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
- 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.
- Pick up your guinea pig and give them a fuss in order to reassure them.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.