Looking after long haired guinea pigs – part 1

Article by Laura Humphreys, RHA, Assistant Editor & Expert, with the kind co-operation of Felicity!

For quite a while now you have been requesting an article on how to look after long-haired breeds of piggy. Most of you are asking from a pet owner perspective. We do have one show-standard guide coming up in a later part of this feature, but in this issue we’re looking at basic grooming of a pet long-haired guinea pig. We hope it answers some, if not all, of your questions. If not, contact us!

So for the first part of Grooming Long-Hairs, meet my little princess Felicity Isabella. Bit of background information, as it is important in this case: Fliss is thought to be around 3-4 years old and has been with me for 2 and a half years. She was born anophthalmic (without any eyes) and lives with her mother Miranda, who I also adopted at the same time. To the naked eye most people would have no idea Felicity has no eyes: she moves around every day as assuredly as a sighted piggy. In situations she’s unsure of, she either freezes before slowly sensing her surroundings, or she flies. The latter is very rare these days, but we couldn’t handle her very easily at first as she wasn’t used to us. Now she is, she’ll let us do anything to her – which is why she was chosen to demonstrate the scissor-technique of hair trimming.

In my years of keeping guinea pigs I will firstly say that, as a result of keeping the hair short on a routine basis, I have never needed to groom any of my long-hairs daily. I very rarely comb or brush them. I’ve had Coronets, Shelties, Swiss and Peruvians, and the only times they have ever developed matted hair is if they’ve not had their usual monthly trim around their rear end. This is where the matts will develop, as this is where the hair is the thickest, and also where the hair is most likely to become soiled or infested with parasites or fungal infection (both of which which can cause hair breakage, skin flakiness, and lead to debris coating the hair shafts). 

However for the sake of this article, I did give Felicity a thorough comb-through prior to trimming her hair. She wasn’t keen, but it certainly makes you see how easy it would be to let the hair get out of control; it had only been two months since her previous all-over haircut! 

IMPORTANT I worked alone, with my partner taking the photos as I requested, but the very first thing to note before I start is that: 

• if you are new to trimming piggies, 

• if your piggies are fairly new to you, 

• if your piggies are not used to being groomed, or 

• if you are at all unsure about managing on your own… 

…then use your partner to help or get someone else to hold the piggy for you while you do the trimming. I learned to manage on my own through necessity, and it can be done safely, but remember in these photos I’m working with a very placid and trusting guinea pig, I have years of experience of managing long-haired pigs of various levels of “spiritedness”, and I would not put my guinea pigs at risk. I also ask you not to put your guinea pigs at unnecessary risk, so please do read all the notes carefully and take note of the points in red. Starting with: use a partner to help for the first few trims!

Appraise what exactly it is you have in front of you, and what you want to achieve with the haircut. Are you giving an all over trim to shorten all of the pigs hair from shoulder to bum, or do you want to keep the hair moderately long and just trim it so it’s not dragging on the floor, and so that the rear end is clean and short? Look at what you’ve got to work with and what you want to achieve. The absolute minimum you will need to do as a pet owner is to trim the hair around the rear end to keep the pig’s genitals hygienically clean and the hair around it free from matts. Soiled/wet hair around the genitals attracts parasites and flystrike.

If needed, brush out the coat before you trim the pig. This way any matts or knots will become apparent to you, and you also get a better idea of the actual length of the pig’s coat. With rexoid breeds (Swiss, Texel, Merino to name a few) their hair is actually longer than it appears, as the rexoid gene causes it to stand erect from the body. Brushing the coat out lengthens the crimps in the hair strands so you can see just how long the hair really is! This step is especially important if you’re using clippers (see the next issue, #31) due to the risk of snagging, but also useful when trimming with scissors.

In Felicity’s case, you can see her hair was so long she needed an all over trim. I always start at the sides rather than going straight to the rear end, but this is a matter of personal choice. Three key points here: 

Sit on the floor. No matter how experienced you are, no matter how laidback the pig you are working with, do your grooming on the floor or a very low surface “just in case” the piggy should get spooked by anything. Pigs tend to dart and jump about when they feel something they don’t like so if you can sit on the floor with them on your lap, this will prevent any falling accidents. 

Face the guinea pig in towards you, hold them close and maintain as much bodily contact as you can. The more contact and the more consistent the contact, the more secure they feel. I often tuck the guinea pig between my arm and side of my body whenever possible, as they prefer this to being ‘exposed’. 

When trimming with scissors, always keep your hand between the scissors and the guinea pig. Use round-ended scissors to prevent poke injuries.

When trimming the hair on the rear end, start by levelling the hair out above ground-level, (or just above the level of the pigs legs as they are sitting on you). This is just top layer trimming though – it’s just the start of trimming the hair around the back end to a healthy length. This alone isn’t enough. Provided you have combed through then there’ll be no knots or matts in the thick layers underneath…if there are knots, you will need to carefully seek and trim these out and then bath the guinea pig to shampoo and condition out the matts that are too close to the skin to trim off. Once you can start to see the pigs underside or actual “butt” or genitals to some degree, and you know there are no matts on the rump, then it’s time to move onto the real work…

Sit the piggy upright, facing away from you, leaning their back firmly against your tummy so that their genital area is exposed, with your hand and upper arm firmly supporting them and preventing them slipping down – in the position Felicity is in here. Using a pair of miniature round-ended scissors, trim the trickiest hairs between the legs. I find it easiest to break the area down into three sections in my mind: around the actual genitals, then the two spaces either side of the genitals up to the legs. . This is a very tricky part to trim short, particularly if the guinea pig kicks the back legs around, but with practice you will learn how to hold the leg still with the same hand you’re holding the pig with and to get a closer trim – but as long as you (safely) manage to get some length off the hair here, mainly around the genitals themselves, it will help.

Once you’ve done all that, you should more or less have a much tidier version of the long-haired guinea pig you started with. I gave Felicity an all-over trim so once I’d trimmed her sides and rear-end, I trimmed the layers all over the rest of her body. The one area to avoid trimming is on the head and face. I have yet to come across a case where trimming around the face is necessary. The hair is naturally shorter on the face no matter what the breed. The only exception is the Peruvian, however the fringe that droops down over the face originates from the back of the head. To trim the fringe, lift the hair away from the face and cut.

Oh yes, and perhaps I should have mentioned this first, but hopefully you are reading this before trimming…you should be wearing old clothes while doing this as you WILL end up covered head to toe in guinea pig hair!


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