Posted: August 13, 2011, 5 a.m. EDT
Q: We got our daughter a pet guinea pig earlier this year. The owners told us our new guinea pig, Bailey, was 6 weeks old. After a few weeks, we noticed her shape was changing. We were afraid of tumors, so I immediately brought her to the veterinarian — and, oh my gosh, she was pregnant. Bailey had four baby guinea pigs. The vet is saying not to let the children handle them at all for a few weeks and was not clear about the adults. The children have been handling small animals from rats to bearded dragons for years, so I am not worried about them harming them at all. I know the vet was basically saying they are fragile.
My question is: Is there a real timeframe that they should be left alone, or should we start socializing with them right away?
How soon can we have the baby guinea pigs sexed? We plan to keep one female baby guinea pig. Is there usually any problem with temperament when it's a mother-daughter living together once the baby is an adult, or anytime for that matter?
How soon should we separate the male guinea pigs from the females so this will not happen again? Our research shows three weeks.
We do have homes for two, maybe three, of the guinea pigs already. What would you recommend as a good age to separate them from Mom successfully and go to their new homes?
Any advice on caring for Mom guinea pig and the babies is welcomed!
A: Baby guinea pigs are such precious little creatures. Ears and legs bigger than the rest of their body they are precious little ones who should be handled with the greatest care but, yes, they can be handled from the moment they are born if you are not interfering with the birthing process and you are doing so with the utmost care. The mother guinea pig will not reject them because you are handling them.
Just like the human baby being passed around after birth, they have been listening to your voices, movies, music for however many months they have been in your home in their mother's womb. So they are no strangers to you, your family or your pets. It has been my experience that handling baby guinea pigs from early on makes them very calm and easygoing with people.
Baby guinea pigs can be sexed at birth, but usually only by an experienced guinea pig person like your veterinarian or someone with lots of guinea pig familiarity. Male guinea pigs can become sexually active at 3 weeks (with minimal effectiveness but no less a nuisance). Female guinea pigs need to stay with their mother for four weeks. Male guinea pigs will appear to have a white ring in their genital area. Female guinea pigs will have what looks like a tiny grain of rice.
Baby guinea pigs are born supercharged and will start nursing somewhere in a 24-hour period, so don't panic if they don't latch on right away. A mother guinea pig needs to clean the babies and eat the afterbirth to chemically generate the mammary glands to start producing milk. Even human moms do not produce milk right off the bat; it takes a day or two.
Baby guinea pigs start nursing in 24 hours, and eat solid foods at three days as mom shows them how. They will need to nurse for at least three weeks no matter what. During this time, the mother guinea pig does a lot of other things for her baby guinea pigs. She stimulates them to urinate and defecate by cleaning their bottoms periodically throughout the day. She has to do this for at least three weeks. The mother is also producing a softer stool for the babies to consume so that they have the proper bacteria in their digestive systems. So being with the mother guinea pig for three weeks is very important.
A mother-daughter guinea pig combination is often the best. If you are able to pair the male guinea pigs in some capacity with each other, it would be nice to keep the family together because male guinea pigs are difficult to pair, and the best pairings are brothers.
While the mom is nursing you can offer her alfalfa, which is a very rich grass. This is one of the few times you can offer it to her and the babies without worrying about the calcium content. Give the mother guinea pig and her babies the freshest and best of foods to ensure a sound base for them to grow from. "A handful of hay a day keeps the vet away," is my motto. Of course they get about a flake of timothy hay each day because it is so high in vitamin C and there’s no worry about the calcium content. A flake is a segment of a bale of hay. It is about 3 inches wide and the width of the hay bale.
Baby guinea pigs grow quickly, and before you know it they will be ready for their own lives. Interacting with them as much as you can will make them the best and most desired of guinea pigs because of their socialization and fearlessness with humans.
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