Care of your Guinea Pig in the Summer
The type of summer care you need to give your piggies depends very much on your individual set up. For indoor only piggies it’s simply a matter of being sensible, keeping them out of direct sunlight and ensuring adequate ventilation and water. For those guinea pigs kept outside they will need you to remain vigilant and take sensible precautions. Here are a few suggestions for piggie summer care.
IF YOUR PIGGIES ARE HOUSED IN A SHED, GET THEM OUT ON THE LAWN WHEN THE TEMPERATURE REACHES 25C INSIDE. Anything above that will be too hot for them, at 28C they can suffer heatstroke and may die. Use all possible ventilation.
- Site the hutch out of direct sunlight, early morning sun is fine but from late morning on the hutch needs to be in the shade, perhaps under a tree. If they are on the lawn in a run ensure that the sun is off them throughout the day, provide lots of shade and shelter and water too. A large cotton sheet over the whole run is ideal as that deals with the sun moving around. Make provision for a summer downpour too. Ensure your run is predator proof too, cats aren’t too much of a problem but urban and rural foxes can be.
- Watch the weather forecast every day so that you can plan ahead and can cope with any sudden changes. BBC Weather website gives a fairly good 5 day forecast – add it to your favourites. Be daytime temperature aware. Invest in a minimum/maximum thermometer and site it next to the hutch, this will clearly show you the highest temperature reached throughout the day and will give you more information about whether the hutch needs to be moved. Don’t forget to act upon it.
- Find an old cotton sheet/towel and soak it in cold water and drape it over the front of the hutch, this will help keep the inside temperature cooler. Alternatively, cover the hutch with an emergency foil blanket available from outdoor pursuits shops or shops online. The foil reflects the heat away from the hutch and can be held in place with bungee lines or pegs. Make sure you have it the right way round though.
- In heat the water bottles will heat up and algea will begin to grow on the inside of the bottle (slimy green)Rinse and refill the water bottle every day, even if they have only drunk a small amount. Stale water is not acceptable to us, why should your pigs have it? Cover the bottle with something to keep it in the shade too. The inside cardboard from a kitchen paper towel roll fits well, just cut it lengthways and it will sit snuggly around the bottle, keeping the sun off it. Sterilise the spout as part of your weekly cleaning routine. In heat the spout is a breeding ground for millions of bacteria all feeding nicely off the warmth, damp and the bits of food pigs tend to send back up the spout.
- Concentrate on making one small area of the hutch cool for your piggies. Small bottles of ice cold water wrapped in a tea towel are ideal. A piece of granite/slab/brick/marble placed in the hutch will also give the pigs a cool surface to lie on, especially cool if popped into the fridge for two or three hours beforehand. Cooling slabs can be ready made from pet shops or ask a local granite supplier/stonemason if they have a small piece of granite/marble you can buy. Put a small bowl of ice cubes/frozen fruit in with the pigs to encourage them to drink more
- Set up a fan near the hutch (about 2′ away) but ensure that it doesn’t create a draught, they need more of a light breeze
- Take out any plastic housing from the hutch, the heat will build up inside these and prevent air circulating around the hutch. Provide hidey tunnels/beds with holes at the top to prevent heat retention – fiddlestix are good.
- Change the bedding regularly to prevent it smelling and attracting flies. Hang up some fly papers or window stick ons, they look awful but they really do the job and are harmless to the piggies. Avoid any sprays/plug ins or chemicals, these are likely to harm your guinea pigs. Put a flyscreen/net curtain over the front of the hutch or across the doorway of the shed to limit access for flies. Let the spiders do their work, don’t wipe away their cobwebs until the autumn – these are the best ever flytraps!
- Get your piggies to the vet at the first signs of ill health.
- Familiarise yourself with the signs/symptoms of heatstroke and how to treat your piggy should it display any signs of the condition.
- If you have to travel with your piggies DO NOT leave them in the car unattended, ensure adequate ventilation in the travel case and provide them with hay and watery veg such as celery/cucumber. Stop and check them often. DO NOT under any circumstances put them in the boot, seatbelt them in the back.
FLYSTRIKE. is a horrible summertime condition. The flies are attracted to anything warm, damp and smelly so your guinea pigs bottom/hutch are fine dining for flies. Eggs are laid on the guinea pigs bottom and when these hatch the maggots then burrow into and feed off the flesh/droppings of the host animal. Prevention is essential as the condition is usually fatal with the animal experiencing toxic shock. It is very important that you check your guinea pigs every single day at least once, preferably more. Rabbits are particularly vulnerable to this condition but guinea pigs can suffer too so don’t be complacent. Older less mobile piggies are particularly vulnerable so please check, check, check every day. This horrible affliction can be prevented.
HEAT STROKE/EXHAUSTION. Symptoms can include laboured breathing, drooling, obvious distress, floppiness, inactivity, mouth open, shaking. Call a vet and get advice immediately.
Immediately soak a towel in tepid water and wrap up the pig. Keep this on until they begin to show signs of recovery when the towel should be removed. They should remain cool but definately not chilled. .DO NOT ATTEMPT TO GIVE THEM A DRINK BY MOUTH UNTIL THEY CAN STAND. When the pig can stand on all four feet begin to give small amounts of water to rehydrate them. Use a syringe, offer a teaspoon or encourage use of a water bottle, little and often is the key. Give as much fluid as possible during the next 24 hours. Dioralyte (over the counter) rehydration fluid is useful and can be put in their water bottles too. Keep the pig indoors for at least 24 hours and monitor. Any signs of respiratory problems will need to be treated by a vet.