Anna studied psychology, law, English and animal welfare in college. She is a mother of two and a 2019 bride!
What Are The Risks?
Shockingly, one in five guinea pig females (sows), will die as a result of difficult labor or pregnancy. With this in mind, it is absolutely vital that if you intend to breed your guinea pigs, or you suspect one of your sows is pregnant, you know as much as possible about what to do during the pregnancy as well as the birth, in order to help increase your sow's chances of survival.
If your sow is a first-time mom, ideally she should be under the age of eight months, but over the age of five months - younger than this can be fatal as their bodies are not as well adjusted to the demands of bearing offspring (known in guinea pigs as 'pups').
The risks for the sow and the babies also greatly increase if she weighs less than one and a half pounds, as she needs plenty of body fat to sustain her growing pups. Equally, being overweight can have disastrous consequences - so it's very important to have a well-balanced diet for your sow before she gets pregnant.
Choose a Large, Easy To Clean Cage
A Few Short Pointers
Make sure you feed your pregnant sow on carrots, broccoli an occasional orange segment, her usual pellets or a mix designed specifically for pregnant sows, and alfalfa hay instead of ordinary grass hay as it contains more vitamins and vital fibre.
Vitamin C is crucial for a pregnant guinea pig, and if you are concerned your guinea pig isn’t getting enough, you can go to your local vet or pet shop who will recommend a suitable feed or powder that you can mix in with your sows fruit and vegetables. Do ensure your guinea pig has plenty of fresh water every day – she will be drinking far more and if she is not given enough water throughout her pregnancy, her babies could be stillborn.
Once your sow is pregnant, it is the kindest thing for her if you separate her from any other guinea pigs – she may be unable to rest as much as she needs to while in the herd, or could be injured in play. Males will still try to mount her, even though she is pregnant and this can cause a great deal of damage to the pups, who are still vulnerable at this point. Although a separate cage is ideal, leave her near enough to the others so she knows she is not completely alone as this will minimise stress.
Another reason for separation from the rest of the herd is that your sow will be able to become pregnant again after just one to two days of giving birth and ‘back-breeding’ (when an animal is bred consistently without a break), could be fatal for the sow, as well as incredibly stressful.
Allow the pregnant sow to be in a cage next to the rest of the herd so they can still smell and see each other, this will make re-integration after the birth far easier. Don’t ever attempt to pick up your pregnant guinea pig – a pregnant sow is delicate and the pups growing inside her are even more so. Give her a stroke and hand-feed her, and this will help you bond even more. Never try to feel her belly – by doing this you could cause fatal damage to the babies.
Give her a warm, dark nesting box that she can give birth in – she may choose to nest away from the box, but by providing her with an option you are reducing her stress levels and doing the best thing as an owner. Pet shops sell nesting materials that are safe for guinea pigs to use – never put in cotton wool or other man-made materials as some of them can be very harmful to the guinea pigs.
Never touch her nest once she has begun to build it – it is vital it has only her scent on it, or she may reject or kill her young. Do regularly check on your pregnant sow and don’t hesitate to call a vet if you think something is wrong, or she looks unwell. Read up on pregnancy problems in guinea pigs so you can identify any issues early – knowledge is power!
Have You Ever Bred Guinea Pigs?
Get Your Guinea Pig Some Chew Toys
Your Pregnant Sow
Female guinea pigs can become pregnant as early as four weeks old, but this is strongly advised against, and may result in death of the mother and all of the babies. If you find that your young sow is pregnant you should consult a vet on what methods there are available to help her.
Pregnancy can commence safely and successfully when the female guinea pigs body weight has reach one pound. The average guinea pig pregnancy can last on average, around 64 to 72 days (roughly 18 weeks at most). During this time she will require all the attention, love and comfort you can give her, although in the stages where she is large, handling is not recommended as it can damage the babies inside her.
Each sow can give birth to up to six babies, but the average is three or four, six being highly unusual. The babies weight should roughly be 30 percent of the sows total body weight in the third trimester. During pregnancy, assume your sow is carrying six babies to be safe and keep in mind that her requirements for food and water will double, sometimes triple, especially as she increases in size as everything will be more of an effort for her.
Her need for vitamin C will increase by 20 mg during pregnancy, and it is a particularly important time to be feeding her lots of carrots, parsley, cabbage and dandelions, which are all extremely high in Vitamin C.
