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My Opinion: Do Guinea Pigs Smell?

They may be cute but the big question is….are they stinky? Here’s my answer…

Author of blog article Louise Baty
By Louise Baty, pigmum to Magic and Ruby

@loubaty

When we were first deciding whether to adopt two guinea pigs from our local animal rescue, my husband - who didn’t really know much about them as pets - asked me an important question: ‘Do they smell?’

As a child, back in the 1908s, I had two much loved guinea pigs. It’s a long time ago now but I can only remember Daisy and Twinkle ever smelling of hay. They were very different to the three Russian hamsters we also had, whose cuteness was diminished by their body odour issues - they smelt like sweaty feet!

Lots of people think that guinea pigs are smelly animals too and it’s not hard to see how this common misconception has materialised. 

After all, let’s face it; adorable as they are, guinea pigs do have some slightly anti social personal habits such as peeing in the hay that they’re about to nibble and also (whisper it) sometimes eating their own poo.

Yes, really!

Generally, though, guinea pigs are clean little creatures who like to groom themselves regularly.

Now that our family has been joined by our two guinea pigs, Ruby and Magic, who live in a spacious white Kavee C&C cage in our playroom, I can categorically, hand on heart confirm to you that….

No, guinea pigs do not smell - well, not unpleasant anyway.

They DO smell of something - but to me, that something is fragrant hay and grass. It makes perfect sense, really, seeing as they spend half their lives either lounging in it or munching it.

In fact, Ruby and Magic smell so lovely to me, I often catch myself having a good old sniff of their fur during cuddles. Thankfully they don’t seem to mind. My husband has been pleasantly surprised by how clean and unsmelly they are too. 

I also have a sneaking suspicion that their scent can be affected by their choice of bedding. 

Ruby and Magic have Kavee fleece liners in their cage, which we change every two to three days. One end of their cage is their ‘hay kitchen’ - generous mounds of meadow and Timothy hay which we replenish regularly so that they have enough to burrow in and eat.

two guinea pigs cuddling on unicorn themed fleece liner in white C&C cage

When they recently stayed at a friends’ house for a couple of nights when we were away, they slept in a different cage with wood shavings rather than a fleece liner. 

After collecting them and having a cuddle, we noticed that Ruby and Magic’s fur smelt different - less fragrant. In fact, they didn’t really smell of much at all which was fine of course but I did miss the hay smell on their fur. Thankfully it returned after a day or two of burrowing in hay on their fleece liner.

But if you’re reading this because you’ve noticed that your own guinea pig smells less than pleasant and you’re not quite sure why, then it’s worth knowing that there are some common reasons why guinea pigs might start to pong - and some simple solutions too. 

REASON #1: DO YOU KNOW ABOUT YOUR GUINEA PIG’S SCENT GLAND?

Have you heard of the guinea pig scent gland - also known as the grease gland? It’s an opening which you’ll find just above their tail bone. The purpose of a piggy’s grease gland is to secrete oil which marks their territory.

The only issue is that build-up can cause the gland to become sticky and smelly (this can especially be a problem for boars) and can even cause infections.

If you notice that your piggy’s gland is a bit whiffy, carefully clean it with water and mild soap. 

Another tip is that when you clean out your piggy’s cage, always use an animal safe, scentless cleaning solution. Also, whilst it’s important to replace soiled bedding and hay, try to leave a section of the hay they were previously using. If your guinea pig is placed back into a spotlessly clean cage which no longer smells of them they will soon get busy, marking their territory all over again. This is less likely to happen if a small clump of their previously used hay is popped back in the cage with the fresh stuff.

For more tips on how to clean your guinea pig's grease gland, check out this informative video by Scotty from Scotty's Animals.

REASON #2: DOES YOUR GUINEA PIG’S CAGE NEED CLEANING?

If your guinea pig’s cage is left too long between being cleaned, it will start to stink - and so will your guinea pig. If you’re using a guinea pig fleece liner in your cage, you should change it every two to four days, depending on how soiled it is. Here’s some guidance on how to clean your guinea pigs C&C cage in the video below. 

Also check this video for 7 tips on how to keep your fleece liner for longer. 

Also, given that guinea pigs poop a lot, you need to be prepared to do regular spot cleans (cleaning up those little poop pellets) and any soiled hay. Many owners do three spot cleans a day to ensure that their piggy’s cage is in tip top condition.

REASON #3: IS YOUR GUINEA PIG WET?

Some guinea pigs may choose a particular place in their cage to pee and will then trot off to a different spot for a snooze. But if you notice that your guinea pig pees and lounges in the same place, it would be a good idea to place a pee pad in that spot. That way, you can replace wet pee pads for dry ones at regular intervals to keep your guinea pig comfortable and ensure their skin and fur stay dry. Guinea pigs don’t handle being wet very well. Being left in soggy bedding for a long time can cause them to become lethargic and possibly even to develop dangerous health issues, which brings us to our next point...

guinea pigs may smell if they are left wet or damp

REASON #4: DOES YOUR GUINEA PIG HAVE BUMBLEFOOT?

This nasty bacterial foot infection is officially known as Pododermatitis but is generally referred to as bumblefoot. Guinea pigs have very soft, sensitive footpads and, if they’re kept in cages with wire floors or in soiled, wet bedding, their footpads may become overgrown, inflamed and sore with painful blisters, scabs and even smelly discharge leaking from the  wounds. A guinea pig suffering with bumblefoot will find it painful to walk. If you notice that your guinea pig’s feet become sore and smell, this means that the infection may have progressed into the tissue and bone, which is very serious indeed. The moment you suspect bumblefoot, it’s important to get your guinea pig checked out by an exotic pets vet as soon as possible. 

ensure that you check your guinea pig for bumble foot

REASON #5: DOES YOUR GUINEA PIG NEED A BATH?

As guinea pigs are very clean animals and like to groom themselves, you shouldn’t need to bathe them often or in fact at all - unless they really need it. Over bathing guinea pigs can cause them to develop dry skin and, as already mentioned, guinea pigs aren’t big fans of being wet anyway. 

But if you feel that your guinea pig’s sweat gland needs a wash or your guinea pig’s coat looks in need of a clean, you should give them a gentle, calming bath, up to a few times a year. 

guinea pig sitting in sink having a bath tips for piggy parents

TIPS FOR BATHING YOUR GUINEA PIG

If you are going to bathe your guinea pig here are some easy to follow steps:

  • Choose a warm, dry day so that your guinea pig won’t feel chilly when they come out of the bath all wet
  • Ensure that you are bathing them in a calm, quiet room with no distractions - it’s important to focus on your guinea pig 100% during their bath
  • Pour around 3cm of lukewarm water into a small container - a clean washing up bowl or bucket will do
  • Holding your guinea pig carefully, let them try the water by dipping a foot in it
  • If they panic, don’t force the bath time to continue - try again another day

If they seem calm and happy, scoop some water and gently pour it over their body, avoiding their face and ears

  • Shampoo them gently with guinea pig safe shampoo - never use shampoo designed for humans or other animals such as dogs
  • Rinse their fur thoroughly to ensure the shampoo is rinsed out
  • Wrap them gently in a towel and, holding them gently, blow dry them using a hair dryer on the COOLEST, QUIETEST setting until their fur is dry
  • Give your clean, fresh smelling guinea pig a cuddle and a treat - how about a yummy pea flake or two to celebrate a successful bath time?

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