In the main, most sows do not have any problems in pregnancy and are amazingly efficient at producing their young. However there are many signs and symptoms that make it look as though there is something going wrong. Perhaps it is more a matter of anxious owners and this anxiety increasing as D day, 'delivery day' approaches.
I think I get more worried callers on the end of the telephone line on this subject than any other kind. As I reassure them and hammer home the message that what the sow is going through is a perfectly natural function I am reminded of a friend of mine and his wife.
He is an airline pilot and she an air stewardess. Any height above my inside leg measurement and I am absolutely petrfied. With this in mind, I once remarked to my friend's wife, when she was teasing me about my horror of flying, that it was fine for her and her husband as that was their business.
"Hm!" she snorted, "You should see this one as a passenger?" she continued, pointing at her husband.
"She's right," confirmed her husband. "I hate being a passenger, I'm nervous as a kitten. The statistics are right and it is much safer to travel by air than by any other method but things can go wrong and if I'm a passenger then I won't be able to sort them out myself!?" he explained.
It is much the same with me when I have one of my own sows about to litter down, only in reverse. No matter how I reassure owners, telling them to relax and that such a such a symptom is nothing to worry about I am equally jittery when my own sows near their time. I do know what can go wrong and I do want to be in the position to do something about it and want other people to be able to as well, hence this detailed piece about pregnancy.
The number one problem is that you can never be sure just how close a sow is to litter down because you can never be sure just when she conceived. This is why there is such a huge variation in the length of the pregnancy terms given in different books on guinea pig care. I say it can go up to seventy five days but I am equally certain that it can be a lot less than that.
The only sure symptom that D day is very near is when you can feel that the pelvic bones have parted. When they have you can generally expect delivery within the next forty eight hours. However, there are quite a few cases where these bones can remain open for a week to ten days and usually there are no problems. However, always keep a very close watch on any sow which does not litter down within the expected forty eight hours.
The way to feel for the bones is to slip the finger between the back legs from behind the sow and palpate just forward of the vulva. The gap, when they are open should be between a quarter and half an inch. If there is any doubt about what you are feeling check the bones of a non pregnant sow.
Symptoms that things are not going well are lost of appetite, listlessness, excessive salivation and shows of blood from the vulva.
Quite a few sows lose their appetite a few hours before they deliver and providing in all other respects she appears to be fine and her young are still active, then she is probably one of these.
If she is listless then she could be heading for trouble and decisions have to be made, and very quickly about whether she should be induced by the use of oxytocin or possibly have the young removed by Caesarean section.
If the listlessness is accompanied by excessive salivation, then the outlook is very bleak and in most cases it mean she has developed pregnancy toxaemia. The use of antibiotics and rehydration by drip can sometimes help but the failure rate is very high.
Shows of blood are not at all uncommon and providing they are small and do not reoccur, seem to have no ill effect. However, they should always be taken seriously and the sow monitored very carefully.
The golden rule is if in doubt, get the sow to a vet or an expert for the promptness of correct diagnosis and treatment in thiese cases is pivotal to her and her young's survival.
For me and many other owners of these adorable animals, the sight of a mother guinea pig littering down is the most wonderful in the world. I always scold and threaten to withdraw the cucumber ration of those who do it when I am out or asleep, something many of them seem to take delight in doing!.
The proceedings are heralded by a grunt, which once heard you will never forget for it is the only time a sow makes this sound. With back legs splayed and head between her legs it looks just like she is beginning to rummage for one droppings and then the theatre really begins.
The deliveries are either long or short, the short being the more usual with the whole business taking between ten to fifteen minutes. The longer births are those where there is a longer gap between each delivery, with short rest periods between the contractions.
If it is the first time the sow has been pregnant expect two to three young, and subsequent litters can be up six, and on occasion, eight.
The time to get concerned is if the sow keeps having contractions and there is no mini pig as a result. The usual reasons for this area breach presentation, pregnancy inertia or it can sometimes be that the umbilical cord has got wrapped around the baby.
For me, about the most frustrating thing in the world is to have short fingernails when a sow is having trouble bringing her young into the world. If I know a sow is pregnant then trimming my fingers nails is off until she is well delivered. I think I had better explain.
The sow pulls her babies out by their teeth which are the first thing she feels when she puts her head between her legs and the baby's head appears. Usually, by the action of gripping the baby's teeth in hers the thin membrane of the sac the baby has been carried in while it has been growing, tears, thus giving it access to air which it is soon going to need as it takes it's first breath.
The techniques I am about to describe I have learned step by step over the past twelve years so consequently am experience and confident in what I am if ever I had any doubt about what I was doing I always left well alone and went to someone who was experienced and I advise owners to do the same.
It is possible to turn a baby that is breached, I have done it many times, but without sufficient length of finger nail to hook under the it's incisor teeth it can be very difficult to pull it out.
The same applies in the interita cases where the baby has not become fully engaged in the birth canal.
To carry out an internal examination squirt a one of the water soluble gels, I use the type that doctors use for internal examinations, up into the vagina, however, don't immediately carry out the examination.
Sometimes the mere act of adding this extra lubrication to the sow's natural ones can tip the balance and providing it is not a breach presentation the baby will come out naturally. If this doesn't work, slip one hand under the sow and lift just enough to ease her weight, and insert the third finger of the other hand gently up inside. This action too can sometimes have the desired effect for it can stimulate her to have contractions. Do not advance the finger any further until she has finished, which may result in a baby being delivered!.
If the result is negative, slip the finger in gently, letting it be guided to which ever side the the baby is lying. More often than not they come down from the right, her left, but sometimes it can be the other side.
What your finger should come up against if the presentation is O.K. are the incisor teeth. If, instead, it's a foot then in most cases it's breach. On one occasion I found this to be a front foot which I managed to manipulate back up the canal and shortly after there was one massive contraction and the baby came out on it's own.
By careful manipulation the baby can sometimes be turned around and once the head's engaged properly in the birth canal, more often than not it will simply follow through with the next contraction and come out without any further human assistance. If it doesn't then it is relatively easy to hook the nail under the teeth and gently ease it out. However, if there is any marked resistance then stop immediately for further pulling could cause a prolapse.
If the baby cannot be turned it will be necessary to slip two fingers in, and in most cases there is plenty of room to do this, if there isn't then don't try!. First you must locate and manipulate it into place so that the two feet are together. I have only once come across one where both feet were presenting. Then, slipping the other finger in to make a pair of 'finger forceps' grip the two feet firmly and gently pull. Take your time and work with the sow who usually obliges when she feels the first pull.
This is delicate and time consuming work, something which must never be rushed and is not for the inexpert but it can be done and I urge people to try and learn how to do it. I am afraid my reason for this is once more the failure of many vets to take it on, preferring in most cases to always do a caesarean section which is a far more risky business.
Sometimes the administration of oxytocin is of great assistance. If you can find a vet who will respect your opinions and co-operate this drug can work wonders.
I am of the opinion that many of these animals can be saved unnecessary and hazardous surgery. If the profession can be persuaded to spend the time and effort to do what they will do for cats dogs and other animals, which incidentally, are far more able to survive anaesthesia than guinea pigs, many lives could be saved.