on my lap, or on a table).  It helps if you can get the rabbit's head lower than its chest, which puts them into a hypnotic state.  Others prefer to leave the rabbit rightside-up, and just pick up each paw.  In my experience, not many rabbits are very cooperative with that method, but if you have a rabbit that will stand for it (literally), you can save them the stress of having to flip over.  Then again, flipping the rabbit over allows you to inspect the rabbit's vent, belly, and teeth.  (Regular health checks are never a bad idea).


Rabbit's nail which has been cut too short.
Once you have the rabbit positioned, you need to figure out where to cut each nail.  Every nail has a vein in it called the quick.  If you nick the quick, the rabbit will likely jerk (it's painful, just like cutting your nails down too far) and bleed.  That's why it's a good idea to have some sort of clotting powder or styptic pens near at hand while trimming nails.  If you accidentally cut too far, just treat it really quick, and finish trimming the other nails.  Usually the bleeding is minor and stops in a couple of minutes.  If you cut really far, it may bleed for a good half hour, and you may have to reapply more styptic.

Dark nails can hide the quick.
On white nails, it is very easy to see where the quick is--it's the pink part of the nail.  With dark-colored nails, though, it can be more difficult.  Experienced groomers can probably figure out where the quick is based on the shape of the nail, but even they will still nick the quick on occasion.  For newbies, I recommend using a flashlight.  With the flashlight method, you may need a buddy so that one of you can handle the rabbit and the other can use the tools.  If you're by yourself, find the quick, then mark the nail (with a marker or with your finger), then switch to the cutters.  Check your work afterward to make sure you cut it short enough.  The shorter you cut the nail, the shorter the quick will stay, which will keep the nails shorter for longer and make trimming easier.  Just remember that nicking the quick is painful, so try not to cut down so far.  (Also, if you cut down too far, besides bleeding heavily, the nail may not grow back, which is, at the very least, a disqualification at shows.)

Using a flashlight to see the quick in a dark nail.
5 nails on left forepaw
Make sure that you get all of the nails.  Rabbits should have four nails on each back foot, and five on each front foot (including a dewclaw on the inside of each foot, about where you'd expect to find a thumb).

Pressing thumb to curve toes out for better view of nails.
If you find it a bit difficult to get access to all of the nails, there are a few tricks to reveal the nails.  One of the best methods is to push in the middle of the foot, which will cause the rabbit to curl their toes around your finger.  Use another finger to hold the fur back so that the nails are completely visible.
Nails that have been cut to the right length.