Is your female guinea pig getting more chubby lately, leaving you wondering if you’ll soon have a bunch of fluff balls running around? If you were unaware of it before, guinea pigs mate early – and often – which means different genders should be separated when kept as pets. Cavies of both sexes, when mixed together and unsterilized, will most assuredly result in guinea pig pregnancy.
Whether it was planned or not, this post will inform you on what to expect during guinea pig pregnancy, the potential problems, and post-natal care.
Is It Safe to Breed Cavies? Potential Pregnancy Problems
Are you still deciding whether to breed your female cavy? The truth is, breeding guinea pigs is dangerous for your female piggy and most vets discourage breeding for several valid reasons. Take a few moments to inform yourself of potential pregnancy problems and why breeding your guinea pigs is not a good idea:
- Approximately 20% of sows die giving birth.
- Many females who survive experience complications, which are painful to the sow and costly to the pet parent.
- Typically, breeding reduces the lifespan of female cavies.
- Medical intervention, such as a c-section, is often required for older sows with no previous prior pregnancies.
- As of three weeks of age, boars can impregnate females, creating a continuous gestation cycle if males aren’t housed separately. Continuous breeding is dangerous for female guinea pigs, increasing health issues and shortening lifespan.
- The least expensive, easiest, and safest breeding prevention is to house sows and boars separately.
For the sake of your guinea pigs, do think twice before breeding them. Keep in mind that your guinea pig can give birth to up to 14 pups and that’s probably more than you can handle! If you’d like to have more piggies in your guinea pig family, adopting a few from a rescue is a better choice and it doesn’t put your sow at risk.
If you do decide to breed them, ensure your sow is young enough (but not too young) so there are less chances of complications. Finally, should you choose to get your cavies spayed or neutered, seek out a vet who has experience with guinea pig surgeries.
Guinea Pig Gestation Period: How Long Is Guinea Pig Pregnancy?
Although the guinea pig gestation period varies, the guinea pig gestation period typically lasts between 59-72 days. Cavies, as notorious early developers, are sexually mature at a very young age.
Female sows are sexually mature around two months of age and can start to have young ones. Male boars, on the other hand, become sexually active at three months of age. Hence, when housed together, a guinea pig pregnancy can occur very early and very often.
- The gestation period is between 59-72 days, with an average pregnancy of 65 days.
- Duration of guinea pig pregnancy depends on the number of pups: the larger the litter the shorter the pregnancy.
- Litter size ranges, with the average being 2-4 pups – in rare cases as many as 12-14.
- A sow can birth up to 5 litters per year, though miscarriages and stillbirths are common.
Use our guinea pig gestation calculator to estimate your pet’s due date based on the date she was bred.
A visit to the vet will help determine if your cavy is pregnant. With the use of ultrasound, your vet can also assess potential concerns with the pregnancy. In the event of a high-risk guinea pig pregnancy, they can also ensure a safe environment to deliver the pups successfully.
Pregnant Guinea Pig Signs
Is your sow pregnant? How do you know if your cavy is actually carrying pups?
After the commotion of a mating ritual, keep a close eye on the sow. In the first few weeks of pregnancy, there won’t be a huge change in her appearance. Nonetheless, here are a few subtle signs to look out for that point to a successful pregnancy:
- Weight gain after 2+ weeks
- Increase in food and water intake
- Mood changes due to rise in hormone level
- Increase in fatigue, resulting in more sleeping and/or change in sleeping pattern
- Noticeable enlargement of nipples
- As of 7th week of pregnancy, visible movement of pups under skin in belly region
Should you suspect the sow to be expecting pups at any point, be mindful to handle her with the utmost care. Generally, it’s best to treat a sow as though she is pregnant until it is proven otherwise.
Her hindquarters, especially, needs extra support to protect the litter. Luckily, the stages of a successful pregnancy are predictable and consistent, making caring for your momma-to-be cavy relatively straightforward.
Guinea Pig Mating Ritual
This is how a female and male guinea pig interact during the mating ritual. Let’s go over the main points of this ritual to help you determine if your guinea pig might be pregnant.
- The male, when courting a female, will physically display himself with actions like rumbling, standing upright before the sow, and approaching her with a lowered head.
- If the female approves of the male, she will signal her acceptance to mate with loud squeaks.
- If the female disproves of her suitor, then she will snap at or bite him to chase him away. She may, if he persists, even urinate on him.
- Once cavies mate, there is a noticeable quiet period afterwards.
How to Care for a Pregnant Guinea Pig
Is there anything special that needs to be done when cavies are pregnant? Yes, it is important to follow these guidelines:
- Males should be removed well before the birth to avoid back-to-back pregnancies.
- House pregnant sows indoors if pets are normally free-range outside.
- As soon as you suspect a successful mating, supplement the female’s usual unlimited hay with alfalfa. Alfalfa hay provides extra protein and calcium, nutrients pregnant sows benefit from in higher amounts.
- Offer extra vitamin C by giving green peppers, kale, spinach, and broccoli. A vet may prescribe vitamin C to be given orally. These nutrients will nourish your cavy and her pups, while also preventing hair loss.
- The sow must be fed an adequate selection of healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables daily, along with high-quality pellets and unlimited hay and water.
