So your guinea pig is pregnant. I’m guessing you probably have a lot of questions about guinea pig pregnancies. One of which is probably: Will your guinea pig eat her babies?
As a whole, guinea pigs do not eat their offspring, but it can happen. It’s often the result of starvation, stress, inexperience, or trauma. Sometimes it happens accidentally. Also, male guinea pig may kill the babies if he doesn’t recognize them as his own offspring.
Having your guinea pig give birth to a litter should be an exciting time. You can take some precautions to lower the risk of a guinea pig baby being eaten. This blog will give you some helpful tips on how to make this a wonderful experience. Or at least make it a less dangerous one, for you, the guinea pig mother, and the baby piggies.
To understand why a guinea pig mother killing and gobbling up her offspring is so rare and why it’s still a possibility (although it is a long shot), you need to know a little bit about the dynamics of…
Filial Cannibalism (and 7 Reasons Why Some Animal Moms Dine On Their Babies)
I know, I know.
I got a little sciency with you there.
But, stick with me. You’re gonna want to read this.
“Filial cannibalism” is when animals eat their own offspring. (And yes, it’s one of the more gruesome animal interactions in the wild.)
The surprising truth is that it happens more often than you’d think. Some of the cutest animals kill and devour their offspring. The causes are different for each species. Here are some reasons why animals eat their offspring.
- To Get Extra Nutrients: Like humans, pregnant animals need more nutrients and food for a healthy pregnancy. And to nurse their young. If food is in short supply, the mother may choose to eat one of her offspring (usually the runt/smallest). That way she has the energy to raise the rest of her babies.
- If There Are More Than She Can Feed: If a mother has lots of babies, she might not have enough food for them. If they travel in large groups like lions, it can be hard to find enough food for all the babies. The mother will eat some of her young for extra nutrition so that she can keep the stronger ones alive.
- Survival of the Fittest: Most of the time, a litter of animal babies will have a runt: the smallest and weakest offspring. The mother may see the runt as a waste because it is not maturing. She might kill and eat it to get rid of that problem. The runt will be an easy target because it is the smallest and weakest.
- Show of Dominance: This is usually the case with lions. One male takes over as the leader of the pride, and he then kills/eats the offspring of the previous leader. This way, he establishes himself to the pride as their new leader. It also gives him more opportunities to mate with lionesses.
- Extreme Stress: Animals in cages can eat their babies if they’re stressed out. Loud noises or threats can make them think that their babies are in danger. If the mother thinks that she cannot take care of her baby, she may kill it and eat it. (Counter intuitive, I know. But, it happens.)
- After Human Handling: Some people consider this a myth. But, the truth is that we don’t know how much of an effect we make by handling the mother’s young offspring. While she is caring for her babies, she leaves her scent on them while grooming and interacting with them. Handling the babies after this process may cause them to lose her scent. She will then not recognize them as her own offspring, see them as a threat and kill/eat them.
- To Protect Them from Predators: This often happens with species that lay eggs. If the mother senses danger from nearby predators, she may eat her eggs in an attempt to protect the offspring.
Why Guinea Pigs Are Less Likely To Eat Their Babies?
Compared to other rodents, guinea pigs (both in captivity and in the wild) will very rarely choose to eat their offspring.
Thankfully, it’s only done when the mother feels she doesn’t have any other option.
There’s a few traits unique to piggies that probably explain why they usually don’t feel the need to eat their babies.
- They’re Natural Herbivores: Generally, animals who don’t eat meat are less likely to eat their babies. This happens with animals like rabbits and guinea pigs. Herbivores will only do this if they can’t find food that isn’t their babies.
- Their Pups Mature Quickly: A baby guinea pig can be taken away from their moms when they are quite young. The best time to take them away is when they are between three and four weeks old. At this age they are ready to live independently, and can survive on solid food. Simply put. Baby piggies grow up very quickly, so it’s rare that there’ll be any runts in the litter. No runts means it’s less likely for the mom to eat her babies.
