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Grooming Guinea Pigs

Nail Clipping

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Nail trim illustration

The nail should be cut a bit beyond the quick, as shown in the above diagram.

Illustration © Lianne Mcleod
The grooming needs of short haired guinea pigs are minimal, but if you have one with longer hair you will need to invest more time in grooming. However, all guinea pigs require regular nail clipping.

Holding Your Guinea Pig for Nail Clipping
The hardest part of doing nail trims on pet guinea pigs is probably holding the guinea pig still. With patience and practice, nail clipping will become part of your routine and your guinea pig will likely get less squirmy over time.

When starting out, it is probably best to have a helper to hold your guinea pig so you can trim the nails. However, most guinea pigs are not too difficult to hold. Possible methods of restraint include the following:

  • sit with your guinea pig on your lap facing away from you with its rump against your stomach to keep your guinea pig from backing up.
  • hold your guinea pig upright with its back against your body by placing your hand lightly around your guinea pig's chest. Important: make sure the hind end is supported (either on your lap if you are sitting down, or with the other hand). With practice, you can even hold one foreleg out by placing it between your fingers using this method.
  • if necessary, gently wrap up your guinea pig's body and three of its legs in a light towel, leaving one leg free for clipping the nails. If you choose this method be careful not to wrap too tight (this may impede breathing) and take a break between legs to reduce stress and the chance of overheating.

Nail Clippers
You can use human nail clippers if you like. You can also use nail clippers designed for cats and other small animals. These look like little scissors with small notches toward the end of the blade for cutting the nail.

How Often
Aim for doing the nails at least once a month, although you can do them even more often that that if you choose. Although nail clipping may be awkward and difficult at first, the more often you do it the more comfortable it will become for you and your guinea pig. More importantly, the longer the nails get, the harder they will be to trim. As the nails get longer the blood vessel (quick) gets longer too, and the nails will start to curl. Regular nail clipping helps keep the nails in good shape.

How to Clip the Nails
The trick to nail trims is to cut the sharp tip off the nail without cutting into the quick. The quick is the part inside the nail where the blood vessel and nerve endings are located, and if you cut into the quick, the nail will bleed and it will hurt your guinea pig.

If your guinea pig has light or translucent nails, the quick will be visible as the pink part inside the nail. Make your cut a bit in front of the quick; if you get too close it may still be a bit painful. See the diagram to the right for an illustration.

If your pet has dark nails, you can sometimes "guess" where it is safe to cut based on the shape of the nail, especially with practice. The tip of the nail is usually quite narrow and may almost appear hollow when viewed from the bottom. Otherwise, it is safest to just clip off about 1/4 inch of the nail tip.

If you have any doubts, it is wise to get a professional (groomer, veterinarian) or other experienced owner to demonstrate a nail trim for you before you attempt nail clipping on your own.

Accidents Happen
No matter how careful you are, you may accidentally cut into the quick and cause some bleeding at some point. Don't panic - while it might hurt for just a moment and will bleed, this is not a disaster. Just make sure you have something on hand to stop the bleeding:

  • Kwik-Stop powder or other commercial styptic powder product. These sometimes sting but are highly effective. Take a pinch of powder and press onto the tip of the affected nail after wiping away the blood.
  • Cornstarch or flour can also be used in a similar manner
  • You can try pressing the nail into a bar of soap or bees wax.
  • For minor bleeding, simply applying pressure to the tip of the nail may be effective.
No matter which method you use, make sure the bleeding has stopped before placing the animal back in its cage, or leaving the animal unattended.

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