Twenty four hours can bring about a lot of changes after the birth of a litter of guinea pig pups. Knowing when not to interfere can be the hardest part of witnessing a birth or having a litter of young pups to care for.

During the birth there are several things that may go wrong,

  • Pups may be born too quickly and the sow may not get the sacks (membranes) off in time. The sack should be broken and and the pup rubbed in a towel or similar, sometimes these pups are dead on arrival, other times they die shortly after, or they may survive with a little help. The other option is to give the pup to mum if the pup she is attending to is already on their feet and looks ‘well’. Each situation can only be judged on its own merits.
  • The sow has been straining for longer than 15 minutes with no resulting pup. Straining for too long could mean the sow is giving birth to a pup in the breech position (bottom first),  she should be helped to litter or it is likely both will die. Phone a vet and make an emergency appointment. Time is of great importance during a breech birth.

Support the sow so that she is held diagonally (perhaps resting on your arm), gravity can then play a part in the birth too. Never pull the pup straight down, gently but firmly, twist the body until the pup is born. Sometimes it is necessary to insert a finger to help the passage of the birth. Always inform a vet if it has been necessary to do this, an infection may have been introduced to the body and antibiotics are needed as a precaution. A subcutaneous injection of fluids helps to revive tired sows. Always treat each birth as unique and visit a vet where there have been complications.

  • There are no placentas. Placentas may be born up to an hour after the birth, at random during the birth or after each pup is born. The sow will eat the placentas, which resemble livers and are the size of chicken livers, there is usually no sign of the birth left after a few hours.

  • The sow seems worried/frightened. Some sows (often younger ones) appear to be frightened of the birth and the litter. These pups should not be handled and handling of the sow should be kept to a minimum in order for her to bond with her pups. When left alone to settle sows and pups are more likely to bond.

Lots of births are not witnessed and on finding the pups more questions about what is ‘normal’ arise.

  • The pups aren’t feeding. Mum doesn’t have any milk.

Sows do not immediately come into milk. The let down reflex can happen up to 12 hours after the birth. The pups are born with enough reserves to survive this period and some may even start to eat ‘hard’ food before they suckle. Most are eating, or attempting to eat ‘hard food’ within 24 hours, but it is not a cause for a worry if they don’t.

  • The pups are wobbly.

Ideally pups will be ‘ready to run’ soon after the birth, but sometimes there is a weaker pup or two that is more ‘wobbly’ than the others. This might be due to how it was laying in the womb and because the birth was traumatic. This can happen to small and large pups, and both are very capable of making a full recovery with little or no intervention. Within 24 hours some improvement is usually seen. Standing the guinea pig correctly (eg where limbs might be turned outwards) can help, also ensuring that a pig is encouraged to move if it is not doing so. Intervention from a vet is very rarely needed as there is very little, (if anything), that they can do. Pups can make incredible ‘recoveries’ and progress from situations that at first seem hopeless.

  • Mum isn’t bonding with the pups.

Immediately after the birth sows will often look after their own needs first before gathering the pups around them to drink. This probably stems from the instinct of clearing up afterwards so there is nothing to attract predators. Sows are usually very hungry after giving birth and will settle down to eat after cleaning themselves and then will eventually get round to gathering the pups up. Others seem to clean themselves and then gather the pups around them before seeing to their own needs. The new family should be left alone in a quiet, dark place so that bonding can happen.

  • Does the runt of the litter need syringe feeding?

No pup should ever be syringe fed. Whilst ‘syringe food’ in itself is not dangerous using a syringe to feed pups with is. Supplementing pups should be done with caution and only in extreme cases where mum is feeding the other pups and perhaps leaving one out. Sows feed on supply and demand basis, therefore if there is no demand (because the pup is being supplemented), then there will be no supply of milk.

  • Can sows cope with large litters?

Sows may only have two nipples but are quite able to raise large litters if there is a demand for milk. Sore nipples may result where large litters are raised. treat these with Gorgeous Guineas Perfect Paws ointment.