On average a dog owner can spend an average of $60-$100 on dog grooming (per session)- usually more depending on the dog’s size, type of hair/fur and special treatments like de-matting. But what about guinea pigs? Do they need spa days to soak in the tub?
Guinea pig don’t need baths. They take care of their own grooming, and no help is required from owners. However, there may occasionally be exceptions to the rule, when you may want to bathe them. These may include when they are in old-age, or have a medical issue that stops them from grooming.
Guinea pigs are generally experts in keeping themselves really clean. However, there are a few complex issues involved that it is worth knowing about.
I’m going to take a look at all the reasons why not to bathe your guinea pig, some exceptions to the rule and what to do, any other hygiene issues for guinea pigs, and everything else you need to know.
Self-Grooming in Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs usually take care of their own grooming and need very little help from their owners. Much like cats, guinea pigs use their tongues to clean the areas that they can reach (which is surprisingly a lot of areas).
For the areas that they can’t reach like their face and ears, they will lick their hands and rub any grime that they detect in those areas [Source].
So if you see a guinea pig rubbing their face, don’t be alarmed that they are itchy or uncomfortable – they are just doing their job!
Self-Grooming Decline with Age in Guinea Pigs
Self-grooming tends to decline with age. Guinea pigs may become less and less flexible and limber with age, which makes twisting and turning to clean themselves more difficult.
You may notice as your guinea pig’s coat isn’t as shiny as it once was, or they just overall begin to smell more strongly or look more untidy. This unfortunately is a part of their aging process.
You may have to help them out at times, especially to prevent grime and yuck from building up. Without proper grooming, your long-haired guinea pig can develop painful matting that can be uncomfortable and limit mobility.
Additionally, build up of dirt on the hair and skin can lead to skin breakdown and lead to a nasty skin infection that can quickly spread and infiltrate into the other body systems.
If you have a young guinea pig who starts to show some decline in their grooming habits, this should be a sign to you to have them checked out by a vet. They could not be feeling well, and they maybe are lacking the energy to part-take in this cleaning ritual.
Guinea pigs who have joint problems may not be as flexible and may find it hard or painful to reach certain areas which can lead to an overall decline in grooming.
Why Should I NOT Bathe My Guinea Pig?
Even though your guinea pig may not need a bath, maybe you just really want them to smell like coconuts. Is there any harm in bathing my guinea pig? Well the true answer is bathing your guinea pig although is not directly going to cause insult or injury, improper bathing could be potentially harmful.
Cold and Wet, Hot and Wet – Guinea Pigs and Water
To begin with, guinea pigs are known to be sensitive to temperature which can make bathing tricky.
Water that is too hot can easily overheat a guinea pig and potentially irritate or even burn their skin.
In contrast, water that is too cold could stun a guinea pig leading to hypothermia and or shock that could be life-threatening.
Even if the temperature of the water is just right, damp hair can also be troublesome to guinea pigs. Even if the water was the perfect temperature at one point, damp hair can cause the guinea pig to become quiet cold which could ultimately lead to a dangerous complication like a respiratory infection.
This could easily progress and worsen very quickly to a point where even antibiotics may not even be enough to prevent progression and illness [Source].
Sensitive Skin in Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs naturally have quite sensitive skin and it can easily become irritated and inflamed leading to nasty skin infections.
Even if you are taking all the right precautions, bathing frequently can actually cause the hair of the guinea pig (and their skin) to lose the oils the body naturally secretes.
This can cause their skin to become chronically dry which may cause the guinea pig’s skin to become very itchy and lead to scaling and flaking of the skin. Their coat can become dry and brittle as well and lose its natural shine and even start falling out!
Accidental Water Intake/Drowning in Guinea Pigs
Although guinea pigs may have the ability to swim, it’s not something your guinea pig probably does often. They can easily panic and become tired and drown.
If they manage to keep their heads above water they can still get water into their ears, mouth and nose. This water could cause a nasty ear infection or lung infection depending on where the water travels too [Source].
If you do choose to bathe your guinea pig, you should make sure the water is very shallow or don’t even have them submerged in water to begin with.
If you suspect your guinea pig may have inhaled water and find them coughing or making gurgling sounds, you should take them to a vet immediately.
When is it Okay to Bathe My Guinea Pig?
There are some instances where bathing may be absolutely necessary and should be done in a safe and proper manner.
My Guinea Pig Rolled in Something…Icky
If you guinea pig has gotten exceptionally filthy with mud, urine or “who knows what” the benefit of bathing them may out weigh the risk [Source].
Leaving mud, feces, soil on the guinea pig could lead to break down and irritation of the skin. Not to mention your guinea pig may take it upon themself to clean up the mess which may lead to them ingesting potential toxic materials.
Medical Reasons to Bathe Your Guinea Pig
Medically, it may be necessary to bathe your guinea pig. If your guinea pig is suffering from a fungal or parasite infection, many times vets will prescribe a medicated shampoo to be used.
Directions should be followed and bathing should be kept to the minimum amount the treatment requires.
Additionally fleas, mange, mites and other skin infestations may also require bathing. Again, it is best to consult your veterinarian if you have suspicion that your guinea pig may require this type of treatment.
