For a variety of reasons, veterinarians do not recommend that owners attempt to breed their guinea pigs. One concern is that breeding will produce more guinea pigs than available homes. As with most companion animals, there are many homeless guinea pigs available for adoption in animal shelters.
Another concern of veterinarians is that the female, also known as a sow, can experience complications during the delivery of her offspring. These complications are caused by the stiffening of the pelvic symphysis when a female reaches adulthood, which is generally at about 8 months of age. The symphysis is a joint of tough fibrous cartilage located between the two pubic bones of the pelvis. This stiffening makes it difficult for the sow’s young to pass through the birth canal. In most cases, a sow will be unable to deliver her young normally. A Cesarean section can be attempted by a veterinarian. However, even the most experienced veterinarians are often unsuccessful in their attempts.
Spaying or neutering
Neutering refers to the removal of the reproductive organs, which permanently prevents an animal from breeding and/or becoming pregnant. Technically, the term neuter refers to the procedure done in either a male or female animal, though it is commonly used more for the male procedure involving removal of the testicles, also known as castration. The term spay, on the other hand, typically refers to the female procedure in which the ovaries and uterus are removed. In addition to its role in breeding prevention, neutering decreases risk of health concerns as well. Intact females are at a higher risk of ovarian cysts, uterine cancers, mammary tumors, and obesity; intact males are at higher risk of prostate cancers.
Owners should find a veterinarian who has experience working with small animals and has performed these types of surgeries successfully. It is recommended that owners at least have their males neutered because neutering is a far less invasive surgery than spaying. Some veterinarians suggest that all guinea pigs should be spayed or neutered to prevent health issues and increase the lifespan of the animal. However, it should also be noted that there are certain risks associated with any type of surgical procedure performed on guinea pigs. Guinea pigs may not react well to surgery and anesthesia, and they may also have trouble adjusting to and coping in unfamiliar environments.
If you do choose to have your guinea pig spayed or neutered, there are some steps you can take before and after the procedure to ensure a successful surgery and recovery. You should discuss with your veterinarian any steps that should be taken before the procedure. Unlike with cats and dogs, you do not have to withhold food before the surgery. Your veterinarian will be able to provide you with other instructions you need to follow.
After the procedure, your veterinarian will also provide you with post-op instructions. It is important to keep your guinea pig quiet and separated from other guinea pigs to allow for healing and to provide assurance that the procedure was successful. Three to four weeks is generally the amount of time that the guinea pig will need to be separated. Its cage should be small and clean. Towels can serve as the bedding and should be changed at least twice a day. The towels will also allow you to monitor the guinea pig’s urination, defecation, and bleeding that may occur. As always, provide the guinea pig with adequate amounts of fresh food and water. Adding extra vitamin C to its diet can help aid the recovery process. While your guinea pig is recovering, it is important that it is eating and drinking normally. If you notice that it is not, you should contact your veterinarian as soon as possible because this could mean that the guinea pig isn’t recovering properly and could be experiencing complications.
Separation of males and females
Separating male and female guinea pigs is another method to prevent breeding. By simply housing males in one cage and females in another, owners can avoid both the expense and potential risks associated with pregnancy complications. It is important that owners correctly identify males and females. A veterinarian is the best source for determining the sex of your guinea pig. It is also important to separate the two sexes as soon as possible. Male guinea pigs, also known as boars, can reach sexual maturity at the age of just 3 months. Sows can become sexually mature at just 2 months of age.
Guinea pigs that live together provide each other with companionship and can serve as a great form of enrichment. Females can live together without any problems. If you choose to own male guinea pigs, they should be introduced to each other before they are finished weaning from their mothers, which is usually at about three weeks of age. If this is not possible, the males should be neutered before being introduced to one another. Intact (noncastrated) males will tend to fight if housed together.
In general, pet stores limit the animals they sell to one sex. If you would like to purchase more than one guinea pig, it would be wise to purchase them from the same store to ensure that they are both of the same sex and eliminate any chance of breeding. Always check with each individual store to verify that all the animals are in fact of the same sex.
Whichever method you choose, it is important to be a responsible and caring owner and make sure that pregnancies do not occur. Pregnancies can lead to severe health complications and sometimes death for the mother. Pregnancies also produce guinea pigs whose owners may not be able to afford to keep and then cannot find suitable homes for. If you have any questions or concerns, your veterinarian is always a credible and helpful source of information.
Lisa Karr-Lilienthal, Ph.D., and Kaycee Points - University of Nebraska-Lincoln