When temperatures soar in the summer months, you probably can’t think of anything better than a spot of sunbathing in the garden. But what about your piggy pal? Can they safely enjoy a sunny day at your side?
Well, their thick furry coat might already give you an idea of the answer. These furballs aren’t really made to enjoy the heat so you should be incredibly careful when it comes to regulating the temperature for your guinea pig, as they can overheat very quickly. Wooden hutches and sheds can soon become saunas even on mild days, so take note if your piggy lives outdoors.
The onset of heatstroke can be rapid for guinea pigs, and the outcome could be fatal. Every responsible piggy parent needs to take the necessary steps to avoid this. Read on to find out what you can do to prevent heatstroke in guinea pigs and what are the most common signs you should watch out for.
Can Guinea Pigs Get Heatstroke?
Heatstroke occurs in animals when their body temperature rises too high. For guinea pigs, a normal body temperature ranges between 102-104°F (39-40°C). Once the temperature starts to go above 78°F (26°C), the increased heat can make their body temperature go higher and put them at risk of suffering from heatstroke.
Yes, guinea pigs can get heatstroke
Piggies have a fascinating and varied history, their ancestors having been natives of South America. Living in the cool heights of the mountainous Andean region in burrows and crevices, guinea pigs tend to prefer temperatures around 64-73°F (18-23°C).
Plus, did you know that guinea pigs don’t have sweat glands? As such, unlike us hoomans, it’s much more difficult for them to stay cool, as their bodies have no natural way of being able to regulate temperature. This makes your little furball extremely sensitive to even the smallest changes in heat and humidity.
In fact, piggies are far more able to tolerate cooler temperatures than warmer climates. Whilst it’s more common to hear of hypothermia when it comes to freezing conditions, when it comes to guinea pigs it is hyperthermia - or a high body temperature - which is a much more distinct possibility and a bigger cause of emergency veterinary visits.
Guinea pigs are so susceptible to heat stress that hyperthermia can occur even at temperatures as low as 75°F (24°C). However, heatstroke is more typically seen at 82°F (28°C) and above. An escalating body temperature in your little piggy is a major cause for concern because heat stress can have a serious physiological impact on the body with disastrous results, potentially even damaging their vital internal organs.
The 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 heatstroke in as little as 10 minutes. Below are some common situations where guinea pigs can suffer from the heat:
- Being left next to radiators and hot vents
- Positioned next to a sunny window or direct sunlight
- Taken outside on a hot day
- Being placed in a conservatory
- Sitting in a warm vehicle
What temperature is too hot for guinea pigs?
Like us, piggies tend to do best in a temperate environment. Think of a cool but pleasant Spring day, when temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold. For guinea pigs, they feel most comfortable when temperatures fall between 64-73°F (18-23°C).
When temperatures rise above 73°F (23°C), guinea pigs can start to become overheated, which can quickly lead to negative effects in their body. Temperatures above 78°F (26°C) can lead to heatstroke in just 10-15 minutes, so it's important to keep a watchful eye on them when the weather (or home in the case of heating) becomes hot.
The Signs of Heat Stroke in Guinea Pigs
Any signs that your pig is suffering from heatstroke may be subtle at first. However, if you notice any changes to their usually curious and alert nature - like appearing slower or more lethargic - then these could be some crucial first signs that your guinea pig is overheating. Whatever you do, don’t ignore these early warnings!
As heatstroke progresses in severity, you may notice that your guinea pig is breathing more rapidly than usual. This can be observed if you keep an eye on their chest, which will be moving more quickly than usual. Panting and labored, open-mouthed breathing are typical accompanying symptoms.
If your piggy is suffering from the heat, they may also drool excessively or lie limply on their side. In a deteriorating turn of events, they could experience convulsions and even seizures. Symptoms can go from bad to worse within a matter of minutes, so it’s crucial to address them quickly. If left untreated, your guinea pig runs the risk of falling into a coma, or even death.
To recap the most common signs of heatstroke in guinea pigs, you should keep an eye out for:
- Body weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Hot to touch
- Agitated or restless
- Heavy breathing or panting
- Drooling or salivating
- Convulsions (muscle spasms) or seizures
I think my guinea pig is suffering from heatstroke. What do I do?
If you’ve identified that your guinea pig is showing signs of suffering from heat stroke, then try not to panic. There are some simple and effective ways to alleviate their symptoms and get their body temperature back down to a normal level.
Your first instinct may be to submerge them in a bath of cold water. However, be aware that this could actually make things a whole lot worse. The cold water and extreme temperature change could be a fatal shock that results in cardiac arrest.
Instead, follow the below steps carefully to bring their temperature down to safe levels in a controlled way.
