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Sow Behaviour (including ovarian cysts)

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Wiebke

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Guinea pig sows live in groups and need a strict hierarchy to keep order.


Dominance
Sorting out the dominance is therefore vitally important for guinea pigs of the same gender.

Typical dominance behaviours include rumbling while shifting the weight from one back leg to the other ("rumble-strutting" ), teeth chattering, head-butting and nipping (a carefully judged gesture of power that lets the recipient only feel the teeth but not harm it, with the under-sow protesting loudly/squeaking submission) and bullying practices like taking over the hut, food bowl, hay etc.
nswering defiant clucking noise), yawning, going chin to chin (pushing their heads up facing each other), chasing, nipping and little scuffles can result. It can look pretty rough to us humans. Don't separate until there are serious, bloody fights; the girls NEED to sort out their differences without our interference!

Bonding should always happen in a neutral place to prevent the newbies from being seen/feeling as invaders and hostilities/over-reaction happening as a result.
In most cases the leadership is usually decided within a matter of hours or a couple of days, but it usually takes several days to tpyically around 2 weeks during the dominance phase to fully establish and settle the new hierarchy until a balance has been struck between how much the dominant girl can push her companion and how far the under-sow allows herself to be pushed, as well as for the dominance to travel down the new hierarchy ladder from to top to bottom in a group. During this time, especially while dominance is still including a lot of chasing, nipping and chucking out, please have only log tunnels or other hideys with two exits in the cage and either sprinkle feed or use as many bowls as their are piggies.
The strongest dominance always comes from the sow ranked just above in the hierarchy. Once higher ranked sows in a group or pair have established that a new arrival is not a challenge for their leadership, they will stay aloof and similar will any under-sows keep out of a leadership dispute.

When sows are pretty evenly matched, there can be a dispute. Teeth chattering (with the other party chattering back or making answering defiant clucking noise), going chin to chin (pushing their heads up facing each other), yawning, chasing, nipping and little scuffles can result. It can look pretty rough to us humans. Don't separate until there are serious, bloody fights; the girls NEED to sort out their differences without our interference!

Please do not provide any hideys at all during the bonding on neutral ground and remove any hideys with two exits once transferred to a cleaned and neutralised cage in order to prevent the underpiggy being locked in. Feed any veg and pellets by sprinkling across the cage floor or in one bowl per piggy in portions that can be eaten in one go and be removed in the between meals (since hay shoul make over 80% of the food intake, constant access to pellets, which should only come to about 5-10% is no longer recommended). Space the bowls over a body length apart, so access can't be blocked. Have hay and water bottles in two different places to avoid food bullying.

After they have sorted out the terms of their relationship, your girls will hopefully become more relaxed and friendlier with another. If that is not the case, if bullying behaviours/weight loss or not gaining weight in youngsters are continuing, please have the bullied piggy vet checked for a potential underlying medical problem and if that has been excluded, evaluate the situation with a temporary separation as described in the Bonds in Trouble guide.

More information and illustrations of bonding and dominance as well as of typical bonding dynamics behaviours here: Bonding: Illustrated Dominance Behaviours And Dynamics

Only in rare cases will a girl attack others on introduction. If blood has been drawn, the sows should be separated. A bonding has failed if two sows cannot come to an agreement as to which of them comes top or if there is systematic and persistent bullying of the under-sow that is in resulting in weight-loss/no weight gain in sub-adults or depression/staying away as much as possible from the bullying piggy well beyond the normal dominance phase.
Bonds In Trouble


Sows in season
Girls come into season about every 15-17 days. Most of the time you wont notice it, but sometimes they can be very hormonal and dramatic. I have observed that this happens more often with adolescent girls, freshly bonded or introduced sows (whether that is to another sow or a neutered boar) or after an operation that has interfered with the estrus cycle.

A sow coming into season can be grumpy or temperamental for a few days (especially if she is the alpha sow).
Over the roughly one and a half day of her season, she will sniff bottoms, rumble, chase and mount her companion as if she were a male. Even when a neutered boar is present, they will often rather chase and mount their female companions or even the boar before she is ready for mating at the end of her season.
Her companion will either kick her off straight away or allow her to hump until she's fed up, all accompanied by lots of squeaking and often a fair bit of kerfuffle! However, things should stay well below the level where fights would threaten. The humped sow will make it clear when she's fed up.
Well bonded girls will often reaffirm their bond with exchanges of affection on the following day.
When Sows Experience A Strong Season (videos)

Coming into season can spark a reopening of the dominance dispute, especially when the under-sow is not happy with the way things are.


