Weight - Monitoring and Management

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Wiebke

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Overview:
I Regular weight monitoring
- How often should I weigh?
- Weighing tips
II Guidelines for changes in weight
- Weight loss guidelines
- Sudden weight gain and fluctuations
III Weight and Heft
- What is a healthy weight and how does it change through life?
- Feeling for the heft: Is my guinea pig the right weight for their size?
IV Underweight
V Overweight

- Obesity and overweight
- A long term healthy diet
- Exercising time tips
VI Healthy treats and dealing with pester power




Regular life long weighing is a vital health monitoring tool. It can help you to spot developing health problems early on when treatment and recovery/chronic illness management are generally much easier.
Knowing how much weight your guinea pig has lost in which space of time can also help you to judge when to see a vet and will help your vet with their own assessment.

But weighing is not your only tool. Equally important is checking a guinea pig’s heft around the ribs. This is crucial for working out whether your guinea pig is the correct weight for its personal size, or whether it is over- or underweight, so you can adjust the diet accordingly. It is the combination of both these tools that allows you to make sure that your guinea pig is healthy at all times and stages of life.


I Regular weight monitoring

How often should I weigh?

Please weigh once weekly in combination with a quick top-to-toe health check throughout the whole life of your guinea pigs.

If possible, note down your weights and any small body changes, like the appearance of a small lump. Your log can help your vet when assessing any developing health issues and in making their decisions. Taking pictures of the normal features doe use as reference can help you spot changes, especially if you have anxiety or memory issues.
Guinea pig body quirks - What is normal and what not?

Please keep in mind that over 80% of what your guinea pigs eat in a day is hay. You cannot control this just by watching a guinea pig nibbling slowly on a stalk or chewing on some crud in its cheeks. If you only judge the food intake by how your guinea pigs eat their veg (one tenth of what it should eat!), you can easily miss a massive weight loss because hay is often the first food group that is impacted when your guinea pig is in pain or not feeling well. Guinea pigs are so good at hiding any illnesses until it is often nearly too late, like all prey animals. That is where weighing once weekly is really coming into its own!


Switch to weighing daily at the same time of the feeding cycle (ideally before you feed veg or pellets) if your guinea pig is suddenly looking thinner, ill or is not eating properly.
Because the weight is fluctuating around 30-40g (ca. 1 oz) in a weigh band over the course of 24 hours depending on how full the bladder and the tummy are, weighing at the same time in the feeding cycle will help you to eliminate these fluctuations as much as possible.
I find weighing either first thing in the morning or before serving the evening veg the best times.

When weighing more than once a day, you will have to factor in this weight bandwidth. Especially if you have anxiety/control issues, please ask a partner or family member to weigh your guinea pig for you. Weighing too often will not help your guinea pig and will only increase your anxiety. Recovery and illness support is always somewhat of an up and down; that is why you have to think in in weight bands with a general trend rather than in absolute weights.


We are speaking of weight loss or weight gain only when the difference is beyond this daily swings bandwidth , i.e. when the loss/gain is 50g/1 oz or more.

We would be very grateful if you please could give any weight in grams if you have a weight/health connected problem. We have members from all over the world. Using grams prevents any confusion and misunderstandings for anybody.
Here is a link for converting UK and US pounds into grams: Pounds to Grams conversion


Weighing tips
Normal kitchen scales from a supermarket usually work just fine for your purposes, whether they are mechanical or digital.
Unlike your vet, who needs exact scales to compute dosages, at home you are mainly looking for changes in weight but not exact weights that help you decide when and how quickly you need to see a vet.
Of course if you prefer exact scales for weighing your guinea pigs, you can also find good quality ones in places like amazon or ebay.

Many people find the scales with bowls that sit on top to be ideal, but as long as the pig can fit on the scales almost any type should be fine!
With jumpy pigs you best use a tunnel or a lidded cardboard box, which you weigh separately so you can work out your guinea pig’s weight.
This video guide shows you how you can safely pick up and weigh your guinea pigs without having to handle them and risking blind jumps or accidental falls:
How To Pick Up And Weigh Your Guinea Pig Safely


II Guidelines for changes in weight

Weight loss guidelines

Here are the guidelines along which you can judge whether and how quickly you need to see a vet.
If in any doubt, please see a vet sooner rather than later. In an emergency, please make an appointment first before asking us!

