Skinny Pigs

History

Perhaps the strangest yet most intriguing breed of guinea pig, the Skinny Pig has an equally intriguing origin. In 1978 guinea pigs at the Institut Armand Frappier, of Montreal in Canada, were being used as labroratory animals for testing purposes. They were exclusively pink-eyed white (PEW) guinea pigs (a common choice for labroratories due to the pale skin and light pigmentation of the eyes for ease of testing), and somewhere along the line they spawned a mutation in the species, known later as the IAF Hairless. Details of how this mutation came about are currently unavailable.

In 1982, the IAF Hairless was sent to the Charles River Laboratories, founded in Boston, USA, for testing purposes. The IAF Hairless began changing hands in 1986 when the Charles River Laboratories began to deal in the trade of this new breed.

The story goes that an inquisitive breeder from the USA embarked upon a breeding programme to cross the IAF Hairless with the Teddy and/or Rex breeds, thus beginning the journey for the modern Skinny Pig. Since then they have gradually become popular exotic pets all over the world, perhaps most obviously with the most popular concentration of pet Skinny Pigs being in the USA and Canada.

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Bathing

The bathing routine for a Skinny Pig differs to that of a hairy guinea pig, and so different advice specifically for bathing a Skinny Pig should be observed. Please see the bathing section for Skinny Pig bathing advice and recommendations.

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Bedding

Skinny Pigs have bare skin that is very delicate and sensitive and therefore their bedding option should respect this. Fleece, towels and Vetbed are a good choice due to being soft and cosy, and can all be cleaned freqently. Shredded newspaper on top for playing in is a nice addition, however I would recommend against using normal shredded paper because the edges can be sharp.

Substrates such as woodshavings and hemp may cause irritation to the skin due to the dust and scratchy surfaces.

All bedding should be changed frequently, every other day at the least, to help the skin to stay clean and reduce irritation, bacteria and rashes. Skinny Pigs drink a large amount of water compared to a hairy guinea pig (due to their higher food intake to keep their body temperature up), and they therefore produce more urine.

If left unchanged, urine soaked bedding can burn the skin, a point to be aware of especially for keepers of hairless guinea pigs.

