How to care for your guinea pigs claws

A guinea pigs claws grow constantly and they are unable to keep the nails short themselves. Wild cavies walk around on hard surfaces which is an excellent way to keep their claws short, however for  domestic guinea pigs it is unsafe for them to do this as it may result in injury.  Caring for your guinea pigs nails should form part of your daily routine as long nails can result in broken foot bones or Bumblefoot which is a bacterial infection of the foot. Long guinea pig nails can grow straight and others can grow curling up which can cause considerable discomfort to your guinea pig.

The nails of young guinea pigs grown sharp and pointed, but regular clipping can help to blunt their sharpness. A guinea pigs nails change as they age and older guinea pig nails are brittle and can grow more misshapen. Some people believe placing a stone inside the cage or sandpaper is a way of keeping the nails short but we have found these methods do not work and can result in injury to your little guinea pig friend.

What you will need

Not much equipment is required for clipping your guinea pigs. You should invest in some good quality round ended scissors like these that we use although there are some other good choices such as these nail clippers or these more open scissors.

Its also useful to have a towel and  fleece blanket to hand so you can place the towel on your knee to protect from scratch claws trying to run away. The fleece can be wrapped around the guinea pig for comfort and to try to suppress the struggling. Its also worth investing in some styptic powder as this will help stop the bleeding if you cut the nails down too far and into the quick.

How to cut your guinea pigs nails

  1. Set up your items listed above in a safe area. Its useful to cut your guinea pigs nails on top of a counter or on top of a table.
  2. Pick up your guinea pig and give them a fuss in order to reassure them.
  3. Wrap your guinea pig up in the fleece to help them feel safe and secure. Its a good idea to use the same fleece each time you trim their nails as it will help them get used to the whole process. This should lead to them feeling more and more comfortable each time. Ensure you don’t wrap your guinea pig up too tightly or cover their head. We usually leave their front paws sticking out at this stage as they are the ones we clip first.
  4. Give your guinea pig a treat and get them to sit comfortably either on your lap or on top of the table or counter top, ensuring they are safe and unable to fall off. Make sure all other food is out of sight (and smell) range as otherwise your guinea pig will be restless trying to get to the food that is nearby. Give your guinea pigs lots of attention and fuss.
  5. Take a gentle but firm hold of your guinea pigs front leg – Don’t be surprised if your guinea pig wriggles it free and tucks it back in! It take practice and patience to get adapt at cutting your guinea pigs nails. If your guinea pig becomes distressed simply release the leg your holding and give your guinea pig reassurance. You can stop and start this process as many times as your guinea pig needs in order to feel comfortable.
  6. Once you’ve managed to hold onto your guinea pigs leg, steady the nail between your thumb and index finger as this ensures you have a good grip. Try not to squeeze or hold to tightly as this will cause your guinea pig harm. We prefer to chose the nail at the end of the foot and then work our way inside so its easy to keep track of which one we are up to.
  7. Pick up your nail trimmers of choice and identify the nail. This is easier to do on pale nailed guinea pigs opposed to darker ones. A guinea pigs nails are made up of a quick and the actual nail so its a challenge not to trim the quick. The quick is a blood vessel that runs up the nail but not right to the very end which is why its advisable to trim just the tip off. The more you trim your guinea pigs nails the more you will be able to judge the appropriate amount to trim.
  8. Carry on cutting the rest of your guinea pigs nails if they are happy. If they are uncomfortable and desperately trying to get away then give them a treat and stop there. Never try to force your guinea pig to “hold still” as this will cause your guinea pig harm and distress.

What to do if you cut the quick.

The hardest thing about trimming your guinea pigs nails is surprisingly not the actual act of cutting the nail. Guinea pigs hardly ever sit still during nail trimming time and its hard to judge where the quick is. For light clawed guinea pigs it should be fairly easy to see the blood under each nail thus making it easy to avoid.

For darker clawed guinea pigs you can shine a light underneath the nail in order to see the blood vessel and avoid it. Of course accidents happen and whilst it feels terrible to make your guinea pig bleed, it wont cause any lasting damage to your guinea pig. If you do cut the quick just use the styptic powder to stop the bleeding and comfort your piggie. If the bleeding continues then simply apply a little pressure for one to two minutes and it should stop the bleeding. If it still bleeds after this then consult your vet.

How often should you trim your guinea pigs nails

Aim for fortnightly to once a month to trim the guinea pigs nails. When you trim the nails regularly, you prevent the quick from growing too far up the nails which results in less chance that you will cut it by accident.

What to do if your guinea pig hates having its nails trimmed

There are two solutions here, the first is to practice getting your guinea pig used to it. This involves going through the routine as above for cutting the nails but without actually cut the nails. This routine gets your guinea pig used to having its paws and claws handled. Ensure you give lots of praise, petting and treats during these practice sessions. Then gradually introduce trimming the nails.

Start with just trimming one and then stopping. Gradually build up to two nails each time and eventually your guinea pig should be comfortable with having its nails trimmed. Alternatively, you can take your guinea pig elsewhere to get their nails trimmed. Check with your local vets if they offer that service and some pet shops with grooming sections also offer nail cutting services for a fee.

How to care for sharp opposed to long nails

If your guinea pigs nails are just sharp or if they are sharp whilst waiting for their monthly trim at the vets then using a simple nail file is perfect. There are no special nail files for guinea pigs but we prefer to use these ones as they are small enough to sneak a quick file in whilst our piggies are having their lap time treats.

