You really need a short escape from the everyday tasks and want to go on a vacation but don't know what to do with your guinea pigs – we have all been in the same situation.
There are many ways of ensuring your guinea pig's safety and well-being while you are away.
- Dr. Ivana Crnec, DVM
Luckily, just because you are an excellent guinea pig parent, it does not mean you should give up vacations and getaways. There are many ways of ensuring your guinea pig's safety and well-being while you are away.
In this article, we will explain how long can a guinea pig go without food, hay, and water. We will also give you several options on what to do with your guinea pig if planning a vacation. Finally, we will try to emphasize that it is possible to enjoy a guilt-free vacation even if you are a devoted and loving pet parent.
How Long Can a Guinea Pig Go Without Food?
Guinea pigs are small creatures with big appetites. Plus, their digestive systems are specially built. For their intestines to work properly, they need to munch on pellets, hay, or veggies constantly.
Therefore, it is highly unadvisable to let a guinea pig hungry for more than six to eight hours. In extreme cases, guinea pigs can survive up to 24 hours without food, but you should always avoid this scenario. Generally speaking, most guinea pig parents do not let their guinea pigs go without food for more than 12 hours.
If left without food for over 24 hours, guinea pigs can quickly get intestinal blockage (gastrointestinal stasis) or scurvy. At this point, by food, we mean commercially available guinea pig pellets (guinea pigs also need fresh leafy greens and veggies, but they can go for two or three days without them).
Intestinal blockage or gastrointestinal stasis occurs when the intestinal motility slows down to the point when the food in the intestine forms a blockage, leading to lack of appetite and production of small fecal pellets followed by the absence of fecal pellets.
In addition to the appetite loss and reduction of fecal pellets, gastrointestinal stasis also manifests with reduced water intake, lethargy, pain, and unusual dough-like consistency of the abdomen.
Gastrointestinal stasis is a life-threatening condition that warrants immediate veterinary attention. Even with prompt and adequate care (massage, fluids, gut motility drugs, pain relief), the consequences can still be fatal.
Scurvy develops due to inadequate vitamin C intake (as guinea pigs cannot synthesize this vitamin on their own). An adult guinea pig needs between 30 and 50 milligrams of vitamin C per day, which can be provided via special blocks, tablets, or fruits and veggies.
If lacking vitamin C for several days, guinea pigs will develop scurvy, which manifests as brittle and crusty eyes, diarrhea, sneezing, hair loss, skin problems, lack of appetite, and weight loss.
You May Also Like: Best Food For Guinea Pigs - Vet-Approved Guide
How Long Can a Guinea Pig Go Without Hay?
Hay is a staple food for guinea pigs. In addition to providing the necessary nutrients, hay has two vital functions:
- It acts as a teeth file and prevents them from overgrowing
- It ensures adequate fiber levels necessary for smooth digestion and healthy intestinal motility.
Considering how important hay is for guinea pigs, it is obvious that you cannot leave them without hay for long. In fact, guinea pigs can safely go without hay for 24 hours.
However, any time between 24 and 48 hours puts them in immediate danger. If a guinea pig is left without hay for over 48 hours, the consequences will probably be lethal.
The average adult guinea pig needs between 90 and 100 grams of hay per day. However, it is always recommended to provide your guinea pig with more hay than it actually needs.
This is because guinea pigs like to pull hay strands from the rack and scatter them around the enclosure. Anyway, do not leave too much hay, as it easily gets wet and spoils. Wet hay also attracts bacteria, mold, insects (flies which can lay eggs and harm the guinea pig), and parasites (mainly ticks, which can carry infectious diseases).
How Long Can a Guinea Pig Go Without Water?
Guinea pigs can go for one or a maximum of two days without water. However, this is not something you should be practicing on a regular basis. Namely, guinea pigs should be provided with a constantly available water source.
Guinea pigs usually drink around 100 milliliters of water per one kilo of body weight per day. This intake can be affected by the guinea pig's overall health status, age, room temperature, and humidity. You can provide your guinea pig with fresh water via a water bowl or water bottle.
