Baths for Guinea Pigs don't carry the same dangers as bathing rabbits and chinchillas. Guinea pigs like to think they're tougher than the buns (little man complex, perhaps), and aren't likely to go into shock like rabbits. They also don't have the dense fur of chinchillas, so drying them thoroughly isn't as challenging. However, guinea pigs differ from their GIANT cousin the capybara in that most aren't a huge fan of water.
While an occasional bath done properly is safe for guinea pigs, they don't need them like your mud-loving, grass-rolling pupperino. They fall closer to cats on the OCD scale, and instinctively take care of most grooming on their own. A noticeable foul odor is a sign something is awry with the environment or piggie himself. Reach for the phone to call the vet rather than the shampoo.
Proceed with caution
Guinea pigs are sensitive to temperature changes just like other rodents, which is one of the reasons bathing regularly isn't recommended. Damp hair can keep their little bodies too cool, and that chill can set the pig up for an upper respiratory infection (URI). These "colds" aren't the minor inconvenience they are for us. Guinea pigs don't get over a respiratory infection without antibiotics. As prey animals and excellent secret keepers, they instinctively hide illness like champs. URIs can progress rapidly into pneumonia, becoming increasingly difficult to treat by the time your piggin lets on he is having trouble.
Guinea pigs also have sensitive skin, much more delicate than even human babies' skin. Frequent baths can strip the natural oils from the skin. Many see a guinea pig with dry, itchy skin or dandruff and think a bath may soothe them. This can create a viscous cycle for guinea pigs with especially sensitive skin. The best way to keep the skin healthy is to let them do their own thing in the beauty department (along with a proper diet, of course).
Note: A guinea pig with itching and skin issues may be suffering from mites or a fungal infection. Bathing a guinea pig with mites can cause these little pests to burrow deeper, increasing irritation and making them harder to treat. Parasites will not "drown" and need to be treated with a safe anti-parasitic drug like ivermectin. Your vet may prescribe certain anti-fungal shampoos if skin problems are fungal in nature. A proper diagnosis from an exotic vet is a must when it comes to skin flare-ups, as treatment for one problem could worsen another.
Lifeguard on duty
If a bath can't be avoided, be sure to never leave your guinea pig unattended during a bath session. The kitchen sink is a good size for bathing a guinea pig, but you'd be surprised how a stressed guinea pig can suddenly sprout springs for legs. There's no rule against treats in the bathtub for a not-so-subtle distraction.
It's important to keep them calm and keep the water very shallow - just an inch or two, not above the belly. Using a measuring cup to pour fresh water over the guinea pig before and after sudsing up is preferable. Always keep the head dry, never allowing water near the ears, eyes, mouth, or nose. Putting a washcloth at the bottom of the basin or sink can help their little feet grip so they don't feel like they are slipping. Bonus tip: Prior to bath time, give your boar's grease gland a little massage with some coconut oil. The "gunk" will loosen quickly and easily at bath time.
When it's time for the main event, be sure you have an guinea pig-safe shampoo ready to go. Dish soap, even the kind safe for animals, is too harsh for a guinea pig's sensitive skin. There's a reason it's used to save animals from oil spills! Remember that guinea pigs groom themselves constantly, unlike doggos, so it's important the shampoo doesn't contain toxic ingredients. Natural doesn't always mean safe, either (many essential oils can be harmful when ingested or inhaled, for example). In general, human soaps and shampoos aren't the best choice. Baby shampoo is better for the pH of guinea pig skin and can work in a pinch, but it's best to invest in a small animal shampoo made specifically for them.
When bath time is over, you want to keep your peeved pal as warm as possible. Turn up the thermostat, wrap him in a warm towel for a quick cuddle, and settle in for a pampering session with a blow dryer on low heat. You don't want to burn your piggie's skin or overheat him, but you do want him mostly dry before he goes back in his cage. Mission accomplished! Maybe wait a few days before pedicures to stay on his good side.
Keeping odor at bay
Your fresh, soft guinea pig may work on getting his natural hay scent back in retaliation as quickly as possible. While that's nothing to worry about, a true stench isn't normal. Rather than frequent bathing, look at the source of the smell. Guinea pigs love to play, sleep, eat, and potty in a big pile of lush hay. If the wet hay aroma isn't your cup of tea, buy in bulk so you can toss daily and replace guilt-free. Rearranging the cage to create a "kitchen" area will keep most waste around the water bottle and food and out of sleeping areas. Frequent cage cleanings will help, too. Are you spot cleaning daily and changing a high-quality, absorbent bedding regularly? Try cleaning the cage itself with a white vinegar/water mixture to get rid of any lingering urine stink.
Long-haired breeds of guinea pigs will benefit from regular trims. Not only will this prevent tangled, matted fur, but it will eliminate the source of most odor. These beauty kings seem to think urine spray is the next biggest thing in leave-in treatments. If his definition of "just a trim" and yours differs, compromise with booty baths. You can cut down on the frequency of full baths by just washing the area that needs it most.
Still have a stinky pig after taking these measures? Odor can be a sign of some medical problems. Bad breath, sprig of parsley or not, isn't normal. Smell from the mouth can be a sign of dental complications from overgrown back molars. A stinky back end can signify the start of impaction, especially in the fellas. Check your smelly guinea pig thoroughly for other signs of infection, and always ask your vet if you have concerns.
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