One of the less fun tasks a guinea pig pet parent is faced with is caring for their pet’s skin and coat…and this can be a particularly dirty job. In this blog post, we’ll cover one of the less glamorous, yet essential, tasks of keeping your guinea pig clean: cleaning their grease gland.
What is a grease gland?
The grease gland is what a guinea pig uses to scent mark their territory. It is located at the end of their spine, about where a tail would be if they had one. The gland secretes a thick, oily substance which turns into a gum-like consistency as it dries. The secretions tend to dry on the fur and skin surrounding the gland. If not properly cared for, this can matt the fur on their behind; over time, this matted fur will collect shed skin, hay pieces, and other unhygienic debris. This understandably becomes uncomfortable for your pet! Cleaning their grease gland can help relieve the skin irritation and tension that occurs when fur is matted and can also help prevent potential infections.
Does my female guinea pig have a grease gland?
While boars (males) may have more active grease glands and therefore may need to be cleaned more often, female guinea pigs also have grease glands. You might not need to clean a female guinea pig’s grease gland as much as you would with a male, but this is not always the case. Grease gland production is a hormonally-driven process. If a female is intact or particularly dominant, or if there are intact males nearby, this can mean that a female might have a more active grease gland.
How often do I clean my guinea pig’s grease gland?
This answer really depends on how active your pet’s grease gland is, and there isn’t a set schedule in which you should clean a grease gland. Pet parents with boars will likely need to clean their guinea pig’s grease gland more frequently than sows, but every pet is a unique individual. Regardless of whether your pet is male or female, check your guinea pig’s grease gland once a month to see how much gummed-up material is present.
What supplies do I need?
- At the time of this writing, there is not a product specifically made for the grease gland cleaning process. The safest methods we’d recommend are to use either coconut oil or diluted Dawn dish soap.
- A bottle that has been thoroughly cleaned of any products, if using the Dawn method
- If you get easily grossed out, a pair of non-latex gloves to wear
- Your pet’s favorite healthy treats, herbs, or greens (NOTE: do not use a treat that can cause GI upset if eaten in large quantities)
- Guinea pig-safe shampoo, if using the coconut oil method
- 3 dry towels (1 for grease gland cleaning, 1 to dry your guinea pig post-bath, and 1 for your guinea pig to rest in post-bath)
- A loaf pan or casserole dish, or some kind of flat container that won’t tip over easily
- Cotton swabs, if you don’t want to use your fingertips
- A gentle comb if your guinea pig is a long-haired breed
- A second person who can keep your pet distracted is very helpful, especially if this is the first time you’ve cleaned a grease gland
If using the Dawn method: Dawn is very good at cutting grease; using Dawn at its full concentration on your guinea pig’s grease gland can not only remove grease gland buildup, but can also unintentionally strip the healthy, necessary oils from their fur and skin in this area. This will create problems for your pet, such as dry, flaky, and irritated skin. Diluting this soap into a soap-and-water solution is absolutely necessary for your pet’s comfort. Start with your squeaky-clean bottle. Measure out the Dawn and the water; your solution should consist of ¼ Dawn and ¾ water, so using ¼ cup and ¾ cup respectively will give you a lot of diluted Dawn to use for future grease gland cleanings. Once the proper amount of each ingredient has been added to the bottle, shake well to mix.
Getting down to business
Have your Dawn solution or coconut oil ready, as well as your pet’s favorite treats. Collect your guinea pig from their enclosure and use the first towel as a lap pad. With your pet facing away from you and sufficiently distracted with food, apply your coconut oil or dilute Dawn to the gunked-up area around their grease gland. Gently work the product in with your fingertips without excessively pulling at their fur. Your pet might find this unpleasant and may vocally protest, but usually their favorite food is enough to keep them from turning around or struggling to get away.
Let the product sit on the “gunky” area to do its thing for a minute, making sure that your pet doesn’t turn around to groom themselves. After a minute, use your fingers (or a cotton swab) to gently rub the gooey grease gland. The grease may dissolve entirely, or you might find the clump breaks up, making the pieces of debris easier to remove. This area is sensitive, so again, do not pull at fur. In long-hair breeds, you might need to gently comb out debris rather than removing it by hand or cotton swab.
A note on baths: We highly recommend using a clean casserole dish or loaf pan as a mini bathtub for your guinea pig if you ever need to bathe them. Simply fill the dish or pan with an inch of warm water and set it in the middle of your human bathtub. Do not fill a human-sized bathtub or hold your pet under the sink faucet to bathe them. Most guinea pigs do not like water, so the less water that is present the better. Regardless of how many viral videos insist that this species loves to swim, in actuality most guinea pigs find that being submerged in water to any extent is a frightening, even traumatic, experience. Using small amounts of non-running water in a contained setting (such as a dish) will greatly reduce the fear factor for your little one whenever bath time rolls around. Our recommended method also ensures that the chances of your pet accidentally breathing in water if they wiggle out of your grip is kept to a minimum. If your guinea pig cannot solidly stand on all four legs or needs to lift their head up to stay above water, this water is far too deep.
Once all the gunk and debris is gone, the “degreaser” needs to be rinsed away! Have your loaf pan or casserole dish ready with 1 inch of comfortably warm water. Place your guinea pig in the dish so they are standing on their hind legs while you securely restrain their front legs to prevent them from jumping or bolting (learn about how to properly hold your pet here). Use your free hand to rinse off the grease gland with water in the dish. If you used coconut oil, a small amount of guinea pig-safe shampoo may be needed to wash away all of the oil.
Once all the soap or oil is gone, remove your pet promptly and wrap them in a towel to stay warm. Your pet will more than likely be cross with you at this point! Plan for another treat offering as you open the towel and begin to pat dry whatever water you can from their coat.
After excess water is removed, your pet can go back into their enclosure. Once they’re home, they shake and groom themselves to get dry faster. Giving them a towel to snuggle up in for an hour can help absorb more water from their fur, just make sure to remove it and check that their bedding is not excessively wet (bedding may need to be spot cleaned or replaced if it is damp).
Pet parenthood isn’t always pretty, and sometimes it can be a downright thankless job—grease gland cleaning is often a reminder of this fact. But regardless of how cross your pet may be in the short-term, making sure they are clean and comfortable will go a long way to giving your pet a long, happy life.