guinea pig on table beside clipboard and veterinarian
Guinea pigs try to hide any illness, and something like vitamin C deficiency can make them very sick over time. iStock.com/StockLib

It’s a helpless feeling when a guinea pig is sick. Why won’t he eat? Why is she losing her fur? Why doesn’t he want to move? You don’t want your guinea pig to suffer in any way, but accidents and illness can happen. Defend against this by being the best caregiver possible and educating yourself about guinea pig health problems. It’s also critical to choose a veterinarian who regularly treats guinea pigs, and to take your precious companion in for annual checkups.

Guinea pigs are prey animals who try to hide any illness. This means that by the time you notice a problem, your guinea pig might have been sick for a while. The best option is to contact your veterinarian as soon as you suspect your guinea pig is sick; something that seems minor could quickly develop into something major. Always have the phone number of your vet, an emergency vet and poison control hotlines ready in or near your phone. Some poison control hotlines to check out are the ASPCA or Pet Poison Helpline.

Help Your Guinea Pig Stay Healthy

Guinea pigs are complicated little souls with some health similarities and some differences from us. A lot can go wrong. No vaccines exist to protect them from any ailments, but you can do a lot as your pal’s caretaker to minimize the chances of your pet getting ill. Strive to offer a proper diet, a clean and safe environment, mental enrichment, and plenty of love and attention. Get these right and, barring any genetic issues, you should share a pretty happy 5 to 7 years together.

Trouble For Guinea Pigs

No matter how cautious you are, your guinea pig is bound to face illness at some point. Recognizing the signs quickly can alert you to seek treatment sooner. So what does a sick guinea pig look like? General guidelines include:
• Any sudden change in behavior or habits (vocalizing more or less, scratching, licking, etc.)
• Any change in eating or drinking (ingesting either more or less, refusing favorite foods, etc.)
• Any change in appearance (loss of fur, swollen areas, squinty eyes, flaky skin, etc.)
• Any unusual discharge from the body (runny nose or eyes, odd urine, bleeding, etc.)
• Any change in movement (limping, unwillingness to move, etc.)
• Any change in urination or feces

Your Veterinary Partner

Many things can go wrong with a guinea pig’s health. And the signs for some ailments are similar to many others. A trusted, guinea pig-savvy veterinarian is key to your guinea pig’s good health. An internet search revealed some of the guinea pig health issues focused on by veterinary websites from a few countries.

VCA Animal Hospitals, a chain of veterinary hospitals in the United States and Canada, lists the following guinea pig health problems on its website: respiratory infections, diarrhea, scurvy, tumors, abscesses, urinary problems, and infestations of lice, mites, or fungus.

The RSPCA in Australia includes the following guinea pig ailments in its list of guinea pig health problems: vitamin C deficiency, ulcerative pododermatitis, mites, and dental problems.

The website for the Oathall Veterinary Group in West Sussex, England, discusses the following guinea pig ailments: malocclusion, pneumonia, intestinal parasites, vitamin C deficiency, skin problems, heatstroke, cancer, and abscesses.

In the United Kingdom, the Pet Health Info website, which is managed by the National Office of Animal Health that represents the UK animal medicines industry, offers the following list of guinea pig ailments: fly strike, mites, ringworm, mange, and vitamin C deficiency.

Guinea Pig Health Issues

This article can’t cover all of the medical concerns for guinea pigs or even discuss in detail the ones mentioned. The below list of 10 are problems that are more common, but many other conditions can send a guinea pig to the veterinarian: bloat, cardiovascular disease, eye problems, and urinary stones, to name a few. And guinea pigs who are not neutered can face additional issues with reproductive system problems.

Each guinea pig is an individual, so talk to your guinea pig-savvy veterinarian about the risks and what you can do to keep your furry companion bright-eyed and happy.

1. Vitamin C Deficiency: This is also called scurvy, which is a disease that affects muscles, skin, and bones. Like us, guinea pigs require vitamin C in their diet because they can’t make it themselves. You would be surprised how many things can go wrong medically when vitamin C is deficient — teeth loosen, joints swell, fur gets rough. The guinea pig usually stops eating and there is diarrhea and gut stasis (lack of movement in the digestive system). And that’s only a few of the things that go wrong. It’s painful. And it’s preventable. Feed your guinea pig a high-fiber diet with plenty of hay and consult your veterinarian to determine the best way to offer vitamin C supplements.

2. Respiratory Problems: The book “Ferrets, Rabbits And Rodents Clinical Medicine And Surgery” states that bacterial pneumonia is one of the most important disease of guinea pigs. Similar to vitamin C deficiency, you have a lot of control over whether your guinea pig develops this. Keep your little friend’s home clean and dry, and make sure there is good airflow and normal humidity. Signs of pneumonia include discharge at the eyes and nose, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, weight loss, and just looking sick. Bacterial pneumonia isn’t the only respiratory ailment that can impair breathing. Others include viral pneumonia and Bordetella. You can reduce your guinea pig’s chances of getting Bordetella by preventing contact with rabbits and dogs, which can be carriers of this bacteria.