- Do not overfeed pellets. Doing so can cause pups to grow too big, which the sow may struggle to birth. Speak to your vet to make sure you provide the right quantity of pellets.
- Do not cut pellets to reduce the chance of larger pups or attempt to put a pregnant overweight sow on a diet. Doing so can lead to pregnancy toxaemia – a condition that is fatal.
Ensure a healthy guinea pig pregnancy by providing nutritious foods for your sow and her pups. A female cavy uses a lot of her energy during this time, and thus requires a healthy, balanced diet that is appropriate for her during gestation.
Stages of a Guinea Pig Gestation
In the middle and later stages of gestation, a pregnant sow will display an enlarged abdomen. During this time, it is normal for females to double their weight.
Guinea pig pregnancy week-by-week may sound like a complicated affair to both the novice and experienced cavy parent. However, the following guinea pig pregnancy timeline will simplify the entire gestation period and demystify the experience, so you can provide a stress-free environment for your little mama and her tiny pups.
Early Stages of Gestation (Week 1-4)
During the first month or so, there aren’t a lot of physical signs to indicate your sow is a mom-to-be. In fact, you may even wonder if your cavy is actually pregnant. Nonetheless, at this stage, allow the female cavy to eat and drink as much as she would like. In general, the two main tell-tale signs early on are:
- The cavy is eating and/or drinking more than usual.
- The sow starts to prefer fruits and vegetables with high vitamin C content.
Limiting access to food will deplete the sow of her own fat stores. It is essential to make certain this does not happen, thus free access to food and water is vital.
Middle Stages of Gestation (Week 5-7)
Around this time, you’ll notice the female cavy will be physically larger. As in humans, this happens when pups grow and take up more space. How much your cavy expands during this time depends on the number of pups she’s carrying.
- Somewhere around week 5-6, the abdomen and hindquarters of the pregnant guinea pig will be markedly enlarged.
- By the 7th week, you’ll start to see movement in the abdomen of the sow, as the pups move around. The litter, at this point, will make up approximately half of the female’s total body weight.
- Important: weigh the female guinea weekly to monitor gradual weight gain. Do not restrict her diet or her exercise, so she can keep her strength up.
Again, if you need to handle your cavy, do so in a gentle manner, grasping her securely yet comfortably, to ensure full support of her body.
The Final Stages of Gestation (Week 7+)
After the 7th week, the movement of the pups will be even more noticeable. At this stage, the sow will appear quite swollen in the midsection. Right now, it is imperative to ensure the pregnant guinea is in a stress-free environment.
- Place any cavies that appear to annoy her in a different cage.
- If you have not removed males yet, do so at this point.
- Ideally, relocate cagemates elsewhere rather than removing the pregnant sow, so she can remain in familiar surroundings.
Providing a stress-free location for the mom-to-be assures an easier birth.
The Week Before Birth
This is the most exciting period! Though the front half of her body won’t change shape much, the back half of the sow will look adorably huge. You may even find her pregnancy waddle to be the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. Guinea pigs don’t typically create a nest to give birth, but you may want to make a warm, comfortable space for the sow by:
- Adding a soft, fleece blanket to her sleeping area.
- Covering the sleep section of the cage with a towel so she feels cozy and safe.
- Daily touch-up cleaning of her habitat to keep it as clean as possible without removing her.
Right now, the sow’s pelvic bone is under a lot of pressure, so minimize handling her to reduce added stress. Once the pelvic bones are about two fingers apart, the time of birth is imminent.
Labor and Birth
Guinea pigs usually give birth during the day rather than overnight. Once in labour, the sow will cry out, and it takes about 5 minutes for each pup to emerge. Pups will each have their own amniotic sac, which the sow normally removes and ingests. She does so, as well, with the placenta. Guinea pups, once born, will be completely furry. Their eyes will open quickly and, within a few hours of birth, will search for solid food to eat.
If the female guinea appears to be in distress or is in labour for longer than 20-30 minutes without giving birth, then emergency veterinary care is imperative. A cesarian section surgery will likely be necessary.
Post Natal Care & Advice
In the first few weeks after giving birth to her litter, the female guinea pig will be at risk for post natal complications. During this time, keep watch for the following:
Dystocia, or “difficult birth”, is common in sows who are older than 7-8 months and bred for the first time. Sows older than 2 years that weren’t bred before are most at risk. Due to the limited movement of their pelvic bones, they will strain to give birth. Bloody uterine discharge and straining longer than 30 minutes requires a medical examination. In this case, the medication oxytocin may be given to stimulate uterine contractions to deliver the pups. Otherwise, a c-section may be necessary.
Toxemia is another risk for pregnant guineas, though the exact cause of it is uncertain. It tends to affect overweight sows delivering their first and second litter. Signs of toxemia typically appear from 2 weeks before birth to 1 week after delivery and include:
- lack of appetite
- difficulty breathing
Unfortunately, in some cases, toxemia is fatal. Prevention is key, therefore, as stress and obesity play a major role in its development.
Other potential complications are prolapse, retained placenta, uterine tears, etc.
Lastly, it takes about 2-4 weeks to wean guinea pups. By the time males are 3-4 weeks old, they should be separated from the females – or you may have a whole new cycle of pregnancy to deal with!