- 30g / 1 oz: Normal daily weight swing
Any weight gain or loss within this band does not count because the difference between a full bladder and a full gut and an empty bladder and gut can be up to 40g and because the weight is swinging in this bandwidth throughout the day.

- 50g / 2 oz: Go on alert!
Switch to weighing daily at the same time and book a vet appointment if the weight loss continues. See a vet within 24 hours if a guinea pig is losing this amount within 24 hours (i.e. 'promptly') and step in with syringe feeding top up. If the weight loss is much slower but steady, see a vet during regular opening hours within a week, ideally as soon as you can get an appointment during regular opening hours.

- 100g / 3 oz: You need to see a vet as an emergency if the weight loss has happened within in 1-2 days!
If your guinea pig has lost 100g within 24 hours, it has not eaten or drunk at all during this time and is in acute danger of dying.
See a vet or emergency service at any time of the day or night ASAP!

Step in with syringe feeding and watering if your guinea pig can still swallow and process food. Never simply empty a syringe full into the mouth of a severely ill guinea pig!

If the weight loss has happened over a period of weeks or months, please see a vet during regular opening hours within a week, ideally as quickly as you can make an appointment.
Emergency, Crisis and Bridging Care until a Vet Appointment


Sudden mystery weight gain and weight fluctuations
Any sudden weight gain in adult or older guinea pigs should also be investigated. It can be caused by a fluid build-up in the body (potential heart insufficiency) or bloating.
The same goes for any major weight swings in a short time (50-100g repeated up and down)

There can be some seasonal weight fluctuations, especially around the lawn season when guinea pigs gorge on rich fresh grass or during weather extremes.
It also pays to check the water bottles to make sure that they are not blocked or runny, and that the water is drinkable (neither boiling hot nor frozen/ice cold in winter before you make a vet appointment.
Hot Weather Management, Heat Strokes and Fly Strike

Guinea pigs coming from a background of neglect can put on as much as 50-60g/2 oz of weight per week for a short while.

Any major weight gain in a pregnant sow usually happens only during the last 2-4 weeks of a 9-10 week pregnancy when there should be usually other signs visible (noticeably moving and growing baby balls). You won’t notice any signs and certainly not any large weight gain much earlier. How large this late stage weight gain is, depends very much on the size of the litter: whether your pregnant sow carries a single pup or 6-7 babies will have a big influence on any weight gain!
If you are worried about a potential pregnancy, please open a thread in our pregnancy support section. You need to register with the forum and accept our explicit no intentional breeding forum rules in order to access this specially monitored non-breeding section and our comprehensive practical information guides.
Pregnancy, Baby Care and Sexing (No breeding)
Pregnancy, Mother & Baby Care Guides
 

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III Weight and heft

What is a healthy weight and how does it change through life?

Youth and weight differences in siblings

Birth weights in guinea pigs can range from ca. 40-120g, normal are around 70-100g. That is an enormous weight range!
This difference in weights will usually carry on throughout life. Weight differences in litter siblings can vary a lot and will in fact increase as they grow.

Weight and size have however nothing to do with personality and dominance, but as the leader has first choice to food, they will always be that bit fatter than the any under-piggies. This is even more noticeable in larger groups.

You can minimise food bullying by not serving any more veg and pellets than your guinea pigs can eat in one session in one food bowl per piggy, spaced at least a body length away from the other. Remove the bowls in between meals to encourage eating as much hay as possible.
Alternatively you sprinkle feed all over the cage, again while you can keep an eye out on whether it is working.

As an example: It was my small and energetic Nia, who weighed about 1000g in her best times who ran a herd of a dozen sows while her massive sister Nerys rather concentrated on stuffing herself; in her best times she weighed in at 1500g and was on the overweight side. Nia died shortly before her 6th birthday and Nerys lived to celebrate her 8th birthday, so both lived a good and normal life-span.

Very young guinea pigs grow quickly for the first 4-6 months at about an average weekly weight gain of 20-30g. Please be aware that the gain is not completely steady and that your guinea pig is still healthy as long as it lively, eating and not losing any weight. You only need to worry if guinea pigs below 6 months are hardly growing at all. Even runts will generally reach around 600-700g but will generally stop growing at a younger age (6-12 months)

The growth rate is slowing down once they come close to their genetically determined optimal weight/size. Be aware that weight gain and growth happen in bursts. Youngsters that are overfed will generally grow more quickly but will also stop growing fast sooner.