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Bathing The bathing routine for a Skinny Pig differs to that of a hairy guinea pig, and so different advice specifically for bathing a Skinny Pig should be observed. I would recommend bathing your Skinny Pig once a fortnight or once a month to keep the skin fresh and reduce the presence of bacteria. As Skinny Pigs are hairless, the skin is exposed and more likely to pick up unwanted bacteria through general wear and tear as the guinea pig goes about their daily routine. The only shampoo I have found that is mild enough to use on the skin is "Mini-Pig Shampoo" from Gorgeous Guineas. This particular shampoo is designed for use on pups under 12 weeks of age and the ingredients are very mild. Commercial pet shampoo is too chemically harsh to use on a Skinny Pig, and human shampoo is inappropriate to use on any guinea pig, be it hairy or hairless. If you can't get any "Mini-Pig Shampoo" then a bath of plain, clean warm water is also okay. Use warm water and slowly pour the water over your Skinny Pig with your hand, avoiding the head, ears, eyes and nose. When applying the shampoo, avoid any vigorous rubbing and very gently massage the shampoo into the skin before thoroughly rinsing it off. Ensure that the shampoo is completely rinsed from the skin before drying your pet. After bathing, gently pat your Skinny Pig dry with a soft clean towel instead of rubbing to avoid hurting or damaging their delicate skin. Skin Care If your Skinny Pig is looking dry and flaky, some extra treatment to keep their skin supple and healthy may be in order. * Keeping the skin hydrated and supple If you moisturise the skin, the moisturiser must be non perfumed, non greasy and very mild. Use any moisturisers sparingly because if the skin becomes too greasy it can cause bacterial infections and skin rashes. In addition, too much moisturiser applied to the skin can interrupt the natural oil production of the skin, again contributing to unwanted skin problems. An alternative to moisturiser is pure aloe vera gel, and I would recommend this above moisturisers because the gel is mild, made from pure aloe vera, and has no perfume, grease or other ingredients. * Treating scratch wounds To treat scratch wounds on the skin, boil some water in the kettle to sterilise it, allow it to cool, and very gently use some cotton wool to clean the wound. Alternatively you can gently clean the wound with some diluted Hibiscrub - make sure the Hibiscrub is thoroughly rinsed off because any residue can cause inflammation of the skin. If your Skinny Pig is a very enthusiastic sratcher you can help to prevent injury to the skin by gluing rubber nail caps for kittens onto the nails on the rear feet. Be very careful with the superglue and take your time to avoid an accident. For obvious reasons, I highly recommend that this only be done by a responsible adult with a steady hand, and even then this is a last resort. The nail will need to grow out more than you would usually allow it to in order for the nail cap to be clipped off safely. Known Health Issues * Ingrown eyelashes Ingrown eyelashes grow inwards toward the eyeball, rubbing against it and making it red and sore. Our vet says this is a common problem with hairless cats and dogs, and although they would usually remove the offending eyelashes in a cat or dog, removing them in a guinea pig would be extremely difficult due to the small scale of the animal. Use Optrex for Bloodshot Eyes to ease the discomfort (always read the label on the bottle). Misdiagnosis Make sure your regular vet knows that your Skinny Pig is a hairless breed and therefore is meant to be bald. Some Skinny Pigs have been misdiagnosed with hair loss or skin problems due to the vet being unaware of the hairless breed. Temperature Control A Skinny Pig should never be kept outside on a permanent basis, especially during the night when the temperature drops and also during the colder months. Skinny Pigs should be kept as indoor pets because they need to be kept warm. The generally recommended temperature to maintain inside your home is a minimum of 71 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celcius) in order to keep your Skinny Pig comfortable. It may be tempting to put your Skinny Pig in clothes or a sweater, but resist the temptation to do this. All guinea pigs dislike being restricted by clothes, harnesses, or other methods, and unless there is a medical purpose to restricting the animal (such as wrapping the guinea pig in a towel to perform dental work, for example) you should never restrict the movement of your guinea pig. In addition, you can overheat a Skinny Pig by using clothing because they have a naturally high body temperature. Never keep your Skinny Pig next to a radiator or heater because this will dry the skin out and the animal will suffer from overheating. This also applies to heat lamps, a common misconception that they keep Skinny Pigs warm, however they can cause overheating, dehydration and burns to the skin. Additionally, please avoid the use of heat mats - they really don't need them! You will know when your Skinny Pig is too cold because they will become wrinklier than usual and huddle up. If this happens, you must warm your guinea pig up at once otherwise the drop in temperature may be fatal. Outdoor Play Skinny Pigs can play outside on the grass just like a normal hairy guinea pig. Especially in guinea pigs with pink ears that are more susceptible to sunburn, some owners like to apply some high factor sunscreen. Skinny Pigs can have sunscreen very gently applied to the skin when playing outside on sunny days, however before you apply anything to the skin on any guinea pig, do a patch test by applying the product the bald patch behind the ear (or just behind the ear on a Skinny Pig!) and leave it for 24 hours. Skinny Pigs run at a higher temperature than hairy guinea pigs and therefore they drink more water. Make sure they have plenty of fresh, cool water available to them at all times when playing outside. Hydration Skinny Pigs need more hydration than a normal hairy guinea pig for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they eat more than normal guinea pigs to keep their temperature up and so they need to drink a bit more. Secondly, they need more fluids to stop their skin drying out especially when kept in a house with modern heating systems. A wet vegetable such as a tomato or a piece of cucumber can be offered once a day to help to keep them hydrated (this is extra to their usual daily diet of vegetables). If the guinea pig develops diarrhoea through eating too many watery vegetables, this should be taken seriously and the animal taken off watery foods at once. Brown bread may be given to dry the guinea pig up at the onset, but if the diarrhoea persists and the guinea pig loses weight, veterinary assistance should be found immediately. After this instance you must reduce your daily watery vegetable offerings to smaller portions.


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Bathing youngsters

Guinea pigs under the age of three months should only be bathed in shampoo that is mild and designed for use on youngsters (and even then they should only be bathed upon signs of a skin problem). My personal recommendation for bathing youngsters is Mini-Pig Shampoo from Gorgeous Guineas as it has been specially formulated for them.

Bathing frail and elderly guinea pigs

Some older guinea pigs find having a bath stressful and thus should be given a gentle sponge bath on a towel, the same applying to guinea pigs that are in particularly frail health, in order to reduce the risk of panic and heart attack. This is knowledge I learned after almost losing an elderly sow to a heart attack when she attempted to escape my kitchen sink, something that I would never wish for any other guinea pig or owner to experience.

Sit the guinea pig on a towel with some fresh vegetables to keep them occupied, and then slowly sponge warm water over the guinea pig and give them a gentle rub. This may take some patience if the guinea pig is not accustomed to this process, so make sure you have the time to dedicate to it to ensure the experience is as stress free as possible. You can use some shampoo and conditioner, gently massaging it into the fur with your fingers, and then sponging off.

Bathing Skinny Pigs

Skinny Pigs have very fragile and sensitive skin that can be prone to dry and fungal skin infections if not maintained well, and should only be bathed in extremely mild shampoo, such as Mini-Pig Shampoo. As the skin is almost bare and exposed to the environment you should be aware that fungal skin infections can be prolific in this particular breed and care should be taken to keep the skin supple and clean. Over-bathing can be especially harmful if the natural oils in the skin are removed, and so my Skinny Pigs have only ever been bathed no more than once every month. Skinny Pigs should always be gently patted dry with a soft towel and not rubbed, and never use a hairdryer, heat pad or heat lamp under any circumstances.

