As your bearded dragon ages, it will gain both weight and strength. At some point, your easy to hold beardie will become quite poky. Its spikes will start to be stiff and sharp, Its nails will turn into little needle tipped talons capable of piercing your skin. That’s when you realize that regular nail trimming will be needed.
Trimming your bearded dragon’s nails is easy. Hold them steady and keep their arm/foot still. Use a standard pair of toenail clippers and nip off the sharp ends. Don’t try to cut too much, just remove some of the tip and you are done.
When we first got our little Bacardi, we were very nervous about trimming her nails. In fact, we let them get way too long and way too sharp the first time. We were having her boarded and when we picked her up, we asked the person there if she could show us how to do it.
It was over in less than two minutes. Bacardi couldn’t have cared less and her miniature daggers no longer left sometimes bloody scratches on our hands when holding her. Here’s everything you need to know to get the same result!
Why do they need their nails trimmed?
The most obvious reason is that we want to take the sharp little daggers off of their hands so they don’t puncture our skin when we hold them. Our safety as owners comes first here.
We want to make sure that their toes and nails sit upright and perpendicular to the ground. If their nails are too long, they can force the toes to twist over. This will be uncomfortable and cause your dragon to have trouble getting traction when climbing or digging.
Beardies love to climb and having nails that are too long gets in the way. They also like to sleep on branches and they use their claws to keep them stationary. Reasonable length nails will help them with this.
We also want to make sure they aren’t able to get caught in anything. When bearded dragon nails get too long and too sharp, they can start to snag on things (especially if you use reptile carpet for your substrate).
A snagged nail can quickly become a nail that has been ripped off (a big reason we recommend against reptile carpet in our substrate guide here). Those nails do not grow back.
When is it time to cut their nails?
How do we know when it’s time for a nail trim? There are two things to notice.
First, if you come away with puncture wounds and bloody scratches after holding your bearded dragon, it’s time to cut their nails. Spending time with our beardies should be enjoyable, not painful!
Second, we want them to be short enough to not cause discomfort. Nails can get too long without being sharp. This happens with dragons kept on tile. The tile keeps their nails dull, but doesn’t necessarily keep them short enough.
You’ll know their nails are too long by looking at their feet when they are standing or walking on a hard surface. If their nails and toes stay perpendicular to the ground, the length of their nails is good. If the nails and toes bend over to the side due to the length of the nail, it’s time for a trim.
These images are posted above, but here they are again to illustrate how to know when it’s time to trim your bearded dragon’s nails.
The right tools
A lot of pet stores, forums, and websites will try to convince you that you need special clippers for this job. We don’t share those feelings. It’s a waste of money to buy special pet, cat, dog, or reptile nail clippers for a bearded dragon’s nails.
We aren’t saying they aren’t needed for other types of pets, but they certainly aren’t needed for most beardies! The exception here is those of you that have very large bearded dragons.
If your beardie has grown to the 24″ mark and has developed large, thick claws that don’t trim easily with toenail clippers, it’s time to invest in something better.
We recommend these in that case. They are sharp and strong and will cleanly and quickly cut through the thicker nails of the largest bearded dragons. They also limit how much you can actually cut so you don’t cut too much, check them out!
But on the whole, most beardie owners can do just fine with standard human toenail clippers! You probably already own some! The larger gap between the blades and the stronger lever action of toenail clippers is perfect for the job!
We do recommend that you clean your clippers with a little alcohol when you are done. Beardies can carry bacteria and it’s a great idea to be cautious here.
It’s an even better idea to get a dedicated pair just for your beardie, that’s what we did.
You’ll also need styptic powder or a styptic pencil. This is a substance that can quickly clot blood and stop bleeding. We hope you’ll never actually need this, but it falls in the category of better to have it and not need it.
Your absolute best choice for this is the powder by Cardinal Laboratories. Pick some up here on Amazon now and have it ready for your next nail trimming session.
Occasionally, owners may cut the nail too close to the quick and the nail will bleed. If this happens, styptic powders or pencils can make short work of the bleeding. Dog and cat owners should be very familiar with this product.
Handle your beardie regularly
The biggest obstacle to successfully trimming their nails will be how much they decide to squirm and wriggle around when you are trying to do it.
The best way to make sure they are still and docile when trimming their nails is to handle your beardie regularly. If they are used to being held, it won’t be a big deal when you do it to trim their nails.
If the only time you ever pick up and hold your beardie is when you need to take them to a vet or trim their nails, they might end up more skittish than most. A well-socialized beardie is a well-behaved beardie when it comes time for nail trimming.
Regular baths (see our full guide with pictures here) and regular playtime are important parts of keeping a healthy bearded dragon. This is something that all beardie owners should be doing several times a week if not daily.
One of the many side benefits of this daily contact is a much more cooperative bearded dragon when it comes time to trim its nails. If you aren’t sure how to properly handle your bearded dragon and pick them up safely, see our step-by-step guide here.
Regardless of the above, your bearded dragon is occasionally going to be a little (or a lot!) squirmy. Sometimes, they just don’t want to be held. Sometimes they will think it’s feeding time and be anxious to get to their food. Sometimes they might just be ornery!
