It’s an all too common scenario. You’re clipping your rabbit’s nails and suddenly realized you cut too close to the quick, causing the nail to bleed. Or maybe your rabbit got their nail caught on a blanket, and the whole thing tore off when your rabbit hopped away. This can feel like a scary situation if it’s never happened before, but luckily broken nails are a common rabbit injury that is very easy to treat.
A torn or bleeding rabbit nail can be treated by applying pressure to the toe. If the bleeding doesn’t stop after 30-60 seconds, use cornstarch or styptic powder to help stem the flow. Once the bleeding stops, you can allow your rabbit to lick their toe and take care of themselves.
You can allow your rabbit to hop around like normal since a broken toenail is nothing to be seriously concerned about. It may be a little alarming, since broken nails can sometimes cause a lot of bleeding, but as long as the bleeding stops fairly quickly, there is nothing to worry about.
- Related Reading: A step-by-step guide to trim your rabbit’s nails
What to do if your rabbit’s nail falls off or you cut the quick
A broken toenail, even one that has come off completely, is not a serious wound for rabbits. It may be a little painful, but it’s no different than me or you breaking a toenail. Generally rabbits with a broken nail will lick their wound and then forget about it. However, if the bleeding doesn’t stop right away, you can take some simple steps to help out.
Step 1: Apply pressure to the nail
Whether your rabbit’s nail started bleeding because they broke it hopping around or you clipped a little too far when trimming their nails, the first step is to take a clean cloth or cotton swab and apply some pressure to the nail by pinching it between your fingers. Keep the pressure on the nail for 60 seconds, then remove the cotton swab and see if the nail is still bleeding.
Step 2: Apply cornstarch or styptic powder if the bleeding continues
If the nail is still bleeding, then you’ll want to use cornstarch, flour or styptic powder to help:
- Apply some powder directly to the nail.
- Sprinkle a generous amount of powder onto your cloth or cotton swab.
- Put pressure on the nail by pinching it with the cloth for 30-60 seconds.
- Check to see if the bleeding has stopped or slowed down, and repeat the steps if necessary.
Personally, I prefer to use cornstarch for this process. Your rabbit is going to be licking their wound afterward, and cornstarch is safer for them to ingest than styptic powder. However, if you carefully wipe the powder off after you’re finished, styptic powder tends to be effective quicker.
Step 3: Let your rabbit lick their wound
After the bleeding has fully or mostly stopped, you can wipe the powder off and allow your rabbit to roam around. They will most likely hop away and immediately start licking their nail where they were injured. Let them continue to do this. Believe it or not, their saliva contains mild antibacterial properties, so licking it helps to clean the wound and prevent infection.
After this, your rabbit will behave as if they don’t remember their nail was broken at all. They should not be limping and the nail should not start bleeding again. To be safe, you should check the nail over the next couple of days to make sure there is no inflammation or infection developing on the rabbit’s foot. A nail that was broken or torn off close to the nail bed is more likely to get infected than one that was clipped a little too far.
What to expect if your rabbit’s nail breaks
A broken rabbit nail can be a kind of scary experience. When I was growing I was frantic the first time I dealt with this when one of my family’s rabbits got her nail caught on the rug. Despite my reaction, crying over my rabbit, she just seemed annoyed at all the extra attention I was giving her.
- Expect a surprising amount of blood. Especially if the nail breaks close to the nail bed, it will feel like your rabbit is getting blood everywhere. All that blood can be frightening to see, making you think this can’t be just a nail injury. But as long as the bleeding stops relatively quickly and your rabbit is not limping around, this is actually normal and expected.
- Expect your rabbit to lick their paw for a while. Your rabbit may spend 15-20 minutes just licking their paw. This doesn’t mean the wound is serious, it’s just the way your rabbit will naturally react to their broken nail.
- Expect your rabbit to be annoyed at your interference. Your rabbit may hold a grudge or hop away from you if you try to give them too much attention. They prefer to deal with the injury on their own, so once the bleeding has stopped, it’s best to let them take care of it alone.
What requires further medical attention
A broken rabbit nail is rarely a serious injury. In almost all cases, taking immediate steps to stop the bleeding is all you need to do and your rabbit will be fine, behaving as if nothing happened. The only times you need to consider getting professional medical attention are:
- If the bleeding does not stop. Even in cases where the nail has been torn off completely, the bleeding will usually subside within 5-10 minutes.
- If your rabbit is limping. Over the next few hours, watch your rabbit as they hop around. If you notice they are hopping oddly or favoring their other legs, there may be a more serious injury than you first realized.
- If the nail looks infected. Over the next couple of days, keep an eye on the nail. Make sure the skin around the injury doesn’t start to swell or look inflamed. In this case, they may require antibiotics prescribed by your veterinarian.
Will the nail grow back?
Generally, rabbit nails will grow back after they are broken. However, if the nail was torn off at the root of the nail bed, it’s possible that it will never grow back. Even if this happens, your rabbit will be able to get around perfectly fine as long as the other nails on the foot remain intact.
How you can prevent broken nails in the future
Even though it’s not a serious injury, experiencing a broken rabbit nail can feel traumatizing due to the amount of blood you see. It’s natural that you’d want to prevent this from happening in the future. It’s hard to avoid broken nails 100%, but you can take some steps to make it less likely:
- Look for the quick vein when trimming your rabbit’s nails. Rabbits have a vein running halfway up each of their nails called the quick. On light colored nails you can see it as a pinkish hue. On dark colored nails you can shine a light underneath the nail. The quick will make the nail more opaque so you know where it is and can avoid it.
- Trim your rabbit’s nails frequently. Keeping your rabbit’s nails trimmed down can prevent them from snagging on the carpet. Long nails can also get brittle and break as your rabbit is playing. Generally you’ll want to trim them about every 2 months.
- Avoid giving your rabbit towels or blankets with loops or holes. Any kind of blanket, towel, or even carpeting that contains little loops or holes can pull on a rabbit’s nail and tear it off.
- Benjamin L. Hart, Karen L. Powell. “Antibacterial properties of saliva: Role in maternal periparturient grooming and in licking wounds.” Physiology & Behaviors Vol. 48 Iss. 3. ScienceDirect. September 1990. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/003193849090332X
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