How To : Clip Rodent’s Nails

One of the most common things Rodent/ Rabbit owners as me is;

How do you clip nails?

or

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.
    Here are the Rosewood Options (left) and Ancol Ergo (right) small animal 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.

Image showing where to clip the nail. Clip near to where the black line is

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.

It’s impossible to see the quick on Carl’s black nails

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;
    1. Have one hand, usually over their shoulders, whilst they are ideally on the floor/ your lap and use the other to clip.
    2. Wrap them securely in a towel and expose one foot at a time (see here and here).
    3. 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;
One front leg should be between your index and middle fingers with their back towards your belly/ chest.
One forelimb should be between your index finger and thumb with your thumb going around the back of their shoulder/ neck. Make sure their back is towards your chest/ belly.

  • 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.
Put the thumb through the small hole, your index finger on the plastic just at the front of the handle, put your middle and ring fingers through the larger hole and finally put your little finger on the hook at the end
Put thumb through the hole on the shorter side. On the other side put the ring finger through the hole, the index and middle fingers on the ridges and the little finger on the hook at the end
  • 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.

In Summary

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.

 

Take a look at my other blog posts if you found this useful; there will be others you enjoy.  To get informed straight away when other blog posts are released then type your name in the boxes at the top of the right sidebar and click the “Sign Up” button.  Feel free to ask any questions in either the comments below or via my contact form; use these methods to give suggestions for future posts too and I will see what I can do.

What’s Involved with Spaying Your Cat

A cat spay is considered in veterinary surgeries as a routine procedure. Vet students (under the direct guidance of qualified Veterinary surgeons) spay cats before qualifying and they’re performed on a daily basis by most small animal vets.

Many UK rescue centres, such as Cats Protection, offer deals for certain groups of people to get their cats neutered either free of charge or at low cost. Many rescue centres also insist on female cats (Queens) being spayed before, or very soon after, being adopted.

What’s the reason behind this, should all cats be neutered and what are the potential pros and cons. These are factors I’m going to explore over the rest of this blog.

What is Spaying?

Spaying is the name given to neutering female cats. It involves removing the ovaries and often the uterus. With women, this is known as an Ovariohysterectomy (“Ovario-” refers to the ovaries whereas “Hysterectomy”, removal of the uterus (or womb) so, put together, it means removal of the uterus and ovaries) and it’s definitely not a routine procedure in human medicine. In fact, in human medicine, it’s not done when at all possible.

With people, though they usually just perform a hysterectomy (ie they leave the uterus alone), the ovaries are almost always removed in veterinary species. Usually, with the cat, sometimes it is only the ovaries removed and the uterus left in place; the opposite to women.

Women without ovaries are at risk of Osteoporosis (meaning pores, or holes, in the bones) but this doesn’t appear to be the case in spayed cats. Osteoporosis in women is often due to the reduction in oestrogen levels post-ovariohysterectomy/ menopause.

Though a lack of oestrogen doesn’t appear to have the same issues in cats, however, conversely, the presence of Oestrogen causes undesirable traits or conditions in cats. The fact that the removal of oestrogen causes few issues whereas the presence causes more problems is a big reason for spaying.
Oestrogen, along with other sex hormones it, lead to queens coming into season (“on heat”), becoming pregnant and increases the risk of some diseases.

Early neutering can be done from 4months old, sometimes earlier
Photo; Instagram @ xa_j_sx

About the Op?

In cat’s spaying is a major surgery but is relatively easy to do with adequate training and skills. Most new graduate vets (remember these have already undergone at least 5years of training at university) can spay a cat unassisted. Experienced vets can often manage the whole procedure in under fifteen minutes, often leaving an around 2cm in length if on the flank (side) or slightly longer if under the belly (known as midline).

Two methods are commonly performed in the UK. The flank spay is where cats are spayed through the (usually left) side of their abdomen. In a midline spay, the incision is underneath their belly, like in a bitch. Each vet tends to prefer one method over the other and use that method most of the time but the method used depends on a number of factors.

A flank spay is good for stray cats as you can monitor the cat’s wound from a distance following the surgery. Whereas, when you clip the hair of some oriental breeds, such as the Bengal, the hair regrow a darker colour. If you spay these breeds via the flank approach they will have a square patch of visibly different hair on their side whereas this is less visible under their belly.

Another benefit to a midline spay is that the uterus can still be easily removed if the cat is pregnant. This is sadly done quite often and sometimes because before the vet starts to spay the cat the owner isn’t aware of the pregnancy or, the owner wanted the cat spaying as a way to stop the pregnancy.

