Grooming your guinea pig (cavy) is a good way to handle, interact, and bond with your pet. It is also a time to examine your animal for any changes in its overall health.
Your guinea pig must feel secure when being handled and groomed. Before you begin the grooming process, put a low-pile rug or carpet sample on the top of a sturdy table. Place your pet on the covered table and get it used to being handled while on the table. Never leave it unsupervised.
The first step in grooming is brushing. How often you groom will depend on the breed and individual guinea pig. It is important to groom your pet on a regular basis; however grooming too often, or too much grooming at one time, may cause the guinea pig’s coat to lose density. Short-haired guinea pigs do not require as much grooming as do long-haired ones. Guinea pigs need to be brushed more often when they are shedding. Some guinea pigs keep themselves cleaner than others. As you get to know your pet’s habits, you can determine how often it needs groomed.
To groom short-haired, smooth-coated guinea pigs like the American cavy, take the palm of your hand and rub the guinea pig’s back from its nose to rump, making sure you reach both front and rear legs. Finally, rub the underside of the neck and belly. Groom in the direction the hair lays. If there is a lot of loose hair, dampen your hand with water so the shedding hair will stick to your hand. You can also use a soft-bristle baby brush to groom a short-haired guinea pig.
For Abyssians, it is important to keep the rosettes clean. Use a soft-bristled brush to groom the overall guinea pig. Then take a small, soft tooth brush and comb each rosette from the center outward.
Teddy cavies have unique hair coats. The equipment needed to groom a Teddy includes a metal flea comb, a metal wide-tooth comb, and a slicker brush. Use metal combs, as plastic combs may break or split the hair. First use the flea comb to remove any shavings or debris from the Teddy’s hair. Groom starting from the head to the rump. Once the coat is clean, use the wide-tooth comb and starting near the head comb toward the head to get the coat to stand up. Continue working back toward the rump combing small sections to get the coat to stand up. Finally, use the slicker brush to gently catch the ends of the hair, combing them up on the sides and toward the head on the back and rump.
Long-haired guinea pigs, such as Peruvians and Silkies, require more frequent grooming. It is very important to clean the cage often to reduce the number of tangles and amount soiling on the long hair. To begin grooming, run your fingers through the hair to loosen any tangles. Then use a metal, wide-tooth comb to remove the tangles. Be gentle and do not pull the hair. Once you get all of the tangles are out, use a soft-bristle brush to smooth out the coat. If the ends of the hair keep getting dirty, shorten the coat by trimming the ends using ball-tipped scissors. People who show long-haired cavies use wrappers to keep the long hair from getting tangled and soiled while in the cage.
It is necessary to trim your guinea pig’s nails to keep them from curling into their footpads. Trimming and filing the nails also lessens the chance of you getting scratched. Accustom your guinea pig to having its legs, feet and toes handled by petting and rubbing them. Then introduce the nail clippers.
Use nail clippers made for humans, small dogs, or cats. Trim your guinea pig’s nails once every two weeks. More frequent trimming will help keep your pet’s nails shorter for a longer period of time. Use a nail file to smooth any rough edges.
Each nail has a quick, which is the pink area inside the toenail containing blood vessels and nerves. The quick is harder to see on dark-colored nails. Trim just in front of the quick. If you cut into the quick, apply styptic powder, flour or cornstarch to the bleeding area. Then apply pressure for one or two minutes and the bleeding should stop.
Only bathe your guinea pig if absolutely necessary. In preparation for bathing, gather 3 towels and a mild, unscented, non-medicated shampoo that is safe for use on kittens. Put one of the towels in the bottom of a sink or small tub for your guinea pig to rest on. Fill the tub with about 2 inches of lukewarm water. Make sure the bath is in a warm, draft-free area. Place the guinea pig’s hindquarters in the water first and then set it down on the towel. Be sure to keep its head out of the water. Use a small plastic cup to gently pour warm water over your pet’s shoulders, back and rump. Add a small amount of shampoo and work up a lather. Rinse thoroughly to get all of the soap out.
Use a bath towel to begin drying your guinea pig and a second towel to continue drying. You can also use a hair dryer to make sure your pet is dry. Always dry on low heat and do not hold the dryer too close. Make sure your pet is completely dry before returning it to its clean cage.
Sometimes you may need to only spot clean your guinea pig if just certain areas are dirty. Use a warm wet sponge or washcloth to remove the dirt. If using shampoo, be sure to rinse it out of the hair.
Examine your guinea pig’s ears weekly for wax buildup, bacterial infections, and ear mites. If you notice a foul smell and/or a dirty, reddish-brown crusty matter in the ear, consult your veterinarian for treatment, as this could mean ear mites or an ear infection. If the ears do not look irritated or infected, perform general ear cleaning once a month. Clean the outer area of each ear using a cotton swab dipped in mineral oil. Do not push the swab into the ear canal as this can cause serious harm. Gently rub the cotton swab around the outer area of the ear canal. Repeat this step as many times as necessary to remove the visible dirt and wax using a clean cotton swab each time. If you notice an extreme build-up of wax inside the ears, schedule an ear cleaning with your veterinarian.
Cleaning the Grease Gland:
All guinea pigs have a grease gland located at the base of the spine. This dime-sized gland lies just beneath the skin and produces an oily secretion for scenting and marking purposes. Some guinea pigs have more active grease glands than others, and boars more so than sows. If your guinea pig has an active grease gland, the hair covering the gland will be slightly tacky. You will feel a greasy buildup under the hair. This area can become irritated, and an accumulated buildup may lead to infection.
If the hair covering the grease gland is long, carefully trim it using ball-tipped scissors. Apply coconut oil to the gland to loosen the grease buildup if the area is really tacky. After you have soaked the area with coconut oil, wash it off with a warm washcloth. If there is still grease buildup, apply a mild degreasing dishwashing detergent on the gland and let it soak for four to five minutes. Thoroughly rinse the area and repeat as necessary. Keep your guinea pig warm and out of drafts during the cleaning process. Also, make sure it is completely dry before returning it to the cage.
Lucinda B. Miller, Ph.D. Ohio State University Extension