Q: My guinea pig is incredibly mischievous and loves to empty her water bottle. She’ll sit next to it, put her mouth sideways over the end of the spout and push the ball up so it trickles past her mouth and into the cage! While it’s adorable, I worry that she doesn’t have enough to drink. What should I do?

A: While this behaviour is amusing to watch, it can also be worrisome. Guinea pigs are sensitive to discomfort, so there might have been something you did to make your guinea pig unhappy or uncomfortable—especially if it was an overnight change in demeanour. Try to recall if there was a change of cage environment and/or routine, or if there were any sudden loud noises that may have bothered your cavy. Also check if there’s any damage to the water ball or ball bearing tip, as undetected damages or cracks can result in her discomfort when drinking.

A major concern that I have is your guinea pig’s dental condition, as any dental issues can definitely cause a cavy to eat or drink in an abnormal way. For example, if there are overgrown or uneven teeth, your guinea pig may have difficulty moving its tongue, thus resulting in pain and discomfort when eating or drinking. You may even observe other symptoms, such as poor appetite, weight loss, or food pieces stuck in or falling out of its mouth.

It’s important to bring your cavy for a veterinary dental check immediately, as it’s safer to rule out dental issues as the root cause. If this behaviour persists, the constant dribbling of water down the guinea pig’s mouth and neck can result in damp fur and compromised skin, which can cause secondary bacterial and fungal dermatitis. Plus, if the bedding is soaked for days, the damp litter can also attract bacteria, fungi and unwanted parasites.

If this is a purely behavioural condition, you’ll have to slowly work through any recent changes in her life, be it routine, food type, litter or bedding, water bottle type, and even your own work or home routine. In the meantime, weigh your guinea pig weekly to ensure there’s no weight loss, and monitor her urine output and colour to ensure she is drinking sufficient water. Clean her mouth and neck daily, and be sure to clear out the damp litter daily