Thursday, December 6, 2012

When breeding guinea pigs isn't as easy as people think.

This gorgeous girl is our pedigree texel 'English Rose Jasmine'. Jasmine never grew a full 'to the ground' coat, partly due to barbering and partly due to suspected dropped coat. So we decided to trial her with a litter to our pedigree sheltie boar 'Saphira Blase' rather than another texel (as this is something much more common in the texel breed). Blase has excellent coat, never gets knotty or chewed and has pretty good type. The resulting babies would have been sheltie like their dad (he doesn't have any recessive curl in his ancestry), so we knew exactly what we were looking at achieving with the pairing - and we were excited to add some new sheltie lines to our stud.

But this wasn't to be.

(Saphira Blase)

Jasmine's expected due date came and went. We had obviously mis-calculated her dates. I had assumed that she fell pregnant on her first heat cycle with Blaise, and had removed her two days after her second heat cycle (sometimes the girls will have a false heat even when they are pregnant - they like to keep you guessing!). As time went by and Jasmine grew VERY large, I re-calculated using the second heat cycle and the date she was removed from Blase as our new due date.

This date also came and went. Jasmine ended up being pregnant for a total of 76days (usual pregnancies last 63-68 days, with the upper maximum sitting at about 72days). We stopped feeling all the beautiful, energetic movement and teeth grinding/practice suckling from the bubs at about 73 days. It was at this point that our hopes for Jasmine's litter started to wain. Now I just wanted her to be ok. If the babies had died inside of her she only had a little bit of time to get them out before they would make her very sick.

From 73 days to 76 days we had three other litters born here at the caviary to other mums. Each time I made sure Jasmine had access to the newborns to help clean them up and ingest the birth fluid. Usually this helps kick-start labour for due mothers. But not even that hormonal kick-up-the-butt did the job. I honestly don't know why her body didn't give her the signal to deliver her babies on time as her last litter was perfect. But I'm guessing it's one of those mysteries of life. Along the same lines of why some women go overdue with their babies and some deliver early.

It probably wasn't until the chemical change from her deceased babies set off her labour that her body began the process of expelling them. I noticed her first contractions and sat down beside her to assist. It was a long and slow process, and very messy. I won't go into the real details here as I know we have younger readers. But I do want to be as open and honest as I can that things don't always go to plan. We have lots of gorgeous posts about healthy babies that might give off the impression that it's all quite easy - but a LOT of preparation goes on in the background to minimize loss as much as possible, but not even the best preparation can prevent everything.

Because the babies were already dead they did not have the muscle tone to help themselves pass through the birth canal, so Jasmine and I had to work together. If I had not noticed those first contractions, or if it had been the middle of the night, it is very likely that we would have lost Jasmine as well as there is no way she would have passed her first two babies by herself. If you find yourself in this situation, please try your best to put squeamishness behind you. You will need to get your hands dirty. You will need to help manipulate the baby's head/body out, while carefully putting pressure around the sow's birth canal to avoid damage. Never yank as this can cause the placenta to tear from the uterine wall and lead to hemoraging or prolapse. Just gently pull as the mother contracts - work with her body.

The whole process of birthing the 4 stillborn babies took about 1.5-2hrs - most litters are born within half an hour. Some within 10mins. As each massive, still baby emerged we tried our best to revive them - but their eyes were cloudy (a sign that they had died a while ago) and it is likely that they had gone into distress as each one had pooed. Jasmine was able to deliver her 3rd and 4th babies with minimal intervention, and then went on to deliver the placentas. She again needed a bit of assistance with the last one. She was still passing a lot of blood, so a quick gentle massage of her belly helped expel the last one. If any foreign material was left inside of her, it would have meant infection and most likely death - so it is VERY important that a placenta is delivered for each baby born.

This was the sad scene we had at the end of the whole ordeal. Over 450g of baby, with the largest one weighing 150g on his own. RIP little babies. You never got a chance to smell the grass, popcorn in a freshly cleaned cage or snuggle into your mother's curls...


  1. aww that is so sad, our female guinea pig Sinae died last year suddenly her babies were breached inside of her and needed intervening otherwise she would have died, my other half got the first two out but the vet had to inject her to get her to contract. All were stillborn, all were very large. I wonder if that's a common thing with large babies? hugs to you're kind soul and piggie family

  2. larger babies are always going to be harder for the mum to get out - even more so if they weren't sitting properly, or were breach. When things go wrong and you need a vet to help intervene as well, it's very rare that you get live bubs at the end of it. There's only a small window of time that the babies can survive in there once the mother goes into labour. It's a bit tricky this guinea pig business isn't it!