With the summer heat beating down, we are trying to keep ourselves cool with iced tea and pool parties. Sometimes we forget that our furry friends need help cooling off too.
Guinea pigs are extremely susceptible to heat stroke, cannot sweat, and are adapted to cooler temperatures. Because of this, it is crucial to keep them cool during the summer months.
There are many steps you can take to prevent heatstroke and things to do when your pig is suffering from heatstroke.
Guinea pigs are fragile creatures, and unfortunately, they can die quickly from heatstroke. On the other hand, heat exhaustion is more manageable but still needs attention as quickly as possible. Heat exhaustion, if not treated, can lead to heatstroke.
A guinea pig is native to cooler temperatures and comfortable weather. Because of this, pigs have adapted to tolerate the cold instead of the heat. They also cannot sweat like humans, so the heat gets trapped in their bodies quite easily, and this causes the internal temperature to rise quickly.
A guinea pig should not be exposed to temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This is when their internal temperature begins to rise. At this point, there is still time for them to recover.
However, it would be best if you acted quickly because the pig’s condition can quickly decline. This is considered heat exhaustion, though the body is not yet considered in crisis but is heading there. The guinea pig is probably not dehydrated yet and is still able to function.
Any temperature above 85 degrees is most likely fatal. At this temperature, internal organs begin to shut down due to dehydration. This is when the guinea pig is in critical condition and is suffering from heatstroke. Immediate attention is required at this point.
Dehydration caused by heat exhaustion leads to heat stroke and ultimately death.
Thankfully, preventing heatstroke in guinea pigs is easy, and there are ways to adjust their environment to provide a safe area for your pig.
Tip #1 Set the thermostat
While indoors, the thermostat should never be 80 degrees. Keeping the thermostat set in the 70s will prevent your pig from getting too hot. If you suspect that your air does not circulate well, keep them in the coldest room of the house. Also, find ways to get the air to circulate in the room your pig lives in.
Tip #2 If they live outside, bring them inside during the summer
Outdoor hutches can heat up quickly. Usually, these outdoor living spaces are built with wood and trap heat. Be sure you have a nice inside-home set-up as well.
If you are worried that your guinea pigs may get bored, we recommend you to read our popular post about how much playtime do guinea pigs need.
Tip #3 Remove the cage from any windows or lights or cover them up
Direct sunlight can heat up the guinea pig even though they are in a cool room. If you cannot move them, place a sheet over their cage to block out the sun.
Tip #4 Place an ice pack wrapped in a towel in the cage
During hot months, your pig is going to try and find cooler places. You can use an ice pack, frozen peas, or a frozen water bottle for this. Be sure to wrap it in a washcloth and place it in your pig’s environment. More than likely, you will see them sitting on or against it.
Tip #5 Give them a small pool to splash in
The pool should have a very small amount of water, just enough to get their feet wet. This will help cool the guinea pig down and give them something to play with. Please note that this only requires a very minimal amount of water, and too much can cause shock.
Tip #6 Keep a fan by them
A fan will provide cool hair just for them. The draft should not be too strong, just enough to keep them cool.
Tip #7 Use a damp cloth as a cold press
If you live in a really hot climate, taking an extra step is essential. Use a damp washcloth and wipe your guinea pig down every day. This ensures that they are cool and at an adequate temperature.
Tip #8 Brush your long-haired guinea pigs
Guinea pigs with longer fur are more susceptible to heatstroke than short-haired pigs. Brushing out excess fur can help cool off your pig by getting rid of any extra insulation.
There are some additional options you can consider that depend on your home. For example, cool tile floors are loved by guinea pigs!
One thing I can’t stress enough is not to ignore any odd behavior from your pig! I had a guinea pig die of heatstroke, and what I regret most from the tragic accident was not listening to my gut.
Guinea pigs are expressive creatures. Once you get to know the unique personality of your guinea pig, it is easy to tell their emotions. In my experience, she started to experience some minor symptoms of heat exhaustion before the actual heat stroke. These included:
- Lethargy– my pig started to sleep a lot more than usual. She also didn’t run around or play as much as she did in the past. Lethargy can also look like a grumpy mood or unwillingness to participate in playtime.
- Laying on their side– some pigs prefer sleeping on their side, and this is completely fine! However, the combo of summer and laying on their side could mean they are too hot.
- Not wanting to cuddle– my girl loved cuddle time. She was pretty much attached to my hip, so when she started to prefer to lay away from me, I thought it was odd. I now realize I was giving off too much body heat for her to handle.
