Guinea Pigs Health
Guinea pigs are prone to several health problems so it is important to check them over daily.
Sadly many vets have little experience of guinea pigs so it is very important to get them to guinea pig experienced vet as soon as they show any signs of illness. As guinea pigs are prey animals they will hide any sign of illness for as long as possible, as such by the time an illness becomes apparent it will be necessary to take them to the vets quickly. It is therefore advisable to find and register with a suitable vet long before you actually need one.
I am not a vet but obviously have had years of experience dealing with a wide range of illness, operations and handrearing baby guinea pigs. The information below is to help you recognise when there is a health problem and make sure you contact your vet immediately.
Guinea pigs are quite prone to abcesses especially around the head. Generally they will need to be lanced by a vet but they can sometimes burst on their own. Guinea pigs do not need a general anaesthestic to have an abcess lanced. The procedure can be done very quickly, the wound flushed out and the pig ready to go home in one appointment.
The abcess will need to be flushed out at least twice a day. If this is not done the wound will heal over and will be impossible to flush out.
I am available for further advice on how to do this if necessary.
For liquid oral medication you will need to measure the medication into the syringe making sure you remove the air bubble by flicking your thumb and forefinger on the syringe to make the bubbles rise to the top. Place the syringe to the side of the mouth and slowly dribble the medicine onto the tongue. Do not administer all the medication at once or put the syringe between the guinea pigs front teeth, as this cause the medication to shoot to the back of the mouth and go into their lungs.
If your guinea pig will not stay still for you to do this you may need to wrap your guinea pig in a towel to restrain him.
In the case of tablets it is best to crush them with a pestle amd mortar and mix with a small amount of water and administer with a 1ml syringe.
Never put medications in their water bottle for several reasons. They will never drink all the water in the bottle, the bottle drips and if there are other guinea pigs in the cage they will obviously be drinking from the bottle too.
Bladder problems seem to be a more common complaint amonst guinea pigs.
The first signs are often that the guinea pigs is very wet underneath, there is blood in the urine and squeaking when they wee.
I always use Septrim (antibiotic) together with Metacalm (painkiller) as in most cases it is cystitis. Both of these medications are prescription only.
These symptoms can also indicate a bladder stone which will show up on an x-ray. In the case of a sow this can usually be massaged out manually by an experienced vet without anaesthetic. However, if it is a boar, the stone will have to be removed surgically.
Once the bladder stone has been removed it is important that a low calcium diet is maintained to reduce the chance of more bladder stones, especially being careful not to give alfalfa in their food or treats.
In cases where guinea pigs have been given antibiotics which have not been successful and x-rays have shown no stones, but the guinea pig continues to squeak when urinating, there has been considerable success with Cystease (for cats) or Eurologist or Lysium (from http://www.petherbs.co.uk/). But please discuss this with your vet first.
If you suspect bloat, take your guinea pig to the vet immediately as this is a life threatening condition.
Bloat is a very serious and painful condition for any animal. The most common causes are blockages in the intestines or build up of gas.
The guinea pig will be off its food and look very uncomfortable. The stomach will feel tight like blown up football with no give in it.
To have any chance of recovering from this the guinea pig must be taken to the vet immediately.
Bumblefoot or Pododermatitis is a very painful infection in the foot which makes it swell with a large scab underneath.
Im not sure anyone really knows what causes this, general concensus is that it is caused by abrasive bedding.
What is important that it is treated immediately by a vet, if left untreated the guinea pig can die. The guinea pig will need to be given Baytril (antibiotic), bathed daily and kept on clean soft bedding.
Cataracts are quite common in guinea pigs, particularly Abyssinians. The eye is opaque and usually both eyes are affected. There is no treatment or cure. G
uinea pigs seem to cope with them quite easily.
No one is really sure whether guinea pigs can catch colds from humans but I always play safe. If your guinea pig has a runny nose, sneezing or its lungs sounds congested (the guinea pig's breathing will sound rattly) then it is wise to take them to the vet for a course of antibiotics. If ignored it can develop into a more serious illness.
It is important to keep guinea pigs on dry bedding and away from our damp weather. Failure to do this can be one of the causes for chest infections and other ailments.
Daily Health Check
Guinea pigs hide their illnesses very well so it is important to give them a check over at least once a week. I do this every time I pick a guinea pig up. Usually by the time you notice there is something wrong the illness is well advanced so early detection will give your guinea pig a far greater chance of recovery.
1. Check their coat. Make sure it is clean and free from dandruff. Can you see any lice wriggling around, are there scratch wounds, are there any sore patches. If the skin does not look healthy and free of sores, scratch marks and dandruff the need to be taken to a vet.