In any case, never attempt to trim your bearded dragon’s nails when they are being hyper like this. Instead, here are some possible solutions.
You could simply try again later. Most bearded dragons aren’t rambunctious all of the time and it’s fairly easy to find a better time where their behavior is more suited to the task.
You could even try after they are asleep for the night. We had to give our beardie injections twice a day for a month and the evening injection time fell after lights out.
She was so groggy and sleepy at that time that she didn’t care that we were shoving a needle into her. She surely wouldn’t have cared if we clipped her nails too.
Try a beardie burrito! Take a warm, soft towel and wrap them up snugly like a burrito. We’ve found this to work with numerous bearded dragons. We even do it with a paper towel after bath time.
If those don’t work, you’ll want to try holding them firmly (NEVER squeeze) until they calm down. We’ve found that most bearded dragons will settle right down if held firmly and not allowed to wriggle out of our grip.
One last note here is to be careful of how you pick them up. A startled or scared bearded dragon is not a still and cooperative bearded dragon. We put together a complete step-by-step set of instructions for picking up your bearded dragon that you can read here. Follow those steps and your beardie will feel safe and secure when you pick them up and hold them!
How many people?
We are lucky. Out little Bacardi couldn’t care less that we are cutting her nails. She’s calm and doesn’t move or pull her feet away. That means that with Bacardi, cutting her nails is a one-person job.
Some of you might not be this lucky. You either have a squirmy beardie or you have one that’s big enough to require one person to hold them while the other cuts their nails.
There’s no right answer here except to do what’s best for your situation. Your first priority should be your safety. A very close second priority should be the safety of your beardie. Use the right number of people to ensure both of those!
To hold or not to hold?
Some beardies will simply sit on your lap or the ground while you trim their nails. This makes things easy. Bacardi sits still enough that we can set her down and then grab her little foot with one hand while trimming with the other.
If you can, though, we recommend holding your bearded dragon while trimming its nails. This allows you to keep them in one place and hopefully calm. It also allows you to isolate each leg as you trim which will help reduce the chances of either of you getting hurt.
When you hold them, it’s relatively easy to securely hold them while getting one of their legs between your fingers. This prevents them from being able to pull away. It also prevents them from trying to nip at you. Finally, it gives you clear access to their nails.
We also recommend that you do this on the ground or on a large table. If your bearded dragon does escape your grasp, you don’t want to risk them falling and hurting themselves.
How to trim
Your beardie’s nails are made up of several parts.
The entire nail is made of keratin. It’s very similar to what our nails are made of. It’s not that much different than most animals’ claws or nails.
Running along the top of the nail will be a strip of pigment. There are some morphs (genetically bred variants that have been bred for certain appearances and physical traits) that have all clear nails, but most will have a dark stripe of pigment running down the top of the nail.
This pigment is just that, color. It’s not the nail quick or something that will guide you where to cut.
The sharp tip of the nail will extend back until, on the underside of the nail, you’ll see a kind of bump where the body of the nail gets a good deal thicker. Inside that bump is living tissue, also called the “quick“. We don’t want to trim anywhere close to this.
All we want to do is take off a bit of the tip so it’s not that sharp anymore. A good guide is to go just under halfway from the tip to the bump. The end of the nail is long and thin and taking just under half of that is a good guide. Even less than that isn’t a bad idea.
We are NOT trying to trim them down as far as possible. A lot of pet owners are used to trimming dog or cat nails where the goal is to get them nice and short. With cats and dogs, it’s common to cut the nail close to the quick where the living tissue is. This isn’t the case with our beardies.
As the last step, reward your beardie for being good! Give them a treat of some kind (we like to use hornworms for this). Hopefully, this will reinforce nail trimming as a good experience and make each subsequent trim that much easier.
It’s actually pretty easy
We realize this guide covered a lot of “what ifs” that might make this process sound hard. As pet owners who have trimmed both dog and cat nails, we can tell you for sure that trimming the nails of a bearded dragon is a piece of cake compared to that.
The biggest part is handling your beardie regularly. Do that and everything else is downhill from there.
They’ll be used to you holding them and most likely won’t care at all when you trim their nails.
And trust us, you’ll both be happier when you do this! It’s so much nicer to hold a bearded dragon whose hands aren’t made of tiny little daggers!
How often do you need to trim your beardie’s nails?
There is no hard and fast rule here. It really comes down to doing it when it’s needed.
We trim our bearded dragon’s nails every few months and could probably do it a little more often than that. Others may never need to trim based on their beardie’s activity level and type of substrate.
What if I don’t want to do it?
Your vet should be able to do it for you. It might not even be a bad idea to have them show you the first time if you are uncomfortable. There’s no substitute for live instruction.
Also, check with your local reptile store or even if there are any reptile shows that happen regularly in your area. Both places may prove to be helpful in finding someone who can help.
Can I use a file instead of clippers?
Yes! If your beardie will sit still enough for you to use a file or an emery board, then that’s a great alternative to using clippers. Just use the same guide as clipping and only aim to take off the sharp tip.