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Breeding

There are many reasons for wanting to investigate breeding. You become involved by purchasing a pregnant guinea pig and falling in love with the babies, or wanting to produce award winning show animals. There are many wonderful things about breeding these animals, and consequently, there are many heart breaking things that can happen. Breeding is not for the faint of heart, by any means. You must be prepared to lose the sow or the litter, and sometimes, both.

 

Why Do You Want to Breed?

This question really cannot be answered by me, or anybody else. You are the sole person who can answer that question for yourself, and for your piggy.

The main question to be asked is why do you want to breed your cavy? Do you think she is lonely? Some pigs prefer our company to that of other pigs - they are far too dominant to get along with others in a caged situation.

Do you think that she needs to have a litter? If so, why? Do you think that she's happier if she has babies? Some folks think that of people too, and frankly, there are many women and men don't want kids, so it's silly for humans to interpret their feelings and assume their cavy also has those same mothering instincts. I personally have no maternal instincts, unless you've got fins, feathers, or fur, that is! Some people think that it's important a cavy has a litter before she's a year old, to prevent her from having difficulty down the line. This is hogwash - if a sow litters at 4 months, and then isn't bred until she's 3 again, she's going to have just as many potential problems as if she hadn't had that first litter!

Do you want your children to experience the miracle of life? Are you also willing to teach them about death? There is a very good chance your sow might not make it through this pregnancy. Sows can risk about a 20% chance of mortality during pregnancy. Also, many sows require veterinary interception during their pregnancy and afterwards, are you willing to spend up to $300 for an emergency caesarean, or do you have the courage to put her out of her misery at home? Also, many litters often have a stillborn baby or two, is this something you are willing to allow your children to experience? Or frankly, something you want a treasured pet to go through? What will happen to the babies?

Are you breeding for show or to make money from selling the babies? I often hear this from inexperienced and naïve people. You lose money by raising babies, not make it in handfuls. At best, pet stores will offer about $5-6 a baby pig, and you have no say in what they do with them after the bill of sale is closed. It costs on average about $10-12 per baby to raise it for 4 weeks, as well as vet costs and your time. Now if you are breeding show stock, it won't do you much good unless you are breeding from top quality, pedigreed parents. You must have a standard of perfection, and have a good idea of what you are getting into and the breed you wish to work with and further. If so, I would recommend strongly that you go to a couple of shows in your area and see where the current trend is in the breed you wish to further. Talk to other top breeders of that breed and variety, and obtain the very best stock you can.

The main question is, are you willing to sacrifice a treasured pet to the perils of pregnancy? It can be difficult for them, and it often lessens their lifespan. A cavy can typically live for about 5 years, yet breeder pigs typically live about 3 years. Is this what you really want for your cavy?

Selecting Appropriate Combinations

This is a tough one. I'm going to assume you want to breed for show since that's about the only direction I feel is profitable. Now, when I say profitable, I'm not necessarily talking about the money on sales of animals, but the only reason guinea pigs should be bred is to increase the quality of animals overall. There are amazing amounts of guinea pigs being produced by people who think they can just put two pigs together, and get more cavies, without having any goals for these pigs except to produce more. That is not the goal of the average breeder. The breeder of cavies wants to produce a better animal, a hardier animal, and a healthier animal, as opposed to the 'backyard' breeder who just wants more. The backyard breeder is what gives breeders in general a bad name.

There are many breeds of cavies, as we've discussed. Many of them cannot, or should not be bred together, as they produce unshowable babies, essentially, mixed breed pet store piggies. If your goal is to supply your local pet store with cavies, then this is fine but I say again: Why produce mixed mutts when you can produce great animals? They cost the same to feed, to house, and take up the same cage space as a showable animal.

