Grooming Guinea Pigs

Nail Clipping, Brushing and Bathing

Girl (6-8) grooming guinea pig, focus on guinea pig, close-up
Peter

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 squirm less over time.

Most guinea pigs are not too difficult to hold, but when starting out, have a helper hold your guinea pig so you can trim the nails. 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. 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 or 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.

    Frequency

    Aim for clipping the nails at least once a month, although you can do them even more often if desired.

    Although nail clipping may be awkward and difficult at first, the more often you do it, the easier 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 (called the "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's safe to cut based on the shape of the nail, although this takes 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, have a groomer, veterinarian or other experienced owner demonstrate a nail trim before you attempt it on your own.

    Accidents Happen

    No matter how careful you are, you may accidentally cut into the quick and cause bleeding at some point. Don't panic; while it might hurt for just a moment and will bleed, it's not disastrous. Stop the bleeding with one of these methods:

    • Kwik-Stop powder or other commercial styptic powder product. These sometimes sting but are highly effective. Take a pinch of powder and press it onto the tip of the affected nail after wiping away the blood.
    • Cornstarch or flour can also be used in a similar manner.
    • Try pressing the nail into a bar of soap or beeswax.
    • For minor bleeding, simply applying pressure to the tip of the nail may be effective.

    Make sure the bleeding has stopped before placing the animal back in its cage or leaving the animal unattended.

    Brushing

    Regular brushing will help keep your guinea pig's coat in good condition and most guinea pigs do not mind being brushed. Use a small, stiff brush and a small metal comb. While brushing and combing your guinea pig, check for problems such as lice or sores on the skin. The need for brushing depends on how long your guinea pig's hair is, and whether your guinea pig is shedding:

    • Long-haired guinea pigs - Brush and comb out any mats every day. If you have a hard time coping with the long coat, the hair can be trimmed. Simply trim the longer hair so it's not dragging on the ground (you may want to see a groomer for advice).
    • Short-haired guinea pigs - Brush every few days or at least once per week. If your guinea pig is shedding (and losing more hair than usual), brush at least every other day.

    Bathing

    Bathing is quite stressful for guinea pigs, and most guinea pigs rarely need bathing, if ever.

    The exception to the rule is if your guinea pig gets lice or some other ectoparasite. In this case, your veterinarian may recommend bathing and will recommend a shampoo. If you are showing your guinea pig, bathe him before a show. Otherwise, unless your guinea pig's fur gets badly soiled (e.g. with urine or feces) baths are probably not even necessary, especially if you regularly brush your guinea pigs.

    If you do give your guinea pig a bath, use a shampoo designed especially for guinea pigs (cavies). Otherwise, use a mild shampoo formulated for kittens. Some owners even use baby shampoo.

    Prepare a shallow pan of warm (not too hot!) water, and lather your guinea pig's body only. Don't get shampoo or water in their eyes or ears. Rinse very well and towel dry your guinea pig as best as you can/ Make sure your guinea pig stays in a nice warm place until she is completely dry.