At the rescue I've been the unofficial Official Nail Clipper for the adoptable and sanctuary pigs in our care for several years. While I'd been adept at nail trimming (thanks to my own brood of pigs) before I started working with Cindy, trimming 25+ sets of nails each month takes one's skills to a new level of speed and precision. Especially when you deal with so many piggy personalities, tolerance levels for grooming, and so forth.
I've honestly never thought much about it, and never thought it difficult, until I started running into people who were taking their pigs to the vet every month for nail trimming (for a fee). I even met one family who found a sales rep at their local Petco who would clip their boy's nails (though I wonder what they're going to do when that person leaves their job or transfers to another store).
Guinea Lynx has some good drawings that help you distinguish between the nail and the quick that grows within the nail (providing a blood supply), as well as some good photos showing you what nails look like at different ages. So rather than reinvent the wheel and provide photos here, I'll just share some of my tips and observations.
Trimming Dark-Colored Nails
It takes time to get your bearings with brown or black toenails. After working with so many pigs, I can pick up a new arrival to the rescue and quickly gauge how short I can cut the nails. (Brown and black nails are one of the main reasons why people take their pigs to the vet for help with nail trimming.)
How did I find my comfort level? The first time I had a pig with dark nails, I held a flashlight under her feet. The light helped me find the quick and cut just above it. I did this as my pig got older and her nails got thicker with age. I repeated the practice with another pig (to be sure the trick worked), and reached a point where now I just eyeball nails and mark where I can trim them. I know some owners who use my flashlight trick every time they trim their pigs' nails to get their bearing straight (and calm their nerves).
Spare The Expense Of "Special" Pet Nail Trimmers
The pet supply manufacturers will dislike me for saying this, but nothing beats the nail clippers made for us humans, like the one shown in this photo (I personally prefer the ones made by Trim). They're less expensive, longer lasting, and better accommodate the larger fingers on adult hands. More importantly when you're dealing with wriggling piggies who object to this grooming activity, the nail "nippers" get the job done on the first try. They work just as well on the thick hind nails of older pigs as they do on the tiny, needle-sharp nails of adolescent pigs.
What bugs me about the pet nail trimmers is that they have finger loops that are about the same size as those on craft scissors used in elementary school classrooms. They don't cut as quickly and cleanly (especially on thicker nails), and have been known to mash or split a nail if the cutting angle isn't just right. And, from certain angles, it's hard to see what you're doing when you're trying to position the clippers just right on the nail because your view is obstructed compared to what you have with the nippers described above. These might work better when you're cutting nails on a guinea pig held by another person, but if you're working solo, nippers are the best choice.
Customize Hold Positions For Each Guinea Pig
Most of the time, I use a one-handed hold similar to the one shown on Guinea Lynx. It's not especially comfortable for the pigs, so you have to work fast to get all four feet done before your pig starts squirming. The one-handed hold is not recommended for use with guinea pigs who have cysts or tumors, have recently had surgery, have a lot of weight on them, or who are aging with arthritic joints and bones. It just puts pressure in all the wrong places for them. The whimper or squeak of discomfort that they'll vocalize will make you feel like the worst owner ever in the history of the world.
For those pigs, and ones who are uber-squirmy, the best thing to do is put them on a towel or a fleece sack and put them on your lap or on a table in front of you. With a couple of sessions, you and your pig will find an angle that's comfortable for both of you. In time, you'll find your pig very easily acquiesces when you gently pick up one of its feet to trim nails.
Sometimes You Need Four Hands
Nail trimming with some pigs is a two-person job, and it's not a mark of failure or inadequacy against you. They're bratty, resentful of this brand of attention, and willing to nip or bite whatever part of you they can reach while you work.
At the rescue, Guinness, Rocky, and Rowdy are just such pigs. Always up for a snuggle, these boys turn into cranky Tasmanian devils at nail trimming time. Invariably, Cindy has to hold them with their backs to her chest and her fingers positioned just under their chin, which pressures them to look up and gives me just enough time to cut their nails lickety-split.
Get A Personalized Tutorial
You can fly solo when it comes to trimming your pig's toenails. If the information here and on Guinea Lynx still doesn't calm your nerves, ask the vet techs at your next appointment to show you how. They can trim one or two nails, explaining what they're doing as they're doing it. Then they'll talk you through the process as you trim the remaining nails. Good vet techs won't mind doing this for you, especially if it leaves you feeling more empowered and independent at the end of the lesson.
Have tips of your own to share? Please leave them in the Comments section!