A sick guinea pig: What to do to help get it healthy
Guinea pigs are subject to various illnesses including oral cavity disease, intestinal disorders, lung disease, and skin problems. While most disorders require veterinary examination to provide a definitive diagnosis, your at-home observations are a critical gateway to disease detection. Unfortunately, not all diseases can be cured, but timely recognition of disease and veterinary treatments will aid in a possible cure. This article summarizes the most common disease presentations in the guinea pig and offers suggestions for resolving disease.
- monitor appetite and attitude
- note itching and hair loss
- track stool consistency
- follow-up on discharges, coughing, and sneezing
- investigate urinary issues
- overlook “normal” behaviors
- wait to visit your veterinarian
- adjust a veterinary directive
- forget cleanliness
- forget vitamin C
Do monitor appetite and attitude
Your guinea pig spends a good portion of the day eating and sleeping and a smaller amount of time exploring the environment. Any changes in the normal routine can indicate sickness. Lethargy is a non-specific sign your guinea pig is ill and further investigation is required. Poor appetite may indicate oral cavity disease or illness elsewhere in the body.
A pig uninterested in fresh foods, hay and pellets may have oral cavity disease. All teeth grow continually so inappropriate diet, lack of chew toys and genetics may allow teeth to overgrow. Overgrown teeth makes eating difficult and painful. A reduction in food intake impacts intestinal health.
Do note itching and hair loss
Like most animals guinea pigs will scratch and groom as a normal activity. However, excessive scratching, hair loss, crusts, and flakes are abnormal. Guinea pigs are susceptible to mites, lice, and ringworm (which is not a worm, but a fungus), and hormonal disorders.
Do track stool consistency
Guinea pig stools, or feces, are typically firm, dark brown, and oval in shape. Both low production of stools and diarrhea are indicators of disease. Causes of diarrhea include bacteria, viruses, parasites, and overgrowth of normal flora in the intestines. This overgrowth can be a sign of several problems including inappropriate antibiotic use, abrupt diet change, and stress. Stress can result from changes in environment, new additions to the guinea pig household, pain, and any disease process.
Do follow-up on discharges, coughing, and sneezing
Guinea pigs are susceptible to viral and bacterial pneumonia. Symptoms of pneumonia include coughing, sneezing, difficulty breathing, and, unfortunately, rapid death. Discharge from the eyes or nose may be due to upper respiratory diseases or conjunctivitis.
Do investigate urinary issues
Guinea pigs are commonly affected by bladder stones. Normal urine from the guinea pig is light yellow and may be cloudy. Blood in the urine, straining to urinate, and vocalization when urinating are signs of disease. These signs may be difficult to observe in your guinea pig, so careful attention to attitude, appetite, and energy level may yield additional clues of disease.
Do not overlook “normal” behaviors
Not every itch, twitch, and squeak are signs of disease. Learn how a “normal” guinea pig looks and acts so you are comfortable identifying abnormalities. Subtle changes in behavior, appetite, and water consumption may be indicators of disease.
If you have questions about normal behavior or possible signs of disease contact your veterinarian immediately!
Do not wait to visit your veterinarian
If your guinea pig is sick do not wait to visit your veterinarian! Sick pigs are suffering too, and may not survive long if not cared for promptly Some veterinarians are specialists in small mammals, research your local options before a problem occurs and keep the contact information readily available.
Your veterinarian is the best resource for healing a sick guinea pig. Advice from friends or the internet is not a substitute for veterinary care! Common tests which may be performed at the veterinarian include bloodwork, x-rays, skin sampling, and an oral examination. Keep in mind your guinea pig may need sedation to perform some diagnostic tests.
Do not adjust a veterinary directive
If your guinea pig is treated by a veterinarian it is important to obtain thorough instructions and follow directions carefully. Do not skip antibiotic doses and do not quit giving medications early. Remember that food and water are important in both sickness and health. Your veterinarian may recommend a diet change or hand-feeding.
Do not forget cleanliness
While your sick guinea pig is convalescing be sure to keep the hay fresh, water clean, and bedding tidy. Keep the eyes and nose free of discharges. Monitor urine and stool soiling on the hair coat and feet, and clean as necessary.
Do not forget vitamin C
Remember, guinea pigs are one of a few species that require daily vitamin C. Low vitamin C levels can cause problems including lameness, lethargy, poor appetite, poor hair coat quality, bleeding, and pain. The best method to ensure adequate vitamin C intake is to provide it in fresh foods.
Like all pets guinea pigs are susceptible to a variety of diseases. Signs of disease vary based on the body part, or parts, affected and include itching and hair loss, coughing and sneezing, discharge from the eyes and nose, diarrhea, and difficulty urinating. Additional, less specific, signs of disease are poor appetite, low energy level, and behavior changes.
Hopefully, your guinea pig will live a long, healthy life. However, early recognition of disease and readily accessing veterinary care are critical steps in resolving problems. Your observations provide important information to aid your veterinarian in obtaining a diagnosis. Remember to follow your veterinarian’s advice for proper care at home and maintain a clean, healthy environment for your guinea pig.