Trimming your Small Animal's Nails

 An orange and white guinea pig getting a nail trimmed.

Small animals are some of the most rewarding pets you can have -- but trimming their nails can be a necessary and challenging process. How often should you trim small animal nails? What tools will you need? What happens if something goes wrong? Here, we’ll help demystify the process and give you some pointers to help keep your cockatiel, rat, guinea pig, bearded dragon, or other small animal healthy and happy.

Why You Need To Trim Small Animal Nails

Unlike your cage-free animals, small animals are often confined to cages or enclosures that don’t allow them to have contact with a variety of surfaces. Your cockatiel might not have the right perches to trim her nails; likewise, your rat or guinea pig might not be able to dig or smooth their nails on rough surfaces. Trimming nails can be an easy way to extend your small animal’s life and increase their wellbeing.

What You Need To Trim Small Animal Nails

To get started with your small animal, you should be comfortable handling them, and they should be comfortable with your touch. You may need to spend a few days or even weeks working with your animal to be able to touch and manipulate their feet in a way that you could get a trimmer to their nails. When you’re both ready, you can move on to the actual nail trimming.

To trim your small animal’s nails, you’ll need a small pair of nail trimmers, and some styptic powder in case you cut too close to the quick. Styptic powder is like a small animal bandaid: it stops bleeding quickly from nails and small cuts.

Special Nail Trimming Tips For Small Mammals and Reptiles

  • Getting your small mammal or reptile used to having their feet handled, the sounds of the nail clippers, and the nail clippers near their feet will make nail trimming painless
  • Capitalize on their love of treats to make nail trim time fun for everyone
  • If your small animal is getting stressed, take a break! Doing just a few nails as a time is perfectly fine
  • Providing rough tiles and a variety of rough surfaces will let them file down their nails naturally, making it longer between nail trims. Ceramic tiles are cheap at your local hardware store!

Special Nail Trimming Tips For Birds


  • Use a towel to hold your bird and protect your hands as you work
  • Covering the head may help destress your bird while your work
  • You can buy rough perches for your birds to try and keep nail trimming to a minimum

What Is The Quick And How Do I Avoid It?

Drawing of a pet nail with the quick. Source: My House Rabbit

Image Source: My House Rabbit

The piece of the nail that is attached to veins is called the quick. In some animals, it is easy to see the difference between the thin nail, and the thicker quick. If you have an animal with pure black nails, it can be challenging to avoid the quick. If you’re unsure, always err on the side of safety and clip the smallest amount of nail possible. As you gain experience, you’ll get a better sense of how to avoid the quick.

If you do happen to hit the quick, you’ll know. Your small animal will let you know its displeasure. They may even start to bleed. If they do, apply styptic powder to  stop bleeding quickly. You can use flour or cornstarch as a quick fix too, although they’re not nearly as effective. Give your small animal a break, some treats, and resume when everything is back to normal.


The best way to learn, of course, is through watching. Here is a collection of videos on how to trim your small animal’s nails.



Guinea Pigs:


Still Scared? Other Options For Small Animal Nail Trimming

Close up of a bearded dragon

If nail trimming freaks you out, there are affordable alternatives. First, make sure to purchase some environmental stimuli that will help your small animal keep their nails short: rough tiles, perches, or other stimuli. Second, you can visit your vet and have them do the dirty work! Our favorite for this sort of thing, Avian and Exotic Veterinary Care provide small animal nail trims at an affordable price.


Here at Pets on Broadway, our Animal Care team offers nail trims on a variety of small animals! Want to know if we can give your pet a mani-pedi? Give us a call at 503-282-5824!