I have been a guinea pig lover since I was a kid; they are capable of showing a lot of affection and are excellent companions. One of the hardest things for them is temperature changes; in the summer they need to have extra attention just as in the winter they need extra bedding material to keep warm. Heat exposure in guinea pigs is hard to treat; sadly most end up dying from it. It is a completely avoidable situation if you do a little planning and take into consideration their size and the amount of hair they have. Short hair pigs do much better in the summer than long hair but they all suffer from the same problem, they can not sweat.
I have only had to deal with mild cases of heat exposure and those were guinea pigs that were abandoned. One touching case was Joker. Someone abandoned him in a case in a public bathroom at the beach. I couldn’t believe it when I heard to lifeguards talking about it and who they needed to call about it. I told them I was a guinea pig owner and would gladly take the cavy until I could find a permanent home. His fur was matted, he was a little on the skinny side and was cowering in the corner of the cage that was clearly too small for him. Knowing he was extremely overheated I asked the lifeguards if they had anything cold; soda, freezer pops or even ice cubes. One ran up the deck of the lookout tower and came back with a big orange freezer pop. I don’t think that guinea pig had ever had anything like that the way he started chewing on it. This has a happy ending; one of the lifeguards kept in touch with me and adopted Joker.
If you are a guinea pig lover chances are you are going to go to great lengths to make sure they are happy but there are some inexpensive and easy things that you can do to take it a step further in the summer months.
Pet Igloos: If you have a plastic pet igloo that they sleep or rest in, make sure that the inside of it is clean. Ammonia can build up inside it and cause respiratory problems that could make breathing hard. Likewise, try to have to different igloos for them; one with an open dome top for the summer so they get more air circulation and one with just holes in the top for the winter. They use an igloo to feel safe, play, relax and sleep so removing it in the summer can be a real shock for them.
Air Circulation: Heat rises but that doesn’t mean that your guinea pig companions aren’t going to get hot. They have no way to sweat so make sure that they have some type of circulation to their enclosure. It can be a small fan on oscillation mode (so it isn’t a constant stream of air on them) or putting them near an air condition vent if you have whole house air conditioning. My pigs will gladly sit right in front of the air conditioning vent until they are cooled off then they’ll run around for a while and go back to the same spot to relax.
Space: Making sure your guinea pig has enough space in the summer is critical. They need room to stretch out and relax; most will lay on their side so that their underside is exposed as a way to cool off. Cramped conditions are never good for any pet but in the warmer months it could lead to heat stroke and death in a matter of hours.
Food And Snacks: Watermelon is an excellent snack for guinea pigs but you have to get the seedless version for them. The seeds could cause digestive problems. Likewise, giving them some sliced red or green bell peppers (never hot peppers of any kind) is a great way to supplement their Vitamin C intake. Always make sure the bell peppers are clean and washed and the stickers are removed from them. Always remove the seeds and inner core from the bell peppers. Other great snacks include yogurt (spoon fed), grapes (seedless), orange slices (with skin and seeds removed) or an ear of corn. They will eat this down to the cob but it is a nice snack that gives them some extra fiber and liquid.
Liquids: My pigs are spoiled; they have two water bottles but rarely use them because they get tons of fresh vegetables. In the summer you might want to use a watered down orange juice in their bottles to get them a little more interested in drinking from it. You are going to need to change this twice a day and if you have any kind of insect problem (like ants) you are going to want to keep a close eye on it. Ice cubes are not recommended because most of the time they are going to end up knocking over a water bowl that has ice cubes in it; that makes a mess. If you want to let them play with ice cubes, put them on a towel to cut down on the mess.
Bathing: If you start when they are young, giving them a bath in the sink isn’t going to be a problem for them. If you adopt one that is older they might think you are trying to hurt them. Giving them a bath in the summer is a great way for them to cool off. We have a couple that love to go in the pool but this needs constant supervision because of the pumps and filters. You can get a filter guard to help keep them away from it but you should never allow any pet in a filtered pool without being right there to prevent accidents. You are going to want to use a mild shampoo that is fragrance and dye free; guinea pigs do clean themselves but if you are feeding them watermelon, peaches or oranges you are going to want to make sure they get a bath about once a week in addition to wiping off their face when they are done eating fruits or messy vegetables.
Noticeable Changes: If your guinea pig seems a little on the slow side or sluggish, feel their belly to see if they are warmer than usual. In the summer pigs can slow down to keep from getting too hot but if they just don’t seem themselves you need to check to make sure they are not getting overheated. If you think your guinea pig is in the midst of heat stoke contact an veterinarian; they might be able to start in IV to rapidly infuse liquids. Never try to put them on an ice pack or cool them off quickly as it could cause an internal hemorrhage as well as stroke.
If you love your guinea pig, take a couple minutes to summer and heat-proof their environment. Keep their enclosure out of the path of direct sunlight; that means putting it somewhere that is going to be safe all day long. the sad reality is that most people see small animals like guinea pigs, rats, mice and hamsters as disposable pets. I’ve been truly blessed to have several veterinarians who are compassionate and caring when it comes to small animals; they usually call me when someone drops off a stray or no-longer-wanted pet. While it is hard to matriculate another pet into an existing clutch, most of the time it works out for the best. They get foster care and can eventually be adopted out to a “forever home”.