Hi, my rats Angel and Bindi always squeak as if I’m trying to kill them every time I clip their nails. How can I get them to cooperate with me when it comes to clipping their nails?
Great question. You are not alone—trimming nails is probably one of the most difficult routine rat care responsibilities we have.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be difficult. The key is baby steps. (…..similar to everything else in life!)
STEP ONE (First Week): Touch your rats’ feet, toes, hands and fingers on a daily basis as if you’re going to trim their nails. By doing this, they’ll become quite used to being touched on their fingers and toes. After 3 days of touching their fingers and toes once daily, increase to twice daily.
STEP TWO (Second Week): After a week of touching their fingers and toes as if you’re going to trim them, trim just one nail each day for a week. Especially in the beginning, only trim 1 (or 2 at the very most) nails a day. By keeping the number of nails being trimmed to a minimum, it’s a much less traumatic experience. Have treats ready to give your rats immediately after you trim a nail. (This will help make it a more positive experience!) Praising them verbally really helps, too.
You can continue trimming 1-2 nails a day on an ongoing basis. On the other hand, if your rats become more tolerant, you can build up to a 4-5 nails per day.
Use nail trimmers that are like scissors rather than the “guillotine” type made for cats and dogs.
It’s so much easier to see what you’re doing when you have a dark surface behind their feet and hands while trimming their nails. You can accomplish this by wearing a pair of black or dark-colored pants and by trimming your rats’ nails while they’re in your lap.
Be super careful when trimming nails. Go slow and, if there’s ever any doubt, DON’T trim. You don’t ever want to risk cutting off a finger or toe.
Just in case, keep white flour or styptic powder nearby to stop the bleeding if you trim a nail too far.
Your goal is to cut the nail just enough so it’s blunt. (Get rid of the needle-sharp nails!)
Nail trimming becomes especially important if your rats become super itchy, such as when they have external parasites. During these instances trimming especially their back nails, will help prevent them from causing harm to themselves with vigorous scratching.
On the other hand, you may have a rat who doesn’t care for nail trimming—no matter how many baby steps you’ve broken the process down into. As long as she isn’t scratching herself incessantly, it may be fine to leave her nails as they are, without trimming them.
TIPS THAT WORK IN SOME INSTANCES
I’ve had rats who’ve allowed me to trim their nails while they’re eating. They don’t even notice they’re receiving a pedicure since they’re enjoying their food so much. I place some yummy food in a small dish toward the edge of a bathroom counter. While they’re eating, I kneel down on the floor next to the counter so they’re at my eye level. No restraint is needed—I think that’s half the battle since our rats don’t usually like being forced to stay still. While my rats are eating, I slowly and carefully maneuver the nail trimmers so they’re at just the right spot. Each session I snip off 1-2 nails at a time. This certainly won’t work for every rat, but for some it’s quite easy.
You can even trim a nail or two while a rat is sleeping inside your shirt or jacket as long as their nails are easily accessible.
Some owners use emery boards to file down their pet rats’ nails. If you try this, you can still experiment with filing down just one nail at a time.
Others like to use sandpaper, bricks, cinder blocks or lava rocks in their cages to keep rats’ nails trimmed. Personally, I prefer not to have rough surfaces in my rats’ cage. It seems like anything coarse could possibly create cuts, scrapes and calluses. It also just plain seems uncomfortable—similar to if we were to go barefoot on rugged, rocky terrain.
The bottom line really is to use baby steps. Your rats will be much more cooperative if you first get them used to just having their toes and fingers touched for the first week. Later, they’ll also appreciate your trimming no more than 1-2 nails a day…..and don’t forget the treat after each trim!
I hope my ideas here are helpful for using with Angel and Bindi while trimming their nails. You sound like a great rat parent! Don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any additional questions.
Sending Best Wishes to You, Bindi & Angel,
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