Baby Guinea Pigs – The Owner’s Guide
Highly intelligent and sociable creatures, guinea pigs are the happiest when they’re with their own kind. However, they also love to seek their owner’s attention; often whistling and making weird noises to do so.
While caring for a guinea pig is fairly easy, taking care of its young is an entirely different matter. If you have a pregnant female or planning to buy babies, here are all the things you would need to know about baby guinea pigs.
Guinea Pig Breeding & Mating
What you should know about male guinea pigs (called boars) is that they can reach sexual maturity at about 10 weeks after their birth. Females (or sows) can even start as young as eight weeks. But despite their early sexual maturity, that doesn’t mean they need to start breeding right away.
The appropriate age for boars to mate for the first time would be at about 5 months. For sows, that would be somewhere around 4 to 7 months.
Breeding sows beyond the appropriate age can prove to be dangerous as they are more prone to symphysis (a joint where one bone meets another) and dystocia (obstructed labor). The pregnancy itself can shorten the lifespan of sows.
Females can go into heat or estrus at any given time of the year but springtime is the most common for guinea pigs. The heat cycles could last up to 16 days, about 6 to 11 hours per day and usually happens during the night.
Remember that when you breed guinea pigs, only choose the best sows and boars for the mating so that you can reduce the chances of the offspring developing genetic diseases. Never breed guinea pigs just for the fun you’ll get out of it because it comes with a lot of risks that could get you pets killed. It is recommended that only professionals should breed them.
Guinea pig pregnancies can take about 63 to 70 days with litter sizes ranging from 2 to 4 pups on the average. Guinea pigs may even take longer to give birth depending on the size of the litter; the smaller the litter, the longer the pregnancy.
It is not uncommon for guinea pigs to give birth to as much as 8 pups in one litter.
18 days after the mating, you can check to see if the female guinea pig is pregnant. Usually, signs such as a distended abdomen would appear. Other signs would include an increase in the food and water intake. If you’re unable to determine the status of your guinea pig, you can take it to a vet to find out if it is pregnant.
Once the pregnancy is confirmed, make sure that your sow is as comfortable as possible. Refrain from doing anything that might stress it. It would be a good idea to leave the boar with the sow in a cage so that it can provide comfort during the pregnancy.
However, once she gives birth you should separate the male from the female immediately because she would quickly go into estrus after birthing her offspring and may get pregnant again.
Because she will eat more, add sufficient food and water in order to meet her nutritional needs. Limit the handling of the sow during the pregnancy and cease it all together in the two weeks before the due date.
Be vigilant when it comes to the sow’s health during pregnancy. Check out for signs of illnesses such as crusty eyes, thinning coat or lack of appetite. If you think there’s a problem with your pet, take her to the vet quickly.
It would be difficult to know exactly when a sow would give birth because it doesn’t make any preparations for it. Although you might notice a widening in the guinea pig’s pelvic bone, this would only occur before the actual labor itself.
The delivery may last for about 30 minutes depending on the litter size. Don’t worry about cleaning up on the pups because that task would be up to the mother. The placenta and umbilical cords will be eaten by the mother and other guinea pigs that may be in the cage.
Guinea Pig Babies
Another difference guinea pigs have from hamsters is that their children are born precocial; already in an advanced state. When they are born, guinea pigs already have hair, a full set of teeth, and with eyes wide open. Not only that, they could already start running around a few hours after their birth.
This advanced development may be an evolutionary step made by the species considering that guinea pigs aren’t exactly the best parents around.
While the mother itself will provide for the pups’ nourishment until they are weaned at around 14 to 21 days, they tend to be quite neglectful with their young and would allow them to roam around. Unlike some rodent species, guinea pig fathers will not help in raising their young.
In fact, daughters must be separated from the father after 21 days to avoid accidental inbreeding. Fortunately, this neglectfulness also makes guinea pigs less likely to eat their young when they feel threatened or stressed.
The parents would allow humans to handle their pups and this would be an important quirk to begin socializing the young guinea pigs.
Once they have been weaned, the young may be treated like an adult guinea pig.
Determining The Sex
It is necessary to separate the males from females when they come of age because they reach sexual maturity quite early. You wouldn’t want them to accidentally breed behind your back. The key to finding out a guinea pig’s sex is its anus.
