Grooming your guinea pig is part of the regular (and often daily) maintenance that your small pet will need. A grooming session can include brushing their hair, bathing and nail clipping but not all these tasks need to be undertaken every day.
In this article we discuss how to groom both long and short-haired guinea pigs (brushing) , how to deal with tangles and matted hair, how to cut your pet’s hair and we give you a guide to the best tools for the job. Bathing and nail cutting will be discussed in separate articles.
By the way, some people get confused as to whether the guinea pigs coat is called fur or hair - in the cavy world it's known as hair!
How often should I groom my guinea pig?
A short-haired guinea pig can be brushed weekly but you will need to brush and come through the manes of long-haired cavies on a daily basis - they are much higher maintenance!
Regular grooming will help you spot any health issues early such as mites or excessive hair loss which can be a symptom of disease. These sessions can also be fun and can help you and your guinea pig bond. Getting rid of all the loose hair will also help prevent your guinea pig ingesting hairballs which can lead to digestive problems, especially with longer-haired guinea pigs.
Providing you take your time and are careful to be gentle and patient, your guinea pig will become more relaxed and at ease with you each time you do this. As your pet becomes tamer, you will also enjoy the routine more too.
Do guinea pigs shed hair?
Yes, guinea pigs do shed hair naturally, just as we do, and longer-haired guinea pigs will shed more. If you handle them regularly you’ll notice this by looking at your clothes after you put them back into their cage after a cuddle! It's a good idea to use a soft towel for them to sit on (which you keep especially for your pets) if you plan on grooming them on your lap.
If your pet is shedding more hair than normal, it could signify a fungal infection or parasites in their coat or on their skin. Regular brushing will enable you to become used to how much they naturally lose so if you notice an unusually large amount of shedding you should get in touch with your vet and arrange a check up.
Guinea pig grooming kit: what you need to start
Before you begin, it is important to make sure you have a good grooming kit for your guinea pig. Follow our guide below on the best items to buy for the safety and comfort of your pet during their pampering session.
Best Grooming Kit Guide
- Soft brush: A soft brush is all you’ll need for a short-haired guinea pig. They are also useful for brushing closer to a longer-haired guinea pig’s face.
- Guinea pig comb: Useful for longer-haired breeds to help remove all the tangles. They usually have 2 sides - one with narrow teeth and the other with wider spaced teeth. We usually use the wide teethed side.
- Bristle brush: These brushes are great for getting rid of minor tangles and especially for removing loose hair in long-haired guinea pigs.
- Round tipped scissors for hair trimming: The round ended scissors (also known as ball-tip) makes these a lot safer than standard scissors which have a sharp end.
- Virgin coconut oil (100% organic cold-pressed): Needed to clean the grease gland in males and some females.
Here are some links to the items you will need for grooming (like the ones above):
How to brush your guinea pig
Some guinea pigs don't mind being brushed whereas others feel very nervous and sensitive so make sure you settle your guinea pig on a safe area or on your lap before you begin. A piece of food such as a carrot or lettuce leaf can help distract them. Guinea pigs have very delicate skin so it is essential to be as gentle as possible.
With longer haired breeds such as a Silkie, Peruvian, or Texel, it is recommended that you brush them out daily with the bristle brush before combing them through. This is to help remove any loose hair and to get rid of any tangles. If you come across any tangles that don’t easily brush out, don’t persist with trying to detangle it - use the round ended scissors to remove the knot. This will save him from becoming distressed.
Once you’ve brushed thoroughly and removed any knots, use the wide toothed side of the comb to gently to through the hair again to make sure their hair is tangle-free. Don’t go too quickly or it may pull the hair which can be very uncomfortable for your guinea pig as they have such sensitive skin.
For a short-haired guinea pig, you should only need the soft brush to remove loose hairs.
How to remove a small tangle from your guinea pig’s hair
To cut out a tangle, gently take the hair between two fingers and snip the hair that is poking out between. Using your fingers in this way ensures the scissors are kept safely away from your pet in case he suddenly moves.
The worst place for knots or matted hair is around the rear. Long-haired guinea pigs whose hair drags along the floor will get their hair wet from urine and it will then pick up dirt and debris from the cage floor. Even with regular grooming, a long-haired guinea pig can get tangles. But if you brush and comb them regularly (eg daily), you can minimise the chances of this.
Combing through knotted hair is incredibly stressful for a guinea pig and will be very difficult for you too, so make sure you keep on top of it to prevent it from becoming unmanageable.
What to do with matted hair
If you encounter a section where the hair has become matted, the best thing to do is to carefully and gently cut it out. If it is very matted right to the skin, cut as much as you can, using your fingers as protection against his skin and leave the bit that is behind your fingers as it is very risky to try and cut close.
Continue to groom on a daily basis and when that last matted piece is long enough, gradually cut it out. Don’t try to comb it through because once it has got to this stage it is virtually impossible to detangle and it will only cause your pet to become upset if you attempt to comb it through.
How to give your guinea pig a haircut
Long-haired guinea pigs will need their hair cut every so often to prevent knotting. How regularly you will need to do this just depends on how fast their hair grows.
If their hair is trailing along the ground, it can pick up all sorts of dirt so before it gets too long you should consider trimming the excess hair. This is especially important around the bum area where the hair can get wet, leading to more debris and tangles. If you had a "show" guinea pig, you would probably want to keep the hair long but they would need a lot more maintenance and care to keep their coat clean and in good order. This haircut guide is for the regular guinea pig owner.
It is sometimes helpful to use hairclips to gently clip the top layers of hair out the way so you can see what you’re doing underneath. As described earlier in this article, you should always take the hair between two fingers to protect your guinea pig from the scissors and then snip the hair.
It’s a good idea to start with the bum area as this is the most difficult. Once you’ve cut the layers underneath, unclip the top layers and give those a trim too.
With boars, you must be extremely careful and shield their boy parts as you trim the hair. Any nicks or cuts in this area would be extremely painful and dangerous.
Cleaning the grease gland
All guinea pigs, both male and female, have grease glands. The gland is positioned above where the tail would be if they had one, at the base of their spine and above where they poop.
In boars, the grease can build up so it is important that when you groom your pet, you clean the gland to keep it from becoming clogged up. Although this is not so common in females, if you do find your girl guinea pigs are inclined to a build up of grease, you should regularly clean them too.
Using a piece of cotton wool or a very soft cloth, dab it in a little virgin coconut oil (use 100% cold pressed organic) and gently wipe around the grease gland. The oil helps to break down the grease in the area.
How to check your guinea pig for skin conditions after grooming
Once you’ve completed the brushing, combing and trimming, check your pet’s skin by parting the hair for any irritations, infections, sores, lumps or bumps. Start at one end and work your way around. Doing this reguarly means you are more likely to spot any health conditions or infestations such as parasites or mites early on.
If you do happen to find anything that is concerning, make an appointment with your vet for a check up.
You're now ready to begin grooming!
Once you've got the full grooming kit (soft brush, bristle brush and a comb) together with a pair of safe round-tipped scissors you are well-equipped to groom your guinea pig successfully. Just remember, be patient, calm and gentle throughout the grooming session and over time your guinea pig will become tamer and might even enjoy the pampering sessions!