Nails

TIP –  Shine a torch under a dark coloured nail so you can see the blood vessels & avoid severing them.

A rabbit’s claws grow continually.  In the wild their claws are worn down naturally by burrowing.  In captivity, the rabbit often does not have access to burrowing 24/7 & the claws therefore may need clipping.  If they are not clipped & are allowed to grow too long they can interfere with the rabbit’s movement or become torn & infected.

Over the years I have adopted many rabbits whose claws have been allowed to overgrow.  Spooky, Dewberry & Honeysuckle, to name but a few, all came from a farm.  They were no longer wanted.  All 3 of them had overgrown nails but Spooky’s, a male New Zealand White, were the worst.  They had been overgrown for so long that he hadn’t been moving around a lot as it was very difficult. When I clipped his nails he didn’t realise he could move.  After quite a bit of coaxing he finally moved from his sitting position to the cabbage leaf that I was tempting him with.  A while later & he was hopping about as normal.  In fact he went a bit mad binkying & tearing about.

Spooky
One of Spooky’s overgrown nails.
Gives you an idea of how long his nails had overgrown.
Dewberry
Honeysuckle

Rabbit’s nails can be black, brown or white.  On occasion I have had some rabbit’s whose nails have been a mixture of the 3 colours.  By far the easiest to clip are the white nails as you can see where the blood vessels, the pink part of the nail, extends into the base of the nail.  On dark coloured nails this is particularly difficult to see & you definitely want to avoid severing it.  They do bleed rather a lot.
One way to help you avoid cutting the blood vessels on dark coloured nails is to shine a torch under the nail so you can see the blood vessels. I also use sunlight if possible or if it is a bright day I can often see where the blood vessels are.
If in any doubt it is better your rabbit have a slightly longer nail than cutting too short & severing the blood vessel. I will say though, even with a lot of experience occasionally it can go wrong.  If you do happen to accidentally clip too short I usually hold a cotton pad over the bleeding toe & compress until the bleeding stops.  Afterwards, I use a diluted solution of Hibi Scrub antiseptic wash & dab the end just to reduce the risk of infection.  Then I am afraid it is a lot of apologising & grovelling to your bunny hoping they forgive you.

Dark Coloured Nail – Difficult to see the blood vessels.
White Coloured Nail – Easy to see the blood vessels.

My rabbit’s nails require clipping about every 12 weeks, however not every bunny needs their nails clipping.  Some dig & are a lot more active than some of the others, so wear their nails down better.

These are my nail clippers that I use on the bunnies.

My bunny nail clippers. Closed position.
My bunny nail clippers. Opened positon.

My nail clippers are quite old now but I found them the best for me to use on the large number of rabbits I had at the time.  They continue to serve me well but can be a bit large & cumbersome on some of the small rabbits.  There is quite a variety of nail clippers out there now & I would recommend you ask your vet what they find easiest & then try & handle them so you can get a feel for them.  This should help you decide what is best for you & your rabbit.

Nail clipping shouldn’t just be about clipping their nails.  You should use it as part of a health assessment.  You can get some information from the nails as to your rabbit’s health. If one of your rabbit’s paws has longer nails than the other 3 paws this could indicate that they are not using that leg properly.  This could suggest early arthritis or that the leg has suffered an injury.  Early indications of any health problems in my opinion is great as you can monitor or take appropriate action before it becomes worse or starts to cause serious issues.
If I identify 1 paw or any uneven wear in the claws in any of my rabbits I will then watch their movement to see if I can see a problem & if the rabbit is bothered by the leg.   I find this particularly useful with my older rabbits as often it shows the beginnings of arthritis.  A trip to the vets is sometimes in order afterwards armed with any evidence collected.  This information will help your vet a lot as we all know rabbit’s cannot talk, however much we wish they could.