Heatstroke: Prevention Is Better Than Cure!

It has been brought to my attention, very sadly, that an RCVS trained veterinarian has stated on social media that guinea pigs self-regulate their body temperature so cope fine with temperature extremes and changes.

I and many others refute this claim in the strongest terms. Guinea pigs do not pant to release body heat. Guinea pigs do not sweat to cool their body. Because they do not pant or sweat they cannot tolerate extreme heat.

Please do not compare our guinea pigs in the UK with guinea pigs in Australia. UK guinea pigs are kept in different environments e.g. no fans built into the ceiling, no air-con as standard, and they are born into and are accustomed to a far cooler and damper climate.

I have yet to find the time (and health as I’ve suffered myself) to get the infosheet together as promised so for now, please take the following guidance. Share as you see fit.

Firstly, prevention is better than cure. Sometimes you can save a pig from heatstroke. Sometimes you will find them already dead. Don’t let them be innocent victims of the latter.

Feed and give fresh water as normal. Fresh water twice a day, even. However, DON’T overfeed veg. As tempting as it is to feed more fresh fruit and veg to get more fluid into them, or to feed it to them nice and chilled and refreshing from the fridge, DON’T. Let it come to room temp and feed AS NORMAL. Changing the diet especially by giving very cold or excessive fresh food is a leading cause of bloat and diarrhoea. Bloat is often fatal, diarrhoea will weaken the pig so much that heatstroke is even more likely due to severe dehydration.

Pigs can still be put out to grass in this weather BUT only early morning (Before 8am) or late evening (After 7pm) provided full shade and fresh water is available, and the pig is accustomed to time on the grass. Pigs must be supervised at all times as always.

Keep them out of direct sunlight even if they’re indoors. Keep curtains closed to prevent the full heat of the sun increasing their room temperature still higher. If in a shed, ventilate well – doors and windows open, fans out of their access but assisting movement of air in the shed, or an air con unit placed in the shed (NOT IN CAGES OR HUTCHES).

Pigs live outside in a hutch? Do NOT cover a hutch or cage to shade it. This will suffocate the inhabitants! Instead you must completely move it out of the sun and beware the moving sun. Full shade is essential. Consider that even in the shade and in sheds, the standard wooden hutch will be on average a minimum of 10 degrees higher than the air temp you feel outside the hutch. Guineas handle temps of around 15 to 20 degrees Celsius best, any higher they are at risk of heatstroke. Elderly, young, pregnant, lactating or ill guinea pigs are at even higher risk.

Refresh water bottles twice daily, and make sure the inside of the bottles AND the bottle SPOUTS are clean otherwise bacteria will breed rapidly in this heat and cause illness.

If you suspect heatstroke and you are in doubt on conflicting info from sources you trust equally, I tend to go middle ground. So in this instance using the example of the CCT and LA GP Rescue, personally I would stand a non-collapsed heatstruck pig in cool-tepid water that covers their feet. Depth is not the focus, but the aim of the process is. As a younger guinea pig will be lower to the ground than an adult the measure becomes a little debatable here. As such I understand the most important part is the ‘covering the guinea pigs feet’ as opposed to sticking to 2 inches regardless of where it reaches on the guinea pig. The aim is to cool the blood circulating in the body of the stricken animal, and the safest gradual way to achieve this is to cover the feet with cool water until some strength is regained.

A collapsed guinea pig is a dying guinea pig. In this case the guinea pig gets wrapped in cool damp towels and taken to a vet IMMEDIATELY for subcutaneous fluids, a dose of diuretic to stop fluid building up the lungs as is common with heatstroke victims, and oxygen therapy if no response to the former.

Do not attempt to give oral fluids or food to a collapsed guinea pig. They will be too weak to swallow, and will aspirate anything given orally, causing potentially fatal pneumonia. Injected (subcutaneous) fluids are the only safe option and are vital to survival.

If the animal CAN stand and move, you must give fluids very carefully, rehydration fluids such as Dioralyte are essential to replace electrolytes and salts as well as fluids. Give just a few drops at a time onto the guinea pigs tongue, keep going with this for as long as it takes to see improvement AND TO GET TO A VET FOR ADDITIONAL FLUIDS AND DIURETIC.

I have lots more advice as far as this goes (it was my job) and in 15 years have never had to deal with heatstroke in any of my pigs or my clients pigs. I will put the full info up, which is considerably more detailed, ASAP.

In the meantime please pass this around, share, SAVE LIVES.


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