Guinea pig reproduction



Guinea Pig Reproduction

The first thing to remember, and the most important, is that female guinea pigs should have their first litter before seven months of age. If they fall pregnant after this age, then it becomes extremely life-threatening for a female to deliver. We never advocate breeding guinea pigs, as one in five females die in childbirth. Homes are also scarce, and due to the high number of accidental pregnancies (usually occurring in pet shops and new owners who were incorrectly told the sex), inbreeding has become a major contributing factor to the high incidences of genetic abnormalities.

This is all too common a scenario, however: a guinea pig arrives home after being incorrectly identified as either male or female (note that it is very difficult to determine the gender of young pigs). They are put into cages with existing family members and voila… someone is pregnant. Or very often, they have already been impregnated at the pet store. The new owner never had any intention of breeding, has no idea of the reproductive cycle involved and is really clueless to the dangers of pregnancy in this species. This happens so frequently, and is the inspiration for this article.

A guinea pigs heat-cycle lasts sixteen days. There is an eight hour period every cycle where the female is receptive to the male. Females can also go straight back into heat after birth, which means that they can nurse a litter while being pregnant at the same time. It is always advised to separate the female a few days before birth and for around two weeks afterwards. 

Pregnancy lasts around sixty-three days, depending on the size of the litter. Mostly, they have between one and three pups, but have been known to have seven. During the latter stages of pregnancy, the abdomen will enlarge. During this time, a sow easily doubles her body weight. Roughly a week before delivery, the sow will develop a widening separation of the pelvis just in front of the external genitals. Hours before birth, this separation reaches just over an inch in size. This pelvic separation (otherwise called Dystocia) does not occur in females older than eight months who are birthing for the first time, which creates a big problem. Often tragedy occurs as natural delivery is impossible and requires a caesarean section to save the lives of the mother and pups.

Uncomplicated deliveries take around half an hour, with roughly five minute intervals between pups.  Usually the first litters are small, increasing in size as the sow ages. Abortions and stillbirths are very common with guinea pigs throughout their breeding lives.

Babies are born large, fully-furred and can run around. At birth, they have teeth and open eyes. They can eat solid food immediately, and drink water; but it is recommended that they be allowed to suckle their mother for at least two weeks.

Difficulties during Birth

–        As mentioned above, when a female’s pelvis does not separate there are problems. This is called dystocia and requires veterinary assistance. Signs to look for are straining and uterine bleeding. A veterinarian will examine the sow by direct exam and take x-rays. If natural delivery is not possible, then an emergency caesarean will need to be performed.

–        Pregnancy toxaemia mostly occurs in overweight sows during their first or second pregnancy. Symptoms appear between one and five days during the last two weeks of pregnancy. Lack of appetite, depression, weakness, lethargy, lack of coordination, breathing difficulties, coma and death. Some sows show no signs at all and then suddenly die. The underlying problem is a lack of blood flow to the uterus. Stress and obesity are contributing causes, as are age, lack of exercise, fasting before the onset of signs and too many pups to nourish. Immediate veterinary care is required if your pet displays any of these signs during pregnancy. Treatment is often unsuccessful, which is why prevention is of critical importance. Avoid obesity and stress, and ensure your sow has plenty of water and an adequate nutritious diet.

Once your beloved pet has had her litter, spaying her is greatly recommended. Although there are risks for this procedure with guinea pigs, most are successful and very effective in preventing pregnancy. If you are able to determine the sex of your pigs accurately, then complete separation of the genders is the best thing for everybody involved.



Article by Mandy