How To Bathe Guinea Pigs - Including Ears & Grease Glands

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Senior Guinea Pig
Nov 4, 2008
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Cambs, UK
Do guinea pigs need baths? How? Why? When? What do I use to bath them?

There are many reasons for bathing guinea pigs. It is true that it should not be done too often as excessive bathing can do more harm than good, drying the skin out and stripping the coat of its natural oils. It's best to aim to bath your guinea pigs at least twice a year and particularly when:

a) They have a skin condition requiring bathing e.g. fungal or parasitic;
b) After treating for a parasitic skin problem, to cleanse the skin;
c) They are dirty, especially the long-haired breeds.

There are times when bathing guinea pigs is NOT advised. Specific times include when a guinea pig is suffering a respiratory illness or undiagnosed illness, and during the winter if they live outdoors. The risk of the guinea pig falling ill or having their condition deteriorate is too high in these situations, as they are more susceptible to illness when they are damp.

Just putting the guinea pig in some water and rubbing a bit of shampoo on their back isn't enough to give them a thorough wash, and when you've not bathed a piggie before the prospect of handling a small, wriggling, slippery animal is somewhat daunting!

Before you attempt to bath your guinea pigs, please ensure you read the whole of this article and make sure you set everything up before starting the process being prepared is half the battle!

Setting Up the Bath
As already mentioned, ensure the conditions are right for bathing your piggies. If they are outdoor guineas and it's the middle of winter, then it's probably not a good idea to bath them unless absolutely necessary (i.e. if very dirty or for medical reasons), and even then to ensure the pigs are 110% dry before putting them back outdoors. It is a good idea to bath guineas one at a time, particularly when treating skin complaints, and it can be rather chaotic if you've never bathed multiple pigs before!


First of all, you need to know what is needed to bath guinea pigs, and then how to check that the water is both the right temperature and the right depth. In terms of equipment you need very little; the basics are:
1. A bathtub or washing-up bowl on a water proof surface like a shower, bathroom or kitchen floor. Please do not use a kitchen sink or a bathroom basin; they are too dangerous if a wiggly piggy in a panic jumps blindly from that height! Secure any bowl or any slippery surface the guinea pig sits on during the bathing process with a damp, but not cold, towel for grip.
2. Shampoo
3. Towels for drying - at least two.

Optional extras include a jug or shower head to help rinsing, and a hairdryer to help get the pig dry quicker. It can also help to lay a bath mat or a flannel cloth on the base of the bathtub/washing bowl to prevent the guinea from slipping.

The Setup
There are various setups for bathing guinea pigs, bearing in mind it is necessary to refresh the water after shampooing the guinea pig one lot of water to wash the pig, and one to rinse:

1. Bath in the bowl, and place pig in a carrier/tub while refilling the bowl to rinse.
2. Use two washing bowls
3. Use both the bathtub/shower and the washing bowl
4. Use a washing bowl and the bathtub.

For those new to bathing piggies, I would recommend placing a washing bowl in the bathtub; best to wait until you are confident with handling soggy piggies before you move them where they can hurt themselves!

The Shampoo
The question of what shampoos are safe is a frequent one and a lot comes down to what the individual owner feels is suitable. Which shampoo you choose depends on a number of factors:

a) Are you bathing for medical reasons e.g. to treat a parasitic or fungal problem?
b) Is the guinea pig long-haired? (Is a conditioner needed?)
c) How often are you bathing the guinea pigs?

While many owners will advocate the use of human shampoos, many will also provide opinions on why human shampoos are not ideal for guinea pigs. For this reason, I will list only the most commonly used shampoos formulated for guinea pigs only. The exception to this is those used to treat a specific medical condition where the human shampoo is a safe, effective and frequently-used treatment.

Regular Shampoos:Gorgeous Guineas; Shaws Rabbit & Guinea Pig Shampoo; Johnson's Small Animal Shampoo
Anti-Parasitics*:Lice'n'Easy from Gorgeous Guineas; Fleaordie; Follicel
Anti-Fungals: Imaverol/eniconazole dip (let dry on the skin without rinsing off); Malaseb**; Nizoral (can be rather harsh on the skin)
Suitable Conditioner: see Gorgeous Guineas

*Anti-parasitics are primarily for treating lice; mites should be treated with Ivermectin. For lice, follow up with a conditioner and run through with a nit comb.
** Malaseb is a Prescription-Only Medicine.

The Water
Smaller guineas will obviously need a shallower bath, while the more chunky piggies (with longer legs!) may need the higher end of the guideline. A good general guideline without using measurements, is that when the pig is standing normally, the water would at the very least reach the pigs underside (belly), but NEVER go as high as the chin! It is important that the guinea is able to stand comfortably and does not need to stretch in any way to keep the head out of the water.

To check the temperature, it is much the same as checking if a baby's bathwater is the right warmth. If it feels hot to you, then it is too hot for the guinea; if it feels cold to you, it's too cold for the guinea. Dip your elbow in if you are really unsure, it should simply feel comfortable, neither hot nor cold. One final point before moving onto the how-to: please do ensure that the temperature of the water is even throughout; those without mixer taps can find that there are various cold or hot patches in the water until mixed by hand.

Cleaning the Grease Gland
All guinea pigs have a grease gland located at the base of their spine, roughly where the tail would be if they had one. It is harder to find on some pigs than others, but boars in particular tend to have quite active grease glands, and locating it will be made easier by the greasy circle you can feel - and in some cases see! The photos below show the position of the grease gland.


