Yesterday, S. and I watched one of our guinea pigs give birth to four babies. She had made a sort of hollow in the straw and one by one, the baby piggies were born into it, quietly, tidily and smoothly. All four babies were alive and up and nursing within minutes. There was no screaming, hardly any blood, placentas were disposed of discreetly and babies were licked clean quickly. Compared to our own births, this was a miracle of efficiency and “mother nature knows best”.
It doesn’t always go this well. My first experience with guinea pigs having babies was kind of alarming. There was a cage with some guinea pigs one of the kibbutz daycare facilities (not the same on as the one with the rabbits or the one with the duck). The daycare teacher had been told that they were all males, so there was no worry about breeding. Until one morning, she found a terrible scene: dead baby piggies, tiny placentas and blood scattered across the cage. One of the guinea pigs was obviously a female and had given birth, but it had all gone wrong. All the babies were dead, and the terrified female was being chased around by the males. It was not pretty.
One of the ladies from the daycare told me knowingly: “She ate her own babies. They do that. We had a guinea pig once who ate her own babies.” I read up about guinea pigs and birth, and found many horrifying stories about mother pigs dying, baby pigs getting stuck… Everywhere I surfed, I was warned never to let guinea pigs breed, especially not older females, because their babies get too big and their birth is too difficult. I did wonder how their species didn’t die out if the prospects were really that gloomy, but who was I to argue with the internet?
The daycare was not that quick on the uptake, though, and by the time they got around to separating the female, she was pregnant again. Two months later, she gave birth again, and this time, it was all more organised and tidier. She had four babies. One of them was dead, though, and another passed away a day later. The mother and the two remaining piggies came to live in the pet zoo. We have separate cages for male and female guinea pigs, and I was fearful of letting them breed – what if it all went horribly wrong, like I had read it almost always would..? I tried it once again with the same mother piggy about a year later. This time, she had three babies and all lived. Our success rate was rising. I didn’t try it again though – until now, when one of the males found his way into the girls’ cage and four of the eight females got pregnant. I was very afraid. Some of the female guinea pigs were more than a year old and had never been pregnant – the riskiest of all risky situations, I read.
Amazingly though, three of the pregnant guinea pigs have now given birth smoothly. Not only have none of them died, all babies but one were born alive and healthy. There was no question of anybody eating their own babies. We now have eight incredibly cute mini-piggies running and gambolling through the cage. The mothers are nursing them, taking care of them and showing them where the food is. There is one more female left looking like she’s about to explode. The others are looking normal, so hopefully, they didn’t get pregnant. I won’t breathe easily until she has also given birth and survived it – but I think I can let go of some of the fear of disaster. It looks like it might not be quite as bad as the internet would have you believe.