Apr 12, 2009
April Showers bring May... BABIES?!
It's SPRING here at the Pig Pen in Janesville! I hope everyone had a Happy Easter and a relaxing spring break. And yes, our rescue is expecting babies! We have recently taken in some rescue females that are expecting. Since spring and new babies are often thought of hand-in-hand, I thought I'd take a few minutes to talk about baby pigs and some interesting facts and thoughts about them.
First of all, we hope that if anyone is thinking of allowing their guinea pigs to have a litter of pups, we hope we can talk you into reconsidering. A guinea pig female can have anywhere from 1 to 7 young, and they grow up very fast. Having two guinea pigs as a pet can be wonderful, but it makes one take pause if you realize that you may end up with the responsibility of 7 to 9 of them. And remember that the lifespan of a guinea pig is 6-8 years, so that is a long-term responsibility. Because there are so many guinea pigs that are awaiting homes in shelters and rescues, it is also not a good idea to allow more pigs to be born.
Pregnant guinea pigs sometimes come into the rescue malnourished, because people don't realize that a pregnant guinea pig needs a specialized diet to help keep her and the pups healthy during gestation and lactation. In addition to having access to an unlimited good quality grass hay (like timothy or bluegrass), the mother must be given an alfalfa-based pellet (like Oxbow brand "Cavy Performance") so that she gets the much needed calcium and nutrients that alfalfa provides. She also needs fresh leafy green vegetables and a variety of other veggies (like cilantro, green or red bell pepper, endive, etc) to provide the proper amount of vitamin C for her body and that of the growing pups. To be on the safe side, additional vitamin C should be provided. This should be in the form of liquid vitamin C (or a portion of a crushed chewable tablet mixed with a bit of juice) that can be syringed directly into the pig's mouth. The vitamin C drops that are sold to add to a water bottle are useless and a waste of money.
The average gestation period for a guinea pig is 68-72 days. It is a long gestation period for a small animal but it is necessary because the babies are born fully formed. They will be able to run around very shortly after birth. Most newborn pigs weigh between 2 and 3 ounces. It is important to note that guinea pigs do not always have easy births and there is a risk of death for the mother and the pups. It is important to be aware of this before allowing a beloved sow to breed. It is also important to know that the mother will come into heat right after giving birth, so she will become pregnant again if she is still with a boar. Allowing a back-to-back pregnancy to occur is extremely risky to the sow and should never be allowed.
Baby pigs become sexually mature at 4 weeks of age (yeah, wow!), so baby boy pigs should be removed from the mother and sisters at exactly 21 days to prevent even more unwanted pregnancies. For the first 4 weeks, they should be weighed daily on a digital kitchen scale to ensure that they are progressing well (Momma pig should also be weighed daily). A pup that is showing a failure to thrive should be taken to be examined by a cavy savvy vet to determine what the problem is in order to save the pig.
Guinea pig sows are typically very good mothers and will spend a good portion of the day cleaning and nursing her new offspring. Since they have only two teats, they can only nurse two pups at a time, but this does not seem to be a problem as the pups take turns. As the pups grow, they will follow the mother around the cage and learn from her what is edible and what is not. The mother pig herself will wean the babies when they reach somewhere between 2 and 3 weeks of age. Baby pigs are a delight to watch as they try out their legs and will run, jump and careen around the cage (sometimes running into things). Because they are so tiny, yet are so energetic and wiggly, they should never be handled by young children (tragedy can and does result!).
Baby guinea pigs should continue to be provided with hay, daily vegetables and alfalfa-based pellets after they are weaned. They can be switched to a timothy-based pellet at 6 months of age to reduce the chance of the formation of bladder stones later in life.
One myth that people commonly believe is that they must adopt a pair of pigs when they are babies to develop a close bond with their new pets. In fact, baby pigs are so energetic and skittish that they are difficult to catch and hold and it can take quite a while before they settle down and get used to cuddling with their humans (why they make very poor pets for children). It is the older pig that makes a great pet. They are more calm, easier to catch and hold and often are more open to learning about their owners.
If you have adopted a pair of pigs for Easter, please take the time to read up on their care to keep them happy and healthy (check out our links for some great information!). Give 'em PLENTY of room to run and PLENTY of good food (you know by now that they LOVE to eat!). Please keep our rescue pigs in your thoughts as we hope for the safety and health of our expectant little girls.
From Charlene here in the Janesville Pig Pen