Dystocia in Guinea Pigs
Dystocia is a clinical condition in which the process of giving birth is slowed or is made difficult for the birthing mother. In sows (pregnant guinea pigs), this is usually caused by the normal stiffening of the tough fibrous cartilage which joins the two pubic bones – medically referred to as the symphysis.
As the female guinea pig ages, the cartilage that binds the two halves of the pubic bones stiffens, limiting the ability of the pubic bones to spread sufficiently enough to allow for the passage of the fetuses. This is especially true for first-time mothers that are over seven months old. If the symphysis has not been stretched by a previous birth, the sow will not be able to deliver her offspring normally, resulting in dystocia, and more often than not, death of both the sow and the fetuses.
Cesarean sections to help relieve dystocia are very risky for guinea pigs and the survival rate for the sow is poor. Breeding the females when they are between four and eight months of age, when the symphysis is most capable of stretching, preventing pregnancy altogether by housing male and female guinea pigs separately, or spaying and neutering your guinea pigs are the only ways to avoid dystocia in guinea pigs.
Symptoms and Types
- Bleeding from the uterus/vagina
- Extended straining during labor without actually delivering the fetus
- Part of the fetus may be seen at the vaginal canal, but the labor does not progress
- Expected due date comes and goes
The normal stiffening of the tough fibrous cartilage (symphysis), which joins the two pubic bones, causes dystocia in sows that are older than seven to eight months. It is after this age that the cartilage has stiffened to the extent that it is unable to separate and spread apart to allow for the passage of the fetuses through the vaginal canal.
In some cases, if the symphysis has been stretched by a previous birth, the sow will be able to experience a healthy delivery. However, if the sow has not given birth previously, and she is older than eight months, her pregnancy typically will result in dystocia.
Your veterinarian will make the initial diagnosis based on the symptoms that you are able to describe, and on the symptoms that can be observed during an examination. If the sow has passed the due date and still not delivered your veterinarian will want to check the sow's condition by taking an X-ray of the uterus and determining the size of the fetuses, and any spreading of the symphysis before confirming a case of dystocia.
Under normal conditions, the process of giving birth is relatively quick. If your sow's labor continues for an abnormally long time and the sow is in obvious discomfort, your veterinarian will suspect a case of dystocia. Once this has been confirmed on X-ray, your doctor may administer oxytocin, a drug that helps labor to progress by stimulating uterine contractions.
If the sow is still unable to deliver, your veterinarian may perform a cesarean section to deliver the pups. The C-section in guinea pigs is usually not advocated because mothers usually do not survive it. Birth is a very dangerous time for a guinea pig, and unfortunately, you will need to be prepared for the possibility of a fatal outcome for your pregnant sow.
Living and Management
A guinea pig that is recovering from dystocia should be given time to rest and nurse her young in a clean, quiet, and undisturbed environment. Any supportive care that has been advised by your veterinarian should be administered routinely.
Keep the male(s) separate from the female during this time, as well as after. If you are breeding your guinea pig, the male and female can be in the same space for breeding purposes, but if breeding is not intended, you will need to keep your male and female guinea pigs separated until one or both of the guinea pigs has been neutered. It should be noted that breeding is not advised in most cases, both because of the inherent dangers in the birth process for guinea pigs, and because guinea pigs are difficult to place in new homes.
Dystocia in guinea pigs can be prevented by either breeding the female between four and eight months of age or by preventing pregnancy altogether by housing male and female guinea pigs separately or by spaying and neutering.