Guinea Golden Years


Don't give up on the seniors when they need you the most. Guinea pigs can live long, happy lives with continuing care.

As guinea pigs age they become very content with their routine and comfortable with each other and you. Seniors often mellow with time and are better behaved. Cavies live 5-8 years so for the sake of this article, we’ll consider a pig past the age of 5 will qualify for their “senior citizen card.” Sadly, many seniors are overlooked for adoption. What’s worse are the families that abandoned their seniors during a phase of the cavy’s life when they need them the most. Luckily, some families love the benefits of having a senior share their home. Adoptive families that accept seniors value these special companions despite knowing their time together is short.

The key to helping your guinea pig live a long and healthy life is discovering problems early. Establish a routine so you can learn your cavy’s behavior and notice anything out of the ordinary. Similar to humans, your aging cavy won’t bounce back as quickly from an illness but they still have a good chance of being properly diagnosed and living many more years. It’s important to have an exotic vet that specializes in guinea pig care and, where possible, find a facility that has 24hr care if an emergency arises. Being prepared can give you peace of mind as well. There are a few things you can check in advance that can greatly assist your veterinarian in discovering what is wrong with your guinea pig. The more you know, the less your vet needs to guess or test for and the less stress your pet will experience.

Guinea pigs of all ages should have their weight checked regularly and seniors are no exception. Invest in a home scale (baby, kitchen and mail scales all work well for guinea pigs) and weigh your seniors at the same time regularly for best results. Changes in your guinea pig’s appetite might occur. Those veggies that were gone in seconds might be left at the bottom of the snack bowl. It’s not a good time to make dramatic changes in their diet, but do try a few fruits and vegetables that they might have previously rejected or some new treats during playtime. You may have to move their hay, food, and water to a place where it is more accessible to your aging cavy if you find they’re having trouble getting around. Make sure the food is fresh if you find they’re eating less in one sitting. Breaking larger meals down into smaller, more frequent meals might be necessary to keep your cavy eating what it needs to maintain a healthy weight. If your guinea pig loses weight or appears bloated, seek veterinary assistance and bring any documentation you have kept on your pet’s weight.

Your cavy’s water should be kept fresh by replacing it once a day. Carefully examine and replace old water bottles that may be broken, corroded, or difficult to use. Know how much your cavy drinks on an average day. Drinking more or less water than usual can be a sign that something is wrong. Another question your vet might have concerns your guinea pig’s poop. If you find their poop is soft, runny, or they are pooping less, let your vet know.

DentalImage courtesy of Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital

Left: Green arrow points to a lingual spike in the lower teeth. The blue arrow points to the back of the tongue. Center: Close up of the lingual spike. Right: View inside the mouth after the lower teeth have been filed. There is a much larger gap for the tongue to move normally during chewing.

Common dental problems may begin to appear in your aging guinea pig during this time. Their teeth grow throughout their lifetime and need to be ground down through a proper diet. If the teeth grind down improperly, it can trap the tongue and lead to painful and complicated problems eating. Also, some teeth can become brittle or loose and fall out. As teeth grow back, they can grow in crooked and must be trimmed by a professional. You can help your cavy by chopping their vegetables and fruits into bite sized pieces. However, this does not remedy dental issues. If you suspect your cavy may have dental problems, please seek care from a veterinarian immediately.

As your senior pet gets less flexible with age, it’s a good time to reconsider cage setup. Find toys, houses, and bedding that are more suited to their changing needs, fragile legs, and delicate hips. You might transform a two level cage to a one level cage so they no longer need to climb a ramp. Remove any areas where they need to jump to reach toys or snacks and remove hammocks and hanging tunnels where they risk getting tangled. You may consider switching to a flat floor that’s easier for stepping, such as fleece blankets or towels, and limit CareFresh to a litter pan or kitchen area. This can also help prevent foot pad callouses. Hay will be easier to reach in a bin on the floor rather than hanging in a basket. If your pet appears achy, discuss pain management options with your veterinarian. There are prescriptions that can help ease your guinea pig’s discomfort.

If you have a guinea pig with failing eyesight, it’s best to keep the cage layout consistent with each cleaning. Consider items and fabrics with less patterns so it’s easier for them to see solid shapes and outlines. Ask your vet to recommend an eye care specialist for pets. For example, we have used this care center in the past. Many pet owners don’t know they exist but they can do amazing things to greatly improve failing or nearly gone vision. They have many more option available to diagnose and treat vision specific problems than your general cavy care veterinarian.

A bath can create a stressful situation but you want to keep your senior guinea pig clean to detect anything unusual. Massage them with vet approved pet wipes or a damp cloth. This can give you a chance to check your guinea pig’s skin for anything out of the ordinary. Take note of any lumps, spots, thinning fur, or urine stains. Check the inside of their feet for bald patches. Check their nose for wetness. Check their lips for sores. It’s a great idea to take a photo if you see something suspicious so your vet can compare any changes. It can also help you identify the area of the mystery spot again. Be sure your pet is comfortable and dry before you return them to the cage after a cleaning.

If you’re not giving your cavy a Vitamin C supplement already, discuss this with your veterinarian. Vitamin C can help your senior guinea pig fight off illness as they develop different needs.

Pay close attention to your senior guinea pig if they lose a companion. They may feel loss or mourn in a variety of ways. If you notice any changes like withdrawal, silence, a change in eating habits, or biting, these can all be signs that your pig is suffering from loneliness. Bring your single senior in for a vet check-up and discuss “dating” options with your local shelter in order to find him a new friend. If your guinea pig can’t have a friend, try a stuffed toy buddy they can move around and snuggle. Make the toy available to them at all times. I tend to stick to toys that are roughly the same size as their missing friend.

Don’t avoid bringing your aging guinea pig to see the vet because you feel it’s their time to go. Be strong and help your pet live a long, healthy life. They need you now more than ever. Don’t bring your senior pet to a shelter because you assume their problems can’t be fixed. Rescues see too many abandoned seniors with problems that can be treated or controlled and seniors are the most difficult to find homes for. A broken heart from isolation and abandonment is the most difficult to repair. Please consider adopting a loving senior guinea pig. Older pigs can give you the same love as their younger counterparts.

If you have a great idea for an article about guinea pigs, please let us know. Guinea Pig Today is a network of guinea pig lovers and we’re always looking for the next great story. View our submissions page for more information on how to submit your idea.

Angela, Editor-in-Chief, GPT

Angela founded Guinea Pig Today and guest writes for CavyMadness. She volunteers with Metropolitan Guinea Pig Rescue and supports the ROUS Foundation. Her guinea pig, Papua, is the star of WHEK-TV/DT.

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4 Responses to “Guinea Golden Years”
  1. Petranef says:

    I adopted Saqqara when she was five years old. She’s now ten and a half! Senior pigs can surprise you. 🙂 And I really like how calm they are about everything.

  2. SWD says:

    My golden oldie is Sugar, she will be eight this April and is the last of my 1st generation of piggies, I have a bunch of 3-4 year olds so will have a bunch of seniors in a couple of years, I hope Sugie can live to 10, she is a fiesty old girl and matriarch so she just might.

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