3. Abscesses: A collection of pus in response to an infection forms a lump that is called an abscess. Causes of abscesses vary, and they can appear almost anywhere on or in the body. Tooth infection can make one appear around the mouth or jaw. Treatment of an abscess depends on the cause. And outcome depends on the cause, the location, and the timeliness of treatment. To help your guinea pig, be alert to any lumps that appear externally. This is as simple as giving your pal a “once over” daily when you pet him or her. Don’t let the fur hide anything. Also observe if your guinea pig overgrooms an area or acts strangely. Guinea pig-proof the habitat so your pet won’t get a puncture wound and don’t allow any fighting between piggies.

4. Mange: Dogs are not the only pets to suffer from mange mites. Guinea pigs have a mange mite all their own, Trixacarus caviae, that can infest their skin and cause pain. If your guinea pig is scratching to the point of opening wounds, suffering hair loss and/or “dandruff,” this mite could be the cause. Your veterinarian can advise you about treatment and future prevention. It’s a serious condition. A clean environment and limited contact with other animals that might carry parasites helps prevent infestation by this external parasite, as well as others that guinea pigs can get, including fleas, lice, and other mites. Never use over-the-counter products to treat mange or any other parasite of your guinea pigs unless your veterinarian gives you approval. Some parasite treatments for cats and dogs can be toxic to guinea pigs.

5. Pododermatitis: Ouch! This painful foot condition occurs when infected sores or overgrown footpads exist on the paws. You will see that something is wrong just by looking at the bottom of the feet. Your guinea pig may limp or move about less and might even stop eating. Pododermatitis, sometimes called bumblefoot, happens for many reasons and sometimes more than one. A wire-bottomed cage or hard floor surface might cause it. As can a lack of vitamin C. Dirty or wet bedding can also bring it on. Overweight guinea pigs are more prone to develop it, as are those with overgrown nails. So, preventing pododermatitis means providing an ideal environment, watching your guinea pig’s weight and keeping nails trimmed. Treatment depends on the severity. If the condition is caught early on, most guinea pigs can recover.

6. Dental Problems: Guinea pigs have constantly growing teeth and a small mouth. If the teeth aren’t worn down properly, teeth can overgrow. They can also develop an uneven bite, which is called malocclusion. Improper diet is most often to blame for this condition, although trauma, infection, and perhaps genetics can also cause it. Guinea pigs can also suffer other dental problems, such as tooth infection and fractured teeth, but malocclusion and overgrowth are most common. If a guinea pig has trouble eating or refuses to eat, it could be because tooth problems make it too painful or impossible to eat. Offer your furry companion a proper diet featuring unlimited, fresh, timothy hay, vitamin C supplement, high-quality pellets, and limited vegetables, fruit and treats.

7. Heatstroke: A guinea pig suffering from excessive heat might breathe rapidly, have hot ears and feet, be reluctant to move, stop eating, or collapse. Overheating can be a life-threatening emergency. The ideal temperature range for guinea pigs is 65 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the book “Ferrets, Rabbits, And Rodents Clinical Medicine And Surgery.” They don’t do well in high temperatures for a prolonged time, and high humidity can even make ideal temperatures too warm for them. Never put a guinea pig habitat in direct sunlight. These pets always need to be free to retreat from the sun if it gets too hot. If you suspect your buddy is suffering heatstroke, move him or her to a cool area and place a cool, damp cloth on his head. Don’t use cold water, as the sudden temperature change could cause shock. Contact your veterinarian immediately.

8. Ringworm: Despite the name, ringworm has nothing to do with worms. It’s actually a skin infection caused by fungus, usually the Trichophyton mentagrophytes fungi in guinea pigs. It causes itchy, scaly bald spots that usually start on the head and move to the back. A clean environment and preventing contact with any infected animals minimizes chances of further infection. A concerning thing about ringworm is that it’s zoonotic, meaning that guinea pigs can pass the fungus to people and vice versa.

9. Diabetes: A guinea pig who suddenly drinks a lot more or who eats normally but loses weight might have diabetes, which is a lack of insulin or too little insulin. The cause of diabetes in guinea pigs is under discussion, but obesity might be a factor and one study from 1976 that’s posted on the American Diabetes Association website suggests that it could be contagious. Whatever the cause, dietary changes are usually required and the guinea pig might need oral or injected medication for a lifetime or only for a while (diabetes can go into remission in guinea pigs).

10. Trauma or Poisoning: Both of these health risks fall into the realm of accidents, and we all know that accidents happen. Reduce the chances of your guinea pig suffering an injury or being poisoned by guinea pig-proofing any areas your companion accesses. Use your common sense. To prevent falls from a height (more than 1 foot), don’t walk around carrying your guinea pig in your arms or place your friend on tables without strong barriers to stop a fall. To prevent crushing injuries, don’t move quickly when your guinea pig is out and about. Look before sitting, taking a step, or closing a door. Get down on the floor and look at what your guinea pig sees. What dangerous items might attract him? Pet-proof all power cords. If you have houseplants, check whether they are poisonous to pets. Put any items that could poison your pal in cupboards or behind doors. This includes cleaners; pesticides; your medications; coins; any foods containing the sweetener xylitol, caffeine, grapes, raisins, onions, or garlic; alcohol, chocolate, etc. Check the ASPCA Animal Poison Control website for more information on hazards to avoid. Any trauma or poisoning requires immediate veterinary care.

Note: Always contact your veterinarian right away if you suspect your guinea pig is ill. This article is for informational purposes only and not intended to diagnose or give advice about guinea pig health.

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