As our female guinea pigs (sows) age, they are faced with higher risks of reproductive diseases, most commonly affecting their ovaries and mammary glands (breasts). Some of these conditions can be life-threatening, and they can be prevented through early sterilisation.
The following are some of the benefits of early sterilisation:
Eliminating the risk of ovarian and uterine tumours, cysts and infection
Reducing risks of difficult labour and accidental pregnancies
Reduces infection and tumours of the mammary glands (breast tissue)
Lower general anaesthetic risks and better healing
Ovarian cysts are one example of a common condition that can affect females above 18 months. These cysts can usually be found in both ovaries, but occasionally they can develop in just one ovary. Affected females usually show symptoms of inappetance, progressive lethargy, fur loss along both sides of their tummy, tummy enlargement, or even change in behaviour such as aggression. Diagnosis is through ultrasound, and sterilisation (spaying) is the treatment.
For female guinea pigs that are above 8 months old, becoming pregnant for the first time poses a very high risk of difficult labour which requires Caesarean section. This is caused by the normal hardening of the fibrous cartilage (pubic symphysis), which permanently joins their two pubic bones as they age, making it hard or impossible for them to deliver offspring normally. Caesarean section is extremely risky and has a high mortality rate, hence the safest option to prevent this from happening is to either sterilise the female or keep the different genders well separated.
Sterilisation can be carried out with either of two methods:
Ovariectomy (OVE), which is the removal of both ovaries only.
Ovariohysterectomy (OVH), which is the removal of both ovaries and uterus.
In young, healthy guinea pigs, we tend to perform ovariectomy through two surgical sites, one on each of her flank (the space in between her ribs and hips). This allows for better healing and lesser complications. Owners are also able to better monitor the surgery sites for infections, without much handling of their guinea pigs after the surgery.
In guinea pigs with suspected ovarian or uterine tumours, cysts of infection, ovariohysterectomy has to be performed to ensure complete removal. OVH is performed through one surgical site, through the belly. There is slight increased post-operation complications risk, such as infection due to the increased contact surface with the floor (poorer hygiene). If cared for properly, healing can be normal with little complications.
Both sterilisation methods are widely accepted to be equally effective.
Most vets recommend spaying between 6 to 12 months old to maximise the benefits. You can talk to your vet if you still have any questions or would like to learn more.