The average lifespan for a guinea pig is about five to seven years. Many vets consider four-year-old guinea pigs to be approaching their golden years, but there is no hard and fast rule. It's almost impossible to gauge the age of an adult guinea pig after they are full grown. We treasure every year we have with our rescue piggies, never knowing how much time we really have.
Just like us, guinea pigs age differently and at different rates. Signs of aging appear earlier in some guinea pigs, and later in others. A senior guinea pig may lose muscle tone and weight. She may become less active (fewer popcorns and more naps) and stop using ramps. An X-ray can confirm arthritis, often obvious in the knees, and other medical concerns may start to pop up, like dental problems.
Keeping your senior comfortable
Senior guinea pigs spend more time sleeping and less time exploring, so it's important to make their environment a cozy one. Soft bedding and plush beds will be appreciated. Ramps may pose a new challenge. Consider converting a two-story cage to create more first-floor space. Hold off on frequent redecorating, though. Seniors may suffer from vision loss and will feel more secure knowing where to expect their furniture and accessories.
Senior guinea pigs tend to stay in one spot longer, so be sure to spot clean daily and change the bedding more frequently, if needed. Long haired pigs may benefit from a trim, especially around the back end. Seniors seem to become less concerned with their self-cleaning beauty routine as time goes on.
Watching for health issues
Guinea pigs, as prey animals, hide illness like it's their job. Instinctively, it IS their job in the wild. With seniors, it becomes extra important to catch health problems early on. One of the easiest ways to pick up on a health issue early is to weigh weekly, and more frequently in aging or ill guinea pigs.
Weight loss is commonly the first sign that something is awry. This could be simple, such as pain from arthritis that's easily managed with medication from your vet. Or, it could be a sign there is something more going on. Older guinea pigs can suffer from heart failure, kidney trouble, and overgrown molars, among other ailments - all that begin with vague symptoms.
Ladies and gentlepigs
Female guinea pigs are prone to ovarian cysts as they age. She may seem extra moody, mount her cagemates, lose hair on either side of the belly, and develop crusty nipples. Normally, spaying a guinea pig is the recommended course of action. However, not all seniors are ideal surgical patients. Talk to your vet about alternative treatments and how to monitor your ladypig if surgery isn't a good option for her.
Male guinea pigs come with their own problems later in life. Loss of muscle tone is a normal part of aging. In boy pigs, this can lead to impaction. He may not be able to expel the soft caecal pellets that accumulate in the perineal sack. Your guinea pig may need help for the rest of his life cleaning this area out so poop doesn't get backed up. Offering the removed material can provide important nutrients. If they don't eat it, a vitamin B supplement may be necessary. Providing a high-fiber diet (unlimited grass hay) can help prevent the condition in all guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs may become skinny pigs
Not the hairless variety (although a former fluff losing hair should be seen by a vet ASAP)! Weight loss tends to plague senior animals and worry their human counterparts endlessly. Weight loss that's accompanied by drooling, a foul odor, an interest in food but inability to eat, dropping pellets instead of chewing them, neglecting to eat hay and tough foods like corn husks, and biting veggies into little pieces but spitting them out signifies tooth problem. Older cavies are more prone to tooth trouble because loss of muscle tone in the jaw can cause molars to wear unevenly.
If overgrown molars and other illnesses have been ruled out, weight loss isn't as scary. That being said, a skinny pig is at a disadvantage if the DO become ill or need to go under anesthesia down the line, so putting on a few ounces can offer insurance. Senior guinea pigs can be allowed some extra treat foods like raw oats and corn on the cob. Offering a variety of hays and sprinkling some fragrant herbal blends on their hay may entice them to keep eating as much as they should.
Senior guinea pigs can still enjoy satisfying lives and even stronger bonds with you. Floor time might just be replaced with extended cuddle sessions ... no complaints here.