HEAT STRESS IN GUINEA PIGS
We are coming into the warmer months now, and as outside temperatures begin to soar we need to be extra diligent in ensuring our guinea pigs are kept cool and comfortable! Guinea pigs originate from the Andean Mountain Range in South America, so naturally prefer a cooler climate - unfortunately this means that they can struggle to adapt to our hot climate Down Under, and can easily succumb to our hot Summer days. Unlike humans, guinea pigs do not have any sweat glands or internal mechanisms to regulate their body temperature, so when their body temperature starts to rise from external sources, they are extremely susceptible to developing heat stroke which results in thermal injury to tissues and multiple organ failure.
Guinea pigs who are overweight, pregnant, or heavily furred are more at risk of succumbing to heatstroke so extra care should be taken to help keep these guys cool. Some of the most common contributors to heatstroke include:
- High environmental temperatures and high humidity levels - Guinea pigs are most comfortable living in environmental temperatures of between 18-23°C, once the temperature exceeds this, they are at risk of developing heat stress.
- Inadequate shade - particularly guinea pigs housed outdoors. Remember - what is shady at 10am may not still be shady at 3pm! It is important to keep this in mind when positioning their enclosure for the day.
- Inadequate ventilation and overcrowding - Guinea pigs are herd animals so are known to ‘stick together’. Without adequate airflow and room to move around, body temperatures will begin to soar
- External stressors - Other stressors such as predators will also increase body temperature, as well as force more activity trying to escape them
- Other medical issues - Illnesses such as underlying respiratory disease can predispose to heat stress
Some of the signs we commonly see when guinea pigs are experiencing heat stress include:
- Panting and slobbering
- Weakness and a reluctance to move
- Convulsions or seizures
- Sudden death - this can occur within 10 minutes!!
If you suspect your furry companion is experiencing heat stress, it is important to remove them from the heat source immediately and make your way straight to a vet, as heat stress and heat stroke can often be life threatening. On your way you can begin active cooling.
Although it may be a natural reaction for us to try and cool them down as quick as possible, it is extremely important to be patient and slowly increase their body temperature - if they are cooled too quickly they can quickly develop hypothermia (low body temperature) or go into shock due to the sudden temperature change. This can also be life threatening due to causing many physiological changes affecting their cardiac output, blood pressure and perfusion of body tissues.
We recommend wrapping them in a wet towel with room temperature water - the towel should be re-wet and reapplied every few minutes. Applying rubbing alcohol or water to their foot pads can also help to cool their core temperature. If your guinea pig is still eating and drinking, offer clean fresh water, and high water containing foods such as cucumber to help rehydrate their body tissues.
As Summer approaches it is really important to keep your piggies cool and comfy! Moving them indoors is a great option during the warmer months, and providing a fan, mister or air-conditioning. It is also important to supply clean, fresh drinking water daily. Some guinea pigs love curling up next to a frozen water bottle or ice brick as well, which can be a great addition to your cage set up during summer. We recommend wrapping frozen objects in a tea-towel, and using plastic ice bricks that cannot be chewed.
If your guinea pigs are living outdoors, please ensure they have adequate shade and shelter from the elements. As mentioned above - what is shade in the morning may be in full direct sun in the afternoon! Make sure to keep this in mind when positioning your piggies cage for the day.
Feeding fruits and vegetables with high water content can also be great snacks throughout the day to help keep your guinea pig hydrated - and your piggy will be sure to love them too!