Guinea pigs are generally considered a senior at 4 years old. This is typically the number when most guinea pigs start to show their age. Health issues often become more prevalent throughout the senior years as well, so it’s crucial to be vigilant about your piggy’s health and catch the early signs.
Conditions like arthritis can slow your guinea pig down and make it painful for them to jump or run around. Ovarian cysts become more prevalent in females, and dental disease becomes more common as piggies age and lose muscle in their jaws.
However, there are so many more subtle signs that show your guinea pig’s age. Many of these signs are similar to those of other animals and even aging humans.
Let’s dive into 10 of these signs that your guinea pig is getting old and approaching their golden years. I’ll also cover topics like how to care for your aging piggy, how to calculate your guinea pig’s age in human years, and more.
1. Losing Weight
It is common for guinea pigs to gradually lose weight as they get older. Despite eating a lot, senior guinea pigs sometimes have difficulty holding weight due to their loss of muscle mass. Guinea pigs generally weigh between 1.5 – 3lbs on average. If they drop below this number or they appear thin from a bird’s eye view, you may want to try getting more weight on them.
If you notice your guinea pig getting a little thinner, you can increase the amount of pellets in their diet or supplement them with some mashed food like critical care.
Extra Vitamin C is also needed as guinea pigs age. It’s a good idea to add more fruits and vegetables that are high in Vitamin C to their diet. You can also try offering them Oxbow’s vitamin C tabs, which are basically little biscuit treats that contain added Vitamin C.
However, if your guinea pig continues to lose weight, it’s a good idea to take them to the vet for a check-up. Weight loss can be an early sign of many health conditions, so you may discover an underlying problem that you may not have noticed otherwise.
2. Losing Muscle Mass
In addition to weight loss, guinea pigs generally lose muscle mass as they age. Their hip bones become sharper in appearance and more prominent looking. You may also be able to feel their spine when you pet them.
Overall, they often appear more frail and begin to lose strength in their bones and joints, similar to what humans experience as they get older.
3. Sleeping Longer and More Deeply
Older guinea pigs often fall into deeper and longer slumbers than their young counterparts. These deep periods of sleep are usually referred to as “death naps.” Guinea pigs that are death-napping lie on their sides, generally with their eyes partially open, and go into a deep sleep.
So deep that it often takes them a few moments to wake up when you check on them. Once they do, they always look at you completely oblivious and innocent, like they didn’t just make your heart leap out of your chest.
Death naps usually only occur in guinea pigs that are over 4 years old. Most young guinea pigs are very light sleepers and typically wake at the drop of a hat.
4. Arthritis or Stiffness in Joints
Sometimes guinea pigs experience arthritis or stiffness as they get older. This is more prevalent in some guinea pigs than others. If you notice your guinea pig having difficulty moving around, it’s best to take away any ramps or boxes that require jumping or climbing to navigate.
Make sure food, water, and hay are easily accessible and close to their beds and hiding places. If you have a low box in the cage, make a wide, low ramp so your piggy can get in easily.
Get your guinea pig out regularly for floor time and encourage them to move around naturally at their pace to stretch their joints and loosen their muscles up. Also, be extra careful when handling your piggy so you don’t accidentally press on their sore spots.
If your guinea pig has flare-ups where they struggle to move around, you may need to bring food and water over to them or syringe them some mashed food like critical care. A vet visit to discuss pain management and medication during bad flare-ups is also a good idea.
I had a guinea pig who lived with arthritis from 4 to 8 years old. He would sometimes flare up so badly that he could barely walk and needed food and water brought to him every few hours. However, in between these bad periods, he would get better and could move around independently, eat and drink on his own, and even run a little.
He went through this back-and-forth battle with arthritis for the last 4 years of his life. Although strangely, it seemed to naturally improve between the ages of 6-8 compared to his more severe flare-ups between the ages of 4-6.
5. Difficulty Grooming
Grooming difficulties tie in closely with arthritis and body stiffness. If your guinea pig is sore and stiff, they may have trouble keeping themselves clean. You may begin to notice your guinea pig getting dirty as they age or even start to smell.
Guinea pigs are typically very clean animals that groom themselves regularly. If they stop, it is often a sign of pain. If this happens, your guinea pig may need a bath periodically to help keep themselves clean.
Guinea pigs usually get soiled around the bum or belly area the most, so typically, they only need a quick bum bath rather than a full body soak. If your guinea pig is not grooming themselves, it’s also a good idea to swap out fleece pads and blankets in the cage twice as often as usual to help keep them clean between baths.
6. Graying Fur
Like humans, some guinea pigs develop graying hair as they age, especially around the nose and mouth. Additionally, their fur color may lighten and mix with white hairs throughout other areas of their body. This does not occur with all guinea pigs, but many will experience subtle changes in color as they enter their senior years.
