There are an average of 2-4 baby guinea pigs (also known as pups) in a litter. However, guinea pigs can have up to 8 pups in a litter. With a large baby, intervention may be needed, but in most cases, the mother can deliver with no problems.
Your guinea pig is expecting babies; congratulations! But, how many pups should you be expecting in the litter?
It’s tough to guess just how many you’ll see when the time comes, but we’re here to help you get an idea and to tell you what to expect down the line should you end up with more than you expected…
How Many Pups Should I Expect?
Guinea pigs may be small, but their babies are even smaller. Not only are they about 3.5 ounces each at birth, but there can be anywhere from 2 to 4 pups in a litter.
This can change, though, depending on the mother’s age and how many litters she has previously had. Considering mom only weighs an average of 2 lbs., that means she could carry around an extra 50% of her body weight!
The average pregnancy usually lasts about 65 days. When the time comes, most guinea pigs only labor for around 30 minutes before all the pups are delivered.
When they’re born, unlike mice and many other rodents, they are already covered in fur, have their eyes open, and are ready to run around.
How Many Litters Can She Have in Her Lifetime?
To figure this out, we have to consider the average life expectancy of a guinea pig, which is anywhere from 4 to 8 years.
Females reach sexual maturity around 4-6 weeks of age, and males around 8-9 weeks. Normally, a female will have 2-5 liters per year. That’s because a female can be ready to mate again just 15 hours after giving birth- though it is not recommended.
Now, taking all of that into consideration, that brings us to a rough average of 18 liters in a lifetime. That’s a lot of guinea pig pups!
Common Risks For Large Litters
A mother can sometimes give birth to more pups than you see in an average litter. Usually, it isn’t anything to worry about. However, there are times when the intervention of a veterinarian is necessary.
If this happens, it could mean anything from a hormone injection to a cesarean section. Cesareans are usually avoided and only used as a last resort, as they are risky for guinea pigs.
Intervention is not always necessary in these cases. You may notice your guinea pig gets a little tired during the birth of a large litter. If that’s the case, you can help her out by assisting with the babies after they’re born, assuming it doesn’t cause her more stress.
Here are a couple of things you can do to help her:
- If you have a pair of sterilized scissors and are comfortable with it, you can cut the umbilical cords
- Grab a fresh, clean towel and clean the faces, heads, and bodies of the babies
- After umbilical cords have been cut and faces and bodies cleaned, stimulate the pups by gently rubbing their bodies to make sure they’re breathing and ready to move about
- If pups do not respond to the gentle stimulus, rub more vigorously
- After doing the above, be sure to place all pups back with mom and let her instincts kick in
Stillbirths are also not an uncommon occurrence for guinea pigs. The chances of it increase with the number of pups in a litter. Pups who weigh less than 2 ounces at birth rarely survive.
Another complication that could happen if your guinea pig has too many pups in her litter is called agalactia.
Agalactia is just a fancy word for insufficient milk flow/supply. If a mom has too many babies and her body can’t keep up with the demand for milk, the babies could be malnourished and underfed, leading to health complications, up to and including death.
To avoid the risk of agalactia, make sure that mom is fed a proper, nutritious diet. A diet consisting of timothy hay and pellets will give your guinea pig a solid nutritional foundation.
You can also offer fruits and vegetables, but be sure to check which ones are safe for your guinea pig beforehand. Vitamin C supplements are often recommended as well.
Normally, alfalfa is not recommended for guinea pigs- at least not often- because of the amount of calcium that it contains, but it is great to give to a nursing mother.
Several other factors could lead to your guinea pig developing agalactia, including dehydration, ketosis, or an infection in one, or both, of the mammary glands.
An insufficient amount of oxytocin, a naturally occurring hormone, is another reason a mother could end up with an insufficient milk flow and/or supply.
In any of these cases, the pups may need to be bottle-fed to survive. Luckily, since guinea pigs mature quickly, they only need to nurse or be bottle-fed until their third week of life.
Other Risks For Large Litters
In larger litters, be sure to check the size and weights of the pups to be sure that they are being fed and nourished properly.
If they aren’t, the smaller ones may need to be bottle-fed while the rest of the litter nurses. This can sometimes happen just because of their size at birth. Pups born larger will often shove the smaller littermates aside to get their fill of milk.
Keep An Eye On Momma and Pups
As long as you’re vigilant and keep an eye on both the mother and the babies, all should go well, whether she has 2 pups, 4 pups, or more.
Remember to keep the mother on a high-quality diet and offer her plenty of fluids, both while pregnant and while nursing.
As long as you have clean equipment, don’t be afraid to help the mother if she seems too stressed or unable to do what she needs to do to make sure the babies survive.
If you think she’s in any danger or things are getting too much for you to handle, call your local veterinarian. Have fun with your new guinea pig family!