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Hot weather management and heat strokes

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Wiebke

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Overview
I How do guinea pigs regulate their body temperature?
II Heat stroke: symptoms and treatment
III Fly strike and flesh eating maggots
IV What can I do to keep my guinea pigs cool?
V How do I feed guinea pigs in hot weather?


I How do guinea pigs regulate their body temperature?

Guinea pigs have evolved to live in groups in thick grasslands in the lower Andes in South America. They come out to browse in part of their territory in the early mornings and evenings when temperatures are at the their least extreme. During the days and nights they retire to abandoned deep temperature controlled sets, tunnels and thick ground covering vegetation.

Guinea pigs regulate their body temperature via increased blood flow in their ears.
They do NOT pant and they do NOT sweat!

Because they are not losing a lot of water in order to keep cool means that they do not suddenly need a lot more water and veg in hot weather to avoid dehydrating, unlike sweating humans or panting dogs.


However, because they cannot adapt as easily to quickly changing temperatures and the extremes of weather, they need a stable environment away from too much heat and cold and big temperature swings.

Key to keeping your guinea pigs cool does NOT require lots of water and watery veg.
But it is ABSOLUTELY VITAL to keep your guinea pigs and their water supply as cool and as fresh as you can to prevent overheating!


Guinea pigs that are born in hotter countries adapt to generally hotter conditions, but they still struggle with the seasonal heat and are very susceptible to sudden cold spells. You often see guinea pigs flopping on their bellies on the floor of their cages in the heat of the day in 'cute' pictures from tropical or subtropical countries showing signs of being overheated.

Please be aware that hot weather is worse for the very young, the very old, pregnant and nursing sows (pregnancy toxaemia!), the ill or frail and those that have an undiagnosed underlying problem. They will need extra attention and care, as much as you can give.

As a rule of thumb: Guinea pigs are fine if you are comfortable.
If it feels hot for you, your guinea pigs are already overheating!
If you are cold and want to grab a coat, your guinea pigs are also cold.


Here is a video of how quickly temperatures rise in a hutch in full sun.
(with permission of Cavy Central Guinea Pig Rescue, Sydney)

A vet is demonstrating in this video just how quickly and how hot it gets in a small confined space on a not particularly hot and breezy day and with the car windows cracked.
He will also tell you what he is experiencing during this time and how it will feel to your pets that are confined in a hot space. This could be your hutch, conservatory, your lawn run or indoors room in full sun, too...
40 C = ca. 100 F
50 C = ca. 120 F
 

Wiebke

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II Heat stroke: symptoms and treatment

Heat stroke can kill or permanently damage overheated guinea pigs!
See a vet ASAP as a life or death emergency!


Symptoms of heat stroke
- Lying flat on the belly
- unable to move
- shallow breathing
- rapid and very weak pulse
- not able to swallow


Symptoms of overheating
- lying on flat on the belly
- lethargic and reluctant to move
- off their food and water, struggling to swallow and to process food
- major weight loss in a very short time


Your guinea pigs will require subcutaneous fluids and gut simulants; ideally they are kept under close observation and given a check-over before discharge to make sure that they are OK and able to eat normally.
Please make sure that your guinea pigs are not getting any steroids injected by a vet not familiar with guinea pigs; in rodents this slows down the organs further. Always ask your vet before they inject anything.


On the spot treatment for heat stroke

- Bring your guinea pigs indoors ASAP!
- Soak a towel in tepid/warm room temperature tap water (NOT iced or fridge cold water!) and wrap the piggy in it, loosely at first in order to not shock the system.
- Or gently sponge the piggy down with fresh water from your tap. Lower the body temperature gradually in order to not cause the heart to stop.
- If your guinea pigs are still able to stand on their own, place them a bowl with 1 cm (leg height) tepid water until they perk up.
- NEVER plunge an overheated guinea pig into cold water. It will cause fatal cardiac arrest!
- Do NOT try to syringe any cold water or stuff cool veg or fruit in the mouth in order to revive it. Your guinea pig can asphyxiate (die from choking).

Recovery, if there is any, should be quick and pretty dramatic. Support the piggy as soon as it is trying to get back on its feet and stop the cooling down instantly to avoid the piggy from getting a chill instead.
If your guinea pig is not perking up quickly, then it needs to be raced to the vets in the small hope that it can still be saved.

Then call your closest vet clinic to ask to be seen as an emergency. Even if your guinea pig is only overheated, it will still require sub-q fluids with electrolytes and gut stimulants.
Remember to cool down your car as much as possible before you set off and to add a bottle of frozen water in a sock to the carrier; place your piggies right next to it.
Travelling with guinea pigs

If you cannot be seen by a vet straight away, offer your guinea pigs as much water as they will actively take from a syringe; do not force any water or fibrous syringe feed into a guinea pig that struggles to swallow! Add electrolyte powder from your first aid kit or your pharmacy as specified on the package (UK: dioralyte / US: pedialyte) to the water. It is not as effective as having the fluid injected under the skin where it can be absorbed by the directly, so if you CAN see a vet please do so as soon as possible!
Ask your vet to also check the heart and guts (GI full or partial GI stasis).

If your guinea pigs remain weak and show symptoms of partial gut stasis, then you will need to step in with syringing fibre and water little but every two hours round the clock until they are back to eating fully again by themselves and maintain their weight.
Bloat, Gi Stasis ( No Gut Movement) And Not Eating
 

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III Fly strike

Summer and hot weather also brings out flies that lay their eggs into living flesh. This is called fly strike. It can happen outdoors, but occasionally also indoors. Please check any piggies at risk (the old, frail piggies that cannot clean their genitalia by themselves, guinea pigs with mobitility issues, bleeding and open sores) at least once daily and always when you bring them indoors from a trip to the lawn for slightly raised red or white dots around the genitalia or open sores.

