Do Guinea Pigs Eat Their Babies?
And What You Can Do To Avoid It
February 12, 2022
Although most guinea pig owners do not plan on breeding guinea pigs, it is not uncommon for a new owner to be in for a surprise.
See, guinea pigs are usually bought in twos because, as social animals, they each other for company. At the same time, guinea pigs can be quite hard to sex. So even pet stores and breeders sometimes get it wrong.
There are many things you can do to reduce the risks.
As a result, a guinea pig you thought to be a boar may suddenly be gaining weight and becoming surprisingly plump on the belly area.
If your guinea pig is pregnant or has just given birth to sweet little baby piggies, you may have many questions on your mind. One of them might be, “do guinea pigs eat their babies?”.
After all, many small animals and rodents do it, so you might be wondering if it’s normal for guinea pigs to eat their young as well.
In this article, you will learn…
- if it’s normal for cavies to eat their babies,
- why they might do so, and
- how you can prevent it from happening to those sweet little furballs that have suddenly appeared in your piggie habitat overnight.
Do Guinea Pigs Eat Their Own Babies?
Yes, guinea pigs do eat their babies. It is rare, but it does happen.
Usually, the mother will eat the baby right after it’s born. If it has not happened within the first 24 hours, it is very unlikely she will attempt to do it later on.
Although pet guinea pigs eating their pups is a very rare incident, it does happen sometimes. And although it sounds horrifying to us, it is perfectly natural and the mother’s reaction to conditions not being ideal for giving birth.
However, because eating her babies is a reaction to something, as the pet owner, there are a few things you can do to prevent your sow from eating its young. With proper care and a suitable environment, you will be able to prevent such incidents.
We’ll get to that shortly. But first, let’s take a quick look at guinea pig pregnancies.
Guinea Pig Pregnancy – The Basics
First of all, guinea pig pregnancies last for 64-72 days. When the babies are born, their eyes and teeth are fully developed, and they have a full coat of fur. Animals that give birth to fully developed young (such as the guinea pig) are called precocial.
When born, guinea pig babies weigh around 2.8 ounces (80 grams) and are about 3-4 inches long (8-10 centimeters). Although fully developed, the pups need their mother to take care of them for the first few weeks.
After the sow has given birth to the babies, she licks them clean and starts to nurse them within the first few hours. After that, the mother will continue nursing for about 3-6 weeks, although the pups will start to eat solid foods fairly soon after being born.
Usually, the pups are separated from their mother at 6 weeks when they have been weaned off their mother’s milk.
If you have a guinea pig that is pregnant or has just given birth to pups, you may be asking if there is a possibility she may eat her young and what you can do to prevent it. Let’s find out.
Why Do Guinea Pigs Eat Their Babies?
5 Reasons And How To Minimize The Risks
There are a few reasons a guinea pig mother may try to eat one or more of her babies. It doesn’t happen very often, but you should be aware of the possible risk factors so you can prevent it from happening.
You should be aware of the possible risk factors so you can prevent it from happening.
Here are the risk factors and what you can do to minimize the risk of your sow eating her pups:
1. Feeling stressed or anxious
As prey animals, guinea pigs get stressed easily, and a stressful environment could cause your piggy to eat her babies.
Loud noises, a busy environment, too many guinea pigs in a small space, not having the privacy of her own hutch, and other such stressors could make your guinea pig experience stress during the pregnancy and lead to her eating the babies after they are born.
To prevent this from happening…
- you should minimize the stress factors that come from the environment when your sow is pregnant or has just given birth. Make sure the environment is not too busy or noisy, and the mother is not disturbed too often.
- Especially after the birth, you should give the mom some time and space instead of trying to get a look at the babies. It is also important to provide the new mother and her babies with a cage that is spacious enough for all of them.
2. Breeding young guinea pigs
It is also very important to wait until the sow is old enough before breeding her. You should never breed a guinea pig that is under three months old because if the mother is not mature enough, she may not know how to take care of her babies and may eat them.
Sometimes the sow may be suffering from malnutrition. This means she hasn’t received proper nutrition from her food and is suffering from nutrient deficiencies.
It’s often a good idea to switch to alfalfa hay if you notice your guinea pig is pregnant.
