One of the most essential and important parts of hedgehog ownership is nail trimming.
Hedgehog nails grow fast and need to be trimmed every 2-4 weeks (every hedgehog is different) otherwise you risk serious vet bills. Hedgehog nails curl under and if not trimmed, the nail will curl into their skin and cause serious problems with their feet. Once the nail is embedded in your hedgehog's skin, it usually takes a vet to remove it.
When hedgehog nails get too long (and they get pretty long, especially in the back) it can make it uncomfortable for your hedgehog to walk and run in their wheel.
Nail trimming is typically a one person job, I usually do it by myself with no trouble. Occasionally, and depending on your hedgehog's temperment, it can be a two-person job. One person to hold, the other to trim.
Step 1: Getting Hedgie Ready
Since it's likely you're going to do your hedgie's nails during their normal nap time (Cas usually wakes up on his own when all the lights are out/after 11pm) it's a good idea to give them a few minutes to wake up so you're not jolting their system (I know I wouldn't be too thrilled being put in water if I was barely awake). Letting your hedgie wake up first also makes for a nicer hedgie.
When I decided to make an Instructible out of trimming Cas's nails he was already napping on the couch in his sleep bag (which is usually one of our hoodies, he likes pockets). So I put the bag on my lap and started talking to him. It was about 8:30 pm, not super early, so he didn't mind and woke right up.
In the 3rd and 4th picture you can see one of Cas's paws and his nails. Front paws don't get as long as back ones, but they do have a higher chance of curling under and no one wants that.
Step 2: Prep
Sometimes when I'm waiting for Cas to wake up, I'll let him run around the bathroom floor while I'm prepping the sink. I use a clean sink for baths and nail trimming, replacing the regular stopper with a plug so the water doesn't drain too fast (and it helps with getting poo out of the sink mid-bath, your hedgehog will go to the bathroom during this process).
I've owned hedgehogs on and off since I was 17 and cuticle nail clippers like the one pictured are by far the easiest and safest tool to use to trim your hedgehogs nails. Using regular small toe nail clippers you risk getting skin or a hedgie toe caught and cut.
Hedgehogs wiggle around so much, you really have to pay extra careful attention to the position of the nail clipper. It can also help to have a second pair of hands.
If I'm just doing nails, I let the water get medium-warm, not too hot, not too cold, and only fill it a couple of inches. Just enough to soak Cas's feet. This is basically a foot bath and a very useful if your hedgie tends to get dirty feet from running. Cas doesn't seem to have the dirty boots problem too often, but the water does help make nails softer and easier to trim.
Step 3: A Note About Baths...
Hedgehogs do not need full baths unless they are disgustingly gross, I mean like covered in poop. Baths dry out hedgie skin and hedgie's already have issues with dry skin so you really don't want to add to it.
If you must give your hedgehog an actual bath, I suggest getting Aveeno Oatmeal Soothing Bath Treatment to mix in the water and a hedgehog-designated toothbrush for cleaning feet and quills. The oatmeal is supposed to be soothing to hedgies. It's also very nice for hedgies going through quilling.
Diligent cleaning of your hedgehogs cage and wheel will negate the need for baths more than a couple times a year.
Step 4: "Before" Nails
These are some "before" pictures of Cas's nails. All-in-all, not too bad since it's been probably 3 weeks since I last did his nails.
Step 5: Trimming: Back Nails
After a minute or so of soaking, I usually start with the back nails since they are the easiest. I do this while Cas is still in the water because he (and most hedgehogs) are less likely to pay attention to me (therefore reducing the risk of bites) and more likely investigating their tub.
Gently, but firmly grab one a back foot. Hedgehog nails are fairly clear until you get to the quick which is pink/red (blood), so like with your other pets, you want to avoid the pink part of their nail and trim just above it. If you trim too close to the pink, it'll likely bleed and upset your hedgie. Pet stores sell a few products which is basically a powder that you pour over a bleeding quick to make it stop, I usually see it in the bird aisle.
Don't pull, tug, overextend, or force your hedgie's foot. They will pull and it's usually a good idea to just let go and try again.
The last photo is what Cas was doing while I was trimming his back paws (husband helped with photos).
Step 6: Trimming: the Front
Some hedgehogs will let you trim their front nails in the rub just as you did the back, others won't. Cas seems to go back and forth. Tonight it seemed easier to pop him out of the bath and onto a small towel where he could not only dry his belly, but would make it easier to manuever his front paws so I'm not grabbing them like with his back.
I've trimmed the nails of at least 10 different hedgehogs (used to do rescue), Cas is by far the easiest customer I've ever had. Today's session took less than 10 minutes.
Step 7: Trimmed Nails!
These photos show Cas's nails after trimming. Some nails I probably could have gone shorter on, but it's not worth bugging your hedgehog more than you have to. The goal here isn't for nicely manicured nails, it's about preventing health problems. Some nails will grow faster than others, some nails will curl (watch out for pinky nails on all 4 paws).
After baths/nail trimming, I wrap Cas up in a dry towel or hoodie and keep him as warm as possible while he dries off. I also give him a treat, usually freeze dried mealworms, as a reward. I'm hoping that giving mealworms only after baths/nails will positively reinforce good bathtime behaviors. I'm also careful not to trim Cas's nails every time he gets a bath.
Hedgehogs can become accustomed to baths/trimmings and eventually relax, which makes the job so much easier. Cas is still pretty young, but every time I do his nails it does seem to get easier. I've experienced hedgehogs that were so neurotic it would take me 45 minutes to get 3 out of 4 paws done.
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