You can buy special dry food mixes for pregnant guinea pigs. These will usually have 100 percent of the guideline daily amount (GDA), of vitamin C, 20 percent crude proteins and 16 percent fibre. This is the best possible mix, although this does not mean you should slack on offering her fruits and vegetables and flowers from the garden every day.
She may also start eating her feces more, although this is actually very healthy and normal for her to do, it may mean she wants even more access to grass and hay. Remember that hay is NOT a permanent alternative to grass, as grass will have more nutrients that are not able to be found in dry food mixes.
You must be careful not to cause any stress to your guinea pig sow at this time, which will mean separating her from any other male guinea pigs in the run and try to keep her away from loud noises and busy atmospheres. Many people recommend keeping your guinea pig indoors providing you have no cats or dogs which will stress her, and letting her have her own quiet little room. If you do this, be sure to put her outside as much as possible every day so that she can have access to vitamin D (from the sun) and all the nutrients from the grass etc.
Although many people have mixed feelings about separating her from other guinea pigs in her pen, it is recommended, as she will have to be moved when the babies are born, and this will be more stressful to her than separating her from the others. You can keep her in sight of the other guinea pigs so that she can still hear, see and smell them, which will minimise stress, but this is a much better method than finding she's eaten the puppies after being moved (this can happen if her nest is disturbed too much).
On the subject of nesting, allow her access to plenty of soft bedding materials which she will arrange herself in her "bedroom". You must also clean her cage out thoroughly more than usual, as she will be more susceptible to viruses and infections while pregnant, and once the babies are born you will not be able to disturb the bedroom until the babies begin to come out for themselves.
A Pregnant Guinea Pig
Birth And Beyond
The gestation period of a guinea pig is, on average, 65 days – though it can go on for 70 days. By the time she starts showing that classic, round pregnant belly, she will be very close to giving birth (possibly just one to two weeks), so if you haven’t already, now would be a good time to start thinking about what you want to do with the new arrivals once they are born.
A guinea pig litter is usually fairly large – up to six pups! So if you are wanting to re-home them, maybe you could talk to friends and family so that you have some good, trusted, forever-homes lined up before the pups even arrive – too many small pets end up in rescue centres by the time, or before, they have reached adult size.
When your sow goes into labour, she will make a very distinct, groaning noise – even if you have never heard this noise before, it is distinct enough that you will recognise it when she makes it. During labour, your guinea pig will probably not want you to touch her – you can talk to her so she knows you are there, which she may find comforting, or she may want to be as quiet as possible – you know your sow best.
What many people don’t realise is that guinea pigs help each other when one of them is in labour – especially if there is a large litter of pups. If you think the mother is struggling, you can put another female or male member of her herd into the cage where she is (just one as you don’t want to crowd her), and they will probably go over to her and help her to nip the sac of fluid which the babies arrive in individually, to free their heads.
Keep a very close eye on them while they do this, as some guinea pigs do not have that maternal/paternal instinct and may pose a threat to the mother or her babies – if the second guinea pig does not appear to be helping, gently remove them from the cage again – no harm done.
If you see one of the babies is not breathing, it could be down to blocked airways. Gently and carefully remove the pup from the cage and, holding it in your hand with its head facing away from you, turn around in a small circle fairly quickly. By spinning in a circle, usually you will have exposed them to enough air that the pup will start to move and/or squeak and when this happens, they should be put back with their mother, brothers and sisters.
Do phone a vet or breeder if you feel worried about your guinea pigs labour – a vet or veterinary assistant can talk you through what to do, but if they are not available, a breeder will have all the knowledge you need – and this may help with keeping you calm, which in turn will affect how calm the sow is (animals are incredibly sensitive to anxiety and can sense it very strongly).
There will be a gap of approximately five minutes between the arrival of each pup, giving the mother time to tend to each one – she will free them from the amniotic sac, lick them clean and then pay them very little or no attention until the labour is over.
Labour should last no more than one hour – call a vet immediately if it has been going on longer than this, as it could be a sign that a baby is stuck, or there is a complication. Amazingly, guinea pig pups can walk and will have their eyes open within just one hour – try to arrange an appointment with a vet to see them as soon as possible after the birth to ensure there are no problems and everything is as it should be.