- They’re More Maternal Than Most Rodents: More than many other rodents, female guinea pigs have a strong instinct to look after their babies. It’s not unusual for two females living in the same enclosure to split nursing duties for one litter. It’s even possible for orphaned guinea pigs to be taken under the wing of a nursing mother and her natural instincts will allow her to care for it. Indeed, after 24 hours there is virtually no risk of a sow eating her babies, and her only instinct is to care for them.
Why Do Guinea Pigs Sometimes Eat Their Young?
Although it’s very uncommon, there is still a possibility that a mother guinea pig will engage in filial cannibalism. If it does occur, the reasons will probably differ slightly from that of other species, and it’s important to understand these reasons in order to try to prevent it from happening:
If The Babies are Stillborn
Most female guinea pigs will never eat their live young on purpose. But, if one or more of her litter is stillborn, she may eat it. The act of cannibalism in guinea pigs is usually the mother trying to protect the rest of her litter from predators.
Sows sometimes give birth during the night. If a stillborn is not removed from the cage promptly, it might be eaten fairly quickly by the mother.
If She Mistakes Them for the Afterbirth
After your guinea pig has given birth, she’ll clean up the “evidence” left behind to stop predators from tracking down their scent. This process includes eating the placenta and, while she does this, there is a chance that she will mistake one of her babies for the placenta.
A healthy pup will resist and move away from the mother, alerting her of her mistake. However, if it’s weak it might put up little resistance and be eaten entirely.
If They Don’t Have Enough Food
This is one of the biggest reasons why a sow will engage in filial cannibalism. When they don’t have enough food and are at risk of starvation.
When your guinea pig is pregnant they need more food than usual, and it’s surprisingly easy to give them less than what they need. If the mother is experiencing starvation , she may eat her offspring as an ultimate last resort.
Accidentally, While Cleaning Them
Most species clean their offspring with their tongue and so do your little friends. Although they spring out with open eyes and fully furred, piggie pups are still small and fragile at first. So, it’s possible for their mother (especially if she’s inexperienced with babies) to kill them with too much force. Once they die, she might eat them.
If The Male Doesn’t Believe the Babies Are His
In almost all species, males are inherently territorial. If a typical guinea pig male suspects that the babies are not his own (whether or not this is the case in reality), he may kill and eat them. This is pretty rare.
If one or two guinea pig pups seem to suddenly vanish from their cage, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been eaten.Aquita from Squeaks, Scales, and Tails
What Should I Do if My Guinea Pig Eats (Or Kills) Her Babies?
That’s truly a heartbreaking sight.
First of all, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s normal to be upset and sad.
But, there’s some things you can do to help your fur baby return to a comfortable atmosphere, and to prevent this from happening again in the future.
First, you need to…
Make Sure The Pups Definitely Been Eaten
If one or two guinea pig pups suddenly vanish from their cage, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been eaten, especially if it’s been more than twenty four hours. Before making this assumption, consider the following possibilities:
- The pups might have escaped from their enclosure and are wandering nearby. Check if there are any gaps that the babies could have squeezed through.
- They may simply be hiding! A guinea pig baby enjoys a good hiding spot just like adult guinea pig does. Check the enclosure’s hay thoroughly to make sure your pups aren’t just enjoying a cozy nap within.
- The outside environment is not safe for guinea pigs, as they can be snatched by predators like rats or other household pets. A predator can snatch a baby guinea pig out of cage if guinea pig owners don’t make enclosures as safe as possible. Trust me. The extra cost is worth it to keep your piggies safe.
Unfortunately, the evidence of your sow eating her babies might be obvious. (Such as blood and remaining body parts). If this is the case, you obviously don’t need to take these steps.
Remove Any Dead Pups from the Enclosure
There is a chance that your sow will only partially eat her offspring, particularly if she killed them by accident. If this happens, you should immediately remove the dead babies and dispose of them appropriately.