Gently pick up the guinea pig in a manner that would support its back. Afterward, check the anal opening of the guinea pig. A boar will have a slit above the anal opening. In adults, the testes can be easily located.
For sows, they would have a “Y” shape above the anal opening instead of a slit. Furthermore, sows will also have an external urethral opening.
In the wild, guinea pigs live together in colonies consisting of a number of females, their offspring, and headed by a dominant male. Interestingly, it isn’t the dominant boar that mates with the sows. Instead, the females would go out in search of a different male from another colony to mate with. Afterward, they would return to their colonies and raise their young.
Domesticated guinea pigs, however, exhibit different behaviors.
Adult males tend to size each other up and are aggressive towards each other in order to determine which one is dominant. Baby guinea pigs may also exhibit some aggressiveness, often through sound, if they don’t want to be touched by their owners.
With other guinea pigs, they would often touch their noses or take in each other’s scents for identification. The same could be done by a male to identify a female in heat.
When you see the pups huddled together in a corner, there is a high chance that they are afraid. Other signs of fear are the pups going completely still and refrain from doing anything or retracing their steps when they don’t want to be touched.
Baby guinea pigs are extremely playful creatures. In fact, they would often jump around when they are excited and this can be quite an entertaining sight.
Baby guinea pigs would grow to love being in your presence as you spend more time with them. In fact, they may constantly try to seek your attention by making sounds. They would start to enjoy your touch and even your cuddles if you get them used to the action.
Once you become a familiar presence in their lives, you may often find them staying at places where you pick them up.
- Territorial Habits
You may see your guinea pigs rubbing their bottoms to the floor; an action that enables the animals to leave their scent as a sign of their territory. The guinea pigs may have to do this frequently because whenever you clean their cages, their scent is also removed.
Don’t be afraid if you think you’re guinea pig isn’t getting enough sleep. Its kind has been accustomed to taking short naps for short periods of time and it does not matter whether it is day or night.
Guinea pigs are not known to sleep for long periods as they are naturally predisposed to danger in the wilds and thus, would need to be alert at all times. Even domesticated guinea pigs had taken this habit with them.
As an added emphasis to their vulnerable nature, they are also known for not shutting their eyes when sleeping.
As guinea pigs age, they would be able to sleep better especially when they become well-acquainted with their environment. You know they’re sleeping comfortably when they are sprawled out on all fours on the floor and their heads touching the ground.
When it comes to housing, you would need to provide baby-proof cages to make sure that it will become a safe haven for your little pets while they grow and mature. Not only that, your baby guinea pigs will also need sufficient bedding, some essential items, and a stress-free environment.
- Cage Size
Most guinea pig cages are in adult sizes and because these young pups will rapidly increase in size, it would be ideal to place them in a cage that would provide enough room for them to grow. Getting a 7.5 square foot cage will give them enough space to roam around and exercise.
If you would place the babies with the mother, make sure the cage is large enough to accommodate everyone inside.
Since the pups may be small enough to fit through the bars and make an untimely escape, you may want to get a cage that has a deeper pan at the bottom. This would prevent the pups from climbing and escaping. Getting a cage with bars that aren’t too far apart would also help.
A shredded paper would be the ideal bedding for guinea pigs because cedar and pine shavings have been treated with chemicals that may prove to be harmful to the pups. Since the bedding can get damp and dirty quickly, it is recommended that you clean your pets’ cage at least twice a week.
Guinea pigs can be sensitive to noise and you wouldn’t want to stress your pups out during their growth period. Find a quiet place to settle your baby guinea pigs. Since they also love receiving attention, try placing them in a family-area such as the living room.
Furthermore, don’t place their cage near a heat source as guinea pigs can only tolerate a temperature of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. They can be prone to heat stroke as they do not sweat when it is too warm.
- Essential Items
Essential items for guinea pigs would include a simple food bowl and a drinking bottle. For the latter, you should make sure that the drinking bottle is placed low enough for the pups to reach and drink from. Providing a hideaway would also be good for when the pups want to escape their environment and find comfort and safety in solace.
Hideaways may be in the form of igloos or even a small wooden box as long as they are able to provide privacy.
While the pups’ main nutritional needs will be provided by the mother, that doesn’t mean you can’t add a bit of solid food here and then. Since baby guinea pigs are born precocial, they may start eating solid food as early as five days after their birth.
- How Much Should You Feed Baby Guinea Pigs?