Remember that by just three weeks the male babies will be able to impregnate their mother, which would have disastrous consequences – so ensure they have been removed from their mother and sisters (as well as any other female guinea pigs), by this age. They will be able to eat solid food well within this time, and should be socialised with the rest of the herd from as early on as possible – you can supervise the interaction between the babies and adults for the first three weeks, but after this time there should be no issues, and the males can all live together quite happily.
The babies may even have their first taste of solid foods the same week they are born – allow mum to lead them in what to eat – just continue putting in the same food you have throughout the sows pregnancy, as well as plenty of alfalfa hay, which is great for the pups’ health.
The pups will be ready to leave home at just seven weeks of age, and the more you can handle them (after they have reached five days old), the better off they will be when they go to their new home. Never sell or give them away individually – guinea pigs have to be kept in groups to be happy, and if you decide to keep them, it is best to spay and neuter them when they reach the age of three months to avoid further pregnancies.
Can You Make Money Breeding Guinea Pigs?
In a word, yes. However, if you want to breed any type of animal you need to ensure you have all the essential pieces of kit - not just food and bedding, but also nesting boxes, spare pens, cages and runs (guinea pigs can breed from very young ages so you will need to sex and separate the males and females when they hit sexual maturity).
You also need to have experience handling and caring for guinea pigs as you need to know what to do if one becomes sick or if there are complications whilst a female is in labour.
Breeding animals is something that a lot of people do because they mean well - many people want to see animal farms and large pet shops put out of business for animal welfare. However, there are equally a number of people who breed animals as if they were production machines - profit is all that matters to them and any animals who cannot be re-homed are put into shelters or even put down. Consider what you would do with animals who could not be sold for health reasons or guinea pigs who grew into adults before anyone wanted to buy them - this is more common than selling every single pup in a litter.
Make a plan of how you would manage your time - cleaning out, grooming, feeding and ensuring the guinea pigs remain tame with regular handling (something customers will want in their new pet), all have to be fitted around work through all types of weather.
Another tip is to do a quick search on the internet on animal re homing websites such as "preloved" and look to see how many other people are trying to sell guinea pigs etcetera... What is their success? Are there lots of animals going for free or even for a few dollars because supply outweighs demand?
And finally - don't forget that in some instances you will spend far more money setting up and breeding guinea pigs than you would ever make from it. Equipment is expensive - let alone vet bills!
Sabrina on June 10, 2020:
It’s kinda upsetting to find a post about breeding! It is actually frowned upon, due to many homeless rescue guinea pigs and animals in general. There are way to many animals needing adoptions! And to do this for profit is no different, except that for own personal gain (money) more animals become subject to abandonment and neglect and whatever follows with the business of breeding! I don’t think this information should be readily available to anybody, especially on Pinterest, which a lot of amateurs use as a search engine and help site to find tips. Any professional breeder shouldnt need any information from a visual discovery engine for finding ideas like recipes, home and style inspiration, etc. this is just adding to the problem of animal abuse and neglect and giving the wrong people, which are non resourceful, possibly non carrying of animals wellbeing and not supporting of adoptions to help animals in need the tools to add to a big problem! I would appreciate it, if this would be addressed by preventing giving the population the easy reference to breeding.
Tina on January 01, 2020:
I’m sorry, but I raise Guinea pigs and have a farm. Most of your information is not correct.
Susan Belski on December 01, 2019:
I had a young female who hid her pregnancy so well that I never knew she was pregnant til I found a newborn baby girl in the same cage. She was pregnant when I bought her. I had no idea. Her weight upon purchase was 21 oun. ces. She gained 3.5 to 4 ounces in alittle over one month. She was very young so weight gain is expected. 3-18-2013 Munchkin was born. She weighed 90 grams
Guineahope on October 18, 2016:
People of of advice: PLEASE DONT FORCE BREED THAT MAKES THE CHANCES OF THE BABIES EVEN SMALLER
Guineahope on October 10, 2016:
Sorry if that came of a little morbid
Guineahope on October 09, 2016:
If cautious when breeding your sow will be succeeding
If not don't be scared the babies injuries can mostly be repaired
Egypt on January 07, 2015:
You have shed a ray of suihnsne into the forum. Thanks!