Bathing for Competition for Your Guinea Pig
For competitions and showing, you may need to bathe your guinea pig (especially the long-haired breeds). You may also need to part-take in other grooming like brushing, trimming hair and nail clipping.
Do your homework to see what that particular competition requires. If you’re not very experienced, call upon a professional to help you and/or teach you. You’d hate to have a bad hair day the night before the show!
Guinea Pig Friendly Bathing Products
If you do decide to bathe your guinea pig with shampoo not prescribed by your vet, make sure the shampoo is guinea-pig friendly. Do not use shampoos used for humans or even your disk soap under your sink.
You should be looking for shampoo that is made for guinea pigs and has ingredients tailored to the skin and coat of your pet [Source].
Just because the shampoo says “natural” or “pet safe” doesn’t mean it can be used on guinea pigs specifically, so read carefully!
Waterless Shampoo and Grooming Wipes
Another great option may be waterless or dry shampoo.
You can still do a good amount of cleaning and refreshing your guinea pig’s coat without risking them being cold and wet or potentially getting water in areas of their body that they shouldn’t.
Waterless shampoo may not do the trick always, but it may prolong time between bathing or cut down the number of times you have to actually bathe.
Additionally, grooming wipes can be a great tool to use for added convenience. Guinea pigs aren’t fairly big, so you can maximize your pack of wipes by cutting the sheets in half.
These can be great for a quick grooming session, grooming on the go, or grooming at competition. Just like all bathing products, make sure these are guinea pig friendly.
Baby wipes are not a substitute for guinea pig grooming wipes and should be avoided.
Other Helpful Products
- Medium stiffness toothbrush for gentle scrubbing
- Small bowl to pour water over your pet, instead of having them directly under running water
- Sponge to help with distributing shampoo
- Small pet bathing tub
- Small sink mat or wash cloth to provide grip so your guinea pig isn’t nervous slipping on slick surfaces
- Microfiber cloths for drying
- Hair dryer with low heat setting – preferable one that is quiet!
- Cotton balls to protect the ears from the water. Be careful not too push them too far into the ears!
- Small narrow toothed comb for long haired breeds
- Detangler spray for long haired breeds
How Else Can I Keep My Guinea Pig Clean?
Cage cleanliness is ultimately the best way to keep your guinea pig not only filth free, but healthy!
Using an absorbent bedding will help soak up urine and keep your guinea pig from rolling around in wet stinky waste. Changing your bedding regularly will also help leave less dirty areas.
Having separate areas in your enclosure can also cut down the amount of grime in the crate, and may even help you not have to change the bedding as frequently.
Litter pan training is a great way to have all your guinea’s pig waste in one area. It may not stop them from laying in their own “potty”, so make sure there is plenty of room in your enclosure to create more friendly and fun areas for your guinea pig to hang out.
Your guinea pig may also tend to lie next to their food and/or water bowl or bottle. Putting a small rubber mat under where your guinea pig eats may help from food being spilled and spread around.
Make sure if you choose to give your water in a bowl, that the bowl is heavy enough not to be easily knocked over. This can cause bedding to become soaked and your pet to become damp and have debris stick onto their coat more easily.
Water bottles can be equally troublesome. Inspect your water bottle every now and again for malfunctions or cracks in the bottle that may cause water to leak out.
To Bathe Or Not to Bathe My Guinea Pig?
At the end of the day, you can bathe your guinea pig if you so choose. Young, healthy guinea pigs can more than likely handle their own grooming and don’t require bathing.
Other times, circumstances may come about that it would be beneficial to bathe your guinea pig. If you do so, do safely by picking the right products and take proper precautions.
Never leave your guinea pig unattended in a bath tub, sink or otherwise.
Although you may be trying to be helpful, excessive bathing (or even the occasional bath) may end up causing more harm than good.
There are a lot of options out there that can potentially substitute baths, decrease the amount of bathing necessary, or prolong time between baths.
Bathing is important at times, but don’t neglect the other care your guinea pig can’t do on their own! This includes nail trimming, ear cleaning, dental care and of course routine veterinarian care and vaccination (if you so choose).
Guinea pigs can be quite self-sufficient as far as their grooming regimens are concerned, but occasionally they do need a little help! A weekly dip isn’t necessary, but the occasional scrub may be warranted, so make sure you have the required supplies ready for action!
Metropolitan Guinea PIG RESCUE. (n.d.). Retrieved May 07, 2021, from http://mgpr.org/newsite/GP_Info/gpCare.htm
Perkins, . (2014, February 19). How do guinea pigs clean themselves? Retrieved May 07, 2021, from http://www.onlineguineapigcare.com/guinea-pigs-clean/
Routine Health Care of Guinea Pigs By Katherine E. Quesenberry, By, Quesenberry, K., Donnelly, T., & Last full review/revision Nov 2019 | Content last modified Dec 2019. (n.d.). Routine health care of guinea pigs – all other pets. Retrieved May 07, 2021, from https://www.merckvetmanual.com/all-other-pets/guinea-pigs/routine-health-care-of-guinea-pigs