If your cat goes to be spayed and the vet finds out your cat is pregnant during the surgery, find that she is already pregnant, don’t worry. Before the vet proceeds further with the surgery he or she will contact you to discuss the situation. Your potential options will be for the surgery to be halted and your cat stitched back up so the pregnancy should proceed as normal or for her to still be spayed meaning the kittens will die.

Spaying for both species, despite the different approaches and complexities, is basically the same. For both, they have stitches internally and in the skin (which may or may not need taking out), and they should be rested for a couple of weeks to some extent.

In cats, it depends on the individual vet whether the ovaries are removed alone or with the whole of the uterus removed with them. Most issues affecting the uterus are due to the hormones released by the ovaries. If the ovaries are removed, therefore, these often don’t occur or, at least, are much less likely to. The reason the uterus may not be removed is that sometimes this is more difficult to do due to the position of the incision but shouldn’t make a difference to the cat overall.

Young kittens who have only just been born

Positives to Spaying

  1. Stops your cat going into season.
    1. You won’t get the few days every three weeks throughout Spring to Autumn of them constantly calling out waking you up from your sleep.
    2.  The constant worry and risk of them becoming pregnant is gone. This means you no longer have to worry about them going out and meeting with a Tom. Therefore, once cats are spayed many owners are happier about them going outside which is often better for their welfare, at least from a psychological point of view however it does depend on the traffic in your area as to whether you feel it is safe or not.
  2.  Birth control.
    1. Pure and simply once spayed a cat cannot get pregnant.
    2. To avoid pregnancy, most vets advise you do not allow your cat to go out before they are neutered. This is especially the case with young kittens. It is possible for kittens to get pregnant from four months old in some cases; at this point, they are not fully grown themselves and becoming pregnant can jeopardise the health of them and their litter.
    3. As the population of cats UK exceeds the demand (as seen by rescue centres constantly being filled to the brim), kittens are difficult to sell so may end up in shelters or straying.
      1. An entire (not-spayed) queen is responsible for the birth of 20,000 kittens over just five years, many of whom may be unwanted.
    4. Sex hormone-related cancers
      1. Mammary cancer (a cat version of breast cancer) risk rises after a queen’s first season; those spayed before six months old have a 91% less chance of developing mammary cancer compared to those spayed when over six months. Up to a year of age cat’s are still at a 86% lower risk of getting mammary cancer than those who are older.
      2. Mammary cancers are still quite rare in cats likely at least partially due to the majority being spayed early.
      3. The risk of mammary cancers is NOT reduced by a queen having a litter.
        1.  It is a myth that a cat should have a litter.
        2. Cat’s aren’t like us in that they don’t dream of having offspring or view it as something that should happen.
        3. Cats can get quite unwell when they have kittens. They often lose a lot of weight, they may have infections develop in either their uterus or mammary glands which will make them really unwell.
        4. Some don’t build an attachment with their young leading to them rejecting so the kittens will need hand-rearing. Whilst hand-rearing sounds cute, it takes a lot of work. Hand-reared kittens are more prone to disease as they don’t get the immunity they usually would from their mother. Many also don’t thrive well In the early stages they only drink very slowly and need to drink milk every two hours throughout both the day and night, leaving you, your family, and potentially your friends exhausted.
        5. Cats can either have benign mammary cancers which are usually resolved by surgically removing the affected mammary gland or malignant ones.
      4. Malignant mammary tumours are cancers that spread to other parts of the body. In dogs there is a 50:50 chance of getting one type or the other. Sadly in cats there is an 85% chance that the cancer is malignant. Malignant cancers will spread to other mammary glands or further around the body, often to the lungs causing coughing, breathlessness and weight loss.
        1. Cats with malignant cancers have a very poor prognosis, they are unlikely to survive long. If the cancer has spread to other areas of the body then removal of the mammary glands will not dramatically improve survival rates. For this reason, In cases of mammary cancer vets will usually advise taking XRays of the lungs to look for spread before doing surgery. These are not done to cost you more money but to see if surgery is the best route for your cat.
      5.  Ovarian Cancers
        1.  These only occur if the ovaries have not been removed. As these are removed the vast majority of the times when cats are spayed they will not be present in unsprayed animals (unless only the uterus has been removed)
        2. Ovarian cancers are rare in cats and only make up approximately 3% of cancers, mainly affecting older cats. The reason for the low level of this is the high percentage of cats being spayed.
        3. These can spread to other areas of the body or also be benign, sometimes just looking like cysts. If they are benign then removing the ovaries will sure them.
        4.  With a function of the ovaries being to release sex hormones, tumours there can affect hormone release. This may lead to changes in fertility, changes in their cycle, behaviour changes (aggression developing), vaginal discharge, pyometra
        5.  Other, non-hormonal signs of an ovarian tumour are weight loss, vomiting, eating/ drinking less, pain, lethargy.
      6.  Uterine Cancers
        1. These are rare and account for less than 1.5% of cancers in the cat.
        2. They tend to be hormone related so it’s very rare these occur after Ovariectomy (removal of just the ovaries which some vets perform when spaying).
        3. Many are malignant so spread to other areas of the body, often within the belly but not all of them. In benign cases often a hysterectomy will resolve them.
        4.  These can cause your cat to have a swollen up belly, increased or bloody vaginal discharge, changes in fertility and their cycle of when they’re in season or not. Some cats also lose weight and eat/ drink less and may become more sleepy or inactive.
      7.  Pyometra= “Pus in Uterus”, a life-threatening hormone-associated uterine infection.
        1. Less common in queens compared to bitches however they shouldn’t be ignored as they require urgent treatment, usually an emergency spay.
        2.  A pyometra spay is a much bigger surgery than a routine spay.
          1. if the uterus is damaged before it is removed, pus can leak into the belly which is very dangerous and potentially lethal.
          2. To ensure the uterus and ovaries are removed intact, and there is space to remove the enlarged uterus, the wound is bigger so they may be in pain for longer.
          3.  They will usually require antibiotics after to kill any bacteria leached into their bloodstream and ensure your cat fully recovers.
        3.  Approximately 5.7%, which is just over 1 in 20, of cats suffering from a pyo will die even with appropriate treatment. This figure that is slightly higher in dogs who are more commonly affected.
          1.  Approximately 17 cats out of 10,000 unspayed queens in any one year suffers from a pyometra.
            1.  This figure varies between breeds though.
            2.  For instance, 433 out of 10,000 unspayed sphynx cats get a pyometra every year, that’s almost one in twenty and 25x the risk of an average cat getting one.
            3.  Across all breeds, the likelihood of getting a pyometra is increased when your cat reaches seven years old, compared to dogs where risk increases once they reach ten years. Therefore, pyometras shouldn’t be thought of as an old age condition in the cat.