Don't panic if your new baby is on the small side or the its companion is suddenly looking a lot fatter one week and then a lot larger the other! As long as your guinea pigs are gaining weight on most weeks and are not feeling skinny around the ribs, most will eventually realise their individual optimum and will be perfectly healthy as they are!


Adulthood and old age
Most guinea pigs reach their adult weight between 9-15 months. Their weight should stabilise, although it is normal for another notable gain to occur a few months later. From this time onwards, overfeeding will no longer result mainly in growth, but in overweight.

As with every other species, some guinea pigs are naturally very large while others are far more petite.
The generally accepted weight-range for adult guinea pigs is 800-1500g (900-1300g on average) although this covers only about 80% of all guinea pigs. This doesn’t mean in any way that larger or smaller guinea pigs won’t be healthy and or not able to live a normal life-span.
Please note that recommended weights in vet literature are generally on the lower side as opposed to dealing with well cared for pet guinea pigs.
There is however a good reason to not overfeed and give too many treats: Like in humans, overweight means a thick layer of yellow fat around the inner organs. This results in a higher operation risk and can also contribute to other long term and potentially life-shortening conditions, the same as in humans.

Your guinea pigs will be at their heaviest around 2-3 years of age when they are in their prime. During this time their body is also most poised to hang onto any weight.

Guinea pigs over 4 years old will gradually lose condition and become bonier especially around the hops and spine as they age. Please still have any weight loss checked by a vet to make sure that it is not due to an underlying health condition; this should include a check of the back teeth.


Feeling the ‘heft’ around the ribcage: Is my guinea pig a good weight for its size?
Feeling the heft it is a good way of judging whether your guinea pig is a good weight for his individual size.
This complements the weekly weigh-in because the heft tells you whether the individual weight/size ratio is OK and your guinea pig is perfectly healthy in itself or not at any stage of life. You can quickly and easily check the heft when you are weighing a guinea pig.

You always check the heft around the ribcage:
- Ideally you should be able to just feel the ribs.

- If you can feel every rib or they are standing all out, your guinea pig is underweight.
- If you can't feel any ribs at all, your guinea pig is overweight.
 
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IV Underweight

Guinea pigs can be slow in regaining weight after a major illness or operation with complications. It takes time for the body to heal and be able to take on nutrients again. The older guinea pigs are, the less likely they are to regain all or even any lost weight, no matter how hard you try.

If you have rehomed neglected and very skinny guinea pigs, then a good general hay based diet is the best way of putting them on a healthy even keel. Pregnant sows, nursing or recently weaned mothers as well as malnourished babies under 4 months can profit from 1-2 handfuls of extra alfalfa hay for a few weeks. This is too rich and high in calcium for other guinea pigs and can contribute to the formation of bladder stones if given long term.

Please always use a good, nutritionally balanced hay based diet! Good quality hay should at all times make over 80% of the daily food intake. If that is not the case, please support feed with hay based recovery feed.
Long Term Balanced General And Special Needs Guinea Pig Diets
Complete Syringe Feeding Guide

If your guinea pig has lost a lot of weight, you can supplement with offering porridge oats, as well as a little carrot or sweet corn in their daily veg mix, but please do not overdo it and do not feed fatty/sugary veg exclusively.
An unhealthy diet will only lead to further problems.

Freeze-dried readigrass will make a good treat, as it is richer than hay, but it should not replace normal hay nor should it be fed too generously either; it should still only ever be a treat for guinea pigs. Members with bladder stone guinea pigs have reported that feeding larger amounts of readigrass may have contributed to the recurrence of the problem.
Fresh and dried herbs can add vital trace elements to the nutrition.
 

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V Overweight

Obesity and overweight

Real obesity is very rare in guinea. It is generally a result of long term lack of movement/exercise in combination with overfeeding or too many fatty and sugary treats. Weight in obese guinea pigs piles on in the same areas as in humans: thick thighs and fat bellies that may even touch the floor in extreme cases, even when walking (or rather waddling). Activity is generally reduced to eating and sleeping; any guinea pig that is no longer able to move around freely, urgently needs to be put on a healthy diet.