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Bathing

You will need the following:

  • Your guinea pig
  • A plastic washing up bowl or your kitchen sink
  • Two towels (old ones!)
  • Wear old clothes because you may end up getting soaked
  • Small animal shampoo or recommended product
  • A brush for small animals, a small comb, and small animal nail clippers

The first thing you should remember before bathing is never leave your guinea pig unattended while in the bath. Some guinea pigs are escape artists and will be out of that bath before you can blink! In serious cases of escape artistry you may need to get a friend or family member to help you - sometimes four hands are better than two. However, if escape artistry persists I would seriously recommend giving your guinea pig a sponge bath instead, as described above, or your pet may become stressed and frightened.

  • Fill the kitchen sink or plastic washing up bowl with warm water (not hot water!) to the level of your guinea pig's stomach. Ensure the guinea pig is able to comfortably hold their head up above the water level. Your guinea pig may attempt to get out of the bath and you may get wet, which is a good reason for wearing old clothes.

  • Gently use your hands to pour the warm water from the bath over your guinea pig. Make sure you stay away from the nose, eyes and ears. Your pet may need you to talk to and stroke them to reassure them.

  • Follow the instructions written on your shampoo bottle. Most anti-parasitic shampoos should be left on for 10 minutes before rinsing, and then conditioner applied to make it easier to comb out eggs in the fur. Once the fur is combed through, rinse the conditioner out.

  • To rinse the shampoo or conditioner, lift your guinea pig out of the bath and sit them on a towel while you empty the bath water and refill it with fresh warm water to rinse them off. I personally would not hold a guinea pig under a running tap as this can be distressing for the animal, and in mixer taps the water can come out very hot near to the tap nozzle. Again, place your guinea pig in the bath and gently pour the water over them with your hands and use your fingers to work the shampoo or conditioner out of the fur.

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Drying

Guinea pigs must be completely dry before they are allowed to continue their day. This is especially important if your guinea pig lives outside or in shed that has no heating.

Once rinsed, wrap your guinea pig in a towel, find somewhere comfortable to sit - in front of the TV usually works for me - and spend some time gently rubbing them down and drying them off. Your guinea pig may start to purr (vibrating from top to bottom!) if they are enjoying the attention.

Some guinea pigs enjoy being dried with a hairdryer. If you choose to try this method, use the lowest heat setting and hold the hairdryer at a safe distance from your pet so you don't burn them. Lots of guinea pigs don't like the noise of a hairdryer, so this method is not suitable for everyone.

When your guinea pig is no longer wet and is just damp, swap to your other towel which should be completely dry and continue to rub them down with that.

This is a good time to do some grooming and some nail clipping.

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Cleaning a grease gland

Male guinea pigs have a grease gland that is located on the rear end above the testicals. Females also have a grease gland but it rarely produces grease in the same quantities as that of the male. The grease gland on a male regularly produces grease and this needs to be cleaned every so often or the grease will form a scab, and the skin underneath will become sore and sensitive.

To clean the grease gland, you need a tub of Swarfega gel (used by mechanics to remove grease and available from DIY stores), a towel, a bowl of warm water, and a comb with fine teeth. If you can't get any Swarfega gel, mild washing up liquid will do the same job.

Wet the grease gland with water and then rub in some Swarfega or washing up liquid, before leaving for a couple of minutes to soften the grease. Rinse the Swarfega or washing up liquid from the guinea pig and then gently use the comb to pick away the greasy scab. The skin underneath may be sore and sensitive if the grease has been allowed to build up, so once the grease has been removed, dry the guinea pig and apply some Kamillosan cream to sooth the skin.

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Cleaning the penis

Every now and again some boars become rather smelly and sometimes the only option is to give the penis a good clean. Unless your guinea pig is extremely tame and laid back and doesn't mind being tipped up, this is really a two person process, so some persuasion for someone to help you may be required to do this unpleasant - and sometimes very smelly! - job.

I recommend doing this while sitting at a table to keep your cotton wool and bowl of warm water to hand. Your assistant should gently tip the guinea pig back to rest against their stomach with one hand under the bottom and the other under the arms to keep the animal stable. You can then gently feel just above the foreskin for a bump below the skin - this is the penis. To extrude the penis, gently press on the bump until it appears. Maintain a soft pressure to keep the penis out and carefully use some cotton wool and warm sterile water (boiled and cooled from your kettle) to clean it. Gently dry the penis with a towel and remove the pressure to allow it to slide back in (some Vaseline may be required if it doesn't slide back easily).

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