Below is a table of breeds that can be crossed together to produce showable animals:

Abysinnians

Satin Abys

Americans

Satin Americans

Coronets

Peruvians

Satin Peruvians

Silkies

Satin Silkies

Teddies

Satin Teddies

Texels

White Cresteds

Abysinnians

x

x

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Satin Abys

x

x

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Americans

-

-

x

x

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

x

Satin Americans

-

-

x

x

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Coronets

-

-

-

-

x

-

-

x

-

-

-

-

-

Peruvians

-

-

-

-

-

x

x

x

x

-

-

-

-

Satin Peruvians

-

-

-

-

-

x

x

x

x

-

-

-

-

Silkies

-

-

-

-

x

x

x

x

x

-

-

-

-

Satin Silkies

-

-

-

-

-

x

x

x

x

-

-

-

-

Teddies

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

x

x

-

-

Satin Teddies

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

x

x

-

-

Texels

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

x

-

White Cresteds

-

-

x

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

x

 

While you can certainly breed any of these together and get healthy animals, there are some pairings you will want to stay away from. Breeding satins to satins can often reduce the overall size of your offspring and although unproven scientifically, is thought to lead to higher rates of hypocalcemia in delivering sows. Most satin breeders tend to breed in a non-satin animal of the same breed every 3rd or 4th generation to improve overall vigor. You will also want to stay away from breeding longhaired animals to shorthaired animals, as the offspring will be shorthaired yet carry a longhaired gene (more in the genetics section).

 

While you can breed almost any variety together, there are a couple of varieties you are going to want to stay away from breeding together. There is a lethal gene that appears to be a recessive gene in dalmatians and roans. Therefore, by breeding dalmatians to dalmatians, you can get a 25% chance of this recessive 'lethal' gene. This would result in a micropthalmic (all white, particularly small eyes often upturned or blind, and incisors that are not apparent or are growing upwards into the hard palate and ultimately into the sinus cavity) baby. This also would occur with a roan to roan breeding. For this reason, we can successfully breed a dalmatian or a roan to its corresponding self or solid base colour (a black roan to a black self, a red dalmatian to a red self, etc).

Anytime you breed an animal with white spotting (either white crest, white snip on the nose, or white toes) you run the risk of this spotting gene popping up in subsequent litters. If you are breeding for brindles or tortoiseshells, you want to make sure that none of your foundation stock has this, unless you want white spotting genes in your herd. Brindled animals should not be bred into tortoise or toiseshell and white animals, as you want patches with very clear distinction and no brindling of colours.

Something else to consider is when you mix intense (red or black based colours with black eyes) with dilute (pastel dilutions such as red eyed orange, lilac, cream with red eyes) together, you can often end up with colour that fades very significantly. Since colour is such a big part of the overall pig in short haired pigs, you will want to avoid doing this if you can, or select pigs with as little undercolour fade as you can find.

Roans are to be 70% roaned (interspersed white hairs) all over their body and this includes the belly of the animal. A good roan will probably have a solid face with a white blaze, roaning on the body and will include roaning on the belly, although the belly will probably have some splotchiness to it or will be mostly white.

Occasionally you can find broken animals that pop up that are remarkably dutch like in appearance. They might have cheek patches, the blaze, a distinct saddle demarcation with stops on the feet. This is a showable animal, but be prepared for the judge to point out the resemblance to the dutch and it may be faulted.

While there are some combos listed in the table that can be made, you don't really want to breed some of these animals together unless you really know what you are doing. For example, a black can be bred to a lilac theoretically to produce more blacks or lilacs, but if your lilac has poor undercolour, this mating might produce blacks and lilacs with very poor undercolour, taking a step backwards in each variety. Often, a black is bred into a solid or an agouti (either golden or silver) to improve that undercolour. In this case, it's helping to improve one or both varieties.

