CARING FOR A SKINNY PIG
The care of hairless (skinny) guinea pigs is very similar to ordinary guinea pigs in some ways because they eat a similar diet and need similar caging/bedding but there are some very very important differences!
Firstly and most importantly .......
Skinny guinea pigs MUST be kept warm at all times. This is so important that I cannot repeat it often enough -
Hairless Guinea Pigs MUST be kept WARM AT ALL TIMES!!!!
If you do not, they will die and this can happen in just an hour or two!!
Because they have little or no fur they have no natural means of keeping warm. Just imagine what it would be like as a human if you wore no clothes all of the time. Their cage needs to be kept at a minimum of 20 degrees C (68 degrees F) continually (ie 24 hours per day, 7 days per week!) and ideally a few degrees warmer. This usually means the room their cage is in should be heated continuously during winter!! This is especially important with very young hairless guinea pigs because as their body mass is so low they will get cold very quickly if not kept somewhere warm. Putting loads of straw in the cage and a blanket over the cage is not enough. If you are relying on central heating to keep the room where they are kept warm the heating must be kept on throughout the night. If you cannot afford this then some alternative source of heating, Ie, a small/medium ( 7 - 10 kw ) heatmat, should be used when the main house heating is turned off. The heatmat must be place outside the cage, underneath 1 half of the cage. This will enable your skinny pig to be able to have a cooler end if she/he gets a bit too warm. If you cannot afford to give skinnies a warm place to live then you cannot afford to keep hairless guinea pigs.
The first time you handle one can come as a surprise if you are only used to handling ordinary guinea pigs as skinny guinea pigs are so warm to hold!
They aren't really any hotter, but because there is almost no fur to insulate them you feel their body heat immediately - so make sure your hands are warm first otherwise you will give them quite a shock!
But don't go to the other extreme and overheat them! I don't know exactly what the maximum safe temperature is that they can be kept at, but I guess its probably around 30 degrees C (86 degrees F). If you are in their room with only a tee shirt on yourself and you feel cold then its too cold for your skinny guinea pigs! Or if you feel uncomfortably hot then its probably too hot for them as well.
A typical cage layout needs to have plenty of space inside the 'cage'. Give plenty of fresh hay ( laid over the top of several sheets of newspaper or 'Carefresh'), to help absorb the copious amounts of wee and poop.
Towels and fleece throws/blankets can also be used for the inside of the cage. Put towels down 1st for absorbance with the fleece over the towels. Any wee will go through the fleece and be absorbed by the towels, which can be washed and re-used being easier on the pocket/purse
C and C cages are becoming popular housing for piggies as they can be built to your own design. Coroplast is used with this type of cage and paper and fleece for the flooring.
A good sized water bottle, dry guinea pig food, fresh vegetables and hay. ( I use Timothy hay )
Underneath ONLY half the cage, I place a heatmat, (the same type you use on vivariums for lizards and other reptiles), giving them the option of whether they want to lounge around on the warm hay by the heatmat or move to the cooler end of the cage.
In addition to this each Skinny should have a cozy sack/sleeping bag. Cozies are essential for Skinnies so that they don't lose a lot of body heat while they are sleeping. This heat conservation cuts down on their calorie burn which helps them to maintain a normal body weight. Plastic igloos do not have enough insulation and are inadequate. Putting clothes on a Skinny (unless it is just for a few minutes to take a picture) is not recommended.
Housing Skinnies above floor level is recommended, because hot air rises it can be cold and drafty on the floor. Always warm up your hands before picking up your Skinny, icy cold fingers and hands on bare skin can be very unpleasant! If your Skinny always sleeps in an upright position with legs tucked in, this can be an indication that he/she is not kept warm enough.
Average is 4.5 years with a potential of 5 - 6 years with proper care. Some Skinnies have lived to be 7 years old.
It is a myth that Skinnies need to have their skin oiled. Their natural skin oil is sufficient. It is best to leave the skin alone unless medical treatment is needed. Bathing can dry out the skin and leave it vulnerable. Don't bathe more often than you would a haired guinea pig. Skinnies sometimes get a build up of skin oil on their backs, removing this can leave the skin underneath dry and chapped. For any dry skin patches I use E45 cream sparingly for a couple of days, which usually sorts it out.
Do not use harsh or scented detergents on your Skinnies' cloth accessories, these can cause skin irritations. Running them through an extra rinse cycle will help to remove detergent residue. Since Skinnies have no barrier to protect their skin from urine and dirt, their bedding must be kept clean and dry at all times. It is recommended to use high quality litter/bedding such as Carefresh and spot clean when it gets wet. Fleece does not completely wick the moisture/urine and is not the best choice for hairless guinea pigs. You can clean your Skinny with a damp wash cloth if necessary. Using commercial wipes is not recommended because of perfume and other chemicals.
Hairless guinea-pigs can get lice/mites. You can treat for lice/mites as you would a haired pig.
Hydration levels can be determined by the skin wrinkles. A few skin wrinkles are normal on Skinnies, a well hydrated Skinny will be mostly smooth, excessively wrinkled skin is a symptom of dehydration
Most scratches can be avoided. Don't house your Skinny with an aggressive cage mate. Keep nails trimmed as you would any guinea pig. Also use an emery board to smooth off any rough edges of the nail to prevent self inflicted scratches from grooming. Vertical hay racks reduce the possibility of hay pokes to the skin which can lead to abscesses. Make sure there is not anything sharp in your Skinnies' environment, such as zip ties, splinters in wood or grass houses and flashing inside plastic igloos or anything else that you use. If your Skinny does get a minor scratch, use an animal safe antiseptic solution.
To maintain integrity Skinnies should be out crossed to haired carriers at least every other generation. This is an important step in the breeding process which cannot be overlooked without serious negative consequences. Inbreeding and close line breeding are very risky and increase the chance of remutation. Skinnies should never be inbred; In labs where they are healthy, they are always outbred.
Successive multiple hairless to hairless breeding can produce animals that are smaller, weaker and have a shortened life expectancy due to remutation. Some of these animals may appear healthy at first, but can decline suddenly and rapidly. They can also pass these problems on to their offspring. Once this degeneration occurs, it can be difficult to restore breeding stock to healthy status. Cutting corners is unfair to the animal and your carelessness could end up being someone else's heartache and high vet bills.
As a breed Skinnies are not predisposed to any particular genetic defects or illnesses. Healthy Skinnies are similar to normal haired guinea pigs except for their hairlessness, with a normal activity level and normal food/water consumption. Even though they may look smaller because of their lack of hair, healthy Skinnies should have a comparable weight to that of haired guinea pigs.
Skinnies can get any illnesses that haired guinea pigs can; after all they are first and foremost still guinea pigs. Not meeting their temperature requirements will cause them to be more susceptible to illness. Just like their haired counterparts Skinnies can be healthy or sickly, this depends on individual genetics, competent veterinary care and you.
For Baldwin care sheet click the heading below.