By Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM
Preventive medicine has become an important goal of veterinary medicine. There is a lot of truth to the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is especially true of reproductive disease. Veterinarians often champion the idea of spaying dogs and cats to promote longer lives of those pets as well as reduce disease and the number of unwanted pets in shelters. But how about exotic pets like guinea pigs?
Like many small mammals, guinea pigs are able to reproduce quite early in life. Sexual maturity occurs by 3 months of age in males and 2 months in females. This is why it is important for guinea pigs to be sexed properly when they are very young, as pregnancy can occur very early in life and can happen at any time during the year. These animals are usually very easy to sex; males have large testicles and females have a Y-shaped urogenital area.
The Risks Of Ovarian Cysts
A frequent reproductive problem observed in females is the development of ovarian cysts. Cysts are encapsulated, fluid-filled sacs within an organ. Studies have shown that up to two-thirds of female guinea pigs have ovarian cysts, and these can occur any time after 3 months of age.
These cysts are categorized as either non-functional or functional. Non-functional cysts are believed to be a part of the normal reproductive cycle and usually don’t cause any trouble unless they increase in number and/or size. Functional cysts often produce hormones that lead to bilateral fur loss over the sides of the guinea pig.
Regardless of the type, large cysts can result in discomfort for the guinea pig that leads to reduced appetite, lethargy and a bloated appearance. It has also been suggested that ovarian cysts may predispose guinea pigs to uterine cancer.
Occasionally, cysts can be managed with medical treatment such as Lupron injections. Lupron counteracts the effects of the hormones and may possibly help shrink the size of the cysts. However, surgical removal of the reproductive tract remains the gold standard for treatment.
© Courtesy Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM
Ovarian cysts are classified as either non-functional or functional, and either type can cause problems to varying degrees.
Two Surgeries To Consider
The anatomy of the guinea pig makes spaying much more challenging compared to other species like rabbits. Because the ligaments that hold the reproductive tract in place are incredibly short, a lot of effort is needed to maneuver the digestive tract and exteriorize the tissue. This is why veterinarians may recommend removing the ovaries before problems occur.
Surgery to remove just the ovaries before they become cystic is relatively easier compared to a full spay, in which the ovaries and uterus are removed. Instead of a large incision made though the belly, removing the ovaries only requires two small incisions on either side of the body. When this approach is used, the guinea pig recovers faster from surgery and appears a lot more comfortable. If done early enough, the risk of secondary uterine cancer is greatly reduced.
Talk to your veterinarian about this new technique for preventing reproductive problems in guinea pigs.
Note: This article is meant for educational purposes only and in no way represents any particular individual or case. It is not for diagnostic purposes. If your pet is sick, please take him or her to a veterinarian.
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