Guinea pigs make great family pets. They are cuddly, cute, responsive, funny, generally gentle and relatively easy to care for.
But what happens if your guinea pig gets sick?
Get help immediately. These critters really do not do well with illness and stress.
Unfortunately, guinea pigs are usually sicker than you think once you notice something is wrong. So be vigilant — observe your pig carefully at least twice a day. Find a veterinarian in your area who is knowledgeable about guinea pigs before you are in a crisis. Bottom line: Don’t wait even a day if your guinea pig is not acting normal.
Your pet guinea pig will live 5–7 years, on average. If you start out with a healthy guinea pig and pay attention to simple but important care guidelines, piggies usually remain free of disease. But if diet, environmental changes, poor care, stress or neglect occurs, sick guinea pigs are not easy to cure.
Here are some of the most common problems I see in my practice concerning guinea pigs — and how you can avoid them.
1. Risk of Anorexia
A few dietary guidelines should keep your guinea pig in tip-top health. These animals develop food preferences early in life, and they may go off their food if it looks a bit different or is presented differently. A change in the brand of pellet may even lead to anorexia.
So start your young guinea pig off with a high-quality pellet, a good source of hay and vegetables. Vitamin C is essential for guinea pigs. Check in next week to read more on proper vitamin C supplementation for your pig.
Fiber is also essential and can be adequately provided with hay, pellets and veggies.
2. Gastrointestinal Disease
Diet and proper vitamin C levels are important when it comes to keeping your pig’s dental health and GI system running smoothly. Pay attention to how your pig is chewing, eating and producing stool at all times. Weigh your pig frequently, and don’t ignore any change in appetite. The time to act is before your pig stops eating.
One of the most worrisome conditions in pet guinea pigs is gut stasis, where the GI tract slows down. This can occur primarily because of inadequate dietary fiber or secondarily because of just about any guinea pig illness that causes the pig pain or anorexia. Your vet must be aggressive with this condition, administering supportive care, fluid replacement, pain control, syringe feeding and vitamin C supplementation.
I encourage my clients to have a product like Critical Care (affiliate link) on hand, a hay-based formula that can be mixed with water and fed by syringe. Until you get to the vet, you can immediately try to supplement your pig to get the GI tract moving.
Never give your guinea pig antibiotics not prescribed by an experienced small mammal veterinarian. Only a few antibiotics are safe to use in guinea pigs.
3. Respiratory Disease
Keep your pig in a well-ventilated, clean environment, and never let ammonia build up in a dirty cage. Wood or cedar chip bedding can also predispose your pig to respiratory infections, so don’t use them.
Pigs are very susceptible to pneumonia, which is serious and often incurable. Young pigs are particularly at risk if they came from a pet store or environment with poor husbandry, had a bad or stressful start to life, or were exposed to other pigs who are infected or carriers of respiratory disease.
Any ocular or nasal discharge or rapid breathing is abnormal in a guinea pig — get a pig displaying these symptoms to a knowledgeable vet immediately. Aggressive, appropriate antibiotic therapy may save her life.
Unfortunately, if lung damage is too severe, the prognosis is poor.
Here are several more tips on keeping your guinea pigs as healthy as possible:
4. Skin Disease
Itching in guinea pigs is not normal. Intense scratching in a guinea pig usually indicates a mite infection (mange).
Guinea pigs can scratch so severely that they appear to have a seizure. Missing patches of fur, scaly skin, crusting or redness indicate a dermatitis that must be diagnosed and treated. Dermatophytosis, a fungal infection, is also seen in guinea pigs.
Skin diseases are usually treatable with early intervention. Pet store products are not effective in eradicating guinea pig skin infections that are fungal or parasitic.
If your guinea pig becomes ill, don’t delay in seeking veterinary care. Guinea pigs do not have a great cure rate.
Love your pig and pay careful attention to the animal’s attitude and habits every day. It could save your pet’s life.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD. It was last reviewed Nov. 9, 2016.