By Shannon Cauthen
I recently adopted two guinea pigs. I was told the first one was a female (by a so-called breeder who happened to work at the local pet shop) so I got her a young friend. It turned out that “she” was a he. The female I had bought for the other to have company while I was working is pregnant now, and that’s why I’m contacting you. I got him when he was 9 months old and her when she was 4 months. They are now 13 months and 7 months respectively.
My questions are:
- Will she be OK having her babies this young? The local pet shop lady said so, but she also said my male was a female.
- I was told and have read that once you can feel the babies she is ready to have her babies. Is this true? Only the last couple days I have been able to feel them. Of course it’s been the only time she has just laid there and not moved when I go to pet her.
- When can I handle the babies?
- When should I be able to tell the gender of the babies?
A female guinea pig who is first bred after 7 or 8 months of age could be at risk of dystocia (difficult birth) because the pelvic bones have fused together with too little separation because she was not bred earlier. This won’t happen for every guinea pig, but the later a first breeding occurs, the greater the risk.
Based on the age of your female guinea pig, a visit to the veterinarian might be in order. It is possible to have an ultrasound performed on your guinea pig by your veterinarian to insure her health. This ultrasound will also show how many pups she is going to have and determine her general health. Having a veterinarian who already has her information will help greatly if she runs into problems during delivery.
It is called “quickening” when there is independent movement of the babies in the mother’s womb. This occurs at the last 10 to 15 days of the pregnancy. Then there is a point when her hips begin to spread to allow the passing of the babies down the birth channel. Their uterus is a “U” shape that leads to the vaginal cannel. Guinea pigs have on occasional been pregnant on one side of the “U” or are pregnant at different times in different sides of the “U,” thereby delivering two litters at different times. This is a very rare occurrence.
Holding her bottom in the palm of your hand with the majority of her body across your forearm and her head facing you, gently run the index finger of your other hand down her tummy until you are above her pelvic bone; this is located above the point at which she voids her bladder. You can feel a bone just above her vaginal opening; this bone will have two bumps positioned closely together. It will almost feel like an upside-down “M,” but the humps of the “M” will be very close together. This point begins to open as her hips spread apart. When it feels like the “M” humps are apart noticeably, she is ready to deliver her babies in 24 to 36 hours.
When the mother is giving birth, she will appear to be head first in the corner of her cage. She will appear to have the hiccups and then she may move to pull something from her bottom between her legs. This action is the contractions. At some point she will have a pup’s head appear and she will push the baby out. Mom will do all the work and will not need help. Wanting to help may injure her with a collapsed uterus. She should have just enough time between contractions to deliver the baby and break the sack over the baby’s head. Or she may have enough time to clean up the baby before going into contractions again. Guinea pigs typically have 2 to 4 pups per litter but there are occasions when they have 6 to 9, which is very difficult for the mother as she only has two mammary glands. Babies take turns nursing and having that many is hard on the mom, but they do manage to get through it. This birthing process should not take more than an hour. Anything over that should be considered an emergency and your veterinarian should be called.
Because a guinea pig’s gestation period is 64 to 72 days, the babies will be born fully haired and up and running. They will not need to nurse from mom for the first 24 hours as they are super charged out of the womb. This allows the mother’s milk to start in time to nurse the babies. So do not force the affair; they will take care of everything as soon as it is need. This is a hardwired behavior in the moms.
You can handle the babies, gently, from Day 1. Mom will not reject them, nor will mom want to eat them. She will be a good mom. Their sex can be determined from Day 1 if you are experienced in sexing guinea pigs. Females will appear to have a small kernel of rice in the area of sexual reproduction. Males will appear to have a donut. Both will be very pale, almost white in appearance. Babies tend to be squirmy and should be handled with extreme care. It will be easier to sex the babies when they are 3 to 4 weeks of age. Males may become sexually demonstrative at 3 weeks and can be removed from their mom at that time. Females should stay with mom until they are 4 weeks of age.
Handling them from Day 1 makes for very calm and gentle guinea pigs. They will know that human hands are kind and gentle, and they will be very nice and calm adults.
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And check out:
Handling Rules For Newborn Guinea Pigs, click here.