Guinea pigs have specific dietary requirements, and a balanced, species-specific diet that meets those needs will ensure they get all the vitamins and minerals they need to thrive. Therefore, it is very important to offer guinea pigs food that is suitable for them and meets their nutritional needs.
For pregnant and lactating sows, proper nutrition is even more important. In addition to a healthy diet with enough Vitamin C to boost their immune system, they also need extra protein and calcium. Therefore, it’s often a good idea to switch to alfalfa hay if you notice your guinea pig is pregnant.
Alfalfa hay contains more protein and calcium than timothy hay, supporting the proper growth of muscles and bones as the babies develop during the pregnancy.
If the sow hasn’t received proper nutrition while pregnant, she may be suffering from nutrient deficiencies and malnourishment. This may lead to her trying to eat the placenta after birth to gain energy from the protein. Some experts also believe that by eating the placenta, the sow starts chemical reactions in her body that allow the milk to flow.
Sometimes consuming the placenta may lead to the mother accidentally eating the pup along with it. This is possible, especially if the pup is stillborn.
To prevent your sow from eating her babies because of malnutrition…
- make sure she is fed a highly nutritious diet of unlimited hay, high-quality guinea pig pellets, a variety of veggies, and leafy greens.
4. Wanting to protect the nest from predators
A new guinea pig mother may try to eat the placenta not only to nourish herself but to hide anything that could attract predators to the nesting area. This may also be the reason for eating a stillborn baby.
To prevent this, you can…
- monitor the mother as she is giving birth and make sure she doesn’t confuse the placenta with the baby.
- Also, remove any stillborn or deformed babies from the cage as they may encourage the guinea pig mother to eat her babies to cover any signs from the predators.
5. Scarcity of food or water
Malnourishment is not the only reason guinea pigs eat their placenta, and sometimes their babies as well. If the mother hasn’t been provided with ample food during the pregnancy, she may believe that resources are scarce.
The new mother may eat the placenta to ensure her energy levels but also eat a pup or pups so she would have fewer mouths to feed if there is not enough food and water for all the babies.
You can avoid this scenario…
- by providing your guinea pig with sufficient amounts of food during the pregnancy and right after the sow has given birth to her pups. She will be less likely to eat the babies if there is enough food to go around for all of them.
Do Male Guinea Pigs Eat Their Babies?
It is rare for sows to eat their babies, but it is even rarer for a male guinea pig to eat its babies. This is due to the fact that male guinea pigs are usually removed from the habitat and moved to another one before the babies are born. This means that the male guinea pig does not even have access to its young.
Still, even if the male would share a cage with the mother and babies, it is very unlikely to eat one of its young. However, it can sometimes happen, and usually, this is a case where the boar is being territorial or feels threatened.
Having other male guinea pigs in the home may encourage territorial behavior, so if you have more than one boar, make sure to keep it separated from the babies just to be sure.
Do Guinea Pigs Eat Their Babies Because a Human Has Handled Them?
Contrary to common belief, guinea pigs will not eat their babies because you have handled them. Because you have been handling and taking care of the mother, she will recognize your scent and not eat the pups because of it.
However, you should leave the mother and babies alone for the first week to avoid stressing the mama and to give her space to feed and take care of the babies.
After a week, you can gently handle the pups, but remember their bones are still very delicate at this age. Yet, you should start to handle them at about one week of age to make sure they get used to being handled by people.
Bottom Line – Do Guinea Pigs Eat Their Young?
Guinea pigs are herbivores and don’t eat meat. Yet, there are instances where a new guinea pig mother can eat her babies. The incidents are often accidental or done as a means of survival when the mother experiences some type of threat from the environment. Risk factors include
- A stressful environment
- Poor diet
- Scarcity of food and water
- Breeding guinea pigs that are too young
Luckily, as a pet owner, there are many things you can do to reduce the risks. For example, offer your pregnant sow nourishing food in ample quantities, make sure they have a spacious cage and are not housed with too many other guinea pigs in a small habitat, and ensure the environment is not too stressful.
Although guinea pigs may eat their babies, fortunately, it is a rare occurrence. If you have a pregnant guinea pig, don’t worry too much about her trying to eat her babies. Instead, enjoy the unique chance of having those sweet little furballs run around the cage.
– Dr. xx, DVM
NOTE: Advice provided within this article by FeedingMyPet.com is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your pet’s specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.