How to keep your guinea pigs in tip top condition
Posted: 22 January 2017
Unless your vet advises a bath to get rid of a bad case of lice, then guinea pigs, who are fastidiously clean creatures and excellent self-groomers, should never need a bath. If a bath is required, ask your veterinary nurse for advice, as guinea pigs find it very stressful. Use a shallow pan, which you need to fill with warm water, being careful not to have it too hot. You should only wash their body, being careful not to get any water or shampoo in their ears and eyes – and only use vet-prescribed specialist shampoo as human products can trigger an allergic reaction. You then need to rinse off your pet very thoroughly before gently towel drying them and keeping them in a warm environment until they are completely dry to avoid them getting a chill.
While bath-time should be a rarity, what guinea pigs do need is a regular grooming routine. The more time you spend with your guinea pigs, the more familiar you will become with their behaviour and the easier it will be for you to check their coat, skin and overall body condition – and spot when something is wrong. If you’re not sure how to groom your guinea pigs properly, talk to a pet care specialist, as grooming needs to be introduced slowly and positively. Most guinea pigs don’t mind being brushed and learn to quite enjoy it because it means they get one-to-one attention from their owner.
Short-haired varieties can be brushed once a week, but long-hairs require daily grooming because their coat gets easily tangled and matted. Invest in some good quality, pet grooming tools, such as a small bristle brush and metal comb. If you do find a small knot, its best to cut it out rather than trying to comb it out. Guinea pig skin is very delicate and it will cause them pain if you start tugging at it. It’s important to brush a long-haired guinea pig more frequently when they are shedding to avoid them swallowing any loose hair when they clean themselves – this could result in digestive problems caused by hairballs. And, if a guinea pig changes their own grooming habits, you should talk to your vet, as it could be a sign that your piggy is poorly.
>>> Eyes and ears As part of your routine, look at your guinea pigs’ eyes, ears and noses to make sure there isn’t any discharge. A small amount of white discharge around the eyes is common when a guinea pig is grooming themselves, but if this increases or decreases, or there is a discharge at other times, it may mean your guinea pig is ill, so always consult your vet. Watch to see if there is any scratching or rubbing of ears or head shaking, as this may be an indication of ear mites.
>>> Feet and nails Check feet for signs of sores or red patches. Nails shouldn’t be overlong or damaged and will need to be clipped regularly with good quality pet nail clippers or they will start to curl, making it difficult for your cavy to move around. You need to trim just the tips of the nails avoiding the ‘quick’, which will cause the nail to bleed and be painful. If you don’t feel happy doing this yourself, it’s best to leave it to a vet or a veterinary nurse.
>>> Teeth Guinea pigs’ teeth grow very quickly and should be checked every week to ensure they are not overgrown, broken or loose. If you notice any problems, seek professional advice – only a vet should correct overgrown or misaligned teeth. Make sure you are feeding the bulk of their diet as good quality feeding hay, which will help to keep their teeth healthy.
>> Round the back You should check the fur and skin around your guinea pig’s rear end every day, particularly in warm weather. Urine staining or droppings that are stuck will attract flies, which can cause ‘flystrike’ – a painful, sometimes fatal, condition caused by flies laying eggs that hatch into maggots and eat their host’s flesh. Guinea pigs also have a grease gland that is situated under their tail stump. This gland should be cleaned with a little warm water every time you groom them as it can become rather smelly, particularly on boars.
>> Weight The RSPCA recommends weighing your guinea pigs on a weekly basis and writing down their weights so that you can look out for any changes. Keeping your GP at a healthy weight is an essential part of being a good pet owner.
Giving your guinea pigs something to nibble on while your groom them will help reinforce that being brushed is nice and something to look forward to. Why not offer them a special treat such as Excel Salad Snacks in banana and papaya, or carrot and beetroot?