Cleaning (or checking) the grease gland should be the first thing you do when bathing a guinea pig; removing the grease will ensure the gland stays clean and clear. There have been some cases where a pig's grease gland is so dirty, it actually becomes infected – so there is very good reason to keep a check on things there. A few females have active grease glands, but it's significantly more common for boars to have greasy build-ups here. Normal shampoo will not shift the grease; a product formulated for degreasing is needed. As unlikely as they sound, the three most effective agents for removing this grease are:

1. Coconut oil;
2. Swarfega;
3. Dishwashing liquid (not recommended for regular use, as very skin drying)

The trick is to not lather the product up too much at first; as with very greasy dishes and pots and pans, it's more effective if initially applied neat with very little water involved, then lathered up with a wet sponge or in a guinea pig's case, with wet fingers! After a minute or so of massaging the grease gland, the grease will start to loosen up and you can gently peel/rub the grease off without bothering the pig. Once this is done, you can pop the pig in the water to rinse his rear end off, and then move straight on to actually giving him a bath.
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Senior Guinea Pig
Nov 4, 2008
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Cambs, UK
How to Bathe a Guinea Pig
A personal or video demonstration of how to bath a guinea pig would naturally be far easier to follow, and it only ever gets easier with practice, but hopefully the following tips should give you a basic understanding of how to get your guineas clean.


1. Place the guinea in the water. Keep your hands close to the piggie. Every pig is different in their comfort level in the bath, but the following suggestions may help:
a) If the pig is a “jumper”, who tries to exit the bath at every opportunity, keep a gentle but firm grip on him; the easiest way may be to face the pig away from you. It is generally advised not to try and hold the guinea down due to the risk of preventing him moving up away from the water when necessary, so instead learn to master a gentle but firm grip which prevents the pig from leaping away. It also helps to have another person to hand, just in case you do need to hold the pig with two hands and bath him at the same time!
b) Some pigs are more comfortable is they cannot see you. Some are more comfortable if they can. Try sitting the guinea facing away from you initially and gauge his reaction.

2. Wet the pig thoroughly all over using your hands and/or a shower head/jug. Do not pour water on the head, face or ears.

3. Pour a strip of shampoo down the spine and one large blob in your hand (around 10ml in total), and gently but thoroughly lather the pig up all over the body, once again avoiding the face and ears.

4. Cleanse the face (per instructions in the next step).

5. Place the guinea pig in fresh bathwater and rinse as before, using your hands and/or a shower head/jug.

6. Remove the pig from the bath and wrap in a towel to dry.


If treating for a parasitic or fungal skin condition, adjust the above routine by shampooing for a second time, leaving this second shampoo to soak in for around five minutes before rinsing and drying the pig. For fungal conditions, remove any loose hairs (that come away when gently tugged) underwater during shampooing and rinsing. For parasitic conditions, apply a conditioner and comb through the hair before rinsing.

Cleansing the Face
It may be necessary to wash the face especially in the treatment of fungal conditions, but this must be done with care to ensure that the eyes, nose and mouth are not filled with water or shampoo. Use a moist flannel or cloth - wet, but not dripping - to wet the hair on the face by wiping the cloth around the face. Use the lather only of the shampoo, no neat shampoo; massage the lather into the face and the visible surfaces (underside included) of the ears. If treating for a fungal condition, allow to soak in for five minutes before rinsing. To rinse, use a moist flannel or cloth as before until no lather remains.


When the pig is wrapped in the towel having been removed from the bathwater, allow him to rest for a couple of minutes (a cuddle is good) and let the towel absorb as much moisture as possible. Then transfer the guinea to a fresh towel and massage the hair until no more moisture can be absorbed. The guinea pig will not be completely dry, but in this “damp” state he can either be let back into his clean cage or into an exercise pen in a warm room for a few hours to dry off naturally – fully ensuring that he stays warm – or get him completely dry by using a hairdryer. Try to keep your hand between the pig and the hairdryer just in case they suddenly turn around and to check that the heat remains consistent; it also helps to ruffle the hair to help dry deeper down, where the towel did not reach. Do not use a high heat, and do try to avoid using the loudest/fastest setting!

Some piggies are not fussed by the sound and feel of the hairdryer, while some do get stressed by it; if your guinea does get stressed, allowing him to hide his head away in your elbow (as seen in the photo below) or in a towel may help reassure him, but if he is very upset by the hairdryer then don’t put him through it unless absolutely necessary.


Cleaning the ears
Cleaning the ears of a guinea pig is not often mentioned, but in some piggies the wax builds up very quickly. Dirty, waxy ears may as well send out sparkly, embossed, handwritten invitations inviting parasites to come and set up camp in them – parasites love the environment provided by waxy ears, and ear mites are a common cause of irritation, head tilt and skin irritation around the ears.

Prevention is the best cure as they say, so keeping on top of the ears is a habit well worth getting into. Cleaning the ears with shampoo lather as explained earlier in the bathing routine can help, but a deeper clean can be provided by using a product called Otodex Veterinary Ear Drops. They are formulated for cats and dogs, but can be used safely in guinea pigs either as a general cleaning solution or to treat an active case of ear mites. As an alternative, Olive Oil or mineral oil could be used to soften the wax in the ears. For general cleaning:

1. Apply 2-3 drops into the folds of each ear, and massage the ear to ensure good coverage;
2. Leave for 24 hours;
3. Using a cotton bud or a slightly damp flannel cloth, clean the visible surfaces of the ears, including the folds and the ear flap. Do not push anything down into the ear canal.
4. Repeat the drops, leave 24 hours and clean again.


For information on treating an active case of ear mites or for treating a parasitic or fungal skin problem, please ask in the Health & Illness section, and please discuss any treatments with your veterinarian and rodentologist.​

The information provided here contains recommendations from the CCT, Gorgeous Guineas, Guinea Lynx and also stems from my own personal experiences.
Thanks to my pigs Franklyn and Sophia and two of my past pigs Charlie and Lottie for posing so nicely for the necessary photos!
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