The claws of a hamster are a frequently used and essential body part for the small rodents. Unfortunately, very few owners know how to properly care for them.
In this post, we’ll tell you the 5 most important things you absolutely need to know about hamster claws.
The hamster claw: features and things to know.
Hamsters have five toes on each paw and thus also five claws. In total, the number of claws is 20.
The claws consist of keratin, which is colloquially known as horn. They are therefore strong and comparatively resilient. As a result, they help animals dig, but they can also be used to hold food and for fighting or defense.
They are also crucial for grooming.
But beware: too long claws can be responsible for fur loss. Here you can find more about this topic
The claws can be transparent, whitish, brown, grayish or even black. In the course of life, the color often changes and becomes darker. This is quite natural and nothing to worry about. It does, however, make it more difficult to shorten if necessary.
A hamster claw is too long – what to do?
In nature, hamsters cover several kilometers night after night. In doing so, they walk on numerous different surfaces, dig, burrow and climb. In their search for food, they may also move stones or scratch at branches. All of this ensures that their claws wear down, keeping them at an appropriate length.
However, several problems arise when keeping them in a cage or a hamster home.
First and foremost, there is often not enough space for the animal to run. A running wheel does provide exercise, but it is not a substitute for a variety of surfaces.
Moreover, a commercial hamster cage hardly offers the possibility to introduce different floor coverings. Wood chips and soft material for lining the sleeping house are unfortunately often the only surfaces offered to the animals.
As a result, the claws are unable to wear down and thus become too long. This does not sound alarming at first, but it does pose some dangers:
higher risk of breaking and tearing off
claws can become a nuisance
possible movement restrictions or incorrect posture
probability for inflammations increases
The claws can grow so long that they twist like a corkscrew and normal walking is no longer possible. This sometimes causes considerable pain and can also have a negative effect on the musculoskeletal system.
The right prevention
To prevent these problems, you should already pay attention to some factors when keeping your pet.
Offer your animal different and natural undergrounds, which change again and again. Stone, hard wood in the form of twigs, branches and tree slices, sand and climbing opportunities are ideal. Even soil for digging and creating burrows can be offered.
It is important that the substrate is sterilized beforehand at 100° Celsius in an oven or microwave. Germs and pests are killed in the process.
The offer of different materials animates your hamster to move, prevents boredom and offers the opportunity to sharpen and stress the claws.
Even the pressure of walking on floors with different degrees of hardness has a positive effect on the claws and the musculoskeletal system.
Whetstones for the ideal claw sweep
We have already mentioned different substrates. However, there is another option that is specifically suitable for shortening the claws.
These are the so-called whetstones (also called rodent stones or scratching stones).
They are distinguished into soluble stones, which at the same time serve the mineral supply of the animals and durable variants, which can be used for example also as cooling plate in the summer.
The rough surfaces are a kind of combination of a nail file and a cat scratching post. Even a short but regular walk on it efficiently shortens the claws. Scraping also takes place when stretching or playing on or against the stone.
Am I allowed or required to trim my hamster’s claws?
The answer to both questions is clearly yes!
If the claws have become too long and are already bending sideways, you should definitely take corrective action.
In this case, it is no longer enough to offer materials for wear. This is because the tip of the claw no longer hits the ground in such a way that it can be worn down evenly.
So it is necessary to cut the claws.
How to cut hamster claws properly
Step 1: Find a helper
Clipping claws on hamsters is not straightforward. The animals are small, skittish, defensible and unfortunately easy to hurt.
Therefore, it is best to find a helper for the procedure who can safely hold your hamster without causing pain to the animal.
If this is not possible, consult a veterinarian. This way you can learn how to trim the hamster’s claws yourself and have expert help.
Step 2: Provide adequate protection
Your hamster will not be thrilled about having his claws cut. Therefore, expect bites.
The person fixing the animal is therefore best to wear work gloves and have a finger under the hamster’s head. That is, if that is possible. Because especially with dwarf hamsters, a secure hold is extremely difficult.
Step 3: Find the life
The so-called life of a claw is a blood vessel that runs lengthwise through the claw.
If the life is cut into, heavy bleeding must be expected. With transparent or light-colored horn, the vessel can be easily recognized and avoided.
It becomes more difficult with dark pigmented claws. Here a small flashlight can help you, which you hold from behind or below directly against the respective claw.
