Bearded dragons are powerful for their size and can unintentionally inflict nasty scratches with overgrown nails. Nail cutting is a simple fix, if done right, but it is not natural for lizards or any animal. Owners must know how to keep a bearded dragon’s nails short using natural methods.
Wild bearded dragons regularly move over rough surfaces that keep their nails short naturally. Captive lizards require lots of natural “nail filers,” such as branches for climbing, rocks, slate, and excavation clay in adequately-sized vivariums. Occasionally though, their nails may still need clipping.
Qualified veterinarians and expert keepers should handle nail clipping because untrained hands can hurt the bearded dragon. This article discusses the importance of natural nail trimming but will also discuss nail clipping procedures, step-by-step, to help pet owners be better informed.
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Why Keep Your Bearded Dragon’s Nails Short?
As your bearded dragon grows, its claws can get thick and sharp enough to pierce or rake through the skin!
When handled, your dragon can inadvertently claw at you, preventing good bonding time (and scratch-free arms!). That’s when you know it’s time to clip those nails short.
Aside from the harm your pet can inflict with such long nails, the sheer length makes it difficult for your beardie to climb.
Overlong nails cause it to lose its grip. As a result, your beardie may not be able to stay steady on branches for long, especially when sleeping on them.
Long nails can also prevent a bearded dragon from planting its feet firmly flat on the ground. Its toes and toenails should lie perpendicular to the floor.
The toes could twist over if the nails are allowed to grow too long. That condition will be uncomfortable for your dragon because it can likely lose traction when climbing or digging.
How To Keep Your Bearded Dragon’s Nails Short Naturally
Bearded dragons kept as pets do not engage sufficiently in the typical foraging and roaming habits that would keep their nails short in the wild.
Because nail clipping shouldn’t be in any lizard’s natural realm of experience, it can stress out many of them.
It could also be scary if you’re new to nail-clipping bearded dragons. You could injure your pet simply from ignorance of their nail anatomy.
It is best to keep nail clipping to a minimum.
One way to do so while caring for your bearded dragon’s health and happiness is to set up a vivarium resembling its natural habitat.
Not only will your pet be comfortable, but it will also help them keep their nails ground down longer.
Such a vivarium has to be the right size and landscaped with natural branches, rocks, and ground cover similar to its natural environment.
Let’s discuss those necessary must-haves for your naturalistic enclosure.
Get A Properly Sized Enclosure
Adequate floor space and height in a vivarium are vital to allowing bearded dragons to be more active and demonstrate more natural behaviors.
If your beardie can move around sufficiently, it can keep its nails trimmer by scraping them short on rough textures.
The Federation of British Herpetologists recently launched its Code of Practice for Recommended Enclosure Sizes For Reptiles. You may download this at the site.
The new document shares a formula for calculating the minimum size for bearded dragon enclosures: 6 x 3 x 3 times SVL (snout-to-vent length).
To calculate the terrarium size for a bearded dragon with a snout-to-vent length of 20 cm. (8 in.):
20 x 6 = 120 cm Width
20 x 3 = 60 cm Depth
20 x 3 = 60 cm Height
So the absolute minimum size of a terrarium for a bearded dragon with a snout-to-vent length of 20 cm. (8 in.) is 120 L x 60 D x 60 H cm. (48″ x 24″ x 24″). Other expert keepers believe this should be bigger.
Rocks, Logs, Branches
Wild bearded dragons constantly move, climb, dig, pursue prey, and run away from predators. Even the most passive of them move way more in nature than in any terrarium, even the largest and most naturally landscaped ones.
They go over bumpy ground, scale rocks, and climb rough logs and branches. The uneven, abrasive texture helps grind down nails and keep them trimmed.
Adding these natural landscaping items to the terrarium might reduce how often we trim the nails.
Change a smooth basking log or rock to something with texture. You could swap out the basking log your lizard has grown accustomed to for a slab of slate or any other rough stone.
Flagstone is cheap, natural, and has a rough texture for keeping nails filed down. It also makes a great basking area, absorbing heat quite well.
You may also use a sizable stone tile as a plate. The animals’ frequent (and necessary) eating on it will naturally shorten their nails.
Caution: Woven hammocks can entangle a bearded dragon’s nails, toes, and limbs.
In its struggle to escape, your pet could break its nails or even limbs. Avoid hazardous items like these for bearded dragons.
Bearded dragons are excellent climbers. Climbing is very much part of a beardie’s daily life.
With this in mind, create many climbing opportunities for your pet. Use natural branches from oak, dogwood, maple, and crepe myrtle.
You can also include driftwood logs. Make sure the wood you place in their terrariums is not toxic .to bearded dragons.
Avoid dangerous wood types such as pine, cedar, juniper, yew, spruce, cypress, and redwood. Do not use thorny wood or chemically treated timber.
Bearded dragons walk naturally on stones, mud, sand, and wood terrains. These abrasive surfaces maintain the nails of wild lizards in excellent condition.
One of the best substrates is excavation clay. The texture resembles the ground’s surface, where a bearded dragon lives in its natural environment. This substrate allows them to dig without risking injury.
Along with this clay, you can also use ceramic or slate tiles. These tiles are easy to maintain and help keep a beardie’s nails filed.
However, the jury is still out on vinyl tiles, as many are concerned about their safety.
Warning: Steer clear of reptile carpet as a substrate.
Although the carpet will reduce the risk of impaction, a bearded dragon can get its nail stuck in the fibers and incur injury.
