A Simple Guide To How Long Guinea Pigs Can Go Without Food (Or Water)

Like most pets, guinea pigs shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time. However, life is unpredictable, and sometimes, what was meant to be a short outing, turns into an extended absence. The longer an animal is left alone, the higher the chance that they are also without food and clean water because no one is there to monitor what has been provided or provide more. So, how long can guinea pigs go without food and water? 

Healthy guinea pigs shouldn’t go over 8 hours without food. They won’t starve in this time, but they can develop potentially fatal GI stasis or other health issues. Healthy guinea pigs may go up to 24 hours without water. These times are reduced if the guinea pigs are old, sick, pregnant, nursing, or exposed to high temperatures.

A Simple Guide To How Long Guinea Pigs Can Go Without Food (Or Water)

In this article, we look at how long a guinea pig can go without food and water, but we also look at signs to watch for that could indicate a problem if your piggie was or may have been without food and water for an extended time. 

How Long Can A Guinea Pig Go Without Food?

According to the Chicago Exotics Animal Hospitalguinea pigs who have gone 6-8 hours without eating or pooping should immediately be taken to the veterinarian

This time frame is more for piggies who have access food but has stopped eating as opposed to one who is denied food.

But, since there’s a lack of research on just how long guinea pigs can survive without hay, pellets, and vegetables, this information can be used as a guideline.

Adverse Health Effects Associated With Starvation In Guinea Pigs

A lot can happen to guinea pigs when they don’t eat – and none of it’s good. Let’s focus on two of the big health effects associated with starvation in piggies. 

GI Stasis 

The digestive system of the average guinea pig is designed to be constantly digesting food, so they need to eat and poop throughout the day.

Startlingly, their digestive design is so sensitive that not eating at all and even certain changes in food sources cause problems for these animals quickly.

Piggies can can quickly develop a condition known as GI stasis or ileus, which is very bad news for them.

GI stasis is when your piggie’s stomach stops moving food and fluid through their body which causes severe dehydration – their digestive tract stops functioning normally. It can cause your fur balls a lot of pain and is considered a medical emergency.

And the lack of a proper diet will make this problem worse for your guinea pigs – by causing hypomotility in the gut itself. That just means that things aren’t moving through it the way they should.

Also, it’ll make your fur balls not want to eat due to stress or pain from their condition…

Your piggies will literally be starving by then.

Ultimately, your guinea pig is not likely to starve to death if they go a day or two without food, but GI stasis is likely to develop long before that time period is over, and GI stasis can be fatal. 

If your little friend pig has no access to water as well as food, then the chances of GI stasis occurring are higher because dehydration can cause your little friends’ digestive system to slow down crazy fast.

Scurvy

Scurvy is yet another tough side effect of food deprivation – it’s a disease that results from a lack of Vitamin C.

Like humans, guinea pigs don’t produce their own Vitamin C either and so they need to get it from the vegetables and pellets that they eat in order for them to function properly .

Symptoms of scurvy include:

  • sluggishness
  • unwillingness to move around
  • painful joints 
  • weight loss
  • hairloss (thinning or missing coat in patches) 

And guinea pigs can die from scurvy.

If your guinea pig has scurvy they will need to be treated by a veterinarian . It may take a while before you notice any improvement in your guinea pigs.

Avoiding this challenge can be difficult in the first place.  But, it’s important that you try for the sake of your little fur balls.  

And it’s also important to dose your pet guinea pig with vitamin C. 

Why?

Guinea pigs need between 20 and 30 mg/kg daily for good health, but if they’re deficient in Vitamin C then you can administer up to 50mg per kg of body weight each day!

Adding Vitamin C supplements into your piggie’s water is not necessary because the water will change flavor. This might result in a bunch of thirsty guinea pigs on your hands, which would be unfortunate and really mess up their health

In addition to this, the potency of Vitamin C supplements start degrading (by about 50%) after 24 hours in water, so it won’t do much as just giving them vitamin-enriched vegetables with enough vitamins themselves!

How Long Can A Guinea Pig Go Without Water?

According to the Chicago Exotics Animal Hospital, guinea pigs can die quickly without water because they are a species that are susceptible to becoming dehydrated. 

While the exact length of time that a guinea pig can go without water has not been formally researched, there are some testimonial reports on various guinea pig forums and blogs where guinea pigs have gone up to 12 hours without water and been fine.

(But, let me state the obvious – don’t test that 12 hour mark with your piggies. Make sure they always have fresh water)

These periods without water were isolated incidents, not regular occurrences. 

A healthy guinea pig may be able to survive up to 24 hours without water, but they will be dehydrated after that time. Furthermore, it is possible that the resulting dehydration can cause semi-permanent or even permanent damage to the guinea pig’s health. 

