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.
Guinea pigs originate from mountainous areas of South America, where the vegetation is tough, fibrous, and contains soil dust. Therefore, it has been suggested that highly abrasive food, of little nutritional value, should be eaten in large quantities to encourage correct dental wear.
However, guinea pigs in captivity often receive concentrates in the form of pellets or muesli and may have limited access to outdoor grazing. Guinea pigs with access to the outdoors are significantly less likely to have clinical signs of dental disease. Access to natural grazing may promote more effective dental wear than unlimited access to hay.
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.
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 looks 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.
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.
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.
The average weight of a mature guinea pig is right around 2 pounds. A healthy animal 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.
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 you are well. Keep your guinea pig free from drafts, as stress-free as possible, and feed it plenty of foods high in vitamin C.
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.
Sore hocks, swollen red 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 occurs, 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.
Urinary Tract Calculi
Urinary tract stones (calculi) is a common problem in guinea pigs. Middle-aged to older females (older than 2.5 years old) are particularly predisposed. Calcium oxalate stones are more common. Urinary tract infections are most commonly associated with E.coli, Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus bacterias. Most often the stones are located in the bladder or urethra, but they are also found in the kidneys, ureters, or vagina.
Affected guinea pigs are more likely to be fed a diet high in pellets, low in hay, and a lower variety of vegetables and fruit. Alfalfa-based pellets and hay contain a higher concentration of calcium; it has been suggested that this may contribute to urinary stones in guinea pigs. Clinical signs include blood in the urine, urinary disorders, lethargy, appetite loss and weight loss.
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 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.
Vitamin Over Supplementation
Excess of vitamin C can cause eye abnormalities in guinea pigs. Kidney disease occurs most commonly in older guinea pigs. Clinical signs include depression, dehydration, weight loss, increased thirst and urination, and unexpected death. Acute kidney failure is infrequent, but usually fatal, disease of guinea pigs. Causes include oxalic acid poisoning following ingestion of oxalate-containing plants, such as beetroot, spinach, and rhubarb.
Copper supplementation of guinea pig food led to increased Mycobacterium tuberculosis killing. Guinea pigs given vitamin supplements are more likely to have dental disease than a guinea pig not given vitamin supplements. Giving guinea pigs a vitamin C supplement specifically is related to an increased likelihood of dental disease. Supplementation the diet with omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids can diminish behavioral and physiological stress.