One of the most common things Rodent/ Rabbit owners as me is;
How do you clip nails?
Must they go to the vets for their nails clipping?
Animals do not have to go to the vets for their nails clipping and the majority can be safely done at home if you know how to and with the right equipment.
Being at the vets causes a lot of stress to most animals from;
- the bright lights
- the smells of both the animals and the chemicals, and,
- being handled by someone different.
The stress negatively impacts on an animal’s welfare for the time they are there, the journeys each way (travelling is a common fear) and during the time it takes for them to settle on returning home. Some owners also separate their rodents (presuming they are a social species, obviously Syrian hamsters should always be kept separate) to take them to the vets. Whilst people may find this easier to transport them, these animals become more stressed when separated and this separation and the altered smell of the one who visited the vets) can making mixing them back together difficult on their return, ultimately leading to fighting and, potentially, needing longer-term separation.
Therefore, it is in the best interests of both yourself and your animals, to learn how to trim their nails at home if at all possible.
My video may also help you learn how too;
What do you need?
- A pair of nail clippers.
- Human nail clippers usually work well with small rodents (rats, gerbils or hamsters) but they can be quite fiddly.
- Guinea pigs nails are often a bit too big for human nail clippers so cat nail clippers or those designed for small animals (both are very similar in size and shape) are often needed. Dog nail clippers are too large with their bulkiness making the task harder.
I have two different pairs of small animal nail clippers (I lost one, bought a second and then found the “old”(ie twice used !) pair within a couple of days!).
I first bought the Ancol Ergo Small Animal Nail Clippers and then the newer pair are the Rosewood Options Grooming Deluxe Claw Trimmers. Both work very well, with the main difference just being the size; the Ancol ones are much smaller.
- Corn Flour or Silver Nitrate pens
- These help to stem the bleeding if you accidentally clip the blood vessel.
- A Towel
- With some animals the job may be easier (and safer) if you wrap them in a towel as I demonstrate in another blog post. This helps to keep them still and is especially useful if you’re alone.
- A Friend?
- You may find it easier, especially the first few times, if you get someone to hold them for you. You then have both hands free to hold the foot (if needed) and clip the nail.
One Thing to Remember… Stay Calm!
I’m aware this is easier to said than done.
Pet’s are very good at picking up on body language so will pick up on your stress levels. Them noticing you’re stressed means they will think there is something to worry about, squirm around more and find it scarier. This will not only make it harder on the first attempt but also in future attempts as even if everything goes COMPLETELY to plan they will still believe there is something to worry about.
Nail clipping shouldn’t cause any pain/ discomfort and if you do it carefully the worst you can do is cut the quick (where the nail come from which contains the blood vessel and nerve) which will cause pain and bleeding but will heal over time. The more you stress the more your hands will shake and more your pet will move leaving it more likely that you do accidentally cut the quick.
Staying calm is key.
If you can’t do it calmly then ask a friend or relative to do it for you (or consider taking them to your vet. Independent pet shops may even be willing to clip nails if you ask).
Clipping their nails is like clipping your own
Their nails are similar to ours, just a different shape. The small size and the different shape is what puts people off.
Just like our own, the nails are made of a protein called keratin and the part you trim doesn’t have a nerve supply so it shouldn’t hurt.
Look at your own nails;
You will have a large area covering a pink fleshy bit and a clear, slightly whitened area at the end. The nail protects that fleshy area below and if you accidentally break your nail or clip that structure it’s very sore.
Pet’s nails also can be clear and near the base of it, running down the centre is the pink fleshy bit known as the quick. The quick contains a blood vessel and nerve. Further down the nail is completely clear/white (unless the nail is black!) and this is the part that you can clip away.
Clipping too short damages the blood and nerve supply causing pain and bleeding so needs to be avoided when possible.
HOWEVER, saying that, some animal’s nails are black. Black nails have the same structure, you just can’t see it. If the end of the nail is really thin (much more so than the base of the nail) and pointed usually this doesn’t contain the quick but otherwise be cautious you could catch the quick by accident. Often I and clip some clear nails first; these give a good indication of how long the quick is and therefore if you clip them the black nails the same length you are usually safe but there is no harm leaving the nail a bit longer.
Another way is to just clip the nail (or even file it if they will allow it) by 1-2mm per week until it looks about right. This reduces the risk of catching the quick. It’s also worthwhile having a quick look at the end of the nail after you’ve clipped it. This will tell you whether it is bleeding or not. Also the quick is like in a tunnel down the centre of the nail with the keratin around the outside. When you get near the quick this “tunnel” can be seen as a hole down the middle of the nail. Therefore if the nail is completely solid with no hollow area you’re usually fine to maybe clip it a bit more but if there is even a slight pin hole down the centre then DON’T cut more away.
How to Actually do it
- Get someone to hold your guinea pig or secure them yourself.
- Your dominant hand, in most cases, should be the one you clip with so any holding of the guinea pig or their foot should be with your non-dominant hand (ie if you are right handed hold the pig with your left and clip with your right)
- Try one of the following;
- Have one hand, usually over their shoulders, whilst they are ideally on the floor/ your lap and use the other to clip.
- Wrap them securely in a towel and expose one foot at a time (see here and here).
- Keep their back legs on the floor/ your lap and have your non-dominant hand secure their front legs with their back against your lap and belly/ chest;
- Clean/rub the nails if dirty to help you to see where the quick ends.
- Ensure they are secure and are not wrigging around. They should feel quite comfortable.
If they are moving around a lot get someone else to help, change the way you are holding them or swap who is doing the holding.
- Pick up the clippers (ideally) similar to how is shown in the pictures; these positions give a better grip and improve the stability of the clippers though some people may find this more awkward/ uncomfortable.
- Place the blades of the clipper blades either side of the nail. Make sure they are between the pointed end of the nail (furthest end from the foot) and where the end of the pink quick (blood vessel and nerve ) is.
- Sometimes getting someone to shine a light through darker nails can help to show where the quick is.
- Ensure the guinea pig is not moving and then close the handles to clip the nail.
- If the guinea pig squeaks or rapidly moves, release the clippers and check for bleeding
- Bleeding can be quite quick but don’t worry, they won’t lose too much blood from a bleeding nail.
- If you have cornflour then place their foot in it to stop the bleeding
- Silver nitate pens can be placed against the vessel to stem any bleeding
- Putting pressure on the toe and/ or placing some of their clean substrate over the nail can help but this must be held for several minutes (in most cases) to be effective.
- Some guinea pigs are nervy by the slight noise of the clippers so may squeak/ jump without any damage being down.
I’ve done One Nail, What Do I Do Now?
Move on to the next. Sometimes a guinea pig will get bored and start shuffling around a bit. If that’s the case give them some freedom for a while before resuming.
- Keep repositioning how you’re holding your guinea pig to ensure they still feel secure and give them plenty of fuss.
Once All The Nails Are Done
- Check for any bleeding nails that you haven’t already noticed.
- If some were previously bleeding make sure it hasn’t restarted with them moving around more.
- Give them a fuss and a treat (suitable vegetables or part of their daily ration of pellets may be a great treat if they are overweight) and let them get back to whatever they were doing before.
Nail clipping can be done at home where it is often less stressful for your guinea pigs (and you, once you’re used to it). It just requires you to hold your pet securely and ensuring you don’t cut the nail too short if possible.
If you do cut it too short and it starts to bleed, don’t worry, the bleeding will stop and they won’t lose too much blood and it won’t cause lasting damage. Clipping the claws in order will help you keep track of where you’re up to and, importantly, may sure you always give your guinea pig a break if they need it.
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