Guinea pigs should have a bath now and again to keep them clean and smelling great. Bathing also helps to reduce fungal and bacterial skin ailments and keeps their fur shiny and healthy. You can also use bathing to neutralise personal guinea pig smells when creating new pairs or groups.
How often should I bathe them?
I would personally not bathe a guinea pig more than once/twice a month at the very most (unless medical treatment is being carried out using medicated products), as over-bathing can strip the skin of its natural oils and contribute to dry and fungal skin problems.
Signs that your guinea pig needs a bath include urine stained fur (commonly on the legs and belly), a general smell of urine, a very dry and dusty coat, and flakey or very dry skin. Most guinea pigs that are kept in clean conditions should only need a bath when they begin to smell, or show one or more of the aforementioned signs.
Special consideration also needs to be given to breeds such as the Alpaca and the Swiss that suffer from overly sensitive skin, and also the nearly hairless Skinny Pig.
Guinea pigs should only be bathed in shampoo designed for small animals. Human shampoos can be chemically harsh, especially as they are manufactured with chemical doses forumlated to suit us, and add to the problem of dry skin. I personally will only use shampoo either from my vet or from Gorgeous Guineas, as even some commercially available small animal shampoos can irritate sensitive skin.
Anti-Parasitic and Anti-Fungal Shampoo
When treating guinea pigs with an anti-parasitic or anti-fungal shampoo, always leave at least 48 hours between spot-on treatments (e.g. ivomectin, noromectin) and the use of a medicated shampoo. Pregnant or nursing sows should not be bathed in anti-parasitic or anti-fungal shampoos, and you should always use caution (and preferably just don’t use to be sure!) when using shampoo containing essential oils.
As recommended by the British Association of Rodentologists:
Anti-Parasitic Shampoos: FleaOrDie, Lice ‘n’ Easy
Anti-Fungal Shampoos: Alphosyl, Nizoral, Ring-O-Cide, T-Gel
If using a new product your guinea pig has never experienced before, make sure you have done a patch test before using it in the bath just in case your guinea pig has an allergic reaction to it.
To do a patch test, sample a small amount of the product by applying it on the bald patch of skin just behind the ear, and then leaving it for 24 hours. If the skin does not come up in a rash or other irritation, then it is safe to use at bath time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cleaning a grease gland
Male guinea pigs have a grease gland that is located on the rear end above the testicles. 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 soothe the skin.
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).