How to Keep Your Skinny Pigs Warm
There is nothing cuter than a skinny pig snuggled up in a bundle of blankets rocking a level of coziness you wish you could emulate. But being warm and snug is not just a picture-perfect “AW” moment - heat can save your skinny pig’s life.
A guinea pig's natural body temperature is 103 - 104F (39.4 - 40C). Skinny pigs have little or no fur to insulate them and keep them warm. They also often do not have as much body fat as furry guinea pigs. This is usually not a problem for the average healthy skinny pig living in a room with a temperature of around 76F (24C). Their normal food consumption will keep them fit, and healthy and keep their body temperature up.
But have you thought about what happens when they get a bit stressed, have a stomach upset, or develop some other illness?
When some of the calories from their food get diverted towards healing, they're no longer available to keep their body warm. They can spiral down, even dying, quickly. No pet parent wants to watch their pet suffer and educating yourself is the first step to knowing what to do in an emergency. Heat therapy is the first crucial step in helping a sick skinny pig, even before you call the vet.
Why does increasing the ambient temperature help?
If you can make it so they don't have to work as hard to keep their body at 103-104F then they can direct more energy towards healing. Additionally, if they get too cold, their internal organs will begin to shut down and that's not always something they can recover from, even if you provide them with enough warmth afterward.
How Can I Safely Warm My Sick Skinny Pig?
There are many ways to do it, and they are NOT equal. In the order of my own personal experience and success, I rank them as:
1) Brooder Lamp
This is a red heat lamp sold for baby chickens or other baby birds. These lamps are extremely hot, and I ONLY recommend you use them if you are already familiar with them and feel safe and confident that you can use them without burning your pets or burning your house down. They have been known to cause house fires if they get knocked over or if they are too close to a flammable material and light it on fire.
If you use a brooder lamp for your sick guinea pig I recommend starting with it at least 2.5-3 feet away from the floor of your skinny pig's cage (where your skinny pig will have access to the heat). Set up the lamp so that it points at one corner of the cage so your skinny pig can choose to be under the warm light or in a cooler part of the cage.
2) Small Space Heater
These are the small heaters people might keep under their desks in the winter. They can have a metal coil, but the very safest kind are the oil-filled ones that literally cannot start a fire. This space heater can be positioned near one corner of the cage to try to get the temperature at the corner up closer to 85 - 90F (29.4 - 32.2C). Once again, you want one corner or side of the cage to be warmer and the other end to be more like normal so your skinny pig can choose where to be.
3) Ceramic Heat Lamp
These are sold for reptile owners and are a safe alternative to the old-style heat lamps (like the red brood lamp) that were known to cause house fires. The ceramic bulbs don't put out as much heat as the brooder lamp and need to be placed closer to the cage/skinny pigs but they do still provide good heat. As above, you want one corner hotter than the other. I use a 250w ceramic bulb and this holder.
4) Chew-Proof Heating Pad
These are often sold for cats, dogs, or rabbits who are living outside in cold weather. The electrical cord is inside a flexible metal tube designed to withstand mild chewing. You can put this whole thing directly into your skinny pig's cage. I was very excited when I first learned about these and bought a couple of them. Over time I've stopped using them entirely though. If you just put it into the cage it warms up their belly but not their whole body. If this is all you have available, your best bet will be to put the chew-proof heat pad underneath a house, hut, pigloo, or other similar places a skinny pig will hide in and huddle in. Put fleece over the pad so your pet is not directly in contact with it and then cover the hut, house, or whatever it is, with one or more layers of fleece to try to help trap warm air inside that space.
Signs of Heat Exhaustion
Warmth will help your skinny pig recover but you do need to be careful that you don't provide an unsafe level of heat, which is just as dangerous as not enough heat. Signs of heat distress, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or burns include (but are not limited to):
- Laying really flat like a pancake while wide awake
- Fast and noticeable breathing
- Skin feeling clammy or sticky (skinny pigs, not Baldwins who may naturally feel like this)
- Skin turning red or developing a spot or circle of red, discolored, or altered skin, usually on the back, or an area closest to the heat lamp
- Edges of the ears are dry or appear damaged
If any of these signs are noticed, you should remove and re-evaluate your heat immediately to make sure it's not causing distress or injury to your pets.
Keep giving your pets the best of natural life!
April Arguin A.S., C.P.N., M.P.H