Lethal white guinea pigs may have a shorter lifespan than normal piggies, but they still have plenty of love to give. Most are blind and missing one or more front teeth. Some are also deaf, and many will have chronic dental disease, deformities, neurological deficiencies, and gastrointestinal problems. While their time with us may be short – sometimes a few months, rarely a few years – recognizing their unique traits and addressing medical problems right away can give these special needs pets the best life possible.
Understanding the Lethal White Gene
Lethal white guinea pigs are genetically compromised. But contrary to popular belief, it is not a result of inbreeding. The lethal white gene, called microphthalmia, occurs when breeding roan x roan or Dalmatian x Dalmatian cavies together. There is a 25 percent chance these pairs of guinea pigs will have a lethal white baby. A roan is a breed of guinea pig that has white hairs mixed with flecks of another solid color through the white. Dalmatians have white hair with dark spots. Note that some roan or Dalmatian guinea pigs can have the gene without these obvious visual patterns. Totally white guinea pigs, for example, can easily hide a deformed copy of the roan gene, therefore risk having lethal white offspring. Breeding two guinea pigs that both have some white in their coats is inherently dangerous for this reason.
Lethal White Guinea Pigs vs. PEWs
All lethal white guinea pigs are born completely white with red eyes. Pink-eyed white guinea pigs (commonly referred as PEWs) are NOT all lethals, however. Lethal whites are born without any skin pigmentation, giving them their unique appearance. They may have smaller, squinty eyes compared to a PEW, or might be missing one or both eyes altogether. Blindness and/or deafness results in a noticeable difference in behavior. In a herd or litter, the lethal whites might be smaller and skinnier with poor body condition. Other pigs may bully them, and they may seem confused or hide more than the others. A normal PEW should gobble up dinner, showing off their pearly whites. Lethals, on the other hand, can struggle when eating due to missing incisors and deformed molars.
Accommodating a Lethal White’s Special Needs
Lethal white guinea pigs are a commitment, both financially and emotionally. These guys may require regular dental work and frequent syringe feeding throughout life. Guinea pigs need to go under anesthesia for dental work, which can be risky even for an otherwise healthy rodent. Due to an already compromised immune system, anesthesia can bring even more complications for lethals. Syringe feeding is a serious time investment as well, because cavies need guinea pig food moving through around the clock to keep the digestive system working.
A disabled lethal white guinea pig needs a calm pal who isn’t too dominant in order to ensure he isn’t bullied. Blind lethal whites will appreciate if their enclosure and accessories stay where expected – no redecorating, please. While these special piggies don’t always survive long after birth, many do go on to live relatively normal lives. With a dedicated caretaker ready to address their unique needs, it’s possible to share many happy years together.