Trimming nails is essential to routine care for this species, although it isn’t an easy task to accomplish. Trimmings must occur at regular intervals before nail growth results in the twisting of toes and the ability for their paw to have proper flat contact with the ground when walking. Trimming nails at routine intervals is preferred over attempts to insert items into their habitat to wear their claws down that can present unrelated safety concerns. The use of cinder blocks, bricks, sandpaper, or similar items applied to ramps or other areas in their habitat is NOT recommended due to the potential for serious injury if they fall while climbing, attempt to chew these items and chip their teeth or cause dental misalignment, or if they wear their claws down excessively to expose the nail bed or hyponychium (also known as quick).
Instead, to get the best results with the least risk to your prairie dogs, form a close bond with them through routine handling where there is consistent touching and massaging of their feet daily, so they learn to trust you with their feet.
Start this process early by massaging your pup’s feet on a daily basis, and over time many gradually get used to it. How you handle this exercise consistently over time is important and helps you in the future when trying to trim nails.
Have reasonable expectations of this prey species and realize that although imperfect, prairie dogs will not ever enjoy the clippers or the trimming process because it is comparable to a predator nipping at their toes. Often best results come from having the proper tools readily available and waiting until they are in a deep sleep. Then reach in quietly and rub their feet for a bit while at the same time taking the proper type of clippers and trimming one or two nails until they are awake enough to catch on to what you are doing. Then stop, take a break, and revisit the process later not to cause undue stress or resistance.
Only trim down/off the white tips at the end of the nail and nothing more, or you will hit the quick (hyponychium) and cause bleeding. As stated above, ensure you regularly trim their nails before their growth causes their toes to turn or lie unevenly while sitting at rest flat upon the ground.
Once they notice what you are doing and pull away, the caretaker should stop and resume again, but ONLY AFTER rubbing their feet for a while. Sometimes it may take a few days to trim them all, but it is important to not overly stress them over this routine and instead have them comfortable with our interactions. Pictures are included below for the sake of illustration to show the positioning of the clipper used only, but it is important to note that excessive growth of white tips was not present for these pictures.
Note: Do NOT use traditional nail clippers meant for human use because they cause the nail to crack/split vertically instead of horizontally. This is why these types of clippers are most recommended.
Help!!! My prairie dog has ripped out its nail, and it is bleeding! What do I do????
First, don’t panic. For the sake of this prey species, please remember they count on your calm, relaxed, and predictable interactions as their leader or alpha member of their hierarchal social system to help them feel safe and secure. Your nervousness or anxiety in the situation will only cause them to feed off your behavior negatively. So, please do your best to stay calm.
Second, there may be a LOT of blood as nail wounds can bleed excessively, but again, don’t worry. Give them time to deal with the situation because they will attempt to lick and clean their wound. This will cause it to bleed more because it isn’t getting the time to clot or coagulate and stop bleeding. Often the more attention we give to the incident or intervene and try to stop it, it creates a situation where they pay more attention to it, causing it to bleed further. Letting the prairie dog have some time at the onset of the incident helps them to ignore the situation and allows them to not fixate on trying to repair it, causing the bleeding to go on longer than it would if otherwise left alone. If, after an hour, the bleeding has not subsided with this strategy, you can attempt to place their paw in a bowl full of flour or a bit of corn starch, but then they may begin to lick at it again, trying to remove what you applied causing it to resume bleeding. If this recommended intervention method results in the nail continuing to bleed for more than an hour, please contact your exotic veterinarian, or reach out to Gena Seaberg at 425-870-1729 by text or phone or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you cannot reach her by phone or text for additional safe intervention strategies.
Finally, unless the nail bed was removed entirely from the incident, it can take a couple of months for the nail to grow back. Sometimes these situations can result in awkward re-growth that you need to monitor and trim as needed. Watch for excessive redness, seeping, discharge, inflammation, or heat/fever from the site, indicating potential infection. If this occurs, seek veterinary intervention for antibiotics. Ensure that the cage is kept clean throughout the healing process so that they don’t pick up bacteria during this time which would cause infection.
Keeping the nails trimmed and free from snags from their extensive working behaviors can be a great step at preventing nail-related incidents, along with ensuring that the habitat is free from items that might catch nails or cause snags. Routine inspection of their nails is part of responsible ownership.
Information found herein is provided as very basic and general guidance only and does not replace independent, free consultation that can more specifically assist you with this unique species and the nuances that vary greatly with each prairie dog uniquely and each person’s home. Different nuances such as your specific prairie dog's personality and history, other animals in your home, lifestyle, children, caging/habitat differences, access to resources and care, and a multitude of other variables too long to list here are just some of the reasons why getting help for YOUR situation is a good idea.
Lastly, ALWAYS seek routine care and medical attention from a licensed, exotic veterinarian in an emergency. Any advice given on this website or on any other web page should not be a substitute for proper veterinary care.