The grooming needs of short-haired guinea pigs are minimal but if you have a breed with longer hair, you will need to invest more time into caring for them. Regardless of their hair length though, all guinea pigs require regular nail trimming.
You can use human nail clippers 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. Some people even use nail clippers meant for babies but nail clippers designed for dogs are too large.
Aim to clip your guinea pig's nails at least once a month, although you can do it more often if necessary. 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 for walking and the quick at an appropriate length for trimming.
The hardest part of doing a nail trim on a pet guinea pig is trying to hold them still. With patience and practice, nail clipping will become part of your regular routine and your guinea pig will squirm less over time. When you are first starting out, have a helper hold your guinea pig so that you can safely trim the nails.
Despite being wiggly, most guinea pigs are not too difficult to hold and there are a few ways you can do so:
- Sit on the ground. Place your guinea pig on your lap facing away from you with its rump against your stomach. This will keep your guinea pig from backing up.
- Hold your guinea pig upright and onto their hind legs with its back against your body by placing your hand lightly around your guinea pig's chest. Make sure its hind end is supported—either on your lap if you are sitting down or with your other hand. With practice, you can hold one foreleg out with the hand holding the chest by placing it between your fingers.
- 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 tightly so that your guinea pig can still breath easily and take a break between legs to reduce stress and the chance of overheating.
The trick with nail trims is to cut the sharp tip off the nail without cutting into the quick. 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 in front of the quick, towards the end of the nail. If you cut too close to the quick it may still be painful for your guinea pig.
If your guinea pig has dark-colored 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 about trimming your guinea pig's nails, have a groomer, veterinary team member, or other experienced owners demonstrate a nail trim before you attempt it on your own.
Dealing With Accidents
No matter how careful you are, at one point you may accidentally cut into the quick and cause bleeding. Don't panic if this happens. While it will bleed and hurt your guinea pig for just a moment, it's not disastrous and you can stop the bleeding easily using various methods:
- Styptic powder can be applied to the nail tip that is bleeding. These powders sometimes sting momentarily but are highly effective in stopping the bleeding.
- 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 your guinea pig back in its cage or leaving it unattended.
Regular brushing will help keep your guinea pig's coat in good condition. Use a small, stiff brush and a small metal comb and brush in the direction your guinea pig's hair is going. While brushing and combing your guinea pig, you should also 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 excessively.
Long-haired guinea pig breeds should have any mats combed out every day. If you have a hard time managing the long coat, the hair can also be trimmed to more easily manage it. Simply trim the longer hair so it's not dragging on the ground using hair scissors or see a groomer for advice.
Short-haired guinea pigs need only be brushed about once a week but if they are shedding and losing more hair than usual, brush them at least every other day.
Bathing is quite stressful for guinea pigs but thankfully there are only a few reasons why your guinea pig would ever need to get a bath. Unless your guinea pig gets lice, gets urine or feces on its fur, or is about to be in a show or other competition, you'll probably never have to bathe it if you brush it regularly. If you do give your guinea pig a bath, use a shampoo designed especially for guinea pigs. Otherwise, use a mild shampoo formulated for kittens, baby shampoo, or dish soap.
Prepare a shallow pan of warm water and lather your guinea pig's body with the shampoo. Don't get shampoo or water in its eyes or ears. Rinse the shampoo off 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 it is completely dry to avoid it getting a chill and getting sick.