Random Rant #15 – Nail Trimming

Do I have to?


But what if I get a trimmer track or something similar?

Still yes, but trimmer tracks are nice for keeping the tips dull between trims.

But it’s really hard and my gliders hate it!

That’s not a question, but I feel ya, and you still have to do it.

But whhhhyyyyy?

Besides protecting your eyesight and conserving blood by reducing scratches and punctures, nail trims are also vitally important to your gliders’ safety and health. Glider nails will stick to fleece and are much worse with other fabric. I have seen nails so sticky the glider could not leave the pouch to get water or food, leading to serious issues with dehydration and malnutrition. I have also seen a glider’s nail get so long that it curled back into the footpad and created a nasty sore. So, yea, you’ve got to master this one, no matter what it takes.

How often must I brave this hellscape?

I notice my gliders nails getting sharp again within 2 weeks of a trim, and sticky again about 4-6 weeks after a trim. I usually cannot let them go past 8 weeks between trims, because at that point they are too sticky to navigate their cage or walk on my shirt. Visually, a glider’s nails need to be trimmed when the curve of the nail begins to curve back toward the glider instead of away from the glider.

Can I just get someone else to do it for me?

Sure! Most glider vets will trim nails, though this can get expensive if you have multiple gliders. Tons of experienced glider owners offer nail trimming services for their local glider communities, and it is worth frequently posting in your local glider FB group to see if anyone volunteers. I offer free nail trims in Garden City, Michigan and get people driving up to 2 hours to visit me (text 734-707-7677 to make an appointment). I am slowly building a the sugarglider.directory website that will plot nail trimmers on a map to let you easily find the closest one, but it’s a long-term project so don’t expect much for a year or so on that one.

OK, fine. I’ll have to do it myself. How do I trim nails?

Start with getting the right trimmers. Regular fingernail trimmers can work, but they are not ideal. I prefer trimmers with a flat cutting edge that protrudes out to one side into a point (see image). They are called cuticle trimmers, but when you google that you have to wade through a bunch of the other kind of cuticle trimmers to find these. These trimmers let me see the nails in the clippers much better, which speeds up the process and makes it safer.

For your first few times, you may want some cornstarch or styptic powder in a shallow dish, you can dip a bleeding nail into it to stop the bleeding. I honestly don’t find this necessary. In the rare instances I have cut too close and they bleed, it is one just one drop and clots immediately on its own.

You will be aiming the cuts to be past where the nail tapers into a thin needle, leaving them just enough needle to grip. Try to angle the cuts to leave them a sharp tip on the outer curve of the nail that tapers into the inner curve of the nail (see image) to reduce falling after a trim. They will fall kind of a lot for the first two or three days after a full trim, especially if they are of the chunkier variety.

There are many methods to trimming, here are just a few that I use, and some others I know about but haven’t personally mastered yet.


During tent times and while doing stay with me training, carry a pair of trimmers in a pocket. Whenever the glider is sitting still to poop or munch, snipe a nail. Clip them free when they snag a nail on a shirt or toy. Intentionally wear a shirt known to snag nails, bonus if said shirt is long sleeved and you can wear a less snaggy short sleeve shirt over it, as this increasing the chances they will get snagged on your forearm where it is easy to line up a clip.


Wake a deeply sleeping glider up in the middle of the day, and trim a few nails on them while they are shaking off sleep and emptying the bowels. I can usually get a full 2 minutes, and sometimes as many as 5 minutes, of relatively easy trimming while they are squeezing out their morning poo. I take what I can get and give it up as soon as they become active.


When one of your gliders is barking, it’s the perfect time to trim any other gliders nails. Barking makes all listening gliders freeze up and hold relatively still. They may still react to being clipped, but the reactions will be more muted, and they will be less likely to go running off. I’ve tried using recordings but it didn’t really work. Might just need better speakers.

Mealworms on Countertop

My most used and most effective method is to put a pile of mealworms on my bathroom counter and set the glider in front of them. They often pick up one or two worms and want to squirrel away with them, but if I can block them from leaving the worm pile for 45 seconds, they give up and eat them there. I block them by showing them my palms close to their face like “talk to the hand” without making contact with them (if you make contact they climb on). Getting them to stay on the counter is often the trickiest part.

Once they have settled in to eat on the counter, their nails are perfectly positioned for trimming if their hands/feet are down flat on the counter. I touch the back end of the clippers down to the counter in front of the nail and angle it up so that the tips of the clippers line up to the center of the nails curve, careful they are not so high that they’d nick the upper arch of the nail, then clip with a fast and hard squeeze (hesitation will give them a chance to pull away and increases risk).