Below is a chart of colours and varieties that can be bred together:

[---------------------------RECOGNIZED COLOURS-----------------------------------]

Beige

Black

Bri ndle

Chocolate

Cream

Golden Agouti

Golden Solid

Lemon Agouti

Lemon Solid

Lilac

Red

REO

Silver Agouti

Silver Solid

White

Himilayan

Dutch

Broken Colour

TS

TSW

Roan

Dalmatian

Blue

Buff

Saffron

Black

X

X

-

X

-

X

X

-

-

X

-

-

X

X

-

X

X

-

-

-

X

X

X

-

-

Chocolate

-

X

-

X

-

-

-

X

X

-

X

-

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

X

X

-

-

-

Cream

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

X

X

-

X

X

-

-

X

-

X

-

-

-

X

X

-

X

X

Golden Agouti

-

X

-

-

-

X

X

-

-

-

X

-

X

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

Golden Solid

-

X

-

-

-

X

X

-

-

-

X

-

X

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

Lemon Agouti

-

-

-

X

X

-

-

X

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

Lemon Solid

-

-

-

X

X

-

-

X

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

Lilac

X

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

X

-

X

-

-

Red

-

-

-

-

-

X

X

-

-

-

X

X

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

X

X

-

-

-

REO

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

-

X

X

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

X

X

-

-

X

Silver Agouti

-

X

-

-

-

X

X

-

-

-

-

-

X

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

Silver Solids

-

X

-

-

-

X

X

-

-

-

-

-

X

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

White

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Himilayan

-

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Dutch

-

X

-

X

X

-

-

-

-

-

X

X

-

-

-

-

X

X

-

X

-

-

-

-

-

Broken Colour

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

X

X

X

-

-

-

-

-

TS

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

X

X

X

-

-

-

-

TSW

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

X

X

X

-

-

-

-

-

Roan

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

X

X

X

Dalmatian

X

X

-

X

X

-

-

-

-

X

X

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

X

X

Brindle

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

Blue

-

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

Buff

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

X

X

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

X

-

X

X

Saffron

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

X

X

-

X

X

 

While many of these combinations may be bred, you need to understand the pedigrees of the animals in question, as some of these traits can be recessive or dominant. For example, if you are breeding a broken coloured golden agouti/red and white to a tsw and you are wanting to improve your tsw line, this pairing will lead to more golden agouti/red and white piggies, since the agouti extension gene is dominant. More in the genetics section.

 

Is My Sow in Heat?

One of the easiest ways to know if you should put your sow in with a boar (or if she's safe to temporarily house with a boar if you don't want her bred) is to check to see if she's in heat. She will begin to cycle when she's around 25-28 days of age, and will cycle every 17-19 days thereafter. During her heat cycle, the hymen (the thin membrane that covers the vaginal opening) will retract, exposing the vagina and pheromones to any receptive boars. When she's not in heat, her only open orifices will be her rectum and her myetus (urinary sphincter).

Gestation

Sows gestate their young for roughly 70 days. This is a very long gestation, but the babies are born fully haired, eyes open, and ready to go. Most of the time you have no idea when she was bred, but I'll list some basic time frames. You won't be able to see any outward signs of the pregnancy (other than lack of a heat cycle) for the first month. At about 35 days, the sow will start to plump out, and take on a thickened 'waistline' or pear shape. At this time, the babies can be palpated through the mom's tummy. At about 50 days, you can feel them kicking inside the mom. At this time, you should STOP handling the mom about the abdomen area, as a mere bump can cause a placenta to detach, and can lead to a toxicity in the mom, eventually leading to her death. I use a dust pan, or a small box to move mom about if necessary.

Her pelvic girdle will start to separate at her due date, which can be any time from 67 days to 72 days. You may place her on a flat surface, holding her head but not touching her abdomen, and slip your fingers under her. Slide them just above her vulva (towards her tummy) and you can feel two points. These are her hipbones, and they will 'dilate' when she is ready to deliver. The points are close together (feel a virgin or non-pregnant sow) nearly touching, and when she dilates, she'll be fully dilated when they are about 1/2" apart. This typically happens about 2 days before she delivers, but sometimes the sow will trick you - the hipbones will come back together again! Fear not, she will go into labour in the next few days.

You may need to palpate your sow in order to determine if she is bred and how far along she is. This is a very delicate procedure, but can be done safely at home. The trick is to use your thumbs and your fingers to gently feel around in the abdomen for babies, while not pushing or pinching into the tummy.