Fly strike can kill! It is a life and death emergency at any time of the day.

If you discover maggots in your hutch or cage, please clean and disinfect it thoroughly. Check your piggies or have them veg checked for symptoms of fly strike. Clean your hutch and shed very regularly in hot weather in order to not attract vermin anyway.

More information on fly strike and how to minimise the risks via this link here: Fly Strike
 

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IV What can I do to keep my guinea pigs cool?

Bring your guinea pigs indoors during the hot hours of the day (over 25 C / 77 F)
Please keep in mind that a hutch or an uninsulated shed is around 10 C warmer inside than outside temperatures are and that a run on the lawn is still open to any hot breeze even if it is in the shade of a large trees.
Bring your guinea pigs inside the house for the hottest hours/the day, especially when you are away.
Put your guinea pigs out on the lawn or back into the hutch while it is cool and shady in the early morning and late afternoon evening, especially when outdoors is cooler and fresher than inside!

Guinea pigs and their housing should never be exposed to strong sunlight!
Even thick shade is not enough protection during the hottest hours.


Please keep any water bottles out of full sunshine at all times. Not only will the water be too hot to drink, it can even set a hutch alight! water bottle sparks hutch fire


Where can I put my guinea pigs indoors if I don't have a cage?
You can set up a lawn run with some old old beach towels on a wipeable surface (best a kitchen or bathroom floor) or even let your guinea pigs camp in the bathtub in a pinch.
More ideas for temporary accommodation in this thread here: Temporary Housing Solutions?


How can I keep my house or flat as cool as possible?
- Close your windows, draw your curtains and pull any blinds wherever the sun is going to hit during day/while you are away. Curtains and blinds are acting as an additional insulation.
The less sun gets in the cooler it is staying inside. Open your windows on the shady side once the outside temperatures are no longer hotter than indoors.
- Move any cages out of direct sunlight! Keep in mind that the sunlight moves around while you are out of the house for the day.
- Air your house or flat as much as possible during the cooler hours and overnight. The cooler it is indoors in the morning, the less your living quarters can heat up during the day. If you can, create as may cross drafts as possible in order to catch any breeze.
- Fans, portable or mobile air conditioning units or fixed air conditioning can of course also help.
Please make sure that your guinea pig cage is NOT in the direct full blast. It can cause URI (respiratory infection) or breathing problems.
BIG NO NO:
Please do NOT use a fan in combination with an open window to cool down your guinea pig room in the heat of the day! All you do is fan even more hot air into the room and expose your guinea pigs to heat stroke!



How can I additionally cool down a cage?
- Fill a large empty plastic soft drinks bottle 3/4 full of water (remember - ice expands!) and freeze. Wrap in a towel and place in the cage if you are out for the day. Smaller pint sized bottles are useful for regular replacement or travelling; pull an old sock over them.
- You can also rope in any freezeable cool bag blocs, ice packs etc. Always cover them in fabric!

- Cool your snugglesafes in the fridge (please not in the freezer). My frailer oldies love sleeping on them, covered with some fleece. They need replacing every 2-4 hours, but they are gentler.
- A large or some cheap ceramic tiles are also good at sucking up body heat.

- Evaporating water cools the air around it.
Dampen some fabric (sheets, fleeces, towels) but not so much that they drip and drape them over the cages or around the them, especially where air from a fan or an a/c unit can hit them.
Spraying any net curtains with water can also help cool down a room when there is a breeze in the evening.
This is not recommended in high humidity/tropical climate, but is effectful in dry/desert conditions.

If your piggies are staying away from the cold, they are simply not feeling overheated!

PS: PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not force your guinea pigs to swim for their lives to keep them cool. For them it is the most frightening experience! It can lead to cardiac arrest and them dying.
Can And Should Guinea Pigs Swim?



V How do I feed my guinea pigs in hot weather?

Cool water
Guinea pigs don't need to drink a lot more, but they need to have access to cool, fresh water at all times!

You can keep a jug of tap water (filtered or not) or your bottles of low calcium water in your fridge. If you are out of the house for the day and don't have reliable air conditioning, adding some crushed ice can help to keep the water cooler for longer.
Replace the water with fresh cool one when you come home in the evening and if possible throughout the hotter hours in the afternoon if you are at home.

Please keep your bottles and nozzles cleaned daily; bacteria multiply very quickly in hot conditions!
If your guinea pigs are in a place where you can't fix a bottle, use a bowl.

You can insulate your water bottles further by pulling a sock over them. Remember: insulation works both ways - it slows down the flow from hot to cold whether that is in cold or in hot weather! ;)


Veg and fruit
Please do not feed more or differently to their normal diet!
Too much veg and fruit causes fermentation in the gut and can lead to diarrhea or bloating.

You should not feed more veg and fruit than normal, but you can rather serve any veg in the morning in one large piece that stays cool for longer; especially a larger piece of cucumber from the fridge. That is also the best method of keeping a guinea pig hydrated when you are travelling.

However, a bit of cool water melon (including the rind) on a hot evening is a welcome treat! But please count it into the daily veg allowance.
Please do NOT feed any frozen veg; greedy piggies have done themselves serious harm when their lips and tongue got stuck to the ice. Veg straight from the fridge is as cool as it should get.

Please keep in mind that all veg and fruit consists mostly of water and that your main aim is too keep your guinea cool, but not over-watered!
If your guinea pigs suddenly stop drinking water but are still eating normally, you are feeding too much veg! Piggies don't get thirstier because you offer more edible water.
The temptation to overfeed watery veg and fruit in hot weather!
 
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