If using a bottle, it is vital to frequently check the functionality of the water bottle. Regular vacuum principle water bottles break easily and start leaking. If you are home, this is not a major concern; however, if planning to be away, the uncontrolled leaking can cause two major issues:
- Waste the water and puts the guinea pig at risk of dehydration
- Lead to damp bedding, which is likely to make the guinea pig sick.
When it comes to guinea pigs, dehydration is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition warranting urgent veterinary care.
Common signs and symptoms indicating dehydration in guinea pigs include:
- Appetite loss
- Crusty and sunken eyes
- Thick and sticky saliva
- Decreased urination
- Dark-colored urine
- Small and dry fecal pellets.
How Long Can Guinea Pigs Be Left Alone?
Completely alone, guinea pigs can be left for no more than a day and a half without any supervision. To simplify the rule, anything below the two days frame is safe, and everything beyond is risky.
However, even if left for less than two days, several considerations are worth mentioning—for example, ample food, water, hay supply, enclosure hygiene, and safety.
1. Ensure your guinea pig has enough water and food while you're away
First and foremost, you need to ensure your guinea pig has enough water and food while you're away. We recommend getting a feeder for keeping the pellets dry and clean. Since the feeder dispenses the pellet a little at a time, the remaining food stays hygienic and can not be scattered around the cage.
This Kaytee Gravity Bin Feeder is an excellent option for stocking up pellets because of its simple design and affordable price. It will dispense the pellets little by little, keeping the rest clean. It can hold food for up to five days and won't become blocked or malfunction like some high-tech feeders might.
2. Consider Getting a Hay Rack
Another recommendation we have is a hay rack, which ensures your piggies will not scatter the hay around and urinate on it, making it inedible. Niteangel is a premium brand for small animals, and we love this Niteangel Pet Wooden Hay Manger for making sure your piggies have ample hay when you're enjoying your vacation. It's safe, pet-friendly, and keeps the hay from spoiling.
3. Leave your guinea pigs with two water bottles
Water is also important, and you should leave your guinea pigs with two water bottles just in case the other one gets blocked or leaks.
This Choco Nose No-Drip Guinea Pigs Water Bottle is great because you can attach most PET bottles to the nozzle. This way, you can place a bigger water bottle for when you're away and use a smaller one daily. The screw-on bracket keeps the bottle securely in place, and the leak-free nozzle ensures the bedding stays dry.
In addition, you get a discount when buying two bottles, which, of course, is perfect when you're setting up your piggies' cage for the duration of your getaway.
Unlike dogs and cats that tend to be overly attached to their parents, guinea pigs are not affected by spending alone time. Of course, we are not saying that guinea pigs do not get attached to their caregivers, but they are less stressed when left alone.
4. Clean the enclosure thoroughly just before leaving
The next thing you need to consider is enclosure hygiene. Guinea pigs pee a lot and get their bedding damp really quickly. So if you are planning to go on a vacation, you need to clean the enclosure thoroughly just before leaving.
This is because the urine will lead to ammonia buildup, and the presence of ammonia can irritate the upper airways and cause severe respiratory infection (the condition is quite common in guinea pigs). Plus, while you are away, probably all windows will be closed, and the lack of proper room ventilation will speed up the ammonia accumulation process.
5. The Cage Location Is Important
You also need to consider the cage location. It is important to ensure the cage is in a draft-free place and not exposed to direct sunlight. If possible, the room temperature and air humidity should be more or less constant.
If the cage is faulty and your guinea pig can sometimes escape, you need to either fix the cage before leaving or invest in a new, safer model. Escaping while you are away can have devastating consequences, especially if the guinea pig finds its way outside. Guinea pigs can have outdoor time but only while supervised and kept safe from predators.
If you have two male guinea pigs in one cage, you should also consider having them separated while you are away, particularly if they tend to fight with each other. Even if kept together since babies, males can get very territorial and often resort to fighting. Usually, the fighting is harmless, but if you are away and one of the guinea pigs gets injured, the severity of its condition can aggravate by the time you get back.
