Back in our January and February 2020 issue (issue 54), we featured an article from Dr Stephanie Hammond, Expert and Manager of Wheek Away Boarding, sharing some of her insights regarding guinea pigs’ water bottles and quirky drinking habits.
With the warm summer months upon us, we’re sharing the article on the GPM blog to help ensure that you keep your piggies hydrated and happy.
Animals need fresh water to survive. The daily requirements vary for individual guinea pigs, but as a rough estimate, it is suggested around 50mlto 100ml a day. This can be influenced by temperature: as guinea pigs can’t sweat, they tend to drink more (and therefore pee more) when it is hot to help them to cool down.
Other reasons for excessive water consumption include medical conditions such as urinary tract infections and kidney failure.
In some cases it might look like your pig is drinking a lot but it could be that the water bottle nozzle is leaking (some bottles do this when you refill them,but they are not full to the brim, or sometimes you may need to tap the end of the nozzle a few times with your fingertip to stop it dripping) or it could be that your piggy just has a poor drinking technique which ends with most of the water dribbling down their chin!
It may be that your piggy doesn’t drink very much. This is possibly because they don’t feel very thirsty or it could be because there is a problem with the water bottle setup. The first thing to do is to check that the nozzle on the water bottle is not blocked. Tap the ball at the end of the nozzle (presuming in this case that you have a standard style water bottle with a ball bearing in the drinking spout) and make sure that water is coming out.
The next thing to look at is the water bottle placement. Many shop-bought cages (and also hutches) suggest either by demonstration set-ups, instructions or by what is supplied, that you clip the bottle on the outside of the cage using the clip supplied and then push the nozzle through the bars. Firstly,the bottles that come with the cages often have bottles with spouts that are too big for most piggies, and secondly,that placement is not always compatible with piggy drinking techniques. You can purchase suitable plastic and glass water bottles in most pet shops and online.I use the large Classic Deluxe plastic water bottles.
The best place to put a water bottle is on the inside of the cage. Use the bottle clip (or a large cable tie if you no longer have the clip) to attach the bottle to the inside of the cage, then use the wire that comes with the bottle (classic ones) to hold the bottle at a suitable height by putting it around the lid.
Why is this better? The simple answer is that the guinea pig has access to more of the nozzle. You may have a piggy that politely licks the end (and appears to chew the water) in which case your piggy can probably use any setup of the bottle. Other piggies like to put the whole nozzle into their mouth and suck the water out. Some piggies place it straight in the front of their mouth, but many place the nozzle in through the side behind their incisors.
You may have a pig who likes to pull the nozzle so far to one side to get it in a position they like to drink from, that they end up pulling the bottle horizontally, so it falls off the cage. If you have a ‘bottle puller’ then it may be prudent to use a cable tie instead of the clip to secure the bottle.
You could also try placing the bottle higher as they may be trying to pull the nozzle higher up.Then there are the piggies who feel the need to put their head upside down to drink- this I have no answer for!
If you are unsure how your piggy likes to drink, then the first thing to do is watch. This can be easier said than done as some timid piggies will only drink at night or when you aren’t watching. In fact, guinea pigs are masters at waiting until the house is at its quietest and drinking in the noisiest manner possible! What you can do is place two bottles at different heights/positions and see which one they prefer. If all else fails and you are still worried then you can put both a water bottle and bowl in the cage.
You may have a piggy who is a ‘back-washer’. These are piggies who like to drink while they are eating, often as they are eating nuggets, (probably to help to soften the nugget) with the result being the water bottle becoming full of foodbits and sediment incredibly quickly. If you have a clear bottle, then you will probably find this sediment settling at the bottom of the bottle by the nozzle cap. More frequent changes of water will be required in this case. Regardless of whether you have a back-washer, it is beneficial to invest in some good bottle brushes to clean the bottles. I find the narrow ones with soft mop ends the best.
Hot Soapy water or a baby disinfectant such as Milton can be used (following the product instructions), making sure you thoroughly rinse the bottles afterwards. Cotton buds are useful for cleaning the nozzle, and you would be surprised what comes out.
There are always exceptions to the rule. Some glass bottles have long nozzle bent at the right angle for drinking, but I think we can all admit that guinea pigs are quirky little creatures.
Finally, during the colder months, make sure you check any outside water bottles for freezing, particularly in the morning as temperatures drop colder overnight.