2. Their eyes should be clear and bright. Make sure there are no pieces of hay caught under the eyelid or any scarring on the eyes. Some guinea pigs do have cataracts which looks like a soft mist inside the eye. There is no treatment for this but do not mistake this for an eye injury.
3. Ears can get very waxy. This needs to be cleaned with a damp cotton wall pad, but do not poke right inside the ear.
4. Nose should be clean, if runny he may have a cold or chest infection.
5. Check that their teeth, top and bottom are level and not wearing down to one side. 6. Check the whole body for lumps. Guinea pigs are prone to fatty lumps, which do not need to be removed but they should be monitored for size. If the lump looks sore or feel attached to something then the guinea pig should be taken immediately to a guinea pig experienced vet. 7.Check the length of their nails, do they need trimming? 8. With boars, check their penis is clean of debris and they are not impacted. 9. They should be weighed weekly. Their body weight should remain the same, if it starts to drop then this is an early warning if things are going wrong. 10. It is also important to check that their droppings are solid. Diarrhoea is very dangerous for a guinea pig so they should be taken to the vet immediately. Do not leave it for another day, it could mean life or death. 11. Check for impaction. 12. Put your ear against your guinea pigs sides and listen to their breathing. If they sound congested they could well have a chest infection and need antibiotics from a vet. If this is ignored it can develop into something more serious. In the majority of the checks above if anything looks untoward then a visit to the vet is essential.
6. Check the whole body for lumps. Guinea pigs are prone to fatty lumps, which do not need to be removed but they should be monitored for size. If the lump looks sore or feel attached to something then the guinea pig should be taken immediately to a guinea pig experienced vet.
7.Check the length of their nails, do they need trimming?
8. With boars, check their penis is clean of debris and they are not impacted.
9. They should be weighed weekly. Their body weight should remain the same, if it starts to drop then this is an early warning if things are going wrong.
10. It is also important to check that their droppings are solid. Diarrhoea is very dangerous for a guinea pig so they should be taken to the vet immediately. Do not leave it for another day, it could mean life or death.
11. Check for impaction.
12. Put your ear against your guinea pigs sides and listen to their breathing. If they sound congested they could well have a chest infection and need antibiotics from a vet. If this is ignored it can develop into something more serious.
In the majority of the checks above if anything looks untoward then a visit to the vet is essential.
Diarrhoea should be taken very seriously and dealt with immediately.
If the diarrhoea is liquid then it should be taken to the vets immediately for medication. Vets will usually give them antibiotics which should also be followed up with a probiotic to help with good bacteria in the gut. Also they will be dehydrated so I also give them dioralyte from a chemist. Water alone is not enough.
If the pellets are just a bit soft then I remove all dried food and vegetables for 24 hours and just feed them good quality hay. Feeding them blackberry leaves and shepherds purse wil lalso help recovery. If their pellets are still soft after 24 hours a trip to the vet will be necessary.
I would add that if their pellets are a bit soft but they are off their food and fluffed up in the corner then I would not wait 24 hours they should go to the vet immediately.
Ears should be checked on a regular basis. They can get inner ear infections but I have to say that I have found this quite rare. Obviously if they hold their head to one side or seem in some discomfort then a trip to the vet is necessary.
Ears do get very waxy and will need weekly cleaning. See Guinea pig care. Never insert anything into their ears as this can be dangerous.
Behind the ears is a bald patch, which is quite normal. Many people having seen this bald patch have contacted me thinking their guinea pig has a skin problem. Rest assured this is quite natural.
Guinea pigs produce a milky liquid which is quite normal and is usually wiped away with grooming.
Cataracts are mentioned above.
Guinea pigs do get eye injuries either from having straw or very coarse hay as bedding, hence why these should never be used. When there is an eye injury there is usually a cloudy patch in part of the eye, I would recommend a trip to the vet for drops to stop any infection.
Sometimes a piece of hay can get into the back of the eye. I pull back the eyelid to see if I can see any foreign objects, if a small piece of hay can be seen as long as you are very gentle a cotton bud can be laid against it and it will stick to the bud. DO NOT STICK THE BUD INTO THE EYE. If you are not confident with this then please leave it to the vet to removed.
Any other signs of infection, crustiness or discharge should be a trip to the vet.
Some guinea pigs have what is called fatty eye. Its when the bottom eyelid droops (like a bloodhound). This is normally quite harmless and can be genetic, it is also often found in overweight guinea pigs. No treatment is needed unless the eye becomes infected which is very rare.
