How to Clip or Trim Lizard Claws

When you handle your lizards, do you end up with claw marks all over your arms? If so, it’s probably time to get out the nail clippers. Whether you have a bearded dragon, blue tongue skink, or tegu, keeping those sharp lizard claws neatly trimmed is essential for comfortable handling.

Today’s post is brought to you with permission from IGer petefluff! Pete is a male bearded dragon with 3 sister wives, 1 true love, and a black beard that hipsters can only dream of. If you like animal personality accounts, give him a follow! His momma also runs a reptile rescue, averys2ndchancerescue.

Is Nail Clipping Necessary?

Not always. If you keep your lizard on an abrasive substrate like packed sand, rough tile, or flagstone, their nails get worn down naturally and you should only need to trim their nails every once in a while to keep things even. If you keep your lizard on something softer like aspen shavings, linoleum, paper towel, newspaper, or repticarpet, their nails can get long and sharp—fast! These lizards will need claw trimming regularly (~1x/month) to not only prevent scratching, but also to prevent possible broken toes.

Does it Hurt?

It can. Lizard claws have a nerve and blood vessels that protrude partway into each nail, so if you get too close or actually cut the nerve, that will hurt. But if you avoid the nerve/blood vessels, there should be no pain.

What You’ll Need:

Small lizards (juvenile bearded dragons, juvenile crested water dragons, etc.):

  • human nail clippers
  • 1 person

Medium lizards (bearded dragons, blue tongue skinks, etc.):

  • cuticle clipper or cat nail clippers
  • 1 person

Large lizards (tegus, iguanas, etc.):

  • dog nail clippers OR
  • Dremel tool + sanding bit
  • 2 people

Extra-large lizards (black throat monitors, nile monitors, etc.):

  • Dremel tool
  • rough sanding bit
  • 2 people

How to Clip Your Lizard’s Nails

How to clip lizard claws - bearded dragon

1. Look at the lizard claws to find the nerve and/or blood vessels. You can more or less see where to cut in lizards with light-colored nails. If your lizard has black nails, find the place where the nail begins to taper and curl.

2. If this is for a large or extra large lizard, get another person to help. Even when they’re used to having their nails trimmed, lizards don’t understand why they have to sit still.

3. Using an appropriately-sized set of clippers, quickly nip off the tip of the nail.

4. For large and extra-large lizards: Use the Dremel like a mechanical nail file to grind down the portion of the nail you would have cut. They don’t make nail clippers large enough for these lizards, and frankly it’s too hard to effectively clip the nail. It’s a lot easier just to use a Dremel.

5. If the nail bleeds, prevent infection by dabbing the area with iodine. Wait until the bleeding stops and the iodine is dry before placing your lizard back in its enclosure.

TIP FROM PETEFLUFF: Before you start clipping or filing, cover your lizard in a soft blanket (be sure to cover the head) to simulate “bedtime” and help them relax or even fall asleep!

If you have questions, feel free to ask in the comments! And if you like bearded dragons with big personality, don’t forget to follow petefluff and averys2ndchancerescue on Instagram. <3