Ovarian cysts
If these disputes become constant and one of the sows is behaving aggressively or in season all the time, please have her vet checked for a ovarian cysts/hormonal problems. Symptoms like crusty nipples, balding sides in the front and back legs are indicators of hormonal problems.
Please be aware that many cysts don't produce any physical or behavioural symptoms! It is also worth keeping in mind that not all ovarian cysts are hormonal it is often the very small cysts when they get going that cause the aggressive behaviour. In fact, the majority of ovarian cysts, which are present in many older sows, do not present with any symptoms at all and often go unnoticed.

If you see bleeding from the anus (often in small drops or patches and often as a one-off event, please have our sow's reproductive system checked by a piggy savvy vet. It can be the first sign that something more serious is wrong with the womb or a cyst. Sows do NOT bleed when they are in season!

There are now increasingly hormone treatments (chorulon injections or hormone implants) available as an alternative to a full spaying operation if the cysts are hormone based (not all ovarian cysts are).
For non-hormonal cysts or very large cysts, spaying is still the preferred option.
For very frail and/or older sows with large cysts we recommend considering draining as a valid alternative to a spaying operation as it doesn't require full or any anaesthesia. The result is not permanent, but will last for a number of months and can be repeated at need.
Guinea Lynx :: Ovarian Tumors


Permanent fall-outs
In rare cases, a sow that has been happily living with her sister or a companion for years can suddenly and for no apparent reason decide that she will not tolerate her companion any longer. It can also happen after a medically necessary separation that the operated girl may not be accepted back, even if she has been kept next door and had interaction through the mesh/the bars.

You can try to reintroduce the girls on neutral ground, but if they don't get on - especially after blood has been drawn - you will have to keep them separated permanently. Sadly, once a guinea pig has decided that another piggy is no longer part of "us", it will rarely change its mind; this is especially so with sows!
 
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Niki

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In most cases, dominance is usually decided very quickly, but it can take days and even weeks until a balance has been struck between how much the dominant girl can push her companion and how far the undergirl allows herself to be pushed. After they have sorted out the terms of their relationship, girls will usually become best friends.

When sows are pretty evenly matched, there can be a dispute. Teeth chattering (with the other party making an answering defiant clucking noise), yawning, going chin to chin (pushing their heads up facing each other), chasing, nipping and little scuffles can result. It can look pretty rough to us humans. Don't separate until there are serious, bloody fights; the girls NEED to sort out their differences without our interference!
I'm sorry but i need to say that this is too generalised an account of sow behaviour & that there is a very fine line between dominant behaviour & bullying. Sows aren't like boars they can be extremely sly in how they inflict pain on a cage-mate & an inexperienced piggy owner may not pick up on this.

You cannot allow a sow pairing where dominant behaviour is being shown for weeks to carry on, it is unfair on the less dominant pig!
Where do you draw the line?

Examples:-
1. I had a 5wk old sow who was persecuted daily by an older sow, the baby wasn't allowed to touch the floor without being chased & nipped, i allowed this to go on for 7wks thinking exactly what you have stated - they NEED to sort it out.
The baby spent most of her life hopping from the top of one log tunnel to another (in a 10ft long hutch) to keep out of the way of the older sow. In the end i decided to rehome the baby as it was obvious the situation wasn't going to change & she was not allowed to exhibit normal piggy behaviour.
That baby is Lindsays Honey B.

2. My old girl Maddie who herself had inflicted wounds on babies & adults alike became withdrawn after the death of her partner. She was introduced to 2 younger sows who were fine with each other but they were awful to her, she would sit, minding her own business & as they passed her they would nip her, sometimes causing her to cry but their behaviour could easily have been looked upon that they were infact being nice to her as they go so close, almost cuddling!
Again i left them but after 4 days & seeing the effect their behaviour was having on her i separated them. This wasn't dominant behaviour this was out & out bullying & can not be tolerated in any circumstance.

I will go as far as saying, that in my experience, often the bullied do become bullies & don't change their behaviour altho' age may mellow some.
 
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loveisdivine

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We have had our sows 4 days now and they seem to be settling well. When they think we cant see them they are quite active in their hutch, eating from the food bowl and nibbling around in the hay etc. But, sometimes when we are there either to put new food in or just see how they are doing they get very scared, I expect this because they are only new so obviously dont feel comfortable around us yet, but they have a little snap at each other when they get stressed it seems. Theres no actual biting just abit of raising their heads to each other and nudging then bolting away from each other, maybe abit of squeaking.

Also when I put their food in this morning, I stayed sat next to the cage for abit just to watch them. I put my hand in to move the bottle and Gloria ran into her hidey hole and started making a purring sound? Only it couldnt have been happy purring cos I wasnt cuddling her or anything.

