An Easy Way to Trim Guinea Pig Nails

Rena McMahen, LVT, LATG and Angelina Williams, DVM, MPH, DACLAM


Despite their common name, guinea pigs (Cavia porcellus), are not really pigs at all. They are a species of rodents belonging to the family Caviidae, and their scientific name porcellus is Latin for “little pig.”2 These animals have been involved in biological experimentation since the 17th century.3 Their use as a model organism in the 19th and 20th centuries resulted in the epithet “guinea pig” for a test subject. Guinea pigs have been largely replaced by other rodents, such as mice and rats,3 but they are still used in research, primarily as models for human medical conditions such as juvenile diabetes, tuberculosis, scurvy, and pregnancy complications. Guinea pigs are generally docile and seldom bite; however, they are easily frightened and will try to avoid capture or being held.

Guinea pigs require regular nail trimming. The frequency can vary among animals but should occur once a month at a minimum. Clipping nails more often will help to create a routine and prevent the quick, or blood supply at the center of the nail, from growing closer to the tip. This is an important part of their grooming needs because their nails tend to curl and can grow into their footpads. Overgrown nails can result in damage to the skin by causing open wounds on the feet. Pododermatitis or bumblefoot may develop from an infected footpad.1 The inflammation associated with this condition can progress to osteoarthritis and, in rare cases, osteomyelitis, which has a poor prognosis in guinea pigs.1

Here, we provide a few easy steps on how to trim guinea pigs’ nails. The first step in this process is making sure that the animals feel secure with being handled. Until you can hold them and clip their nails at the same time, it is best to have another person assisting you.

If you feel that a guinea pig is too resistant to restraint or too active, it is best to work on 1 or 2 feet per day until you both feel comfortable with the procedure, provided the nails are not excessively overgrown.

Gather items you will need: nail trimmer (similar to the size used for cat nail trims), styptic pencils or clotting powder, and nitrile gloves.

Figure 1. Removing the guinea pig from its cage.

Figure 2. Upright position hold.

With gloved hands (Figure 1), reach into the cage with a slow and steady movement, then grasp the guinea pig from behind under its forearms with one hand and support the hindquarters with your other hand.

To get into the position for trimming its nails, place your less dominant hand under its arms while holding its back in an upright position against your chest/upper torso firmly but gently (Figure 2). Its toes will automatically spread open when you hold it this way, which aids in getting the nails trimmed quickly and is less stressful on the animal as well as you.

Pick up the nail trimmers with your dominant hand (Figure 3 A-B) and start clipping the nails on its feet one nail at a time. After trimming both hind feet then you can start on the front feet using the same technique.


Figure 3 A-B. Trimming front (A) and hind feet (B).

Figure 4. Provide positive reinforcement after nail trim.

Before returning the animal to its home cage, check all toenails for any signs of bleeding and apply the styptic pencil or clotting powder if necessary.

When finished, be sure to give positive reinforcement (Figure 4) and offer it a treat or something they like.

Rena McMahen, LVT, LATG is a Veterinary Technician at the University of Houston, Animal Care Operations in Houston, TX.

Angelina Williams, DVM, MPH, DACLAM is a Clinical Veterinarian at the University of Houston, Animal Care Operations in Houston, TX.


  1. Brown C, Donnelly TM. 2008. Treatment of pododermatitis in the guinea pig. Lab Anim. 37: 156-157.
  2. Harkness J, Turner PV, VandeWoude S, Wheler CL. 2010. Biology and Medicine of Rabbits and Rodents 5th ed. Ames (IA): Wiley-Blackwell.
  3. Suckow MA, Stevens KA, Wilson RP. 2012. The Laboratory Rabbit, Guinea Pig, Hamster, and Other Rodents. Cambridge (MA): Academic Press.

An Easy Way to Trim Guinea Pig Nails