 

 

 

 

 

Help! My guinea pig is pregnant, what can I expect?

This topic is huge, and unfortunately, not a lot of information is available on what exactly happens during a pregnancy, what the risks are, and what to do after the fact.

First of all it's important to realize that a sow is capable of going into her first heat cycle at about 24 days of age. She will then cycle every 16-18 days from then on. Baby boars on the other hand, are viable at about 20 days of age, as soon as the penis can penetrate out of the sheath.

There is a lot of myth surrounding this 'pelvic fusion' theory. There are people out there who insist that a sows pelvis will fuse rigidly shut at about a year of age. It is more my opinion that the bones fuse shortly after birth, same as ours do, but the ligaments and muscles tend to lose their elasticity over time. This is much like an older woman giving birth for the first time - she's likely to have more problems than a 25 year old woman giving birth. An older cavy (over a year of age) who is having her first litter is simply at higher risk than a younger sow.

Now, should you choose to breed your sow, or even if you have obtained a rescued sow, a owner relinquished sow, or even purchased a sow from a pet store that ended up pregnant, it's important to have a knowledgable cavy vet on hand if you need it.

She will typically have her young in the wee hours of the morning, around 5-6am. You will wake up and usually find warm, blinking confused looking youngsters, with no trace of afterbirth, bloody shavings, or any evidence. This is instinct for the mom, to fully clean up the 'den,' to avoid attracting predators to the blood.

If you are lucky enough to be present, you will see the sow actually contract, small ripples of muscles pushing up her body. She will then reach underneath her (as if she's digging for coecal pellets) and will help pull the baby out of her canal with her teeth, breaking the amniotic sac in the process. Now, the full delivery will usually take less than 20 minutes, so beware, it happens quickly! She will eat the sac off of the baby, and try to lick it clean, often times as the second baby is starting to crown. Sometimes in the furor, she can inadvertantly be attending to one baby and will not be able to attend to another baby in time to unsac it and you will occasionally have a baby drown in the sac. First litters are generally about 2-4 babies, backbred litters are generally larger. As you can see, there is a lot of work that the mom has to do very quickly! The mom must eat the afterbirth - it containst oxytocin, a drug which stimulates contractions of the uterus as well as milk production.

She will be busy for the next few weeks. Keep lots of good food in front of her, and plenty of water and vitamins. A trace mineral block is helpful, but some pigs ignore them. Vit C (about 30-50 mgs per day) is necessary as she passes this on to her babies. She should also have calcium available, to help with replenishing her own bodily resources, but to also help her produce calcium rich milk for the babies. Good sources of calcium are parsley, kale, collard greens, dandelion leaves and mustard greens. Some people use a slice of wheat bread soaked in whole milk or goat's milk (called bread or milk sop) and offer this to the mom and babies. Some folks will tell you that cavies cannot utilize milk products. It's up to you to decide what you want to try.

The babies can be weaned as soon as they are eating and drinking well. I like to leave babies in until they are 10 ounces in weight, but boars should be pulled as soon as their penis is able to be extended from their sheath - they are viable at this time and can impregnate their sisters. I will put them in with adult boars, often their fathers take to this job nicely. I will however, leave baby sows with their mothers, unless they are being coated out for show.

A week from when the sow is due to a week after she delivers, you want to make sure that she is eating, drinking, and active. She might slow down prior to delivery, but she should continue eating and drinking. Failure to do so might indicate a more serious problem, either her system is not able to handle the waste products of the babies and her own, and is starting to go toxic. If after the delivery she sits around not eating, looking 'fluffed,' this could be a sign of a retained placenta which can slowly poison the mom. She will need to go to the vet in either case, if you hope to save her. Another thing you will want to verify is that she gets her milk within the first 24 hours, failure of this will result in dead babies from lack of nutrition, as well as a systemic infection if the mom's mammary glands have mastitis, a blocked duct.