When they don’t want to let the worm go with the hand I want to trim, I wait patiently until they finish it, then when they put the hand down I lightly put a finger on it and offer them another worm to take with their other hand instead. If they are holding a worm in one hand but not the other and chewing slowly, sometimes I can get them to switch hands by annoying them; I push their elbow upward, touch their knuckles with my fingertip, pull on the worm so it tugs their arm when they go to bite it, etc.

In a Pouch/Under a Blankie

With visitors, I most often trim while their gliders stay in their pouch. I give them a worm or yoggie and pull out one foot at a time.

Sometimes I can trim with them holding the pouch fleece, but often the tips are too buried to see properly.Its best when I can just support the target foot on my offhand thumb while they are distracted by a treat. More often I have to hold the toes gently but firmly between by thumb and forefinger (releasing often when they squirm or twist too hard) and clip with my other hand.

Scared gliders like to burrow their heads down into the pouch, so this method is much easier to do on back feet than front feet if the gliders are not into it. When aiming for the front feet, you can use the pouch or a fleece blankie as a barrier between their paw and their face to discourage bites.

There are pouches made special for this purpose. Sadly, I cannot find a picture of them and do not know who made them. They kind of resemble a folded paper envelope. They look as if you lay a square of fleece down, fold it so the bottom edge is at the centerline, then fold it again so the top edge is at the centerline just barely overlapping the bottom edge, then sew along the side edges to make a pouch that has a slit opening along the length of the pouch to pull a foot through anywhere.

You can also just use a medium sized swath of fleece and fold it over the glider, or fold the bottom edge of your shirt up and over a glider sitting on your chest, to get the same effect.

On the Run

Probably the most anxiety-inducing method for me and the owner is trimming on the run, but the gliders seem to get a kick out of it. A couple of my own gliders require trimming on the run, and quite a few visiting ones as well. Trimming on the run entails letting the glider freely run around my shoulders and the bathroom, and lining up cuts whenever they pause long enough. Exploration mode directs their focus externally, making it much easier to get at their feet as they pay less attention to what’s happening directly to them. This method is not pretty to witness, but it works, eventually.

A typical instance of trimming on the run tends to start with a glider panic leaping out of a pouch and up my face to leap about the room until it gets its bearings. After a few falls, some rummaging around behind the toilet, and a dozen death defying leaps into the mirror, the glider comes to see me as the only safe thing in the room and will use me as their home base. When they pause on my arm or shoulder, I can line up one or two clips. This is especially true if I’m wearing a scent marked shirt as most gliders will stop to sniff a fresh pee mark for 30-40 seconds at a time. If I can get them to sit on my hand, thinking they can use it as a spring board to their next goal, I can then keep that hand moving just enough to prevent them from lining up their jump and grab another couple of nails while they reorient. I also have several terry cloth towels hanging from hooks that scared gliders like to get into and catch a nail on, which I then trim free. My husband often gets to play too, I spin him around in circles chasing the gliders feet as it squirrels across his back.

Mesh Pouch

Nail trimming pouches are made of plastic mesh that lets the nail tips poke out so you can trim them. If you don’t have a mesh pouch, you can use the same trick with the mesh screen of a bonding pouch. This is an excellent theory, I have not had much luck with it myself, but others use it and love it. For my own, I don’t require this, and visiting gliders are too riled up to sit still, so this method isn’t in my rotation. I think it would work better if the gliders are sleeping or otherwise being still, but I find I am too slow to line up the cuts before they move their paws.

Holds/Glider Burrito

Vets and professional nail trimmers will put a glider into a hold or wrap them up in a washcloth like a burrito. This would be a two person job at home, with one holding and another trimming. In my opinion this is the most stressful method to the glider, even trimming on the run with all its panic leaping and risks is preferable from the glider’s perspective.

My vet has a nifty hold she does where her palm is on the glider’s spine, she puts her thumb under one arm and her forefinger under the other and holds the gliders arms up and away. I absolutely cannot do this hold, even after years of failed attempts. I think my hands are too small.

My husband is good at the “smoosh them flat” hold (as I call it) where his palm is against their back and he presses them into his chest using light pressure with his forefinger and middlefinger against the back of their head to prevent biting, and the heel of his palm against their butt to prevent wriggling backwards.

A glider burrito is when you wrap a washcloth around the glider leaving just the head out. For nail trims you would then pull one foot out of the wrap to trim. I can’t imagine this being an easy method, its not one I’ve tried for trimming, but I know people who do this quite successfully.

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