Adverse Health Effects Associated With Dehydration In Guinea Pigs

Even if your guinea pig can survive without water for approximately 24 hours, dehydration can cause adverse health effects such as:

  • Bladder and kidney stones
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Intestinal impaction

And each one of these can be fatal to a guinea pig.

Factors That Affect The Length Of Time A Guinea Pig Can Go Without Water

Suppose your fur baby has no access to water, but they do have access to vegetables that contain high levels of water, like tomatoes or cucumbers.

In that case, they will last longer without water because the vegetables are providing them with a certain amount of their required fluid intake.

  • Sick guinea pigs, especially if they have a renal disease, kidney disease or other health conditions, can only go without water for a couple of hours or less, depending on the severity of the disease. Since their so if they don’t get enough drink it will be more detrimental to their health than in healthy piggies
  • Older guinea pigs and pregnant guinea pigs or nursing guinea pigs cannot last as long without water. Older guinea pigs are more vulnerable to disease.
  • Pregnant guinea pigs or nursing guinea pigs would have a hard time without water. They’re sharing their nourishment and liquids with their babies – they can’t afford to lose too much hydration.
  • The climate can affect how long a guinea pig can be without water. Piggies are not only susceptible to dehydration, but they are also easily overheated. Higher temperatures mean that they require more hydration to stave off heatstroke.

What To Look Out For If Your Guinea Pig Went Without Food And Water For An Extended Time

If your guinea pig is ever without or has potentially been without food and water for an extended time, then you need to see if they are displaying any signs of poor health.  

If the answer to any of the following questions is yes, you should take your guinea pig to a veterinarian. Remember that some of the signs may not be present immediately, so you should monitor your guinea pig over the next few days.

  • Did your guinea pig refuse to eat and drink when you provided them with food and water again?
  • Has your guinea pig stopped defecating, or are the droppings abnormal in size, shape, and texture?
  • Is your guinea pig making funny noises, or are they showing any other signs of being in pain, such as hunching, grinding their teeth, restlessness, or reluctance to move?
  • Is your guinea pig lethargic?
  • Is your guinea pig drooling?
  • Have you noticed if your guinea pig has stopped urinating or is urinating less than normal?
  • Does your guinea pig’s urine have a strange or strong odor, or is it a dark or abnormal color?
  • Has your guinea pig’s behavior changed?
  • Are your guinea pig’s eyes dull or crusty?
  • Does your guinea pig’s skin tent when pinched and pulled gently upward?
  • Is your guinea pig’s breathing labored or irregular?

How Long Can A Guinea Pig Be Left If Food And Water Are Provided?

Even if you give your guinea pigs plenty of food and water, you really shouldn’t leave them alone for longer than 24 hours.

  • Water dispensers can break, fall, or become blocked.
  • Food can spoil (in the case of fresh fruits and vegetables), run out (your guinea pig is not necessarily going to ration itself), be spilled, or get wet and become inedible. 
  • Bedding can be drenched in ammonia-reeking urine that can give your guinea pigs upper respiratory infections.

Leaving a guinea pig alone for longer than 24 hours should be done with caution.

If you are planning to be away from your pet for more than one day, leaving it with someone who can provide fresh food and water is the safest option.  Or have someone stop by to check on your little friends periodically.

What If My Guinea Pig Refuses To Eat Or Drink?

It is one thing if your guinea pig is without food or water because there was an emergency or an unforeseeable delay in your return home. It is quite another thing if your guinea pig is refusing to eat or drink.

Guinea pigs are often fed a variety of hay, pellet food, and vegetables to ensure their well-being. If your guinea pigs refuse those things too – or even just the hay- it’s important to understand why they’re behaving this way so you can figure out what needs changed in order to get them back on track.  

Is there appetite lacking?  If so, why?  Or is it some sort of disease or illness?

Here a few reasons why a guinea pig might refuse to eat or drink and some possible solutions:

  • A Diet Change. Stressful situations or changes in routine can also cause a guinea pig to refuse drinks and food. Guinea pigs do not like it when their diet changes, so if your guinea pig’s refusal to eat is following a diet change, then you might need to consider making the transition more slowly.
  • A New Home. If you’ve brought a new guinea pig home or are already fostering one and they aren’t drinking enough water, it may be because anxiety is stopping them. If so, try offering food to get them use to their new environment.
  • Loneliness.  PIggies are social animals and typically prefer having a friend.  If you have a single pig (or perhaps his cagemate died), you might have a lonely guinea pig on your hands – that might be why he’s not eating.  Recommendation:  find him a friend – quickly.
  • Too Many Watery Veggies. Your guinea pig may be drinking less water if they are eating more watery fruits and vegetables. In this case, offer them more hay (which should be their primary food) and less produce.