Additionally, even though reptile carpets are listed as “washable,” they may not be sufficiently cleaned, which can lead to bacterial growth.
DIY Rock Walls
It may benefit your bearded dragon to make walls climbable, increasing their moving space.
Enjoy this video showing how you can build an incredible rock wall for your pet beardie to climb.
Bearded dragons also love to dig, dig, dig! Digging helps to maintain shorter nails for longer periods.
Fill the dig box with excavator clay. As mentioned, excavator clay makes an excellent substrate for digging and, consequently, nail filing.
When Is It Time To Cut A Bearded Dragon’s Nails?
A naturally landscaped vivarium is essential to maintain the length of a bearded dragon’s nails.
If you don’t provide that, eventually, you may need to take your pet to the vet for nail clipping.
But suppose circumstances find you unable to get veterinary services for this grooming. In that case, you may have to take on the task yourself.
It is time to cut your dragon’s nails when the length disallows a firm grip that the lizard can no longer climb well.
Also, when the nails curl inward, they may puncture your pet’s foot underneath.
3 Things You Should Know Before Nail Trimming
Learning about the proper ways to care for a bearded dragon’s claws is necessary before you decide to trim the claws yourself. Bearded dragons require different nail care than dogs and cats.
Refrain from trimming your dragon’s nails if they aren’t very long. Trim them if they have become overgrown enough to impede climbing or have become sharp enough to scratch you and make handling unbearable.
Here are 3 things to consider before starting on your first nail trimming session on your pet.
The Anatomy of a Bearded Dragon’s Nail
It is vital to know that you only need to cut the very tips of the nails.
Never cut too far along the nail because you might hit a nerve (the quick) or tissue, which will injure your bearded dragon.
We provide videos on how to trim your beardie nails in detail later in the article, but to prepare you a bit, this video explains the nail anatomy straight to the point:
When clipping the nails of your bearded dragon, you should pay attention to the shape of the nails.
Notice that the sharp tip of the nail extends to a part where the nail body thickens on the underside. That bulge contains the quick or nerve.
Again, never cut your bearded dragon’s nails near the quick to prevent painful injury.
Can Nail Clipping Hurt Your Bearded Dragon?
As mentioned, nail clipping can cause harm if done improperly.
Lizard claws have nerve and blood vessels extending partway into each nail.
If you hit the nerve or veins (called the “quick”), it will cause your pet pain and bleeding.
But if you only cut the tip of the nail, your pet won’t feel anything.
That is why it is crucial to know the anatomy of the nail. Otherwise, having your pet’s nails trimmed by a veterinarian is best.
Handle Your Bearded Dragon Often
Get your bearded dragon used to being handled.
You can avoid an overly squirmy pet come nail trimming time.
If it still dislikes being handled despite frequent interactions, enlist someone’s assistance to keep a gentle but firm hold on it while you trim its nails.
Tip: We show you how often you should handle your bearded dragon in this article!
Tools You Need To Cut Your Bearded Dragon’s Nails
Have these tools on hand when you’re ready to start cutting your pet’s nails:
- Baby nail cutters or regular nail cutters
- Nail file or small Dremel (like this one)
- Styptic powder (like this one)
You don’t need fancy equipment to cut a bearded dragon’s nails. Nail cutters are excellent for the job.
If you find the cut nails still too sharp, you can file them down manually or use a Dremel like this to speed things up.
You may bundle your bearded dragon in a towel to calm it and give it a sense of hiding. It doesn’t need to see what you’re doing.
Styptic powder is first-aid for any accidental injuries. It stops bleeding from light wounds. Let’s hope you will never need it.
How To Cut A Bearded Dragon’s Nails: 5 Steps
Step 1- Get good lighting
Ensure the room has good lighting to see through the nail and spot the quick. It can be hard to see through nails that are very dark or very light.
Look at the bearded dragon’s nails from the side.
You will see a thick (usually white-yellow) base around a large part of the nail. The beardie’s claw will be thinner and pointier under that base.
Step 2 – Hold and calm the lizard
Grip the lizard gently but firmly (never squeeze) to keep its movements minimal. You definitely will not want to work on a squirmy animal.
A soft, warm towel or paper towel will do the trick if you want a calmer animal. Wrap your beardie up snugly, so it doesn’t see anything.
Step 3 – Cutting off the tip
Grasp the foot firmly and gently. Take one toe in hand.
As a general rule, you should only cut the sharp tip of the nail before the bump and the vein. (Refer back to the anatomy of the nail.)
Take your nail clippers and clip just halfway from the tip to the bump. Even taking less than that portion is a good idea. It would be best to leave some nail extending over the white part.
Although cutting close to the quick with dogs and cats is common practice, this should be different with bearded dragons.
Your beardie shouldn’t be feeling anything when you are trimming.
Step 4 – Filing
If the nails still feel sharp, use a nail file or Dremel to file the edges down.
Step 5 – Rewarding Your Pet
Give your pet a treat for a job well done!
This may help make nail-cutting sessions a more positive experience for you and your pet.
Watch these videos to give you more confidence with visual instructions on how to cut your bearded dragon’s nails safely.
What If You Hit The Quick?
Accidents may happen, so keeping a container of styptic powder or a styptic pencil on hand is a good idea. You can buy this in drugstores or supermarkets.
Suppose you cut into a vein during nail trimming. Press some styptic powder into the wounded nail.
Cornstarch can also double as a clotting agent. You can apply it to the claw with a Q-tip to stop the bleeding.