Pet Advice Winter Care for Guinea Pigs

Published on January 6th, 2017 | by Debbie Martin

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Winter Care For Guinea Pigs

Summer is now over, and winter will soon be upon us. For those of us who own pets, it’s worth taking the time to examine what steps can be taken to ensure those pets remain safe and healthy – even when the snow starts to fall. And this is especially so for certain sorts of pets – including guinea pigs.

Winter is a particularly tough time for domestic guinea pigs, who are particularly vulnerable to cold and damp. Let’s examine some of the ways in which we might offer protection for these pets – and touch upon some of the problems we might encounter at this time of year.

Why are Guinea pigs vulnerable during winter?

The guinea pig is a very counterintuitive animal. It doesn’t, for one thing, come from guinea (nor, for another, is it a pig). It actually originates in South America, in the Andean region that’s now the southern part of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. In this tropical part of the world, temperatures are extremely stable – in marked contrast to the ever-fluctuating climate of Europe.

It should come as no surprise, then, that guinea pigs are not adapted to cope with the sort of conditions they’re subjected to during a British winter. They’re especially vulnerable to damp; while they can cope with extreme cold by burrowing into soft and warm hay, and by nuzzling close to one another, the wet weather we endure in the UK causes them particular trouble.

Housing

Inhaling airborne water for long periods of time can leave a guinea pig at increased risk of contracting respiratory and skin diseases. Of these, the following are the more common:

Respiratory infection

If your guinea pig is inhaling a lot of moisture, then their respiratory system will provide airborne bacteria with the conditions they need to thrive. Since the animal’s immune system hasn’t adapted to cope with such things, they’re at heightened risk of suffering from an infection.

Pneumonia

This is a condition brought about by a bacterial infection. It occurs when the air sacs in the lungs become inflamed and waterlogged. An effected guinea pig will have difficulty breathing, their heartrate will go up, and they may cough up mucus or blood. If left untreated, pneumonia can lead to more serious and lethal problems.

Skin infection

In the same way that moisture in the respiratory system can provide harmful microbes with a chance to thrive, moisture on the skin can offer the same opportunity to skin-growing fungus. When the skin becomes infected, it loses its ability to effectively exclude other pathogens – and to keep the animal’s body temperature stable.

In order to combat these problems, guinea pigs should be kept indoors during winter. You might bring them inside the house, or you might bring them into a shed or other outdoor building. If they’re not given adequate protection, then there is every chance that a guinea pig will die overnight if forced outdoors – particularly if they’re old, or have a history of respiratory illness. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of cases where guinea pigs are suffering due to the outdoor climate can be fixed almost immediately by moving them indoors.

Where bringing a guinea pig indoors is impossible, it’s essential that steps are taken to ensure that their accommodation is sturdy and waterright. Ensure that they’ve got enough food, and enough hay to keep warm. It’s also important to check the water bottle to be sure that it hasn’t frozen solid. Even if the water appears liquid, it might be that the ball bearing which regulates the flow of water in the spout has frozen into position – in which case the animal will be unable to retrieve water. If any food has become frozen in the hutch, then remove it immediately – it’s filled with moisture, and likely to make the guinea pig ill if eaten.

A shed that’s equipped with a dehumidifier and a heater might be what’s called for – if the outbuilding comes equipped with an air conditioner, so much the better. Try and position your hutch in a place where it’s shielded from wind and rain. You can buy special blankets called ‘hutch huggers’ from pet shops – they’ll help to keep the hutch warm during winter, but an old blanket will do the same job. Place a waterproof sheet over the top in order to prevent water from soaking into the blanket and gradually seeping downward into the hutch.

Extreme weather

Winter doesn’t just mean cold and humidity – in some cases, the season can produce storms so severe that hutches are actually tossed over. Suffice to say, this is dreadful news for any guinea pig that might be trapped inside the hutch at the time. In most cases, hutches are made from cheaper softwood, and will not tolerate being flung around. This is especially so if the hutch has become damp.

If the weather forecast should indicate that a severe gale is likely, then be sure to take steps to protect your hutch – move it to somewhere sheltered – and where it’s not going to be picked up by a gust of wind. You might even consider securing it to the floor, or weighing it down with some strategically-placed bricks around the legs.

In Conclusion

While the strategies we’ve discussed are useful and valuable, the best possible way to keep a guinea pig healthy and happy during winter is to move it indoors. Even just moving the hutch into a porch or utility room will have a massive positive impact on its health, as they’ll benefit from shelter and central heating.

During winter, many guinea pig owners are, frankly, neglectful. It’s easy to forget entirely about the animal while you’re warm and safe inside a warm house – even if it’s kept in near-freezing conditions just a few feet away. If you don’t have the facilities or inclination to house a guinea pig properly during winter, then the best thing to do is to avoid buying a guinea pig in the first place.

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About the Author

Debbie Martin has worked at Beeston Animal Health for over five years, having previously worked as a nurse in equine and small animal practice. Although generally involved with aspects of marketing these days and putting her psychology degree to good use, she still has a great depth of up to date knowledge in all creatures great and small. Debbie lives at home with her partner and two children and spends much of her spare time looking after her horses, dogs and cats or at the home farm with the cows, sheep and turkeys.



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