Photo: Analogicus | Pixabay

Guinea pigs are hardy family pets, and if they are handled gently and, accorded with care and affection can live an average of five to seven years. This lifespan is considerably longer than other small pets such as hamsters, gerbils, mice or rats.

As with all healthy animals, they are susceptible to certain health problems and issues. By knowing the most common illnesses, you can monitor for signs and symptoms that your guinea pig may be getting sick.  

Look for any change in behaviour, appetite, elimination (urination and defecation), and any other daily habits. Also keep an eye out on physical changes like hair loss, skin redness, or swelling. Monitor any changes and speak with your veterinarian if you suspect there might be something off with your cavy.

The following is a brief description of some of the more common problems associated with these little wonders. The excerpt is reprinted with permission from Deborah Monks, BVSc, FANZCVS, ECZM and the Veterinary Information Network. 

• Bacterial Enteristis  

A number of bacteria are capable of causing infections of the gastrointestinal tract in guinea pigs.
Photo: E Lopez Garre | Pixabay 

A number of bacteria are capable of causing infections of the gastrointestinal tract in guinea pigs. Some of these bacteria are introduced through contaminated greens or vegetables or in contaminated water. 

One of the most common bacteria that causes intestinal disease in guinea pigs is Salmonella spp. In addition to diarrhoea, other common symptoms associated with intestinal disease are lethargy and weight loss.  

A veterinarian may elect to use aggressive antibiotic therapy and supportive care to treat this condition. A bacterial culture of the patient’s stool with antibiotic sensitivity will greatly assist the veterinarian in choosing an appropriate antibiotic.

• Bacterial Pododermatitis (Bumblefoot)
Severe footpad infections are common among guinea pigs housed on poor substrate, especially cages with wire flooring. Poor hygiene, including faecal soiling, makes the problem bigger. 

Symptoms of this condition include swelling of the affected feet, lameness, and reluctance to move. Improved sanitation and better substrate are the initial steps in correcting the problem. 

In addition, the feet themselves should be treated by a veterinarian. Topical dressing with an and periodic bandaging is often required. 

• Fur Loss
Fur loss is a common problem in guinea pigs. Hair loss or hair thinning can occur for a number of reasons. It is common among sows with cystic ovarian disease, or those that are repeatedly bred.  

Weakened, newly weaned juvenile guinea pigs can also be affected. Fur loss problems are also seen with certain fungal diseases and external parasite infestations. In some groups, barbering (removing hair) of subordinate pigs by dominant ones can happen.

Lice and mites are the most common external parasites of guinea pigs. Mite infestations are usually more severe than lice. 

A veterinarian can diagnose this mite infestation by performing skin scrapings of affected areas and viewing them under the microscope. There are several treatment options, ranging from pills to injectable to topical medication.  

In the meantime, if wood shavings are used as bedding or litter, it should be replaced with paper toweling to reduce handling of your pig and make the enclosure soft and comfortable. Ensure adequate vitamin C levels in the diet.   

Guinea pigs are parasitised by two types of biting lice. Both irritate and abrade the skin’s surface and feed off the bodily fluids that exude through the superficial wounds they create.

A veterinarian can confirm the diagnosis of lice infestation through microscopic examination of hairs from affected animals. Treatment is usually in the form of an insecticidal shampoo that is prescribed by the veterinarian.

Lice transmission occurs through direct contact with infested guinea pigs. For your pet’s sake, be sure that any guinea pig she comes in contact with is healthy.

Fungal skin disease is common, and is seen as a scaly, furless area that is usually circular.  It can be diagnosed with a fungal culture.  Treatment involves topical and/or oral medication, as well as decontamination of the environment.  

• Heat Stress (Stroke) 
Guinea pigs are quite susceptible to heat stroke, particularly those that are overweight and/or heavily furred.  

Signs of heat stroke include panting, slobbering, weakness, reluctance to move, convulsions, and ultimately, death. 

This is a treatable condition if recognised early. Heat-stressed guinea pigs should be misted with cool (but not cold) water, bathed in cool (again, not cold) water, or have rubbing alcohol applied to its footpads. 

Once this first aid measure is accomplished, veterinary assistance should be sought.

Pneumonia is one of the most common diseases of pet guinea pigs, and is usually bacterial in origin. Respiratory infections are caused by a number of viral and bacterial agents including Streptococcal pneumoniae, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and a gram-positive diplococcus. 

Conditions of stress, inadequate diet, and improper husbandry will often predispose a pet to an opportunistic infection with one or more of these agents. Symptoms of pneumonia may include difficulty breathing (dyspnea), discharge from the nose and eyes, lethargy, and lack of appetite. In some cases, sudden death will occur without any of these signs.

• Scurvy (Vitamin C Deficiency)

Like primates (including humans), guinea pigs do not produce their own vitamin C.
Photo: Pixy 

Like primates (including humans), guinea pigs do not produce their own vitamin C. Vitamin C deficiency leads to scurvy, the symptoms of which include poor appetite, swollen, painful joints and ribs, reluctance to move, poor bone and teeth development, and spontaneous bleeding especially from the gums, into joints, and in muscle. 

If left untreated, this disease can be fatal especially to rapidly growing young and pregnant females. 

Fortunately, it is easy to provide your guinea pig with adequate vitamin C through food, aiming to give between 10 and 25 mg vitamin C daily. 

By: Therese Tan 

About Dr Deborah Monks...

Dr Deborah Monks, BVSc, FANZCVS, ECZM
A resident of Australia, Dr Monks is board certified by the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists, Fellow (FANZCVS) and the European College of Zoological Medicine (ECZM) Avian Medicine. 

She is a consultant for the Veterinary Information Network (VIN) in small and exotic animals and birds. She owns a clinic specialising in birds and exotics in Queensland. 

About Veterinary Partner...

Founded in 1991, the Veterinary Information Network, Inc. is the veterinary profession’s online resource, providing veterinarians, veterinary students, technicians, and related industry throughout the world with the information and tools needed to meet the demands of modern practice.  




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