Like our nails, guinea pig nails are continuously growing. In the wild they file down naturally but when kept domestically their toenails don’t have the opportunity to do this. That means we have the task of cutting their nails to prevent them from curling around which can make walking painful and uncomfortable.
How often should guinea pig nails be cut?
Cutting your guinea pig's nails can be a tricky job but it is essential that this is done on a regular basis - ideally every two to four weeks. If they are left they become more difficult to clip. They will begin to curl which makes trimming them extremely challenging. The more often you do it, the more confident you will become and the easier it will be.
What clippers are best for cutting guinea pig nails?
Like with other pets, there are clippers especially made for clipping your guinea pig’s nails. They have a rounded blade but some people find these tricky to use and prefer to use straight forward nail or toenail clippers. Choose whatever you feel comfortable with and find the easiest.
Some guinea pigs have quite thick nails whereas others may have softer nails. Those on the rear feet tend to be thicker than the front ones.
Be aware of the “quick” of the nail
Many owners get nervous about nail clipping as they are scared about cutting the ‘quick’. This is the red blood vessel that runs through the nail and if you cut it, it will bleed so you should try to avoid this. The more often you cut the nails, the more the “quick” will recede. This makes each time a little easier and less stressful.
What you need to cut your guinea pig's nails
How to trim the nails
This is sometimes easier done with 2 people but it is good to get used to doing it yourself.
Pick your guinea pig up and hold them securely on your lap. The position depends on what you and your pet are most comfortable with but one option is placing them with their back against your stomach so you can hold their feet in front of them. You could also try holding with their side against you.
Look carefully at the nail and you may be able to see where the quick is. In lighter coloured nails, you can see the quick as a darker line running through but in darker nails you will need to be more careful. Trim to just below the line of the quick.
How to cut guinea pig nails that are black
Some guinea pigs, usually darker ones, have black nails. This makes it virtually impossible to see the quick and can be a little disconcerting when it comes to nail clipping. Try making sure you are in an extra light area and use additional lighting if required. A helping hand from someone else to shine a bright light underneath the nail may help - see "how to make nail cutting easier" below.
If you are very nervous about this you may be better to get a professional to do this for you.
What to do if the nail starts bleeding
Even if you are very careful, you may accidentally cut the quick. If you do, it will bleed but don’t panic and don’t get upset - it happens to most guinea pig owners at some time or another. You can stem the blood using styptic powder or cornflour by simply dipping their foot into the powder.
Don’t put your pet back into their cage until you are sure the bleeding has stopped. If it is a problem and becomes sore or won’t stop bleeding, consult your vet who will be able to advise.
How to make nail clipping easier
It is important to make the difficult task of nail clipping as easy as possible.
You should make sure you’re in a well-lit area. You could even position a light (bedside lamp) on the floor underneath the nail which may help show up the “quick”.
We often use a magnifying lamp which can be clipped to a table giving both magnification and light. We find this really does help with seeing exactly where the “quick” is, particularly on darker nails.
How to cut nails that are curling or have grown too long
As your guinea pig’s nails become longer, so does the blood supply - it follows the nail down. Therefore if you cut your pet’s nails right back from very long to normal length, the nail will bleed.
With overgrown nails, trim a little every few days to make the blood vessel recede. Once you have done this a few times on a regular basis, the nails will be a normal length and the blood vessel will have shrunk back. At this point you can then cut every 2-4 weeks and your job will be a lot easier.
Clip with confidence
The more often you cut your guinea pig's nails, the more confident you will become. If you leave it because you're worried, your guinea pig will suffer and is likely to get incredibly sore feet which can then become infected. So, if you find it too difficult or are concerned that you may not be able to do it properly, find a professional who can do it for you on a monthly basis.