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All About Drinking And Bottles

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Wiebke

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Part 1: Drinking

How do guinea pigs learn to drink?
Guinea pigs learn to drink from a bottle by watching and copying their elders. They are not born with the knowledge. If you buy babies, they may not have done that yet or not had the opportunity and may need to figure it out all on their own.

Please do not panic if your new guinea pigs are not drinking straight away! They generally get enough fluid from their veg to get by without dehydrating.

How much water do guinea pigs need?
The individual need differs enormously from drinking nothing at all or very rarely to drinking quite a lot on a regular basis (up to and even over 300ml in a day). Both extremes can still be perfectly healthy and don’t seem to be connected with health problems like kidney failure or diabetes if they are part of their normal behaviour. Urine consistency can accordingly range from being very concentrated to watery, depending on the individual intake and not be a sign of problems if it is the guinea pig's "normal".

Water consumption can also change noticeably depending on hot weather, air conditioning, indoors heating coming on or off or increasing in strength etc…
Larger short term temperature variations are another influence especially on the drinking of outdoors guinea pigs.

How can I encourage guinea pigs to drink from a bottle?
Please change and refresh the water in a bottle daily even if it is not used. Place a little ceramic drip dish filled with water underneath the bottle. You may need to change the contents 2-3 times daily as debris and poos tend to end up in it – which is why we recommend to use a bottle rather than a dish for supplying water in the long term. Some guinea pigs also seem to relish the idea of having a water closet to relieve themselves in!
In order to attract interest, you can dab a bit of cucumber or fruit juice on the nozzle.
Most guinea pigs that need to drink water will catch up on the bottle within a few days or weeks. Be aware that by overfeeding watery veg, you conversely remove the incentive to look for another source of fluid.
Once your guinea pigs have settled in and are no longer afraid of you, you can try to encouarge them to use the bottle by holding the spout to their mouths if they haven't learned to drink yet. Not all will like it or take to this, though, so please don't badger your guinea pigs over this issue!

Individual drinking habits
Always make sure that the nozzle is within reach of all your guinea pigs and that the bottle is working normally (including checking the nozzle).

Not all guinea pigs will ever figure out how to use their tongue correctly and instead bite the nozzle. Some guinea pigs can be very noisy and messy drinkers. It may wake you up at night!

Adding supplements to the water
Please don’t! Guinea pigs drink noticeably less when you add vitamin C drops to the water. These tend to go off very quickly and promote the growth of algae. Better give any vitamin C by syringe to make sure that it is all reaching its intended recipient.

NEVER add any medication to the water! You simply cannot control the intake and make sure that a guinea pig is getting the intended dosage. Most antibiotics taste horrible, so a guinea pig is not going to take them that way!
Always syringe any medication for best effect. Guinea pigs have double the number of taste buds to a human and a multiple of that of cats; you cannot fool them easily.

Only in some cases of persistent, long term digestive problems can it help to add some probiotics to the water. It is however not recommended to do it just for the sake of being a super pet parent. A healthy guinea pig doesn’t need extra probiotics.
Please discuss this aspect with your vet as a potential part of medium to long term treatment if your guinea pig struggles otherwise. Normally it is much better to give any probiotics if they are of use directly on some veg or during syringe feeding.
 

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When do I need to be worried?
Please investigate any major changes in drinking habits. If in doubt, offer water by syringe and see if your guinea pig is keen on drinking from it. Never force water down a guinea pig just for the sake of it – anything that cannot be swallowed immediately will go into the nose or lungs and can cause pneumonia!

- Always check the bottle first as to whether the nozzle could be stuck or the bottle could be leaking/running out or if the bottle contains algae that make drinking less attractive. Replace with a new bottle for a safety check.
- Take into account any recent changes in climate and/or temperature, heating or air conditioning.
- Monitor the weight by weighing daily at the same time in the feeding cycle instead of weekly of you have concerns. If a guinea pig is losing more than 2 oz/50g of weight, I would recommend seeing a vet.

If loss of drinking is going hand in hand with eating less (which it often does, especially if a guinea pig is seriously ill), please start syringe feeding and watering promptly.
Our detailed illustrated guide tells you exactly how you should go about this in order to avoid things going down the wrong way and making it worse: Complete Syringe Feeding Guide

Which health problems can be connected with marked changes in drinking?
- Drinking less: Painful tummy upsets, diarrhoea (very dehydrating!) and bloating; respiratory infection (URI) and pneumonia. The need to breathe comes before the need to drink and thirdly the need to eat!
Dental overgrowth of the premolars can trap the tongue and prevent a guinea pig from swallowing properly, as can weakness, oral thrush/fungal or other mechanical obstructions in the mouth, throat and digestive tract.
Organ failure, i.e. the body can no longer process food and water and a guinea pig will emphatically refuse to take water or food far in excess to its weakness/apathy.

- Drinking more: infections. Problems with the urinary tract (acute UTI, cystitis/bladder inflammation, stones or kidney problems). Diabetes.
See a vet if a guinea pig suddenly drinks a lot more/suddenly drinks all the time after you have excluded all other possible environmental factors or see acute signs of illness, especially if the change in drinking habits is persistent.

