suri Kurrawa logo huacaya

Cutting Toenails

Alpacas need to have their toenails cut at least once a year. The easiest time to cut toenails is when they are tied down while shearing. Toenails grow at different rates for individual alpacas and many need their toenails cut every six months. If toenails are left uncut they can grow sideways and even curl upwards making them harder to cut in future and may also cause the alpaca some discomfort.

There are many theories as to the best way to cut toenails. Some say that if you occupy the alpacas mind with food you can cut the toenails whilst the foot is still on the ground. Some say that holding the foot with force is the wrong method. Training is another popular method which has been well mentioned, although when you have a large herd of alpacas this method is unworkable.

Whatever method you use should be the method that is suitable for you. It's a matter of trying what works, if it doesn't, move on to something else. The method of cutting toenails below works well for us. We have a large herd and don't want to spend a great deal of time for preparation or effort in cutting toenails.

Tools for cutting toenails.
Foot rot shears work well for cutting toenails, as do straight edge garden shears. It is a matter of personal preference as to what tool you use for cutting toenails. The faster they allow you to cut the better, you want to be able to cut the toenails quickly as the longer you are holding the alpacas foot, the more it will get agitatored.

A minimum of two people will be required to cut the toenails if the alpaca is not tied down. The holder, and the cutter. The holder will be responsible for holding the alpaca steady and not allow it to move around. The best way to hold the alpaca is wrap an arm around the neck. With the other hand grab an ear tightly and pull the alpaca close to your body. It may be easier to face the alpaca into a corner so they realise they cannot push forward. You may also need to push down on the alpacas back with one hand if it tries to rear up.

It may be easier with only one person holding the alpaca at the front so long as the alpaca is calm and not stressed. Alpacas like to feel as though they are standing balanced and may struggle if it thinks it is going to fall over. If the alpaca does struggle you may need to push it up against a wall or a solid yard fence or gate (Not wire fencing). If you have a spare person they can hold the alpaca at the rear end over the rump.

The cutter has the job of taking hold of the feet and cutting the toenail. Personally I hated cutting toenails outside of shearing time. It wasn't until I leant the right technique that I realised that cutting toenails is quite easy and safe if you take care.

The hardest part about cutting is squeezing the shears to cut the toenail off. Young crias have very soft toenails making for easy cutting. Some of the older males and females have very hard toenails making them difficult to cut. The more times the alpaca has its toenails cut, the more it will be at ease although some alpacas never get used to the idea of having their toe nails cut.

How Much Toenail to Cut Off

As mentioned before, toenails can be very difficult to cut. It's best left to persons with a strong grip to be the cutter.

Cutting toenails too much will cause the alpaca to bleed but don't worry, these nicks tend to heal very quickly and cause the alpaca little pain or distress.

How far to cut?
If you could imagine a straight line that extends along the base of the padding through the toenail, this would be your guide to how far to cut the toenails. In wet conditions there may be mud and dirt stuck up in the toenail. The inside of the toenail has a gristle type area called the "quick", which almost runs along the imaginary cutting line. If you cut too far into the quick it will cause bleeding.

It is a good idea to cut small sections of toenail at a time. You can cut either side if the toenail or both sides at once. It may take several cuts to take the toenail down to the quick.

Cutting Front Toenails

Cutting the front toenails. 1. Face the alpaca straight on.

2. Lean down and with one hand pick up the leg as low down the leg as possible. Pull the leg up to the alpacas body, not out to the side. You should have the cutters in the other hand holding them away from the alpaca. You may need to lean your shoulder into the alpaca to steady yourself and the alpaca.

3. Move your hand down the leg until being able to firmly hold the foot. You will be able to then push the toes apart with a finger.

4. Cut toenails swiftly as possible and be careful if the alpaca moves suddenly.

Cutting Rear Toenails

Cutting rear toenails can be tricky. Getting kicked by an alpaca is not life threatening but getting kicked in the wrong place can be painful.

The trick with cutting the rear toenails is to grab the leg and not let go. Some experts say that you should not hold the foot in a "death grip" but by letting go you may be reassuring the alpaca that by struggling they can release your grip.

If you have a hold of one leg, the alpaca cannot kick out with the other. Stretching the leg out to the rear doesn't allow the alpaca to do anything. The alpaca will try and pull its leg back to a standing position but it will not be able to kick you. Do not pull the leg out to the side.

1. Stand next to the alpaca, not behind.

2. Lean down and grab the rear leg with one hand as far down as possible. Hold the shears away from the alpaca.

3. Pick up the leg and stretch it out towards the rear (not side) of the alpaca.

4. Once stretched out, position your hand around the foot, use your leg to steady (see picture above), cut toenails as swiftly, but carefully as possible.

Practice make perfect. The more you do, the easier it will become.
If you are uncertain about cutting your alpacas toenails, don't do it. Get a Vet or person familiar with cutting alpaca toenails to do it.

Alpaca Maintenance - More information on alpacas

Putting weight on thin alpacas
Fencing for alpacas
How to determine signs of a sick alpaca
Basic first aid kit for alpacas
Alpaca body temperatures
Can cold and wet weather affect alpacas?
Making sense of the alpaca fibre analysis
Rye grass staggers
Taking the perfect alpaca photograph
Facial abscess
Berserk male syndrome
Vitamin D
Constipated crias
Preparation for Winter
Keeping alpaca records
Alpacas need head-space
Testing for parasites
Birthing help
Cutting Toenails
A Working Dog's Guide to Alpacas
Paddock Maintenance
Alpacas for Pets
Alpacas as Sheep Guardians