- Drinking a lot more water than usual– I felt like she was always at her water bottle. She was drinking a large amount of water per day and peeing just as much.
- Not drinking enough water– after the phase of drinking too much water, she didn’t drink enough. This was the most obvious warning sign that something was wrong.
- Any behavior change– guinea pigs get mood swings, just like people. However, if it is a long-term behavior change and you notice it’s a little warmer than usual, don’t ignore it. Your pig is going to have a unique personality that can change.
Heat exhaustion is simply feeling crummy or sick from the heat. There is no long-term damage or fatalities. That being said, it can progress into heatstroke rather quickly. The following is a list of symptoms of heat stroke that shows the progression towards death.
- Weak limbs
- Inability to move
- Falling over
Heatstroke causes the shut down of internal organs due to dehydration. Below is my personal account to give you an idea of what it is like when this happens.
On that day, I got home to an unconscious pig. I panicked, of course, because I thought she had already passed. Seeing her still breathing, so I jumped into full-on emergency mode. I treated her as best as I could, which we would get to in a moment.
After about 10 minutes, she began to regain consciousness. At this point, she was still very lethargic and was not able to stand up. I kept holding her or laid her down so she could lay on her side.
Keeping my treatment routine, and after about an hour, she was able to stand up and very slowly move around but could not lift her head very much.
I continued to care for her, and she eventually started to eat some food. I thought we were in the clear, but overnight she unfortunately passed.
She held on for roughly 12 hours! I think she passed because I was not bottle feeding her water, which was crucial.
My heart still aches for her, but I share this story for you to understand what it might look like for your pig and their recovery process. I would also like to note that an exotic vet should be involved. In my case, there was no one available until the next day.
If you think your pig is suffering from heatstroke, contact a vet immediately. Exotic vets or any vet caring for a guinea pig are much rarer than a typical cat and dog veterinarian clinic. There are steps you can take that will help your pig.
If they are suffering from heat exhaustion:
- Provide ice packs- wrap frozen water bottles, peas, or an ice pack in a towel and leave it for your pet to play with.
- Place them in a cooler room- if none is available, give them a fan to keep them cool.
- Give them chilled fruits such as watermelons
- Give them a fan
- Keep them hydrated- if you need to hydrate them through a syringe, then do so.
- Give them time to run on tiled floors
Heat exhaustion is much easier to treat than heatstroke. With heat exhaustion, take steps immediately to stop the progression. Do what you can to keep them cool.
If they are suffering from heat stroke:
- Wrap them in a damp washcloth- the towel should be moist, not wet. Run the cloth under cool water and wrap it around the guinea pig.
- Quick water bath – Use water at room temperature. Do not use ice-cold water or run cold water over them. This could lead to shock.
- Stand by a cooling source- when I was helping my pig recover, I stood by a freezer. You could also stand by a fan or a refrigerator. If your pet starts to shiver, take them away from the source.
- Give them water through a syringe- your pet won’t have the strength to get water themselves, so give them small amounts of water by hand.
- Mix a small amount of honey and water and feed 2 ML each two hours- this mixture will help aid with hydration.
- Take to a vet immediately
Heat stroke is a crisis that should be taken care of immediately. Hydration is key to the survival of the pet. Remember these steps are here for you only if a vet in unavailable.
The recovery time from heatstroke will depend on the stage they are in and what steps you took to take care of your piggy.
A full 24 hours of care is generally recommended to be sure your pig is in the clear. From there, they should be kept in a quiet and cool environment so their body can rest. Much like a person, guinea pigs will need rest to recover.
After the first 24 hours, the recovery period could be a matter of a day to a few weeks. It is essential to monitor the health of your pet continually.
Guinea pigs are highly fragile creatures, just like other small animals. Guinea pigs especially are at risk for developing heat exhaustion which can lead to heatstroke.
Signs and symptoms can develop at a mere 80 degrees and then become fatal at 86 degrees.
Heat exhaustion is much more manageable but harder to catch. Any signs of behavioral change in addition to warmer temperatures is a sign your pig may be too hot. Heatstroke is fatal and needs to be taken care of immediately.
Depending on the severity of the case, the recovery time can range anywhere from a few hours to several days. During the recovery time, it is crucial that your pig is being monitored consistently.
Heatstroke can happen quickly, and it is a tragic accident when it leads to death. Take the time to set up the proper environment for your pet. Be sure you and your pet can have a safe and happy summer.