A guinea pig that always drinks a bottle empty is not likely to be ill, but if you are very worried, please have it checked during a regular check-up at the vets.

Signs of dehydration:
A waxy, stiff coat and very dry and shrivelled looking poos. Tear drop shaped poos or poos on a string point towards a mild tummy upset; this can go hand in hand with dehydration, as does acute diarrhoea. When syringe feeding always offer water by syringe, as much as a guinea pig will take on its own. Please never force water down and never give more than a guinea pig can swallow.

A shrivelled eye when your guinea pig has suffered an eye injury is a sign of dehydration. Visco tears (artificial tears) are always recommended when a guinea pig is treated for an eye injury; they can help the healing process and prevent dehydration. Gel is preferable as its effect is lasting longer than drops. Please wait at least half an hour after giving antibiotic eye drops or gel before giving any visco tear gel or drops.

When should I use filtered water or buy low calcium bottled water?
If you live in a hard water area, i.e. get water high in calcium, it is advisable to filter your water in order to avoid adding to the formation of bladder stones or sludge. Many people are not aware that guinea pigs take on the majority of calcium through water and pellets; they only concentrate on veg.

If you have got a guinea with stones or serious bladder issues, please switch to filtering even if you do not live in a hard water area. It can make a difference, as not just calcium but also minerals in the water can contribute to bladder stone issues!

Please be aware that most bottle water is high in calcium and is not recommended. Distilled water can have an adverse effect on health.
 

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Part 2: Bottles

So far there is unfortunately not yet a totally problem-free, guaranteed no-leaks bottle available. There are currently three bottle types on the market. You have to find out for yourself which one is working best for you.

Change the water in the bottles daily even if it looks unused. Access to fresh, clean water at all times is one of the basic animal rights.

Please make sure that you always have a replacement bottle at home and that you ideally change bottles every 6 months anyway.
Which size you choose (medium 300 ml or large 600 ml) depends on the water consumption of your guinea pigs. With boar pairs or bullying sows, it is recommended to have two bottles widely spaced (more than one body length apart), so access to water is always guaranteed.

Plastic vacuum bottles
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- Advantages: cheap and widely available in pet shops
- Disadvantages: it can be difficult to create a vacuum in order to prevent a bottle from leaking. Plastic bottles with their thin layer of plastic are particularly prone to the formation of algae in strong sunlight and to temperture changes.
As guinea pigs often drink with their mouths full of gunk or mushy pellets, the ball nozzle can get very filthy or even blocked. The comparatively short nozzle can make it hard to reach in a traditional cage.
Many people find it easier to fill a bottle to the rim in order to minimise leaking even though that is not the correct way and can lead to problems when freezing winter (bursting).

Glass vacuum bottles

- Advantages: the thicker glass slows down the build-up of algae. The nozzle is longer and works better in a traditional cage.
- Disadvantages: leaking issues and easy over-screwing of the nozzle attachment. The same issues apply to the clogging up of the nozzle and the vacuum as with plastic vacuum bottles.

Sippy bottles (not yet available in all countries)
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- Advantages: thicker plastic coating prevents the build-up of algae. Much easier to fix to C&C grids and traditional cage bars to prevent bottles from sliding around. The bottle does not rely on a vacuum to work and the removable nozzle is much less prone to clog up. They can be easily topped up during the day if necessary. Guinea pigs seem to prefer Sippy bottles to conventional ones when given the choice.
- Disadvantages: some bottles will never stop leaking and require a drip dish or hay tray underneath. The nozzles are noisy to use, and can make a real racket depending on the guinea pig.

Bottle sleeves
Will slow down the build-up of algae especially in an outdoors set-up or a sunny room, as well as the warming up and cooling down in hot or cold weather.
Please make sure that you do not place any drinking water in full sun if at all possible.

Bottle sleeves are not enough to prevent bottles from freezing up in a frosty night – but then, guinea pigs should not be outside in a frosty night and should either be placed in an insulated shed or a safe outbuilding (with extra insulation) or be brought indoors for the colder months that is not exposed from car fumes. Several thick socks can help additionally with bottle insulation, but there is no guarantee that bottles will not freeze up in a cold night outside.

Cooling down water during a heatwave
Please make sure that your guinea pigs have access to cool water at all times. The guinea pigs and the water bottles need to be in the shade during the hottest part of the day. If you are away and cannot renew the water regularly, you can place ice cubes in Sippy bottles. For normal bottles, you may need to use water that has been cooled in the fridge to keep it drinkable for as long as possible.

Cleaning and disinfecting water bottles
Most pet shops offer bottle brushes, but a much easier and more hygienic way is to use a bit of uncooked rice with a little water to scour the bottle by shaking it vigorously. Make sure that you keep the nozzle/lid/opening covered with your fingers, or you will create a soggy mess in the kitchen!
Please always rinse the nozzle, too, and clear a ball nozzle with a damp cotton bud!

Add a bit of rice and a little water... then shake vigorously, empty, and your bottle is clean!
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For disinfecting bottles, use a baby bottle disinfectant and follow the instructions. Do this ideally once weekly or at least once monthly. Replace your bottles after 6 months.
 
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