Spaying and neutering is now a well-known and accepted practice to prevent both health and behavioral issues in dogs, cats, and even rabbits. It’s a little more complicated when it comes to guinea pigs though. Surgery of any kind in guinea pigs is still considered fairly risky. It's important for us, as owners, to address every surgery with consideration of dangers and benefits when spaying or neutering your guinea pig.
Is it Necessary to Spay/Neuter Guinea Pigs?
Guinea pigs don’t need to be routinely spayed and neutered unless there is an underlying reason – the most obvious being to prevent pregnancy. It is largely an elective procedure so a male and female can live together. Because it takes time for live sperm to die and work its way out of the system, wait at least a month before letting the male and female interact. Some vets recommend six or even up to eight weeks to be 100% sure the female won’t still wind up pregnant.
While de-sexing other animals usually has a positive effect on behavior, guinea pigs are the exception. Neutering a gentlepig will make him no less aggressive (or, ahem, “passionate”) and will not change his behavior toward other males or females. If he doesn’t like his fellow roomies now, neutering won’t change this.
With all this being said, it is worth noting that for particularly well-endowed fellas, neutering may decrease the chance of impaction later in life. It may also reduce waxy scent gland build-up (although, psst… a dab of coconut oil is a way more affordable solution).
Spay the Female or Neuter the Male?
Spaying a female guinea pig is usually considered more risky than neutering a male because it is more invasive. Not only does it require more time under anesthesia, but is involves making an incision through the abdomen and removing that ladypig’s internal organs. Some exotic veterinarians are now recommending an ovariectomy with flank incisions, where only the ovaries are removed. However, if she already has ovarian cysts (common in sows over three years old), a full spay is usually still needed to prevent future uterine tumors.
While neutering a male cavy is generally considered safer, removing the female sex organs means she won’t get ovarian cysts or uterine tumors in the future (an obvious health benefit). Guinea pigs who develop problems with the reproductive organs may need to be spayed regardless. Signs to watch for include hair loss on either side of the belly, a sensitive abdomen, prolonged moodiness, mammary tumors, crusty nipples, and incontinence/discharge.
Considerations Before Surgery
Guinea pigs are more susceptible to anesthesia reactions, stress, and infections. Medications used before, during, and after surgery can decrease appetit or grass hay, which is essential for digestion, making it even more challenging to prevent GI stasis.
Guinea pigs cannot maintain their core body temperature well during surgery; the large surface area to volume ratio of small rodents increases this risk. An experienced exotic vet should monitor a guinea pig’s temperature, along with other vitals, during and after surgery. For the first few days after recovery, you may need to keep the room warmer than usual, and syringe-feed around the clock.
Questions to Ask the Vet
An exotic vet is absolutely essential when it comes to spaying or neutering your guinea pig. The vast majority of veterinary practices that treat dogs and cats aren’t experienced in exotic medicine. A successful surgery, and your pet’s life, can depend on identifying an excellent exotic vet. Start by asking local rescues which doc they use to treat rodents. The Association of Exotic Mammal Veterinarians also has a handy search tool by ZIP code. Once you find a vet to perform the procedure, be prepared to ask plenty of questions beforehand.
- How many guinea pigs have you spayed/neutered? Over what time period?
- What is your success rate? How do you address complications?
- Do you fast before surgery? (Guinea pigs do not need to fast before surgery like dogs and cats.)
- What type of anesthesia do you use? (Isoflurane gas is safest; injectable methods are not recommended for guinea pigs.)
- How do you handle pain control?
- Do you use antibiotics post-operatively? Which ones?
- What are the qualifications of those responsible for monitoring the guinea pig during and after surgery? Are they familiar with the signs of complications? Will they force-feed and administer fluids if necessary during the recovery period?
Every guinea pig and situation is different. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to spaying or neutering your guinea pig. Talk with your exotic vet about the pros and cons of removing the sex organs for prevention, after symptoms of a health issue are present, or not at all.