7. Changes in Fur Condition
In addition to graying, you may also notice your guinea pig’s fur taking on a rougher appearance. It may start thinning out, become less vibrant and shiny, and more ruffled. As with all animals, this is a normal part of aging.
8. Less Active
Senior guinea pigs are generally much less active and playful than young or adult guinea pigs in their prime years. Older piggies prefer to spend time lounging about, often with their little legs kicked out behind them as they pancake on their beds.
Younger guinea pigs do this too, of course, but it is more common with age. Senior guinea pigs rarely popcorn and are usually more apt to chill with you on the couch rather than explore.
9. Cataracts (Cloudy Eyes)
Like all animals and humans, guinea pigs become more prone to cataracts and vision loss as they get older. A telltale sign of cataracts is a cloudy or foggy appearance to the eyes of an older animal. Signs of blindness in guinea pigs include trouble navigating (especially when out for floor time), or slow responses to touch, light, and movement.
Cataracts and vision impairment don’t occur in all older guinea pigs, but the chances increase with age. If you do notice any vision changes in your guinea pig, don’t panic! Guinea pigs can generally still navigate their home just fine even with advanced vision loss or cataracts. Try to keep their cage set up the same and make sure their food, hay, and water are all nearby and easily accessible.
10. Hearing Loss
Guinea pigs can also experience full or partial hearing loss as they get older. You may notice them not reacting as strongly to strange noises as they used to. Even though guinea pigs have a strong sense of hearing, they usually get along just fine without it.
While hearing loss would be deadly in the wild, it doesn’t generally affect the lives of pet guinea pigs too much since they don’t need to protect themselves from predation.
Average Lifespan of a Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs can live anywhere from 4-8 years, with some even making it into the double digits! However, this is quite rare, and the average is more like 5-7 years. Breed, genetics, environment, and diet can all contribute to your guinea pig’s lifespan.
Some of these factors are out of your control, but you can potentially increase your guinea pig’s life expectancy by providing a diet rich in Vitamin C, regular exercise, a clean spacious cage, and a calm, stress-free environment.
As your guinea pig reaches the end of their life, you may notice more of a decline in their overall health. Although some guinea pigs pass away suddenly without prior symptoms, there are usually signs your guinea pig is close to dying. Some of these may include a decrease in appetite and a significant increase in time spent sleeping.
How Old is My Guinea Pig in Human Years?
Guinea pigs age at a very different rate from humans, so their years do not directly translate into human years. However, you can get a rough idea by looking at this conversion chart measuring guinea pig to human years.
As a general rule of thumb, guinea pigs age about 12 years for every 1 human year or 1 year per month. This means that a 4 year old guinea pig is approximately 48 in human years, 60 at 5 years, 72 at 6 years, and so on.
While this guideline provides a rough estimate, it isn’t entirely accurate. Guinea pigs grow and mature much differently than humans, and genetics also weigh heavily on life expectancy.
How to Care For a Senior Guinea Pig
It’s important to be extra vigilant of your guinea pig’s health once they hit their senior years. At this point in their life, they are more prone to health problems. Some guinea pigs hide their symptoms pretty well, so careful observation is key to catching illnesses early.
It’s a good idea to get a small pet scale and weigh your guinea pig weekly as they get older. Weight loss is often the first indication of a problem and helps you to get treatment quickly before problems worsen.
Always take your guinea pig to a vet if you notice anything out of the ordinary, as many conditions can be safely treated, especially if caught early. Regular home health checks are also important. It’s a good idea to look your guinea pig over weekly and watch for any strange lumps or growths that pop up. Also, keep a close eye out for any other sudden changes in appearance or behavior.
Dental disease like malocclusion or overgrown teeth are more common in senior guinea pigs as they lose muscle in their jawbone, sometimes causing the teeth to grow out of alignment. Common symptoms related to this are watery eyes, weight loss, and slow or difficulty eating.
Ovarian cysts are also common in female guinea pigs as they approach their later adult or senior years. This condition presents as an abdominal bump, large or crusty nipples, and sometimes hair thinning around the sides and belly.
It’s a good idea to research some common guinea pig health problems ahead of time so you know the signs to look out for.
In addition to health checks, temperature is important for an aging guinea pig. Older piggies are more susceptible to heat and cold, so it’s important to keep their environment at a comfortable temperature range.
You can keep your guinea pig warm in winter by providing extra blankets and warm fleece things to snuggle up in. During the hot summer months, keep your guinea pig out of direct sunlight and keep them cool by running fans or AC if you have it.
Senior guinea pigs are more delicate to conditions than younger piggies, but they have the most loving and sweet personalities of all. Older piggies still have so much love to give, and they are usually cuddlier and more amicable to handle than babies or young adults.
Aging is a normal process, but many guinea pigs handle it well and continue to remain active and healthy into their golden years. However, it’s important to keep a close eye on their health and behavior, as many piggies will hide when they are unwell.