Depending on where you live, the summer heat can become especially brutal with temperatures soaring well above 77 F (25 C). At least for us humans, our bodies are well equipped with sweat glands which help us to cool down in hotter weather. Nothing to sweat about, right?
But, if you were a guinea pig, this would be a very different reality! In fact, guinea pigs do not have sweat glands at all. When it comes to heat, guinea pigs can become easily overheated, also known as heat exhaustion, if not careful. With all that fluffy hair, it’s no surprise that it can become quite tricky for guinea pigs to cool down in the summer heat. This can place them at risk of suffering heat stroke, which can be fatal!
In this article, we’ll highlight everything you need to know about the dangers of hot temperatures and how to prevent heat stress in guinea pigs. Read on to find out more!
What temperature is too hot for guinea pigs?
Like us, guinea pigs do best in a temperate environment. This is when temperatures are not too hot and not too cold. For guinea pigs, they feel most comfortable when temperatures fall between 64 F - 73 F (18 - 23 C).
When temperatures rise above 73 F (23 C), guinea pigs can start to become overheated and can quickly lead to negative effects in their body. Temperatures above 78 F (26°C) can lead to heatstroke in as little as 10 minutes so it is important to keep a watchful eye on them when the weather (or home in the case of heating) becomes hot.
What is heatstroke in guinea pigs?
Heatstroke, also known as heat stress, is when a guinea pig becomes overheated beyond their body’s normal temperature range. As mentioned, guinea pigs do not have sweat glands so they are not naturally able to cool themselves down unlike us humans. As their body temperature continues to rise, it can have a serious physiological impact on their body, often resulting in damage to internal organs.
Common causes of heatstroke in guinea pigs?
There are many situations that can result in a guinea pig becoming overheated. In fact, when temperatures rise above 78 F (26 C), guinea pigs can experience heat stroke in as little as 10 minutes. Below are some common situations where guinea pigs can suffer from the heat:
- Being left next to radiators or hot vents
- Positioned next to sunny windows/direct sunlight
- Taken outside on a hot sunny day
- Being placed in a conservatory
- Sitting in a hot vehicle
Heatstroke is a medical emergency and should be taken seriously. As soon as the first signs of heatstroke appear, actions must be taken in order to prevent the guinea pig from suffering further..
Here’s what to look out for!
Signs and Symptoms of Heatstroke in Guinea Pigs
- Body weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Hot to touch
- Agitated or restless
- Heavy breathing or panting
- drooling / salivating
- Convulsions (muscle spasms)
What should you do if your guinea pig suffers from heatstroke?
If you start to notice any of the above signs or symptoms in your guinea pigs, it is important to act quickly. If left untreated, heat stroke can cause temporary or even permanent damage to a guinea pig’s internal organs or worse, lead to death.
You will need to take your guinea pig to the nearest exotic emergency vet to receive urgent treatment and to assess any damage caused by the heat.
In the meantime, here are some things you can do to help your guinea pig. Remember that at any time you are unsure of how to respond in the event of heat stress in a guinea pig, remember that you can always call your local vet for telephone advice and support:
Heatstroke Response - Step 1: Remove the heat source
It is important to remove your guinea pig from the main cause of the heat stroke. Your guinea pig will not benefit from being left in the same situation as you’ve found them as their body temperature will only continue to increase.
For instance, if your guinea pig is outside in a hot hutch, remove them from the hutch and bring them to a cooler location to relieve them from the heat.
Heatstroke Response - Step 2: Providing Relief through the ears
Guinea pig ears are considered as one of the most exposed part of their body. The appears of veins can often be seen by examining this thin area of skin. This area is ideal to apply a couple drops of rubbing alcohol, or cold - not freezing! - drops of water to help provide some relief. These few drops will help cool down their circulating blood.
Heatstroke Response - Step 3: Dampen your guinea pig’s fur
It is important to note that you should never pour or submerge your guinea pig in water during a heat stroke. As helpful as it may sound, the startling contrast in temperatures can cause shock to your guinea pig’s system. In some cases this has caused cardiac arrest.
Instead, brush back your guinea pig’s hair and dampen their skin and fur with cool water. This can be done in the form of a body mist or thin towel. If a towel is used, soke the fabric in cool water and squeeze so that excess what is removed. Then, gently dab the towel around your guinea pig’s back. Do this only for a couple minutes as cooling your guinea pig too quickly can be dangerous for reasons mentioned above.
Heatstroke Response - Step 4: Provide Fluids if tolerated
If your guinea pig is responsive, try to encourage fluids to help keep them hydrated. Draw up some liquid in a plastic syringe - needle removed! - and administer approximately 1ml of water at a time. Never rush syringe feeds or try to administer fluids in an unresponsive pet as choking can occur.
In this video by Northstar Vets as they demonstrate how to syringe feed a guinea pig.
Heatstroke Response - Step 5: Seek Veterinary Care
It is important that the heat stressed guinea pig is taken to receive veterinary care. Your guinea pig will likely need to have electrolytes replenished via IV and further assessment as to what damage the heat has caused. If you are in need of finding a cavy savvy vet, Kavee has created a free exotic vet map for the USA.
If you will be taking your guinea pig to the vet by car, ensure that your guinea pig is placed in an well ventilated carrier. Consider rolling down the vehicle’s windows to provide good air circulation. If your car has air conditioning, avoid turning it on to prevent an extreme change in temperature. If possible, place your guinea pig’s carrier on the floor of the car as this would be the best place to shield them from direct sunlight.
How to prevent heat stroke in guinea pigs
The good news is that heat stroke can be completely preventable when the appropriate measures are taken. Here are some important tips that every pet owner can follow to ensure their guinea pig stays cool in the summer heat!
Avoid taking your guinea pigs outside during peak times
Many guinea pigs popcorn with glee when they get to stretch their legs outside. In fact, many piggy parents will set up a C&C playpen or run for them to enjoy the fresh air often during the Summer. Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of the pleasant weather?
As nice as Summer weather can be, there are certain times of day where the heat can be particularly intense. This is when the sun rises to its highest point in the sky so the best time to avoid taking your guinea pigs outside is usually between 10 am - 4pm as this is often when it is the hottest.
For more information, be sure to check out our ultimate guide to outdoor floortime for guinea pigs.
Consider the placement of your guinea pigs’ cage
If your guinea pig is indoors, consider moving their cage to a location in the house where they are not positioned near windows or conservatories. The direct sunlight from windows are often intense which could result in heat stroke.
If your guinea pigs are outdoors, consider bringing them inside during hot weather. C&C cages are a great alternative to traditional pet shop cages and hutches. They can setup within minutes to provide your guinea pigs with a spacious temporary or permanent space to keep cool.
Routine water bottle checks
In warm weather, make sure to perform water bottle checks more frequently. You mind find your piggies drinking more in hotter weather in order to stay hydrated. Ensure their water is clean and fresh with regular top ups!
Create Areas for your guinea pigs to cool off
This Summer, help your guinea pigs cool off with some easy to make spaces or ‘cooling stations’. For example, you can fill an empty water bottle up half way and freeze it in the freezer, wrap it in a towel, and then place directly into their cage for your guinea pigs to snuggle up to. Check out our 10 simple ways to keep guinea pigs cool in hot weather!
During the summer heat, it is important that every small pet owner takes precautions to prevent their pets from overheating. When left untreated, heatstroke can be fatal, especially in guinea pigs! Keep your guinea pigs cool this summer by following our preventative tips outlined above!