At times, the usually healthy guinea pig falls ill. How will you know if your guinea pig is sick? By close attention. Signs that your guinea pig may be ill include runny nose, sneezing, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, lethargy, loss of appetite, excessive scratching, hair loss, bloated belly, or dull eyes. If you notice any of these signs, or anything else unusual for your guinea pig, consult a vet right away.
One common health problem with guinea pigs is malocclusion. This is when the guinea pig's ever-growing teeth do not wear properly, usually because of misalignment, and can grow into the opposite gums causing abscesses and infection. If the problem is left untreated, the guinea pig cannot eat and loses weight, eventually becoming very ill. A competent veterinarian can correct the problem by regularly trimming the teeth and, in some cases, removing the problematic ones.
Diarrhea and Constipation
Diarrhea and constipation can be troublesome to guinea pigs. Diarrhea caused by viruses, bacterial infections, internal parasites, or poor diet must be diagnosed and treated promptly. A guinea pig with diarrhea usually has a messy rear end and runny stools. Constipation can be the result of several factors such as poor diet, hairballs, or illness. The constipated guinea pig has a bloated belly or may be lethargic. Veterinary attention is necessary.
Tapeworms and Roundworms
Like dogs and cats, guinea pigs can be afflicted with internal parasites such as tapeworms and roundworms. A bloated tummy, rough-looking coat, and evidence of worms in the feces or crawling around the rear end are good indicators of an infestation. Your veterinarian will prescribe medication to eradicate these internal pests.
On the outside, the guinea pig can be bothered with fleas, mites, lice, and flies. All four conditions must be treated by a veterinarian promptly. Fleas leave their brown-black waste that look like dirt. Lice cause the guinea pig to scratch and lose hair. Mites cause red, scabby patches. Flies can lay eggs on the guinea pig's soiled rear end, which hatch into maggots that burrow into the animal's skin. A clean environment and minimal contact with other animals who carry these pests go a long way toward preventing infestations.
Smooth-haired self-colored cream red-eyed guinea pig
Photo by Larysa Johnston
The average weight of a mature guinea pig is right around 2 pounds. A healthy animals receiving good nutrition and exercise feels firm in the body. An overweight guinea pig feels soft in the belly. Guinea pigs can become obese if fed too much of the wrong food. Pellets are usually the culprit, so be careful not to overfeed. A cutback in food, as directed by your vet, may be necessary to get your pig back to fighting weight.
Hind end paralysis can occur in guinea pigs and is often the result of a traumatic fall or severe vitamin C deficiency. Veterinary attention is essential to determine the cause and possible treatment. Because guinea pigs do not manufacture vitamin C, they can be prone to a scurvy if they are not fed foods high in this vitamin. Scurvy is a disease that causes bleeding gums, poor appetite, and sore joints. Prompt treatment is necessary.
Sore hocks, red swollen skin, and hair loss on the guinea pig's hind legs are usually seen in pigs kept in wire cages. Constant sitting and walking on the wire irritates the animal's hocks. Offering a guinea pig a cage with solid flooring can prevent this. When this type of irritation occur, the veterinarian may prescribe an antibiotic ointment to heal the sores.
Similarly, bumblefoot is a condition that is usually the result of wire caging and poor hygiene. Bumblefoot causes swollen feet. This condition often affects the front feet, which can become infected, abscessed, and ruptured. Antibiotics are necessary when infection occurs. A clean cage is essential to preventing and healing bumblefoot.
Heat prostration can be an emergency situation. The ideal temperature for guinea pigs is 65 to 75° F. The normal body temperature of a guinea pig is 99.3 to 103° F. Guinea pigs are sensitive to overheating, so do not expose your pet to extreme heat. If you choose to keep your guinea pig outside, make sure the hutch is properly shaded. On hot days, keep your pet inside your air-conditioned house, out of the view of sunny windows. Be on the lookout for panting, rapid breathing, and a stretched-out body position. This means your guinea pig is too hot. Move the animal to a cool area and wrap a cool, wet towel around its body.
Guinea pigs can be affected by respiratory infections. They prone to colds and can develop pneumonia. Sneezing, runny nose, and eye discharge are all signs of respiratory infection. A guinea pig with a cold must be treated promptly by a veterinarian. To prevent colds, wash your hands before handling your pig, and if you have a cold, avoid contact until your are well. Keep your guinea pig free from drafts, as stress-free as possible, and feed it plenty of foods high in vitamin C.