Feeding a Sick Guinea Pig
When a guinea pig becomes ill and is off its food or has had teeth problems and you are trying to get them to eat again you will need to syringe feed them.
Firstly the sick guinea pig should be treated by a vet and then it will be down to you to make sure they eat. Guinea pigs quite easily just give up eating when they are ill so it is imperative that you syringe feed them until they are eating on their own.
I have read many websites and books about this but I have found the most successful way for me is to soak guinea pig pellets ie Excel, Wagg Optimum, in cooled boiled water. When the mixture has cooled it should be watery enough that it will syringe easily. Critical Care is very good for sick guinea pigs but mine never seem to like the taste so I add this to the dried food mix.
I usually wrap them in a towel and syringe a small amount at a time into the side of their mouth. This can be quite messy so when you have finished you will need to clean them up and make sure they are dry to save them getting sores under the chin area.
On many websites and books it tells you the amount they need to eat to maintain or even gain weight, I personally find it very difficult to give them that amount at one time. I tend to syringe feed them hourly with a couple of mls or so every time. This seems to keep them stimulated and doesnt pump them full of food and make them more uncomfortable than they already are.
They will also need vitamin C, so after each feed I finish off by syringe feeding them some water with vitamin C added.
You will usually find as they get used to being syringe fed and they feel better they start taking the food straight from the syringe.
I also try to entice them to eat their favourite veg. You do need to put part of it right in their mouth and once it reaches their back teeth they quite often will start chewing. Saying this be careful how far back you put it. If the guinea pig really doesnt want to know you can liquidize it and syringe feed as above.
Once the guinea pig starts to eat on their own I do top up with with syringe feeding for a while making sure they are eating enough.
Hand Rearing Baby Guinea Pigs
Sadly, all too often the mother dies and the babies need to be hand reared.
We mix one part evaporated milk with one part water and offer this to the guinea pig on a teaspoon, warning, never, never syringe feed them as the milk will go into their lungs.
Once the babies get the idea they will lap the milk up with enthusiasm. You can even try soaking a piece of brown bread in the milk and they will suck the milk through the bread.
It is important that after they have been fed that you clean their bottom. Baby guinea pigs cannot pass urine so you will need a cotton wool pad and wipe their genitals so they can pass urine and motions. After around 3 days they should be okay on their own.
Guinea pigs do not like heat and anything over 20 degree C can cause heatstroke.
Avoiding Heatstroke Every effort should be made that they dont suffer with heatstroke, by keeping the hutch or cage out of direct sunlight, removing any plastic tunnels or houses, when putting them in their run make sure there is suitable shade (remember the sun moves round very quickly so make sure they are well covered). Also if travelling make sure they are in a suitable carrier which is well ventilated and out of direct sunlight in your car.
On very hot days you can place a frozen bottle of water or cool box blocks, wrapped in a towel, either in their hutch or run. It is essential that the guinea pig does not come in contact with the frozen block.
Make sure there is always fresh water available for them to drink.
Rapid breathing and drooling
Eyes can be sunken
Skin can have a blue tinge
Take guinea pig out of hot environment
Soak towel in cool water (not freezing) wring out excess water and then wrap around guinea pig. Replace with another soaked towel and keep doing this until the guinea pig shows signs of recovery. Do not overcool your guinea pig as this can be harmful causing respitory problems.
Never immerse your guinea pig in cold water or put cold shower over him as this can be fatal.
Never give fluids.
Once your guinea pig seems over the worse he should be taken directly to a vet for further treatment.
Last, but certainly not least, find out why your guinea pig had heatstroke in the first place and make sure it never happens again.
Impaction is a condition that only males suffer from and in most cases elderly ones. It is when the muscles in the anal sac become slack.
The softer faeces in the anal sac cannot be expelled due to the slackening of the muscles and so collect there forming a hard lump. You can actually feel this lump behind the testicles. Some guinea pigs that have come into rescue have a lump the size of a golf ball.
They pass the harder faeces with no problem, so a regular check on your boar is essential. Failure to treat this problem can in some cases, I believe, cause death.
If the lump is quite hard then I smear a small amount of vaseline just inside the opening of the sac and with my thumb and forefinger I massage the lump out. If the lump is fairly soft then vaseline need not be used. It is a little smelly and I always wear gloves.
I always leave this lump in the hutch so they have the chance of eating some of it as this is essential to a guinea pigs diet as it contains Vitamin B, eating their own faeces is called coprophagy.
How often this needs to be done depends on the individual guinea pigs, it can be daily, every other day or weekly, but once the guinea pig has this condition it will have it for the rest of its life. As long as you are emptying the anal sac no veterinary treatment is necessary.