The most important thing to remember is if your not confident trimming your guinea pigs nails or they really seem to hate it, then consult your vet on where to take them to have it performed by a professional.

A complete guide to grooming guinea pigs

Once your guinea pig has settled in and is used to being handled, its a great time to introduce grooming into part of their daily routine. Guinea pigs are very clean animals and can often be seen licking themselves and even nibbling on patches of their fur. Guinea pigs are very good at spotting when dirt and grime appear on their fur and make every attempt to clean it off, if you have close cage mates you may even see them helping each other out on those hard to reach areas!

Guinea pigs (like cats) have a natural instinct to clean themselves and keep their fur tidy and free of debris. Have you ever seen your guinea pig clean its face? its definitely one of the cutest things they do! If you watch them regularly, you will notice before the face cleaning begins that a white milky substance builds up in the eyes first. Guinea pigs then take this liquid from their eyes and wash their face with it! Whilst guinea pigs are great at cleaning themselves, grooming should still form part of your daily routine since it gives you time to bond, check for signs of ill health and helps ensure their fur remains clean and mat free.

Brushing

The first and often easiest step for grooming is brushing. How often you groom your piggie is determined by their breed and how comfortable your guinea pig is with being handled. An anxious guinea should still be groomed it will just take a little longer to get them used to the process. In our experience most guinea pigs love to be brushed once you’ve pushed through the early grumpiness your guinea pig will have with you the first few times.

Whatever frequency you decide upon its important to ensure you brush them regularly and using specially designed brushes . The shorter haired breeds of guinea pig do not require as much brushing as the long haired breeds. Typically guinea pigs need to be brushed only once or twice a week for the short haired breeds whilst long haired piggies should be brushed daily. Remember that guinea pigs are seasonal hair shredders so they will need more brushing during their shedding phase.

To brush a guinea pig, use a small soft brush designed for guinea pigs and brush in the direction that your guinea pigs fur is growing in. The first few times you brush your guinea pig, they may freeze or wriggle, simply stop and give them a fuss. Once they’ve settled down, you can start to brush them again. Ensure you don’t put any pressure when you brush your guinea pigs fur and allow the brush to run from head (between the ears) right down to the bottom. Most guinea pigs don’t like having their bottoms touched so expect a slight jolt to show you they don’t like it! Regular brushing helps to keep your guinea pig’s coat in good condition and tangle free. Longer haired guinea pigs may require a small silver wide tooth comb to ensure all the tangles can be removed.

How to deal with tangles and matted fur

Short haired guinea pigs rarely have matted fur or tangles so this only really applies to long haired breeds. It can be rather frustrating to find a matted piece of fur or tangle that wont come out with the usual gentle brushing. Really want to remove it so it doesn’t make your guinea pig poorly but you also don’t want to cause any pain to your piggie. The best approach is to try your best to brush it out using a little gentle pressure but not hurting or causing the guinea pig distress.

If this doesn’t remove the matted fur or tangle, then take some special guinea pig scissors and gentle cut the mat or tangle out. If the matted fur is too close to the guinea pigs skin, then try to smooth it out as best you can with your fingers and do this daily. Eventually the piece of fur will be long enough to remove with scissors.

The best way to prevent tangles is to detangle your guinea pig daily. Matted fur can also be deterred this way but it wont prevent them completely since its common due to long haired piggies fur to drag along the ground and pick up debris and urine.

Giving your guinea pig a fur cut

If your guinea pig is suffering with multiple tangles or frequently mattered fur then it might be a good idea to give them a fur cut. This will stop long hair from touching the floor and picking up debris and urine. In order to trim a guinea pigs fur take the hair and place it between your two fingers.

This protects the guinea pig from being hurt accidentally with the scissors. You should also use ball scissors which are rounded at the tip opposed to pointed. This stops your guinea pig from getting injured when they are wriggling around.

The best place to start trimming your guinea pigs fur is the bum as this is the most difficult. If your guinea pig has thick hair then it may be useful to use some soft grip hair clips to move the top layer out the way so its easier to access the fur underneath. Then you can release the top layer and trim that also. If your guinea pig is wriggling or squirming then offer them a tasty treat as a distraction.

Remember if your trimming your boar (male) guinea pig then be careful of their genital area as any nicks or cuts here would be extremely painful.

Giving your guinea pig a bath

Guinea pigs rarely need baths unless they become stinky from poor cage hygiene, or if it has mites (check with your vet on how to care for your piggie) Guinea pigs are naturally very good swimmers however the average domestic guinea pig wont be a fan of bath time!

Preparation is key to the successful bathing of your guinea pig so ensure you have several thick towels, special shampoo and scissors handy (cutting guinea pig hair is easier when its wet.) Place one of the towels in the bottom of your guinea pig bath tub and fill the container with lukewarm water. Place the guinea pigs bottom half into the water first and set them down on the towel.

Carefully pour water over the guinea pig avoiding its head from getting wet. Add a small amount of shampoo and then rinse off thoroughly.

After the bath, carefully remove your guinea pig from the water and dry off with a thick towel. Ensure you guinea pig is thoroughly dry before placing back into a clean cage. 

What to do with a smelly guinea pig that hates bath time

If your guinea pig really hates bath time but is a big smelly then simply use a water less shampoo like this one that we use. It has a leave in formula that cares for the piggies coat whilst also nourishes the skin. Its the perfect item for piggies who don’t like getting wet. You can also spot clean your guinea pig opposed to giving them a full bath, just use a warm wet washcloth or sponge to remove the grease or grime. Ensure the shampoo is thoroughly rinsed out afterwards.