Q: My guinea pig has been having abscesses for four years. It happens a few times a year and even after bringing her to the vet to have them drained, they keep recurring. Why is this happening and is there a cure?

A: Abscesses in guinea pigs is not good news. The treatment of such abscesses can be challenging and repetitive, and they are not easy to cure. It is common to see pigs being affected with abscesses suffering as a result of fight wounds, tooth root infections, bumble foot, or pressure sores on their feet. Some also develop abscesses around their tear ducts, behind their eye balls, or even in their lungs or vital organs like the liver or kidneys.

It is difficult to treat abscesses in guinea pigs, because like rabbits, they lack a lysosomal enzyme that helps to break down pus. This makes the pus very thick and caseous like cheese, making cleaning and draining of the abscess very difficult. In addition, the abscess has a thickened, fibrous layer encapsulating the pus. This fibrous capsule impedes the penetration of antibiotics given to the animal to treat the abscess.

Moreover, guinea pigs have very sensitive digestive tracts, so vets can only treat with a few types of antibiotics that do not cause bowel irritation. Sometimes, even the most suitable antibiotic can cause disturbances in their gut flora, leading to loss of appetite and diarrhoea. If that happens, vets usually resort to administering injections instead.

Because of the nature of the cheese-like pus, it is not possible to drain and flush out the abscess like with dogs and cats. Your vet will need to perform aggressive surgical removal of the whole abscess and it's fibrous capsule. The abscess has the tendency to inject finger-like projections to wrap around the surrounding tissues of the infected site. This make the total removal of the abscess very difficult.

At times, if a bone is infected, your vet may need to scrap the surface of the bone or even remove some dead bone tissue. The surgical wound will be left unconvered to allow oxygen to penetrate into the underlying muscles and/or bones. Such aggressive surgery is coupled with the use of oral antibiotics (provided there are no side effects and diarrhoea) or injectable antibiotics.

Some affected pigs may require repeated aggressive surgical removal of the abscess and long term antibiotics for up to six months.

It is important to make sure your pig stays healthy and eats well during this period. Always suplly plenty of suitable hay and fresh greens. Guinea pigs require a daily dose of vitamin C (50-100mg daily) in order to stay healthy and strong. Minimise the risk of infection by making sure there are no fight wounds or pressure sores on its paws. If you suspect your pig has been sneezing, tearing,or having dental problems such as drooling, and is not biting food properly, visit your vet immediately.