This will stop the mother from continuing to feed on them, and it will prevent the risk of diseases through decomposition. The sow needs this time to focus on nursing her living babies, and you need to create an environment that will allow her to do this.
Prevent Future Pregnancies
If your sow has eaten her own babies, you may want to consider changing her living conditions. That way she doesn’t have to deal with the stress of more pregnancies.
Spaying a female guinea pig can be a risky procedure that not all veterinarians are willing to attempt.
Honestly, I don’t feel like it’s worth the risk. Just keep your little friend with other females only. Or house her with a neutered male to prevent future pregnancies. Neutering is A LOT less risky for males than spaying is for females.
How Can You Prevent Your Guinea Pig from Eating Its Young?
In general, most female guinea pigs who survives birth and delivery will and raise her litter without any issues. However, taking some precautions can bring you peace of mind that your sow won’t need to eat her babies.
Keep Males Out of the Cage
While guinea pigs are usually docile, friendly and social creatures, adult males should not be around the babies under any circumstances. The guinea pig fathers don’t play any role in taking care of the litter, and can do more harm than good (sorry piggie dads!). This is for several reasons:
- The male guinea pig can be a disruptive presence for the mother, who needs to nurse and care for her young in a peaceful environment.
- Female guinea pigs can be impregnated as quickly as 12 hours after giving birth. Back to back pregnancies can cause significant stress for your guinea pig. In stressful conditions, the chances that they will eat their offspring increase.
- Removing the male guinea pig(s) will also eliminate any risk that they will eat the offspring because they think it’s not their own.
Ensure Your Sow Has Plenty of Food
Make sure your pig has a lot of food. When your guinea pig is pregnant her Vitamin C requirements double to around 20mg per day. You should increase the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables given daily and also consider pet-friendly supplements.
Sows must also have a constant supply of hay (alfalfa for the extra calories) and pellets. The extra calories should be provided until she stops nursing her newborn babies. (Keep that food bowl appropriately full!) If your guinea pig consistently has enough extra food, the chances of her needing to eat her pups drop to near zero.
Provide Your Sow with a Stress-Free Environment
Keep your little friend calm. As mentioned already, increased stress will make it much more likely that your guinea pig will eat her offspring. It will also well as putting her at risk for developing diseases like toxaemia. In order to have a peaceful pregnancy and birth, there are some things that you can do:
- Avoid major changes to your sow’s housing, diet or routine in the later stages of pregnancy
- No bright lights and loud noises.
- Don’t handle her more than necessary – especially during the last two weeks of pregnancy or so
Many people underestimate how much space a guinea pig needs, along with other types of rodents. If your sow is in a very small enclosure, this could cause her unnecessary stress. Additionally, when her babies are born she may eat them in order to prevent them from taking up the little space she has.
If you have a pregnant guinea pig, consider giving the her cage an upgrade, so she can take care of her pups comfortably.
Remain Vigilant During the First Twenty Four Hours
If possible, you should be present during the birth to provide support and comfort to the mother. The first twenty four hours are when the babies are at greatest risk for being eaten, so remain close during this period. By doing this you can prevent accidental killings, as well as promptly remove any still born pups from the cage.
Keep The Babies With Their Mom As Much As Possible
Guinea pigs are different from many other species; they are born with teeth and fur, and almost immediately they can see and walk around. It can therefore be tempting to pick up and cuddle the little babies right away!
However, you should err on the side of caution. You can certainly handle a little, because it won’t make their mother reject them. But, give them time to bond with their mother so they can nurse. By giving them enough time with their mother, you reduce the risk that she will reject them.
In A Nutshell
The good news is that it’s unlikely for your pregnant pet to eat her offspring. Under normal circumstances, the sow will give birth and have a healthy litter of pups.
The bad news?
Under certain circumstances, the sow may eat her offspring for various reasons.
The more factors that are present, the higher likelihood she’ll eat her pups. Use the tips in this post to understand why piggies eat their babies and to prevent it from happening.