Is this normal?
 

Charl

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Even though I don't own any sows, this is a fab guide Wiebke :)
 

Niki

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We have had our sows 4 days now and they seem to be settling well. When they think we cant see them they are quite active in their hutch, eating from the food bowl and nibbling around in the hay etc. But, sometimes when we are there either to put new food in or just see how they are doing they get very scared, I expect this because they are only new so obviously dont feel comfortable around us yet, but they have a little snap at each other when they get stressed it seems. Theres no actual biting just abit of raising their heads to each other and nudging then bolting away from each other, maybe abit of squeaking.

Also when I put their food in this morning, I stayed sat next to the cage for abit just to watch them. I put my hand in to move the bottle and Gloria ran into her hidey hole and started making a purring sound? Only it couldnt have been happy purring cos I wasnt cuddling her or anything.

Is this normal?
What you describe is perfectly normal. :)
The head raising & nudging is all about dominance & them running off means they're not confident in themselves to actually take it further, which is good.
The purring noise you describe, in this instance is curiosity/warning. Your hand will have startled her, not to worry i startle mine all the time. I have piggies i've had for over 4yrs who some days will run off & ones i've had a few months who will happily take food from my hand & then run off & others who don't move an inch :))
 

mork

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Advice about reunions please?

Dolly and Mabel have had to be separated for about 3 weeks now although they have always been within sight/sound and smell of each other.
Before the enforced separation they had only been together for about a month and Mabel although younger had asserted her dominance over Dolly who was new to us when they met.
I believe Mabel was responsible for the abcess which caused the first separation when Dolly had to have an op. On the day I reintroduced them they were only together 10 mins (and ignored each other) because I quickly discovered Mabel had had 2 babies! Sadly this meant that Dolly hadn't actually witnessed the birth although they had been v. Close to each other. This led to the separation continuing but I have continued to keep them within sight/sound/smell of each other.
Bearing in mind sexing of the babes which could obviously lead to a different type of separation in a couple of weeks I am wondering how and when I can introduce Dolly to Mabel and her babies?
Although they weren't especially pally I do believe Dolly misses Mabel's company and is having to have a lot of human love but of course we are not the real thing.
Any help/ advice would be gratefully received.
Thanks
-c
 
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Sunshine

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This is interesting to read - my two females had a massive fall out after being separated for a few weeks to have babies (I was the unwitting beneficiary of a buy-two-get-five-free offer) and I never managed to get them back together even on neutral territory, after a bath. The fighting was very bitter. I think they might both have been happier for it though - the one who attacked when I tried to reintroduce them had been very dominant when they were together, and the other one had to have separate sleeping quarters and was, I think, a bit oppressed. They seemed happier as next-door neighbours, until one of them sadly died earlier this year. The surviving one (the hard nut) still has her two nephews as neighbours, but as both girls had sons we didn't have the option of leaving them a daughter each to live with.

Has anyone had any success in introducing a friend to such a fierce sow?
 

Wiebke

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This is interesting to read - my two females had a massive fall out after being separated for a few weeks to have babies (I was the unwitting beneficiary of a buy-two-get-five-free offer) and I never managed to get them back together even on neutral territory, after a bath. The fighting was very bitter. I think they might both have been happier for it though - the one who attacked when I tried to reintroduce them had been very dominant when they were together, and the other one had to have separate sleeping quarters and was, I think, a bit oppressed. They seemed happier as next-door neighbours, until one of them sadly died earlier this year. The surviving one (the hard nut) still has her two nephews as neighbours, but as both girls had sons we didn't have the option of leaving them a daughter each to live with.

Has anyone had any success in introducing a friend to such a fierce sow?
You might have a slim chance with trying to introduce her to a boar, but chances are that she is one of those few who are better and happier off on their own - as long as they can live near other piggies, considering that her behaviour was so extreme. Personally, I wouldn't risk it.
 

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Thanks Wiebke, I suspect you're right. The nephews are neutered, so if anything happened to one of them, maybe it might be worth trying to introduce her to the remaining lad, but I'd do it with extreme caution.
 

loveisdivine

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Guinea pig sows live in groups and need a strict hierarchy to keep order.

Dominance
Sorting out the dominance is therefore vitally important for guinea pigs of the same gender. Typical behaviour includes rumbling while shifting the weight from one back leg to the other ("rumblestrutting" ), teeth chattering, headbutting and nipping (with the other girl protesting loudly) and bullying practices like taking over the hut, food bowl, hay etc. She who rumbles last is first lady!

In most cases, dominance is usually decided very quickly, but it can take days and even weeks until a balance has been struck between how much the dominant girl can push her companion and how far the undergirl allows herself to be pushed. After they have sorted out the terms of their relationship, girls will usually become best friends.

