Cavy Apgar: how to evaluate your baby cavy’s health

1 Aug

Since I’ve brought them up in earlier posts, I figured I’d report: Jazlyn’s babies are all thriving. They’re a week old, so at this point everyone is probably out of the woods.

The first week of life can be precarious for newborn cavy pups. But the fact of the matter is that cavies make better cavy moms than humans; you don’t want to interfere with the litter any more than necessary. However, determining whether a new pup needs life-saving assistance can be difficult. There’s really no fool-proof method, but here are a few things I look for to ensure the litter is progressing nicely.


Check the litter’s weight regularly for the first several days after birth. Some weight loss is normal, but the pups should not lose more than 10 percent of their weight at birth. If one does start losing weight rapidly, it could be in trouble.

Most healthy pups will begin gaining weight less than a week after birth.


Check the mother 24 hours after the babies are born, to make sure she is producing milk for the pups. Her nipples should be slightly enlarged, and you should be able to get a little milk yourself if you press gently. Many newborn pups are fully capable of eating solid food on their own, but few foods are as high in the fat pups need as their mother’s milk. If their mother can’t feed them, you may need to intervene.

If something seems amiss with more than one of the pups and the mother is producing milk, you might consider checking the pups’ sucking reflex. If you press your fingers gently to the pup’s mouth, you should be able to trigger the reflex. If you can’t get a response, the pup may not be nursing properly. Of course, as the pups grow older and begin to rely less on reflex, it could also mean they just aren’t hungry.


Cavy pups should be active and energetic shortly after birth. If you’ve just found the litter a few hours after delivery, check to make sure all the pups can stand and walk on their own. If not, ensure there aren’t bits of debris binding the pup’s legs.

The pups should be tottering around after mom within a day or two. It’s normal for the pups to stay close to mom for warmth and to facilitate frequent nursing during the first few days, but the pups should begin actively exploring their enclosure before too long.

Pups that are ill or otherwise failing to thrive may hunch up in a corner alone and fail to follow their mother. This is a definite sign of problems.

Visual Cues

Some of these may seem a little odd at first, but I have found that many times they are the most fail-proof methods of evaluating a pup’s health. I typically look for three things on a healthy pup: clear, bright eyes, clean hair, and a nursing spot. The eyes are somewhat obvious, but if the eyes seem cloudy and you see no other problems with the litter, you’re probably just looking at an eye infection. These are very common and easy enough to clear up with a dose or two of medication.

Checking your pup for cleanliness may not seem like the most obvious test of health, but I have found it is one of the most reliable indicators of trouble. If the pup is not washing itself, and the mother is likewise disinterested, you have problems. A healthy pup’s hair will be clean and free of matting and debris.

On nursing spots: this is an unreliable, but sometimes helpful, sign of health in some breeds. Cavies with hair reversal, such as Peruvians, may develop an irregularly shaped bald spot on the top of their heads where they rub against their mother’s belly when they nurse. The absence of a nursing spot may suggest one of two things: either your pup is not nursing frequently, or else it may lack hair reversal (and most breeds do). If this spot gets too large, and after a few litters you’ll have a pretty good idea of what is normal and what is not, that suggests the mother may not be making enough milk, forcing the pup to make more frequent attempts at nursing than normal.

None of these tests by itself is a sure-fire method of evaluating a pup’s chances of survival, but taken together, it should give you a pretty good idea of whether an intervention is necessary.


One Response to “Cavy Apgar: how to evaluate your baby cavy’s health”

  1. Val August 1, 2013 at 7:16 pm #

    Glad to hear all us well, the Wigglewhiskers clan sends thir regards.

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