Step 1: Remove the heat source
Firstly, you should do the obvious and remove your guinea pig from the main cause of heat stress. Your pig will only worsen from being left in the same situation as you’ve found them, as their body continues to increase.
For instance, if your guinea pig is outside in a hot hutch, remove them from this environment and bring them inside to an air-conditioned room to relieve them from the heat. Alternatively, if your piggy’s cage is too close to a heat source like a radiator or vent, then take them to a cooler spot. Once their ordeal is over, you’ll want to ensure you move their cage to a more temperate location so it doesn’t happen again.
Step 2: Help them cool down
One of the quickest ways for your guinea pigs to cool down is by simply laying on a cool pad. One touch of the paws and your guinea pig will immediately feel relief from the heat. Kavee has designed a Keep Your Kool Cooling Mat for guinea pigs that works instantly without the need for water or electricity. Simply add it to their cages and your furry friends will be able to cool down in the comfort of their pet palaces whenever needed.
Additionally, you can provide extra relief through their ears, as they are one of the most exposed parts of their body. This area is ideal to apply a couple of drops of rubbing alcohol, or cold - not freezing! - drops of water to help provide some relief. A few drops will help cool down their circulating blood.
Step 3: Dampen and shorten your piggy’s fur
As mentioned previously, it's important to note that you should never pour or submerge your guinea pig in water during a heatstroke. 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 heart failure.
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, soak the fabric in cool water and squeeze it so that any excess water is removed. Then, gently dab the towel around your guinea pig’s back. Do this only for a couple of minutes so as not to cool them down too quickly.
Another thing that can provide great relief would be removing any dead hair and knots from their fur with a thorough groom. You can find all the equipment to groom a guinea pig in our Pawfectly Pampered grooming kit.
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 to an unresponsive pet as choking can occur.
Step 5: Seek veterinary care
Even if you think you have the situation under control, it’s vital that you take a heat-stressed guinea pig to receive veterinary care. Your guinea pig will likely need to have electrolytes replenished via IV, as well as further assessment to ascertain the extent of damage the heat has caused. If you are in need of finding a local vet, Kavee has created a free exotic vet map for the USA and Canada here.
If you will be taking your guinea pig to the vet by car, then ensure that your guinea pig is placed in a 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 is the best place to shield them from direct sunlight.
How to Prevent Heat Stroke in Guinea Pigs
As with most things in life, prevention really is the best cure! And the good news is that heatstroke is completely preventable when the appropriate measures are taken. Here are some practical tips that every responsible cavy owner can follow to ensure their little ball of fluff stays cool in the summer heat!
Avoid taking your piggy outside on hot days
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 as often as possible during the spring and summer months. Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of the pleasant weather?
As nice as a warm summer’s day can be, there are certain hours when the heat can be particularly intense (even for us humans, so definitely for piggies!). This is when the sun rises to its highest point in the sky, so think carefully about taking your guinea pigs outside between the hours of 11am - 3pm (and still be wary anywhere between 10am - 4pm), as this is usually the hottest part of the day.
Move your piggy’s cage away from heat sources
If your guinea pig lives 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 is often intense, which could result in heatstroke.
On the other hand, if your piggy lives outdoors, then bring them inside during hot weather. C&C cages are a great alternative to traditional pet shop cages and hutches. They can be set up within minutes to provide your guinea pigs with a spacious temporary or permanent space to keep cool.
Make sure your piggy always has water
In warm weather, make sure to check the level of your piggy’s water bottle more frequently. They'll be sipping more in hotter weather in order to stay hydrated so make sure you keep their water clean and fresh with regular top-ups.
Create areas for your guinea pig to cool down
During 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 halfway and pop it in the freezer, then wrap it in a towel and place it directly into your piggy’s cage for them to snuggle up to.
Heat Stroke in Guinea Pigs FAKs - Frequently Asked Kavees
What temperature is too hot for guinea pigs in Fahrenheit?
Guinea pigs should be kept in temperatures between 65-75°F (18-23°C). They are sensitive to extremes in temperature, so anything above 80°F (26.5°C) or below 60°F (15.5°C) is detrimental to their health.
Do guinea pigs like hot or cold weather?
Piggies do best in temperatures between 65-75°F (18-23°C). If the temperature drops below 59°F (15°C), your guinea pig can get chilled. If it gets hotter than 79°F (26°C), on the other hand, they're at risk of heatstroke. Guinea pigs prefer cooler temperatures over warmer temperatures.
Can guinea pigs recover from heatstroke?
Recovery from heatstroke is possible, but how well a guinea pig recovers is largely dependent on the severity and duration of their condition. Whilst intense heat may cause fatalities quickly, milder cases of heat stress will likely be able to be recovered from and inflict no long-lasting damage.