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Exotic pets, rodents and birds

Cavies during Pregnancy

Pigtails, Curls and Whorls Exotic pets, rodents and birds

Cavies during Pregnancy

(this is a joint article written from points Amanda Kinneard made on her site, with her permission I have brought those points here, and added my own.)

There is no such thing as a pregnancy without risks. Guinea pig pregnancies are all too frequently accompanied by complications such as hypocalcimia (lack of calcium), pregnancy toxemia, dystocia (difficult birth), still borns, premature babies, weak labour, retained (not delivered) babies and placentas, hemorraging, and nearly all of these will result in the death of the mother.

Breeding should not be dabbled in. Many people have lost dear pets because they thought it would be nice to have "just one litter". I have visited the Rainbow Bridge site and read through the numerous entries from people that bred their pig and lost either one or all the babies and often the mother.

Summarized below is what a normal labour should be like. I am not encouraging anyone to breed their pigs, but I will go into some of the more common complications and how to recognize them.

There is a group of naturopathic supplements that may be used on cavies during their pregnancy that might help tone the uterus for delivery, and help stimulate milk production. These are listed on a few sites, although I have not used them myself and cannot vouch for their effectivity.

A normal labour should be very short and sweet with little or no blood (excluding blood from the placentas being eaten). Sows should start labour and deliver all the babies within about an hour. A sow in labour will sit very squarely and make a hiccup type movement (the contraction), then look under her, as if she is getting a "poop" to eat. She should tear the sac with her teeth over the babies mouth as soon as the head appears, using the sac to help pull the baby out on the next contraction. She should eat the sac and lick the baby clean. A very heavily pregnant sow may not be able to properly reach under herself to open the sac and pull the baby out. If you happen upon her in labour, help her get the babies from under her and clean them up. Otherwise they can suffocate in the amniotic sac, particularly if she's carrying a lot of babies, she can deliver one, be cleaning it up, and another arrives, she may not be able to remove the sac in time.

It is usually best if there is about 10 minutes between babies but that is not always the case. If she is not attending to the newest baby reach in the cage and open the sac over the face so it can breathe, you can then put the baby back next to her or clean it yourself. I personally clean the baby myself. If a baby isn't responding the way the mother likes she may nip the ears or toes to get it to breath. It isn't uncommon for an overzealous mom to actually chew toes off or ears.


~ If she squeals loudly and repeatedly during labour (most sows are quiet when in labour)while not producing a baby
~ Straining for more than 10 minutes without delivering a baby
~ Excessive bleeding (more than a TBSP, or dripping blood like a faucet) shavings with blood on them (where she delivered) are normal, as is light spotting for a day or so after delivery
~ Listlessness
~ Lumps in her abdomen after labour has stopped (babies feel about the size of a walnut or bigger)
~ Not eating or drinking and/or smells like nailpolish remover or has sweet breath anywhere from 2 weeks before to two weeks after delivery
~ Hunched appearance
~ Ruffled hair
~ Dull or sunken eyes
~ Anything that doesn't deliver completely and hangs out of her vent. Leave it alone and rush her to a vet.
~ A cold belly before delivery.
~ Reluctance to move when you put your hand in her cage.
Any other gut feeling that there is something wrong with her! The sow usually picks a spot in the cage that she is most comfortable in and will always rest here for the last part of her pregnancy. This is where she will likely have her family.

It is very normal and common for the sow to eat all the placentas so don't be concerned if you don't see them, unless she is not bright eyed, moving about and eating and drinking.

Sows will normally be eating and drinking and moving about the cage right after the delivery.

Pregnancy Complications and Symptoms

Hypocalcimia is when the sows body uses all the calcium in her diet to help form the babies and may even begin to take calcium from her bones. Symptoms may include shaking, paralysis, and occasionally drooling. Seek vet treatment quickly as when symptoms are apparent she is already in the last stages of hypocalcimia.

Pregnancy Toxemia is a metobolic disorder most likely caused by poor or badly balanced diet. The sows body starts to metabolize fat to get energy, the fat is not broken down completely leaving toxins in the blood stream. This makes the sow feel sick so she doesn't eat causing her body to have to metabolize yet more fat. It is a vicious circle and it is easier to prevent it than to cure it.

Exercise and a well balanced diet are key to preventing toxemia. Not eating, drinking and not moving are some signs of a "toxic" sow. She may also smell sweet or smell like nail polish remover (acetone). This too requires immediate medical treatment from a vet.

Dystocia is any difficult birth. Straining repeatedly without producing a baby, squealing loudly on every contraction or lying on her side are signs of her having a difficult birth. This requires a vet's assistance.

(the above was written by Amanda Kinneard of Pipsqueak Caviary in British Columbia, Canada)

Facts about Cavy Pregnancies

Guinea pigs start between 30 and 45 days after mating. She will be plumping out around 30 to 40 days, palpable around 40 days (you can gently palpate her abdomen and feel peanut sized heads) and you can usually see development in the tummy and can start to feel kicking around 50 days. Gestation is 68-72 days, although 70 days is pretty common.

When she's at 55 days, stop handling her. It's too easy to accidentally detach a placenta, which if she can't expel it, she will die of toxemia (build up of waste in her system). I shoosh them into a diet coke box (their hiding homes in their cages) and transport that way, or just clean the cage around them. If she seems to suddenly lose interest in her food, sit ruffled, and acting uncomfortable or squeaking in pain, GET HER TO THE VET for an emergency intervention, it's often the only thing that will save her, if its caught in time. Toxins build up in their system so quickly, and it's nearly impossible to reverse it. She will need an emergency c-section, if she's not too weak to undergo anesthesia.

If she delivers fine, watch her for mastitis (a thickening infection in the mammary glands) - she will not produce milk (to check, you can't just squeeze the ends, you have to start at the base of the teat with the gland and squeeze up the teat, similar to milking a cow) and the babies will be starving. Mastitis is easy to cure, but it can take about a week, and meanwhile the babies are trying to share one nipple. Also, within 2 days of delivery, she can also go downhill - in this case, she's probably retained a placenta and it's causing a septicemia buildup in her system - this could be shown by again, a ruffled animal with the nose in the corner, squeaking in pain when picked up, and no interest in anything. It's NOT post partum, as some bleeding hearts seem to think, it's a very serious medical issue that again needs immediate veterinary intervention.

They can have many of the same problems we do, breech birth, placental detachment, etc. The older she is the more likely she'll have problems. If she's over about 14 months and hasn't littered before, be sure that your vet is competent at c-sectons as she'll probably need one. The older she is, just like us, the less elastic her ligaments will be and the more problems likely at delivery. If she's under 5 months, chances are she'll always be small - babies leach so much calcium and resources out of the bodies of the mom's that if they're not full grown when they have their first litter, chances are their growth will always be stunted.

Either way, sows have about a 20-25% mortality rate with delivery. Be sure your vet knows what they are doing, and take her in when you know she's pregnant to be sure that everything is going smoothly. She can have between 1 and up to 7 babies, so make sure you have homes lined up for them BEFORE she delivers!

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