If your furry friend’s nails are looking a little too long these days, you may be wondering: should I cut my hamster’s nails? With how small these rodents are, especially the dwarf species, giving them a manicure can seem like a bit of a daunting task.
Let’s have a look at everything you need to know about cutting a hamster’s nails, when and how to do it, and how to help prevent your pet’s nails from overgrowing in the first place.
Should I cut my hamster’s nails?
If your hamster’s nails are overgrown, then yes, they need to be trimmed. Overly long nails can get caught on all sorts of surfaces, which can cause your hamster to panic and rip the nail. This, in turn, can be an infection risk. Long nails will also make it more difficult for your pet to get around.
This being said, the majority of hamsters won’t actually ever get to the stage where their nails need to be trimmed. Climbing and clambering on abrasive surfaces, scratching, digging around and manipulating food are usually enough to keep them short. However, sometimes a hamster’s nails just grow unusually fast. Additionally, older or sickly hammies may need regular nail cutting because they aren’t able to do the activities that take care of nail overgrowth.
It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on your hamster’s nails. This way, if they do overgrow, you can catch it before they get dangerously long.
When should you cut a hamster’s nails?
It’s okay if your hamster has visible nails: it uses them for things like digging and balancing itself while clambering up décor in its cage. However, they shouldn’t become overly long. If they do, it can begin to affect the hamster’s quality of life.
If the nails start getting snagged on things, curling under themselves, scratching you during handling time or if your hammie starts having trouble walking normally, it’s time to whip out the nail clippers.
How do you cut a hamster’s nails?
Nervous about clipping a tiny hamster’s even tinier nails? That’s not surprising, especially with individuals that don’t like to be handled and may squirm. If this is your first time dealing with a hamster with overgrown nails, your best bet is to just ring your vet and make a nail clipping appointment. You should take hamsters for a regular vet check-up anyway, especially the older or sickly ones that are more prone to overgrown nails, so this way you can kill two birds with one stone.
Ask your vet if they can show you how to clip the nails. It’s really not that difficult: you just need to learn how to properly hold a squirming hamster. The vet will also be able to show you where to make the cut to prevent accidentally nicking a vein and hurting your furry friend. After you’ve seen them do it a couple of times, you will hopefully feel confident enough to do it yourself.
In case you need a reminder, here are the basic steps. All of this is much easier with a tame hamster, which is one of the reasons you should spend plenty of time on getting yours comfortable with you holding it. It can help in all sorts of (emergency) situations!
- You’ll need some infant nail clippers, and ideally also a small torch (the one on your phone is fine).
- Enlist a family member or friend, at least for your first nail clipping experience. It can really help having a second set of hands. I personally prefer having my “assistant” hold the animal, while I do the clipping.
- Carefully pick up the hamster and place it in a position that allows you to grab one of its paws without it squirming all over the place. On its back, pressed against your chest, rolled in a little burrito using a towel: whatever works.
- Grab a paw and, before clipping, look for the pink quick in each nail using your torch. This little collection of blood vessels supplies blood to part of the nail, but won’t reach all the way to the tip. It should be easy enough to spot, since hamster nails are somewhat transparent.
- You should absolutely avoid cutting the quick or even cutting too close to it. We only want to cut into the dead part of the nail, not the live part. It’s better to clip too little than too much, so reserve a millimeter or two of distance.
- Now, gently but decidedly clip the nail. The sound and sensation can spook your hamster, so give it a little moment to squirm after each nail if need be.
- If things become too much, release the hamster. You can continue the process tomorrow. Be sure to offer some snacks to make up for the experience.
Help, my hamster’s nail is bleeding!
Although you should be able to prevent any bleeding by locating the quick before cutting a nail and absolutely avoiding clipping close to it, sometimes accidents just happen. Or maybe your hamster’s nail isn’t even bleeding due to you cutting it, but due to things having been left too long and the nail getting snagged! In any case, you should take action. Don’t panic, though, your hammie will be fine.
The proper treatment for a bleeding nail requires you to first apply some styptic (blood clotting) powder to stop the bleeding. In a pinch, you can also use cornstarch, but we recommend having some styptic powder in your medicine cabinet if you own any type of pet. Once the bleeding has stopped, you should gently wash the area with some lukewarm water and possibly apply some betadine (iodine) or chlorhexidine for mild disinfection. Keep your hamster’s cage very clean until the wound has healed to prevent further issues.
How to prevent a hamster’s nails from overgrowing
Prevention is better than cure! Having to get its nails clipped is never fun for a hamster, whether it’s tame or not. Luckily, there is a lot you can do to prevent ever having to do so. We do want to mention that you shouldn’t include any sandpapered surfaces in your furry pet’s cage, at least not on a permanent basis. Although they’re sometimes recommended for the purpose of keeping nails short, they can actually cause foot sores.
Here are some things you can consider:
- Provide plenty of substrate. You should always be doing this, but it has the added advantage that burrowing helps keep a hamster’s nails trim.
- Maintain a sand bath for your hamster. Again, this is something you should always be doing, and it helps with its nails too.
- Include wooden décor in the cage. Climbing and clambering on wood really helps keep nail growth under control.
- Place some lava stone or similarly mildly abrasive rocks in spots your hamsters visits a lot, like under its water bottle.
So, should I cut my hamster’s nails? Well, keeping a hamster’s nails trim should be possible without clipping, but sometimes you just get unlucky. If that’s the case for you, see if you can have your vet teach you how to clip them yourself.
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