Most guinea pigs thankfully don’t get as bad as this because of their fast metabolism. A larger cage size and regular exercise are both important for long term weight and health management.
However, vets are concerned about a rise in overweight pet guinea pigs caused by overfeeding veg and pellets and giving too many bad treats.

Chunky guinea pigs may look healthy, but they are not necessarily so! If you can no longer feel the ribs of your guinea pigs, then it is time to review your diet and your treat regime!


A long-term healthy diet
Meaning well can easily turn into meaning too well. A healthy diet is key to better health and can it can really make a difference in your guinea pigs’ life expectancy, too!

Please switch to a healthy hay-based, low veg and pellet diet!

- Provide unlimited and keep topping it up at least twice daily! Hay should make over 80% of the daily food intake; you can simply not overfeed! The more veg and pellets you feed, the less hay your guinea pig will eat, and that can in the long term be detrimental for its health and longevity.
- Reduce the amount of pellets you are feeding to 1 tablespoon for an adult guinea pig. Stay off products that contain fat and sugar.
- Limit the amount of vegetables to ideally a less than 50g/1 cupful but aim for a balanced mix of nutrients. Stay off of fattening veg like carrots or sweet corn, which are high in sugar and have the same effect like a human eating a burger.
- Cut out all shop treats that contain sugar/honey, fat, seed, nuts or dairy/yoghurt!
- Feed rich readigrass and/or dry forage only in pinches as a very occasional treat.

Here are our tips for a balanced diet, which looks at all aspects and includes a sample veg diet: Long Term Balanced General And Special Needs Guinea Pig Diets


Exercising time tips
Unfortunately, while youngsters usually burst with energy, adult guinea pigs tend to become more sedentary as they age, and often see run time (indoors or outdoors) or supervised free-roaming as an opportunity for checking out the territory scent marks at a leisurely amble before enjoying a nap in their favourite corner.

What can you do to encourage your guinea pigs to become more active again and to get them moving?
- Feed their veg and pellets in the run. Either call them from different sides for every morsel of veg or fresh grass you hand feed or sprinkle feed pellets veg in small chunks all over the floor.
- Make your guinea pigs work by offering their veg hanging on a string or hide it balls, tunnels or brown paper parcels.
- Give them sensory toys to investigate – apple, pear or willow branches, seed trays with fresh grass in different locations, let them romp with soiled bedding of theirs, divert them with a paper bag (any handles cut through) filled with fresh hay or grass.

BIG NO NO: Please do not make your guinea pigs run by frightening them with sharp loud sounds and sudden movements! They are prey animals, first and foremost and don’t see it as fun when they are running for their lives!
 

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VI Healthy treats and dealing with pester power

How to stop naughty begging

Guinea pigs are past masters at manipulation to get what they want. If you give them your small finger, they will take your hand. What is initially very cute can quickly become a very annoying and disruptive habit, especially when you give your guinea pigs a treat in the middle of the night to shut them up and they see it as a new opportunity to get your attention whenever they make a ruckus!

As hard as it is, but the only way you can stop your guinea pigs is by ignoring them at the price of several bad nights (ideally over a weekend or a holiday). Guinea pigs are not stupid; they will stop any tricks that do not bring the desired results.

You may also find the tips in this guide here very helpful in sorting out bad behaviours in ways that make total sense to your guinea pigs because they use their own behaviours and social interaction: Who is the boss - your guinea pig or you?


Healthy treats
If you really want to pamper your guinea pigs, please invest in different speciality hays, fresh or dried herbs or forage mixes or some freeze-dried readigrass (much richer than hay), which you can give them at special times in small quantities, like during run time or lap time.
Only give these treats occasionally and in small quantities. You can use their daily veg and pinches of healthy treats to train your guinea pigs to come to you or to even do simply tricks for you like turning in a circle during exercise time.
If you do not treat your guinea pigs when they are in their cage, they will not beg while they are in there.

Please do not feed any pet shop treats that contain the following:
- seeds or nuts (too fat)
- any oil
- any form of sugar, including honey and molasses
- any form of dairy, including yoghurt. Weaned guinea pigs are lactose intolerant.

Be aware that treats still count as part of the daily diet and do not exist in a special category!

Why not make normal feeding time fun and encourage your piggies to work to get at their food instead of giving lots extra treats? It creates lots of fun and giggles for you, too!
Enrichment Ideas for Guinea Pigs
 
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