If necessary, you can then see the end of life near the tip and adjust the cut accordingly. Assuming, of course, your hamster will hold still that long.
Step 4: Use the right cutting tool
Small animal claw nippers with sharp, clean blades are ideal. Rounded tips reduce the risk of injury.
It also keeps enough distance from the toe in question.
How often do I need to trim my hamster’s claws?
As a general rule, it is better to cut the tips of the claws frequently than to remove large sections less frequently. Because this avoids bad posture, pain and other risks.
In addition, the life in the claws regresses.
So it may make sense to cut off only a millimeter at a time, but to reach for the claw scissors every week or every two weeks.
Your goal, however, should be to allow your hamster’s claws to wear down and shed on their own, so you don’t have to cut them. So first, change the setup of the hamster’s home so that you don’t have to keep trimming claws on a healthy animal.
Exceptions in the case of a lack of stress on a leg or little movement can of course be found in the case of injuries, disabilities or diseases. In these cases regular trimming is indispensable.
Shortening is always advisable when the claws bend too much or even deform laterally.
Claws grow very fast – cause for concern?
Hamsters have a fast metabolism. They digest quickly, develop quickly and even their nail teeth grow back.
Fast growing claws also have an evolutionary advantage for the animals in nature: Since hamsters dig and run a lot, the nail substance has to renew itself in a short time.
The impressive growth is therefore normal, but is often not noticeable as a rule. This is true at least when the animals have the opportunity for natural claw care.
Typical hamster claw injuries and diseases
Taking care of your hamster’s claws involves more than just trimming them.
Just as you may break a nail or get an infection in the nail bed, rodents are not immune to these types of problems.
1: Claw torn off
If a claw is torn off enough to prevent bleeding, a light trimming will suffice. Remove the frayed end to prevent further snagging or debris from becoming lodged in it.
However, if a claw is so torn that the blood vessel has been injured, you should consult a veterinarian. This is because it creates an entry point for pathogens, which can lead to infection.
If the bleeding is more severe, you should apply a hemostatic sponge such as gelaspon to the wound or use cellulose and pressure to stop the bleeding.
Treatment by a veterinarian is required in any case if:
the bleeding does not stop the claw is sticking out at an unnatural angle the claw is very loose or only hangs on the skin the paw is conspicuously spared
Ideally, of course, you will prevent it from happening at all. It is important that you avoid injury hazards.
too long claws bars unsafe toys wobbly ground
If you recognize a torn off or even torn out claw early, an appropriate treatment can take place. Often the claw will grow back even if it has to be pulled out.
It is a risk if no therapy is carried out.
Therefore, observe your animal closely!
If it spares a paw conspicuously or you find blood in the cage or fur, you should urgently carry out a control. Because even if it is a small injury, it can lead to serious problems.
The contact with your own feces and urine alone is a given, even in a frequently cleaned and very well maintained cage. This increases the risk for infection.
2: Inflamed claw
There is no such thing as an inflamed hamster claw. However, the particular toe can become inflamed. Causes include:
Injuries to the skin or paw
infections with nail fungus
excessive or wrong strain of the paw
injuries to the life of the claw
The risk factors are similar to those of a torn claw.
However, inflammation can also occur if you use dirty scissors to shorten it, or pathogens can enter the life and thus the bloodstream by other means.
Signs of inflammation are:
In addition, the hamster will take it easy on the paw when walking and may clean or gnaw on it more often.
To prevent the infection from spreading and becoming a threat to overall health, treatment must be given.
Important: If the claw has turned yellowish and thickened, it is often nail fungus or claw fungus. Therefore, a fungicide must be used. The therapy is comparatively lengthy but generally simple.
In other cases, an antibiotic can be used that is either applied externally or administered orally.
In both scenarios it is important that you keep the cage clean and follow the development of the inflammation closely. This way, if the condition worsens, you can return to the vet early and adjust the treatment accordingly.
3: Black hamster claw
One or more dark to black claws are not uncommon in hamsters – especially older animals.
Even if they initially had transparent or whitish claws, they may become differently pigmented over time.
This is a normal development that is not a concern. The dark coloration does make cutting more difficult, if necessary, but otherwise has no effect on the consistency of the claw.
My name is Mark and the senior editor
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