When sows are pretty evenly matched, there can be a dispute. Teeth chattering (with the other party making an answering defiant clucking noise), yawning, going chin to chin (pushing their heads up facing each other), chasing, nipping and little scuffles can result. It can look pretty rough to us humans. Don't separate until there are serious, bloody fights; the girls NEED to sort out their differences without our interference!

Only in rare cases will a girl attack others on introduction or not bond. If blood has been drawn, the sows should be separated.
Our girls have been like this since we got them 2 months ago. There hasnt been any blood drawn, but all the other stuff is a daily occurence. It doesnt seem to affect them lng term though, cos within seconds of scuffling and rumblestrutting they are back to eating and sleeping! Is it normal for all the dominance displays to go on for long?
 

Wiebke

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Most guinea pigs settle a bit quicker! But it can happen with very dominant sows. You have to judge whether your undersow is stressed/depressed by this or whether they are otherwise behaving like they are well bonded and happy together.

In the first case, I would think about separating, in the second to sit it out - they will become best friends evenually. You may notice that things will probably be worse around the time your top sow is in/coming into season about every two weeks.
 

loveisdivine

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I dont think Moe (undersow) is stressed by it, she just squeaks abit and goes back to eating. Sometimes she is the one that goes and aggrevates Gloria! (dominant). Sometimes they sit together and kinda cuddle, and they popcorn together and run around the hutch.

Its just so confusing knowing whats normal and whats not!
 

Wiebke

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I think you need not worry in this case - they are getting on! :))
I had a pair like that and they ended up being very devoted to each other.
 

loveisdivine

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Thanks for reassuring me :) I also think maybe it could be there age, they have just reached 4 months old and I read in another thread that they go through abit of a hormonal teenage phase. That would explain all the rumblestrutting.

I feel better now :)
 
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3littlepiggies

Change of Dominance

When I first adopted my newest guinea pig, she was somewhat of a youngin, not quite fully grown but pretty close. It didn't take long for the sow I currently had to beoome the dominant one and they lived fine like that for a while. It seemed to be all of a sudden that the younger one would assert herself as the dominant one. They don't have any biting or anything like that, but there is some dominance in the area of demanding of cozy's and taking over the water bottle. Has anyone ever experienced a change in the dominance of their herd? My older pig spends a lot of time protesting (squeeking), but other than that they live quite harmoniously. The little one demands to be in the older ones space, but doesn't deny her anything.
 
M

Meimi

This is interesting to read - my two females had a massive fall out after being separated for a few weeks to have babies (I was the unwitting beneficiary of a buy-two-get-five-free offer) and I never managed to get them back together even on neutral territory, after a bath. The fighting was very bitter. I think they might both have been happier for it though - the one who attacked when I tried to reintroduce them had been very dominant when they were together, and the other one had to have separate sleeping quarters and was, I think, a bit oppressed. They seemed happier as next-door neighbours, until one of them sadly died earlier this year. The surviving one (the hard nut) still has her two nephews as neighbours, but as both girls had sons we didn't have the option of leaving them a daughter each to live with.

Has anyone had any success in introducing a friend to such a fierce sow?
I have,just a few weeks ago.My Meimi was a very dominant piggy and could bite you,HARD.When I first introduced her to Coco,Meimi was like I'm gonna just mind my on buisness.Coco suddenly starts smelling Meimi like CRAZY!
Unfortunately,I had to separate them.They were in the same cage with a divider.I finally had the guts to put Coco in with Meimi and they actually got along!Sometimes,you just have to be patient.=)
 
T

tori

Spraying wee?

We had floor time last night as we do every night, The girls come out and run round my lounge or Sunny just walks back into the home, shes not that bothered about floor time but instead enjoys lazing in her bed, I'm sure she was a cat in another life! And then the boys get time after never together tho!

Anyways Betty has started teeth chattering when shes goes up to the boys home but seems to be kissing them especially teddy, teddy spends time kissing betty thru the bars too when it the boys floor time But last night she sprayed wee.

Is this normal?
Is she just showing who is boss to the boys?
Even tho they are in their home?
 
T

tori

The boys are 10 weeks old! Made me laugh tho...P**s off!
Funny because she doesnt have to go up to the cage!
 

Wiebke

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She's probably in season or coming into season. At that stage a sow will seek out the company of males (and your boys will be males by now), but she is indicating that she is not ready to mate yet (she will be only for about a couple of hours towards the end of her season).

You may be well advised blocking the view between the cages, or you will risk serious fights and fall-outs between the boys as soon as they hit the big hormones in the not too far future!
 
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