What to Do With Guinea Pigs While On Vacation?
Although a healthy, adult guinea pig can be left alone over the weekend, this idea is dreading for many guinea pig parents.
However, just because you are a loving, responsible, and dedicated pet parent, does not mean you should give up holidays and vacations. Take a look at these options that will allow you to enjoy the vacation without feeling guilty for leaving your guinea pig.
Guinea pig boarding
If planning a more extended vacation, you can consider leaving your guinea pig in a boarding facility. Some boarding facilities offer basic living arrangements, while guinea pig hotels provide more luxurious suites and services.
Unlike kennels and catteries, small pet-boarders do not need a special working license. Therefore, it is advisable to visit the facility before deciding to leave your pet there.
That way, you will be able to check the accommodations the border offers, and you can also gather information about what type of food, hay, and bedding they use; whether they have unique safety systems, are the guinea pigs allowed outdoor time; and if the facility offers webcam access.
Luckily, small pet-boarders do not require specific vaccinations for boarding guinea pigs which will save you a lot of money.
Getting a guinea pig sitter
Hiring a professional guinea pig sitter is probably the best option because of several reasons. First of all, guinea pigs are creatures of habit and do not enjoy changes in the environment, meaning they would prefer to stay at home.
Secondly, professional sitters have deep knowledge in the guinea pig niche and can take special care. This is particularly important for guinea pigs with special dietary needs or older guinea pigs with specific health concerns.
Finally, some pet sitters offer additional services like grooming, brushing, and playing. These activities will keep your guinea pig stimulated and entertained while you are enjoying the vacation.
Asking a friend or family member to pop over
You can always ask a friend or family member to occasionally pop over to your house and check on the guinea pigs. On the one hand, you will definitely feel more comfortable entrusting your guinea pig to someone you know.
On the other hand, you will have to do a more thorough walkthrough in guinea pig care before leaving if your friend or relative does not have experience with guinea pigs.
Leaving the guinea pigs at home
The last option is to leave your guinea pig at home alone. This is only applicable for short vacations, lasting less than two days.
Guinea pigs should not be left alone for more than a day and a half, meaning if your trip is scheduled to last more than that, you need to take a look into some of the options explained above.
Set up a pet camera
If you need to go on frequent trips and travels because of business or personal issues, it is highly recommended to invest in a high-quality pet camera.
The pet camera will allow you to have constant knowledge of what your guinea pig is doing. That way, if you notice something might not be right at any moment, all you have to do is call your entrusted guinea pig caretaker and ask him/her to pop over.
We recommend this very popular Petcube Pet Monitoring Camera with HD live streaming video, two-way audio, 8x zoom, and night vision. It allows you to keep an eye on your pet 24/7 to make sure everything is ok while you're not at home and gives you that peace of mind knowing your beloved pet is safe.
Summing Up – How Long Can Guinea Pigs Go Without Eating?
As already explained, guinea pigs can go without food and hay for a day (and a half tops) and without water for a day or two.
This means leaving your guinea pig alone for more than two days is never a good idea. Even two days is too much – a guinea pig can be left alone for one day and a half.
All in all, if planning a weekend getaway (starting Saturday morning and ending Sunday night), it is perfectly safe to leave your guinea pig alone as long as you have provided sufficient amounts of food, hay, and water.
However, if going on a long weekend (Friday to Monday), you need to look into an alternative that does not let your guinea pig go unsupervised.
Ivana Crnec is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine specialized in domestic carnivores. She graduated from the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia. Ivana is a certified canine nutritionist and also certified in HAACP food safety system implementation. She currently works as a veterinarian while completing her postgraduate studies. Her research has been published in international journals.
NOTE: Advice provided within this article by FeedingMyPet.com is not a substitute for veterinary advice. Please discuss your guinea pig's specific dietary needs (based on his breed, weight, age, and health status) with a veterinarian.