Fortunately, bathing guinea pigs is not something that has to happen every day, week, or even month. Unless directed by a veterinary professional, guinea pigs need baths maybe two to four times a year, depending on their coat. Many guinea pigs never require bathing.
Of note, if your guinea pig smells, it may be the result of illness, and you should seek professional veterinary advice immediately.
Guinea Pigs and Water
Guinea pigs may be mammals, but they cannot swim. Therefore, being in the water is inherently stressful, even if you have exposed them to water before. Please remember to be patient and gentle with your pet if you find yourself bathing them.
Special Notes on Hairless Guinea Pigs
Bathing hairless guinea pigs is particularly discouraged. Since these guinea pigs do not have fur to protect their skin, it can quickly dry out and become flakey. Bathing exasperates this issue, so it should only be done on veterinary advice.
Alternatives to Bathing Guinea Pigs
You can take water paper or regular towels and gently work out small sections of your guinea pig’s fur if necessary. This option avoids some, but not all, stress on your guinea pig and helps you keep them clean if something gets matted in a particular section.
Steps for Bathing a Guinea Pig
Bathing guinea pigs is a slow process, and it’s best to do it when there are no pressing time commitments. Also, choosing a warm, dry day can help your guinea pigs dry faster, making them more comfortable.
Set Up the Bath
To bathe a guinea pig, you need some kind of basin, a small animal-safe shampoo, towels, and lukewarm water. Some people also recommend a hair dryer with “low” and “cold” settings, but this is unnecessary for most cases.
You want the lukewarm water to be slightly above room temperature. You can test it on the inside of your wrist or use a child-safe water thermometer to ensure that it will not burn or chill your guinea pigs during the bath. However, you only need about an inch of water at the basin’s bottom.
You should also place a small towel in the bottom of the wet basin so that your guinea pig does not slip.
Introduce the Idea of Water
Since guinea pigs are not swimmers, water is a little terrifying. You can slowly lower your guinea pig into the water or hold them above the water line so they can put their toes in first to reduce stress. Once you place your guinea pig in the basin, let them explore it for a minute or two before you do anything else.
Wet the Guinea Pig
This step is often particularly stressful for guinea pigs. To do this gently, you can use a cup or your cupped hands to take water from the basin and slowly sluice it over your guinea pig. When bathing guineas, avoid getting their head wet.
Use a Safe Shampoo
Guinea pigs cannot use shampoos designed for humans or other animals since their skin oils and fur are different. Additionally, human or other animal shampoos can have harmful ingredients. Instead, use a small animal-safe shampoo from a reputable supplier when bathing guinea pigs.
You only need a little shampoo to bathe your guinea pig, so read the directions on your chosen shampoo carefully. You should rub this small amount in by hand, carefully including the belly of your guinea pig as well.
Rinse the Guinea Pig Thoroughly
You do not want shampoo residue in your guinea pig’s fur, so it’s important to rinse them thoroughly. Again, you can use a cup or your hands to take water from the basin and slowly sluice out the shampoo. You want to be careful not to startle your guinea pig.
Dry the Guinea Pig
Putting a wet guinea pig in its cage is not advisable. Instead, use a towel to gently wipe off as much water as possible. You may also try wrapping the guinea pig in the towel for a few minutes as a pigitto and holding them if your guinea pig typically likes to be held.
If you are using a hair dryer, please make sure to use the cold air option on the lowest setting; otherwise, you could injure your guinea pig. You should still lightly towel your guinea pig before using a hair dryer on them, and be aware that the noise can be hard on their sensitive ears if used for too long.
As previously mentioned, frequently bathing guinea pigs should only be done on veterinary recommendation. Bathing may be part of a treatment plan. However, frequently bathing a healthy guinea pig can damage its fur and skin.
If you have multiple guinea pigs, make sure to bathe them all in a single day. Bathing guinea pigs changes their natural scents, which can upset the guinea pigs and lead to fights. Bathing them all on the same day puts them on equal footing and reduces the chances of problems.
Some people like to perform additional tasks like fur and claw clipping. Please evaluate how stressed your guinea pig is by each activity and decide whether separating these tasks into their own days would be better for the piggle.