              A cat uterus thickened likely due to pyometra or cancer
      8.  Spayed cats are less than likely to roam.
        1. This reduces the risk of Road Traffic Accidents and them going missing.
        2. They also are less likely to get fighting-related or sexually transmitted diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV, similar to HIV in people.

The Negatives

  1. Weight gain and obesity
    1. Spaying your cat will make her more prone to weight gain or obesity
    2. You will need to keep an eye on their weight and perhaps put them on a low-calorie diet and give them fewer treats.
    3.  Making sure your cat gets plenty of exercise also helps to keep them fit and lean as well as mentally stimulating them.
  2. Spaying is not a quick and easy way to alter their behaviour
    1.  This is not a negative to the surgery but disappoints people who hope it will reduce any issues they may have with their behaviour which may have initially been linked to hormones.
    2.  Usually, spaying doesn’t alter behaviour at all though, in males, castration can sometimes reduce aggression in some cases but often doesn’t entirely stop it.

Early Neutering

Most veterinary practices and rescue centres recommend early neutering in cats, usually when they are between four and six months old but could be as young as 12weeks (or earlier in some cases).

Early neutering ensures cats cannot reproduce at all. Depending on when your cat is born, they may enter puberty at four to eight months of age (the variation is because they don’t come into season and, therefore enter puberty, over the Winter). It also reduces the risks of mammary tumours when older.

Another reason for early neutering is the surgery is easier and has fewer risks. At this age, cats have less belly fat so this doesn’t surround the ovaries and uterus in the same way as in older cats. Therefore the organs can be seen and removed easier, usually with a lower risk of bleeding.

Summing up the factors involving spaying your cat

Female cats can be spayed from as young as twelve weeks in most cases. The main reasons for neutering them is to prevent pregnancy, reduce the risks of hormone-related cancers and a pyometra. It can also reduce the risk of them roaming and, therefore, the chances of them getting hit by a car. The main negative is that it can cause them to gain weight especially if they have little exercise.

If you still have any questions regarding spaying, either what involved or the pros and cons then feel free to contact me to discuss it in more detail or leave a comment below. Other than that your vet or a veterinary nurse is the ideal person to talk to regarding this and they can also discuss any policies within the practice you use.

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