When it comes to feeding baby guinea pigs, the only ones you really need to pay close attention to are the pups being neglected or rejected by their mother. When a pup is rejected, it would be cut off from its main source of nutrition and thus, you may need to hand feed the baby guinea pig until it can survive on solid food alone.
You can feed it full-fat goat’s milk or even a mixture of water and evaporated milk. Use a spoon rather than a syringe to prevent the pup from breathing in its food. Rejected pups may need to be fed every 1.5 hours and give them as much as they can take.
For pups nursing from their mother, try placing solid food in a bowl at least twice a day. Remove any leftovers to avoid spoilage.
- What You Should Feed Baby Guinea Pigs
Baby guinea pigs’ food does not differ that much from that of their adult counterparts except for their need for calcium. Pups need calcium to enhance the strength and development of their bones. You can feed them Alfalfa hay or Alfalfa-based pellets which are good sources of calcium.
Since guinea pigs can’t produce their own vitamin C, you would also need to supplement foods rich in the said vitamin like timothy hay and fruits like oranges.
Part of the reason why guinea pigs are such great pets is the fact that they are fairly easy to groom. In fact, with enough training, you’d be able to groom your guinea pig on your own. Here are some important things to consider when grooming your pet guinea pig.
- Occasional Baths
Guinea pigs aren’t particularly fond of getting submerged in water so it isn’t that surprising they don’t need to be bathed frequently. In fact, the only time guinea pigs would need to bathe is when their coat becomes soiled by urine or feces. When this happens, you may only need to bathe their bottoms using shampoo and then rinsing it in the sink.
Those with longer hair may need more frequent baths to prevent the matting and dirtying of their hair. Use only mild or non-medicated soap and shampoo when bathing your guinea pigs.
- Coat Brushing
There is no preventing the shedding of guinea pig hair. However, it can be minimized by regular brushing of the animal’s coat. Brushing can also be a way for you to check for parasites, lumps, and other conditions that may need immediate veterinary attention.
The frequency of brushing would have to depend on the guinea pig’s hair length. But, more or less, it should be done once or twice a week. Because this animal has fine hair, use narrow-toothed pet combs.
- Dental Care
A guinea pig’s teeth don’t need to be regularly brushed if they chew on high fiber hay every day because doing so causes the wearing down of the animal’s continuously growing teeth. Supplementing its food with vitamin C can also promote good dental health as it helps strengthen the teeth and gums of the guinea pig.
- Nail Clipping
Guinea pigs’ nails should be trimmed once or twice a month. Age plays an important role in the aspect of grooming because the younger the guinea pig, the faster the nails grow.
When you trim your pet guinea pig’s nails, you can use a cat’s nail trimmers to do the job. However, pay extra careful not to cut too close to any blood vessels and trim only one nail at a time.
Despite their innocent features, guinea pigs are actually hardy creatures that when maintained properly, rarely get sick. Weekly health checks and regular veterinary visits can help you keep your pet at optimum health.
- Signs of a Healthy Guinea Pig
- Healthy guinea pigs would have clear bright eyes without any discharge coming out.
- Their noses should not be runny or be discharging any mucous because this might mean your pet is suffering from a cold.
- The coat should be shiny, dense, and clean. Constant scratching may be a sign of a serious problem such as parasites or even skin infections.
- The guinea pig’s bottom should be clean and dry and should not exhibit any soreness or smell.
- Common Illnesses
Guinea pigs may be susceptible to respiratory infections like pneumonia caused by the accumulation of bacteria and further triggered by stress. Because they have a sensitive digestive tract, it isn’t surprising that diarrhea is also a common thing to have with guinea pigs.
Scurvy is characterized by a general feeling of weakness, gum diseases, hair changes, and more. It is caused by a vitamin C deficiency and since guinea pigs cannot produce such a vitamin, they are also prone to getting it.
Other common illnesses for baby guinea pigs are tumors, urinary problems, and parasites.
How to Build Trust with Baby Guinea Pigs
It’s not that difficult to earn baby guinea pigs’ trust. The best way for you to accomplish such a task is through the animals’ tummy. While they may seem elusive at first, reaching in and offering food or some delectable treats can surely make them come out of hiding.
Afterward, it’s all about making the furry creatures get used to your presence especially your scent. Repetition is the key to winning anyone’s trust and by being a consistent presence in their lives can surely help them build trust with you.