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Guinea Pigs/pregnant guinea pig

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Question
We recently bought 2 female guinea pigs which settled in very well and are lovely. Last week I noticed one of the guninea pigs (Benji) was getting a large tummy. I took her to the vet and was surprised to discover she was pregnant. I complained to the shop that sold them to me and they have been great and are supplying all food/bedding until the babies are born and if I cannot sell them, they will take them for me.
My concern is my lack of knowledge, I have been told she will get on with it herself and as she is only about 22 weeks old she should have a problem free pregnancy. But what about cleaning the cage out when she has had the babies? Surely I can't leave it for weeks? Can I handle the babies? I do not want her to get pregnant again so when do I separate the babies from mum in case any are male? I have read they can be sexually active from 3 weeks? Shouldn't they still be being weaned at that age? Hope to hear from you soon.

Answer
Pups at 1 hr old
Pups at 1 hr old  

Litter of ten
Litter of ten  
Let me assure you that the male babies are not fertile at 3 weeks of age. If the father is in the cage when the babies are born he will breed back mom within just a few short hours of delivery. Baby sows can become pregnant as young as two or three weeks of age, but amazingly enough they do not have issues with delivery.

The normal gestation is approximately 70 days. When you feel movement she will typically deliver within two to two and a half weeks. Cavies are excellent parents and know what to do when the time comes. As for her age, Benji will be just fine. It's the older sows that have difficulty with a first time delivery. But God has made provision for these animals to procreate and Benji will do her job without assistance.

The babies will be born looking just like mom and dad. They have a full mouthful of teeth, a full coat of hair, eyes open and ready to run. Be cautious right after delivery. Mom will not nurse the babies until she has completely emptied out the uterus of all tissue and placentas. I've had moms that didn't nurse the pups for 12 hours and they were just fine. The babies have a natural instinct to stay right where they were born until mom tells them to move.

You can handle the babies as soon as they're dry which is within hours. Benji won't mind a bit. The pups are very wiggly and fast, so when you're holding them make sure you have both hands on them so they can't leap out, and they will.

Leave mom with all the pups until they're at least 4 weeks old. I like to leave mine for at least 5 weeks as they get their nurturing from mom and she teaches them how to drink from the water bottle, etc. If they are all females just leave them with mom until you're ready to rehome them. Just be aware..... they are so adorably cute you may have trouble giving them up.

Although the store offered to take the babies remember that they're doing themselves a favor as they will make the $$ selling them.  It's very honorable of them to furnish the bedding, etc. Most stores will not do that.

As soon as mom is comfortable with her new babies and you see her nursing you can clean the cage. With babies in the cage you'll be cleaning it more often than you do with just her in the cage. They will pee and poo regularly and the cage gets messy pretty fast.

You'll notice that as soon as the babies begin to suckle they tip their little butts upward and mom begins to clean them. As with all mammals they do not potty in their bedding at first. Even puppies and kittens will not go until mom stimulates them by licking their bottoms. That stimulates the babies to go.

Because guinea pigs are so precocious at birth they develop and grow very fast. They'll begin eating and drinking out of the bottle and crock within about ten days to two weeks. Although they can, if necessary, survive without mom at this age it's always best for them to stay with mom until she weans them which is usually about six weeks.

If you leave the baby sows with mom you'll notice that she will not allow them to nurse after they're about six weeks. But they still benefit from her nurturing until they're ready to wean.

You'll not see her lying down to nurse. She has only two teats but the babies don't nurse for very long, so even with a big litter they all get what they need and usually only nurse for a minute or two at a time. You will see her hunched up so the babies can get underneath her. She will sometimes put each of her front paws around the babies and they suckle.

It's extremely common to have at least one stillborn or runt that does not survive. Benji will not make any special efforts to save a sickly baby. Nature has provided that only the fittest survive and mom will not risk the well being of healthy babies to try to give special consideration to the sickly. They have to be able to get up and run from predators, and slowing down for a baby that cannot keep up can cost the lives of the entire litter.

Even though domesticated this instinct is still strong. So don't be upset if one of the newborns does not survive. Keep your camera ready and enjoy these babies. They are pure delight to watch as they grow.

I've attached a picture of one of my sows that had just given birth. You can see how developed the babies are. This litter was less than an hour old when taken. The second picture is a rarity, a pig that gave birth to ten pups and all survived. Most litters are average 2 to 4 babies. Because of the size of the babies there isn't a lot of room in mom to carry them.

Congratulations, you are in for a wonderful experience. Please send pictures when the babies arrive. And if you have any other questions please don't hesitate to ask.

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Pat VanAllen

Expertise

As is sometimes the case, people in urgent need of information have a higher degree of expectation than those of us as experts are able to give. The experts on this site do their best to give the most accurate and responsible answers possible. We ask that you remember that it is not our intention nor place to criticize the professional advice given by your veterinarian, nor is it appropriate for us to comment on the correctness of a diagnosis made by a licensed physician. Our knowledge is experience based. Although many years of breeding and showing cavies gives me a wealth of experience it cannot change the fact that we as experts are not veterinarians and therefore may occasionally have to reject questions that appear to be asking us to criticize advice given by the licensed professional. Having raised and exhibited cavies for many years I have extensive experience in cavy care and husbandry. I currently have an active breeding program for pedigreed show animals but do not encourage backyard breeding for inexperienced owners. Although I don't encourage breeding for fun I'm always happy to answer any questions from an owner who is in sincere need of help. Pet owners wanting to breed should understand that even experienced breeders have litter losses. The mortality rate is high in cavies. The chance for losing both sow and pups is always present, even with experience. Although this is a site for experts to assist owners, there is no expert in any field who has all the answers. The wisest thing a good expert can know is their limitations. Not having an answer does not diminish one's ability or knowledge. It simply shows that we recognize our limitations and operate within them.

Experience

Raised and shown cavies for many years, having aquired my first cavies in the early 1970's as pets. My caviary currently handles 65 + animals in two different breeds and several varieties. Having been in the health care industry as a licensed nurse for 35 years I have hands on experience with care and needs in both humans and cavies. Member of American Rabbit Breeders Association and American Cavy Breeders Association.

Organizations
Awarded Lifetime Membership in of one of the oldest cavy clubs in the United States, on whose Board I served as Sec/Treas for six years and currently serving as President. Also editor/publisher of the club's quarterly newsletter. We are strong supporters of our youth exhibitors, most of whom are 4H members who are working on cavy projects. Through these projects they become good responsible citizens. We deal with all aspects of showing, breeding, caring for and sharing experiences in the fancy. The cavy fancy is not a new one but in some areas is still relatively unknown. Our goal is to inspire interest in high quality, responsible breeding to improve the species, not just the reproduction of guinea pigs. Our job is to educate owners to help them make the right decisions and choices in the care of their cavies.

Education/Credentials
Graduate in nursing. Certified in emergency medicine.

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