Lip sores are scabs usually around the corners of the mouth but if left untreated will spread further around the mouth. It is usually caused by the acid in apples and/or tomatoes, but not always the case.
First thing is to refrain from feeding these foods.
The treatment I use is to dab dilluted Hibiscrub with a cotton wool pad on and around the scabs until they become soft and peel off virtually on their own. I then dab the area dry and rub in Daktarin Oral Gel (from chemists) on the sore area. This should be done initially at least twice a day for about a week, depending on how bad it is. This should clear the sore but if the condition does not clear up then a trip to the vet will be needed.
Guinea pigs are prone to lumps and there can be several different types.
There is the Abcess as described above.
Fatty lumps usually occur on the stomach area. You can usually get your fingers around them and they are not attached to anything. Peter Gurney called them 'Jelly Beans'. It is advisable to get them checked by a vet but unless they are making life uncomfortable for the guinea pig or growing rapidly I leave them alone, they can have them for years with no ill effect.
Some lumps seem attached to a bone and these are usually more serious. Again a trip to the vet is needed to have this lump checked out.
One thing I have been asked by many people is 'the vet has asked if I would like the lump sent to be analysis'. This usually costs well over £100 and my answer does it make a difference whether you know or not. If it is just a fatty lump then thats good, if it is a nasty tumour then there is no treatment for it anyway. This analysis will not help your guinea pig or your bank account.
Sebaceous Cyst are usually found on the back area. They are soft and you can often see a slight hole at the top of the cyst. If this is the case you can gently squeeze it and a light grey discharge emerges from this small whole. Continue to squeeze the contents out and when empty bath with a saline solution. This cyst should be checked regularly and if it refills treat again as above. If the Cyst is irritated or looking angry then a discussion with your vet should be made for its removal.
Guinea pigs can become paralysed for various reasons. I have never seen a guinea pig completely paralysed, in general it is mainly their hind quarters.
Paralysis can be caused by traumatic injury, most commonly when the guinea pig has been dropped. If this is the case the guinea pig should be taken to the vet immedicately.
There is a condition, which I have come across over the years, where the guinea pig seems perfectly okay, eating and drinking well, but seems to be dragging their back legs around. They have not been dropped or involved in any accident that could cause injury.
I first came across this with one of my guinea pigs. The vet I was using at the time had no idea what the condition was and had advised that if the guinea pig was still paralysed after the weekend then it should be put to sleep. I decided at that point to do my own research and I came across Peter Guerney's book 'Piggy Potions' and in it he described this conditon to a T and recommended Osteocare (for people). No one seems to know why it happens but the treatment was set out in his book. He recommends liquid Osteocare, 1ml day and night on the first day, then 0.5ml day and night for three days. It was like a miracle cure in 24 hours the guinea pig was using his back feet again.
This is why it is so important to use a guinea pig experienced vet, I often wonder how many guinea pigs have been put to sleep unnecessarily.
We do not recommend breeding from guinea pigs because there is such a large number of unwanted guinea pigs in rescues that to breed indiscrimately and add to the thousands needing homes is very irresponsible. Our rehoming policy is that rehomed guinea pigs are not bred from.
Sows come in season about every 16 days and last between 24 to 48 hours but will only accept the boar for around 6 to 11 hours of that time. Sows can be sexually mature from 4 weeks onwards.
If sows are going to be used for breeding then they should have their first litter between 6 and 10 months of age. If she has not had a litter by the age of 12 months her pelvic bone will have fused and she will have major problems giving birth, maybe needing a caesarean section operation or even worse causing the death of the sow.
Gestation is between 59 to 73 days.
At around week 5 of the pregnancy you can see and feel the babies moving. Do not overhandle her by keep picking her up. You obviously need to check she is okay but try to do this without too much disturbance. If she looks listless, stops eating, becomes unwell or seems to be having problems giving birth then she should be taken to the vets immediately.
Once the sow has given birth she will have a season so if the boar has been left with her she will become pregnant again.
The babies will feed from mum but will eat hay, dried food and vegetables almost immediately.
The babies will become sexually active between 3 to 4 weeks. So the baby boars will need to be separated from the sows, including their mother, by the time they are 4 weeks old. Please get the babies sexed by a guinea pig expert ie guinea pig rescue, breeder or guinea pig experienced vet. Failure to sex them correctly could mean all your sows, say, mum and two baby sows could all be pregnant, so in just over a couple of months you could be the owner of another 12 baby guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs are very prone to a wide variety of skin problems. I have listed the most common one below with their treatment. Your guinea pig's coat should be checked regularly and if you see baldness, dandruff or inflamation then the problem should be diagnosed and treated immediately.
