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Home > Hamsters > What Happens If a Hamster’s Nails Get Too Long? (Vet Answer)

What Happens If a Hamster’s Nails Get Too Long? (Vet Answer)

Roborovski dwarf hamster held by person

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Written by

Dr. Joe Mallat

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Hamsters are gaining popularity as household pets, and with good reason! Anyone who has had a pet hamster will tell you what special companions they are. Although hamsters are generally considered a fairly low maintenance pet, it is still very important to know the dos and don’ts of hamster care. A hamster’s nails (sometimes referred to as “claws”) can be fiddly to get a look at, and they’re so small that they are often overlooked by hamster owners. However, nail care is as important to your hamster’s health as it is to yours!

If the nails do not wear down and become overgrown, a few things can happen. They can break after getting caught or snagged; they can curl around and begin to dig into the skin of the foot; and they can cause discomfort when walking or digging. This article will explore these potential problems in more depth, as well as how to prevent them from happening.


Do I Need to Clip My Hamster’s Nails?

This depends on a few things. Not all hamsters need their nails clipped—some hamsters manage to wear the nails down naturally by roaming, digging, and scratching in their home environment. If this is the case with your hamster, then great news! 

Other hamsters do need their nails clipped. This tends to happen to older hamsters, less active (either due to being lazy or overweight), or don’t have access to as many objects to scratch. Needing a manicure is not a major health issue, but it will help your little furry friend be more comfortable.

close up image of a wet hamster
Image Credit: dba87, Shutterstock

How Do I Know If My Hamster’s Nails Need Clipping?

This part is really as easy as it sounds. When your hamster is calm or resting, pick up one foot at a time. Sometimes it helps to push the toe back a bit to “extrude” the nail. If the nail looks obviously long, or if it is curling under towards the paw, it needs to be trimmed. However, not all hamsters like their feet being restrained. If this is the case, some other (less obvious) signs of overgrown nails include:

  • Difficulty holding food
  • Unusual movements or limping when walking
  • You’ve seen the nails get caught in wire, carpet, or some other material
  • You’re left with scratches when your hamster climbs on you!

What Happens If I Don’t Clip the Nails?

We’ve briefly touched on some of the consequences of excessively long nails. The most common issue is when the nails get stuck in something and get torn. These nail tears can be either “partial”, meaning the overgrown nail is still dangling from the toe and needs to be removed, or “full”, meaning the overgrown bit of nail has actually become detached from the toe. Both partial and full nail injuries will cause bleeding, and though it often looks dramatic, it is never life-threatening. If the nail is caught or pulled off, it is definitely worth arranging a visit with your veterinarian. They can clip the dangling nail off and prescribe pain relief or antibiotics if they are required.

Another problematic outcome of overgrown nails is damage to the toe pad. This happens when the nails become really long—enough so that they have curled around and caused trauma to the skin or toe pad. This can cause significant pain and infection, so again, it’s worth a consultation with a vet. They can clip all of the nails while you’re there.

little dwarf hamster on womans hands
Image Credit: Hintau Aliaksei, Shutterstock

How Do I Clip My Hamster’s Nails?

Clipping a hamster’s nails can be more challenging than it sounds for a few reasons, but don’t be discouraged. Firstly, hamsters are often wriggly or resistant to being restrained, especially for the first few nail clips. Remember, they don’t know what’s going on and might become stressed. Secondly, the nails themselves are small and can be made to bleed if clipped too short. This is not life-threatening but can be a bit painful. And, thirdly, it helps to have the right tools. If you don’t have special pocket-pet or infant nail clippers, you might find it hard to clip the nail to the right length.

To make life easier, we’ve simplified hamster nail clipping into five steps:
  • Do the first nail clip with a vet. Let a vet or vet nurse show you the ropes. This is a simple, quick, and relatively inexpensive visit that will do a world of good. Your hamster might be more settled with you holding them, which will allow a vet to examine the nails and demonstrate how to clip them.
  • Get the right tools. Our favorite nail clippers are these Sungrow Small Pet Nail clippers. Another good option is a set of infant nail clippers.
  • Restrain your hamster. Here it helps to have a helper. If someone else can hold your hamster relatively firmly, it gives you a better chance of clipping the nails without the foot moving. If your hamster doesn’t tolerate being restrained, slowly work on this before progressing to steps 4 and 5.
  • Clip with purpose. Starting with the longest nails, clip a small amount while the paw is still. While you’re practicing your grooming skills, it’s better to “chip away” at the nail with small clips than to attempt one big clip. Then, if your hamster is still happy and tolerating the clip, proceed to the other toes!
  • Check the nails for bleeding. If there’s no bleeding, well done! If there is some blood, don’t panic. Apply Styptic powder, which can be bought at most pet stores or online. If you don’t have this, just apply a rag or tea towel until it stops, or contact your vet if it doesn’t.

One more tip—never use sandpaper! You may read about doing this online, but it can be very irritating to the skin and dangerous if eaten.

Preventing Overgrown Nails in Hamsters

Keeping the nails from becoming overgrown is obviously going to be better (for you and your hamster) than clipping them when they’re too long. As we mentioned, some hamsters will naturally file their own nails by digging and scratching on found objects in their home environment. You can encourage them to do this by collecting or buying a smooth flat rock. Smooth, flat rocks are unlikely to cause injury, and may even provide a nice resting spot if they’re big enough!



Looking after your hamster’s nails is important to preventing nail injuries and infections. While it might seem tricky at first, over time most hamster owners don’t have too much trouble managing this at home. If you’re unsure where to start, or would prefer not to clip the nails yourself, vets and vet nurses are always happy to give you a hand.

Featured Image Credit: JarkkoManty, Pixabay

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