In the wild, ferrets would keep their nails short by all the walking they do, by digging their burrows, etc. The friction between the nails and the ground would cause them to wear down to a manageble length. Unfortunately, carpeting is much softer on a ferret’s nails. Unless your ferret gets multiple walks on asphalt (hot during summer, cold during winter – not smart), you’ll need to help your little buddy with this grooming chore. Ferrets’ nails need to be clipped about once a week, or they’ll grow painful for the ferret and for your rugs.
There are several types of nail clippers that you can buy. I prefer clippers that resemble scissors with a claw at the end. There are also guillotine-type nail clippers, but I’ve never used them on ferrets, so I don’t know if they work well. You can use a nail file but that would probably take too long. Make sure you get nail clippers that are sized for a ferret – most aren’t more than four inches long or so. You also want to have some styptic powder or beeswax, in case you nick the quick (vein in the nail). Styptic powder is quicker than beeswax, but it stings. You can also use flour in a pinch.
Actually clipping the nail is very easy. The pink line in your ferret’s nail is called the quick. It is a vein filled with blood. Do not cut the quick unless you want a bloodied, screaming ferret running around on your nice carpeting. The quick does bleed, and it’s very painful for the ferret if nicked. There are also nerve endings just in front of the quick, so don’t cut too close to it. The first time my husband and I ever attempted to cut a ferret’s nails, I played the restrainer, while he wielded the clippers. He nicked the quick, and has since never cut our ferrets’ nails – he feels that badly. Our poor 10 week old ferret, bleeding and in pain, scarred him for life. Anyway…you should cut the nail at a 45 degree angle in front of the quick. If you leave a jagged edge when you trim the nail, make sure you file it or it can get snagged on bedding, which can pull the nail completely out.
A word about neglecting nail trimming – long nails are a nuisance, not only to the ferret, but to you as well. Long nails do more damage on carpeting, upholstery, bedding, clothing, and human skin. A ferret with too-long nails will eventually becomed deformed, as the long nails cause the toes to splay, which deforms the foot, which then damages the leg. This is true of fully-grown ferrets, as well as kits. In addition, long nails are more likely to snag on carpeting and bedding. A ferret caught in such a situation usually ends up ripping his nail off, a very painful and messy ordeal that requires vet attention. Also, if you do neglect nail trimming for a few weeks, you may notice that the quick seems longer than normal. Without nail trimming, the quick grows longer. That means that you can’t just trim down to the desired short length, you have to trim small amounts often in order to make the quick shrink.
You’ll probably need to restrain your ferret while you clip his nails. I’ve never met a ferret who will stand still for nail trimming without some kind of help. The best way is to dribble some Ferretone on your fuzzy’s belly, and while the little guy is licking it off his belly, swoop in with the nail cutters and snip, snip, snip. Ours actually stick their paws out to the side, which makes it easier on me. I prefer to make a hammock out of the lower portion of my shirt and keep the ferret there – I can prevent him from running away if he finishes, and he has an easier time reaching his belly.
If you have two people, one person can scruff the ferret while the other trims the nails. To scruff a ferret, gently grab the extra skin above the shoulderblades and raise the ferret. Use your other hand to support his bottom, lest he dangle. If you have to scruff a ferret by yourself and still have two hands free, you can scruff him with your mouth. I know it sounds gross, but here’s what you do: cover your teeth with your lips, so you don’t bite the fuzzy, then lift him to your mouth, and gently grab the scruff with your lips. The ferret can lay on your chest while you have two free hands to clip nails, etc. The biggest keys here are to keep your lips covering your teeth (this prevents hair from getting in your mouth, too.. honestly), and to make sure the ferret’s back is against your stomach. This puts him in the right position for nail clipping or pretty much whatever you have to do.
If none of these tips work for you, your vet can help you out and either show you the right way to do it, or do it himself.