These are small lice which can be seen moving on the guinea pigs coat and skin, usually in the centre of their backs. They feed on the dead skin and the guinea pig will usually scratch more than normal and bald patches will be seen as they move down the back.
I bath them in Gorgeous Guineas Lice 'n' Easy shampoo (available from our shop), and then again two weeks later. Shampoos do not kill the eggs so the second bath is essential. The lice will also be living in their hutch so you will need to clean it out completely and spray with Johnson's Cage and Hutch Spray, making sure you spray in the corners. Once the guinea pig has been bathed he needs to go back into a clean and deloused hutch, if not he will pick up all the lice living in his hutch.
Static lice are not actually lice but mites. They look like little bits stuck to the hair shaft. On dark coated pigs they look white on white guinea pigs they look a yellow colour. These, like the Running Lice, feed off the dead skin.
Bath as above for Running Lice.
Fungal Infection looks like dandruff but when the hair is lightly touched it comes out easily and you can see a small amount of dry skin attached on the end. This should be treated by the vet immediately as this is a very serious condition.
Ringworm is also a type of Fungal Infection and easily recognised by large round soar bald patches on the guinea pig. Make sure you wear gloves when handling as it is possible for you to catch this. The guinea pig should be taken to the vet for diagnosis. My vet recommends a Sporal D bath and then make sure that the guinea pig is returned to their hutch that it has been thoroughly cleaned, including bowls, houses with Virkon.
Mange is a mite that burrows under the guinea pigs skin. Most guinea pigs have these mites with no problems but some times, usually through stress, the mites become active. The skin will look very sore with scabbing and dandruff and the guinea pig will scratch excessively and usually cause lesions. The guinea pig will be very sensitive when touched and once the mange mites gets a real hold the guinea pig canl go into a fit when touched which can lead to death. Immediate diagnosis and treatment by a vet is essential.
Never bath a guinea pig with mange mite. The guinea pig's skin will be so sensitive that it will cause fitting.
Ivomec, preferably orally, should be given every 10 days until symptoms go. Once the guinea pig has fully recovered a gentle bath in Gorgeous Guineas Manuka and Neem shampoo will clear away all the dead skin and leave him with a lovely clean shiny coat again.
Teeth problems are quite common in guinea pigs. For various reasons the teeth become too long at the back of the mouth and eventually the guinea pig is unable to eat. Some of the reasons are poor diet, genetic, or a growth or abcess around that area.
It is therefore very important to check your guinea pigs teeth weekly. It is virtually impossible for you to check the back teeth but usually when the back teeth have overgrown the front teeth will grow uneven at the front. When the back teeth are overgrown they grow over like a church roof. It is also very important to weigh your pig regularly. Losing weight over the weeks could be a sign he is not eating enough, if you have several pigs and the food is being eaten up you always assume they are all eating well.
The next stage is to take them to a vet or rodentologist. Teeth grow very quickly and one trim will not normally be enough. Most vets will use anesthetic to trim teeth but it is not ideal to then put the guinea pig through another anethetic a week or so later. Rodentologists will trim teeth with anesthetic, it only take a few minutes, which means the teeth can be trimmed on a regular basis. Sadly there are not many rodentologists about at the moment so you may need to travel.
Once the teeth are trimmed you would assume the guinea pig would just start eating again. Sadly this is not the case and you will need to syringe feed them until they start eating on their own. I recommend that you syringe feed every couple of hours with Critical Care, soaked and mashed up guinea pig pellets and vitamin C. This can sometimes take several weeks but it is important during this time to keep weighing them to check they are having enough to eat. Usually the pig will not put on weight until he starts eating on his own but at least with syringe feeding you can maintain their weight until then.
There is a lot of different views about worming guinea pigs and at the moment I do not feel I have had enough problems with worms to give firm advice on this.
There is a very interesting page about worming by Chrissie of Gorgeous Guineas. The link is http://members.webs.com/MembersB/EditPage/index.jsp?pageID=199211647.
The symptoms of a guinea pig having worms is weight loss. Treatment would be panacur from your vet.
Guinea pigs do not need regular worming like cats/dogs etc.
Guinea pigs get wounds for various reasons. They should be cleaned with salt water and I use Johnson's Anti-Bacterial Powder daily. If the wound looks particularly sore, is very deep, looks infected or you do not know how the guinea pig received this wound, then the guinea pig should be taken directly to the vet for a course of Baytril.
Guinea pigs are prone to abscesses and an untreated wound could very quickly lead to an abscess. So it is imperative to act quickly.