However, refusing to eat food and drink water can also be a sign that your guinea pig is suffering from a medical condition. As sick guinea pigs cannot last as long without food and water as healthy guinea pigs can, you should take them to the veterinarian to be checked out immediately.

What Do You Do With Guinea Pigs When You Go On Vacation?

When you go on vacation, find a trustworthy pet sitter to care for your guinea pig. If you can’t find a reliable caretaker, then your other option is to board the guinea pigs at an reputable animal shelter or veterinary clinic.

It might be a little more expensive (depending on your location), but it’s better than leaving your guinea pigs in their cage all week long and not changing their water or food.

Since most pet parents end up hiring sitters when they go on vacation, here are some preparation guidelines to help you enjoy their time off without stressing about your little piggies while you’re gone.

Find a Trustworthy Pet Sitter

The best thing you can do for your fur balls while you’re gone is find someone trustworthy to care for them while you’re away – preferably a neighbor you trust, family member or a close friend. Bonus points if it’s someone reliable who already loves your guinea pigs. Guinea pigs do recognize people and will welcome a friendly face to make them safe and secure.

Make Introductions

Introducing your pet to their new pet sitter is the first step in building a trusting and close relationship between them. This is best done over time, potentially days or even weeks if needed.

Make A Schedule and Checklist

With the right preparation and a comprehensive checklist, pet sitters are more likely to stay on track. Include instructions on how much food, hay, water, and vegetables to give your guinea pigs; provide any medication they might need; and any other important details.

Simplify the process as much as possible, so it makes it easier for the pet sitter to care for your little fur balls. This frees you up to engage in your new role: enjoying your vacation.

Plan For Emergencies

If you are a pet owner, it is vital to remember that your pet sitter must be aware of guinea pig behaviors – what’s normal and what isn’t.

If there are any signs of aggression or changes in the condition of your fur babies (e.g eating habits or droppings) leave instructions for the pet sitter to call you and then contact the vet immediately.

Final Thoughts

Guinea pigs should not be without food for more than 8 hours. Their digestive systems are sensitive and designed to be constantly eating and defecating.

A disruption to this can lead to a potentially fatal condition known as GI stasis, in which the digestive tract stops functioning or scurvy, which has it’s own dire consequences.

Guinea pigs should not be without water for longer than 24 hours. At this point, your guinea pig will already be dehydrated but may not be fatally ill. 

The time frames are reduced if your guinea pig doesn’t have access to both water and food simultaneously, if the guinea pig is old, sick, pregnant, or nursing, and if the guinea pig is exposed to extreme temperatures. 

Guinea pigs should not be left alone for longer than 24 hours, even if you have provided them with food and water. This is because anything could happen to the food and water while you are away. 

A guinea pig who is refusing to eat or drink should be taken to a veterinarian. 

Bladder and Urinary Tract Stones In Guinea Pigs. (2011). Veterinarian in Cumming GA USA | Cumming Animal Hospital. https://sawneeanimalclinic.com/downloads/bladder_and_urinary_tract_stones_in_guinea_pigs.pdf

Gastrointestinal Hypomotility and Gastrointestinal Stasis in Guinea Pigs. (2011). Veterinarian in Cumming GA USA | Cumming Animal Hospital. https://sawneeanimalclinic.com/downloads/gastrointestinal_hypomotility_stasis_in_guinea_pigs.pdf

Giving fluids | Arizona exotics | -Guinea pigs resources. (n.d.). Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital | Veterinary care for exotic pets in Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert AZ. https://azeah.com/guinea-pigs/giving-fluids#:~:text=Your%20guinea%20pig%20may%20be,given%20to%20your%20guinea%20pig

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Pellham, K. H. (2015). Guinea pigs: The essential guide to ownership, care, and training for your pet. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform.

Vanderlip, S. L. (2003). The Guinea pig handbook. Barrons Educational Series.

Vitamin C Deficiency (Scurvy) In Guinea Pigs. (2011). Veterinarian in Cumming GA USA | Cumming Animal Hospital. https://sawneeanimalclinic.com/downloads/vitamin_c_deficiency_scurvy_in_guinea_pigs.pdf

Water no water for 12+ hours! (n.d.). Your Guinea Pig’s Home (metric). https://www.guineapigcages.com/forum/threads/99390-No-water-for-12-hours

What do I need to know about my Guinea pigs’ health? (n.d.). RSPCA Knowledgebase – Let Australia’s most trusted animal welfare charity help you answer the big questions. https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/what-do-i-need-to-know-about-my-guinea-pigs-health/

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