What to Consider When Making the Decision to Neuter Your Guinea Pigs
Some animals, like cats, dogs, and rabbits, are neutered to control the pet overpopulation problem. In the United States, shelters kill 3 to 4 million cats and dogs every year. Guinea pigs are often found in public shelters as well, enough to keep over 40 official guinea pig rescues operating at full capacity most of the time. Often, these rescues are burdened with dozens of guinea pigs at once from backyard breeders or accidental breeders such as in the 2011 Baldwin Park shelter dump, which filled up four California guinea pig rescues and one in Arizona with 152 undernourished, feral guinea pigs, many of whom were pregnant. For this reason, many rescues advocate neutering and spaying all guinea pigs.
In addition to population control, some animals are neutered to prevent potential health issues. Although male guinea pigs do sometimes develop mammary cancer, there is no evidence to support the idea that neutering male guinea pigs will prevent this from occurring. Reproductive cancer in male guinea pigs is rare. Neutering males has no proven health benefits, although it may have an effect on hygiene. Owners of intact male guinea pigs will need to check the perineal sac occasionally, and clean out any debris with Q-tips and mineral oil. Neutering a guinea pig makes the sac less likely to collect debris.
In addition to the health and overpopulation concerns, other pets are frequently neutered to control behavioral problems that result from an excess of hormones. However, the consensus among guinea pig experts is that neutering does not affect territorial herd behavior among males. Some owners have observed that their guinea pigs were calmer with people after being neutered. Yet it is rare that neutering affects guinea pig social dynamics. As animals with distinct social hierarchies, they may exhibit aggressive behavior when forced to share amenities, especially if more than one dominant guinea pig is in the group. Neutering is unlikely to affect this behavior.
Given enough space, amenities, and an appropriate companion, the majority of male guinea pigs can live out their lives happily in a cage with another male. Rescuers generally pair either two adult males or an adult male with a baby, to avoid having two adolescents together. Adolescents exhibit more hormonal behavior than adults and therefore two in the same cage is not a good idea. Personality is key; some guinea pigs are dominant and must be placed with a submissive companion. This is true of females as well.What about when an owner accidentally finds themselves with guinea pigs of the opposite sex? The options are to let the guinea pigs live alone or get them each a same sex companion. In this case, neutering is not necessary but it would benefit both the guinea pigs and the owner. However, is it safe? This largely depends upon two factors: 1) Finding an experienced veterinarian; and 2) Providing appropriate, knowledgeable, proactive post-operative care.
How do you find a good exotics veterinarian? Seek recommendations from rescues or online communities such as Guinea Lynx, which has a recommended vet list. Choose the veterinarian who has neutered the most guinea pigs successfully, and will provide you with two crucial post-operative tools: antibiotics and pain medicine.
Armed with a good veterinarian, antibiotics, and pain medicine, an informed guinea pig owner can provide adequate post-operative care. However, both guinea pigs’ fragility and their lack of hygiene may predispose them to post-surgical complications. Read the Guinea Lynx post-op care guide before taking your guinea pig in for any surgery.
Most guinea pig neuters, if done by a skilled veterinarian, will turn out fine. However, in rare cases, severe complications such as hernia, infection, adhesions, and bloat may occur. Guinea pig owners should be extremely vigilant when caring for a guinea pig that has just been neutered. They should find out where the incisions will be so that they can watch this area for signs of infection. Some veterinarians perform a scrotal neuter, so there will be two incisions on the scrotal sac. Other veterinarians prefer a pre-scrotal neuter, which is done with a single incision above the scrotal sac. More detailed information on neutering techniques can be found on Cavy Spirit’s neutering page.
A few rescuers neuter all their male guinea pigs with very few incidents. They are using much practiced veterinarians and the best post-operative care. Some veterinarians will recommend spaying all female guinea pigs for health reasons, but few advocate neutering all males. For the average guinea pig owner, neutering is usually done as a convenience for the owner, and should be undertaken only after plenty of research and commitment to intensive post-operative care should it become necessary.
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