Guinea pigs have been a childhood pet favorite for generations. The soft cuddly rodents are attractive thanks to their longer lifespan than hamsters and relatively easy going personalities. The small size makes them easy to accommodate and children love playing with them. Their care is pretty low-key considering. You don’t need to walk a guinea pig or play fetch. You just need to keep it well-fed and watered and, of course clean. But how to clean a guinea pig, that is the question.
Should you throw them in the tub when they start to look a little dirty? That’s a hard no, according to Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM and veterinary expert for Pumpkin Pet Insurance.
How to Clean a Guinea Pig
Can you bathe a guinea pig and perhaps more importantly, should you? “You can,” says Dr. Wooten. “However pigs are very sensitive to radical changes in temperature, which is why regularly washing them is not recommended. If they are damp at all after the bath, that can predispose them to development of an upper respiratory infection, which can progress to pneumonia.”
No one wants their sweet little guinea pig struggling with pneumonia and that’s precisely why Dr. Wooten says that in nature, guinea pigs are prey animals that do not bathe, and they hide their illnesses, “which is why a simple upper respiratory infection can be missed and grow into a bigger problem, like pneumonia, which is a bacterial infection in the lungs.”
A guinea pig’s skin actually serves as an indicator of their overall health.
“Guinea pigs normally have clean, healthy skin,” explains Dr. Wooten. “If your pig has dry, itchy skin or dandruff or increased grease, skin mites or a fungus could be the problem, in which case a bath can make it worse.”
In fact, if you notice any skin problems on your guinea pig, you should consult with a vet before bathing. Also keep in mind that bathing can dry out a pig's skin, which is why “it is a good idea to not bathe your pig,” says Dr. Wooten.
Safe Guinea Pig Cleaning Practices
If you must give your guinea pig a clean up because, say, they got into something nasty, proceed with caution.
“I recommend only using products that are advertised specifically for guinea pigs, as their skin is very sensitive,” says Dr. Wooten. That means just say no to common soaps used by humans.
“I do not recommend dish soap, human soap, or even dog or cat soap — get shampoo that is marketed for guinea pigs, and use very little (a couple of drops is enough for most pigs),” Dr. Wooten says.
Is It Better to Let Guinea Pigs Clean Themselves?
In a word: yes.
“In general, guinea pigs have excellent personal hygiene and when healthy, they do a great job of keeping themselves clean, so yes, it is much better to let the pig clean themself,” Dr. Wooten says.
Can You Use a Wipe to Clean A Guinea Pig’s Behind?
“I recommend using an unscented, hypoallergenic baby wipe or a slightly damp warm washcloth to wipe away any debris that accumulates around the hind quarters and nether regions,” says Dr. Wooten. “Dry completely and keep warm after.”
Other Guinea Pig Hygeine Tips
Keeping a pet guinea pig healthy isn’t limited to using safe cleaning practices. You can also trim the hair of long-haired pigs to reduce odor, Dr. Wooten recommends.
“Guinea pigs love to roll in hay, even if it is stinky hay. Rather than bathing, change the hay and absorbent padding out more often to prevent odor. You can also wash the cage with 1:1 white vinegar and water solution to eliminate urine odors,” Dr. Wooten says.
And remember, if you have a stinky pig and you've already tried these measures, consult with a local vet because the odor may be due to a medical problem.
Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM & Pumpkin Pet Insurance veterinary expert