Compared to other domestic pets, guinea pigs are easy to care for. But these lovable little animals can develop health problems if you don’t check them regularly. Sometimes, guinea pigs mask their illness so you can’t tell they’re sick. Other times, there are clear signs your pet is suffering. In this guide to guinea pig health, you’ll learn everything you need to know about caring for your cavy.
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Common Guinea Pig Health Problems
Like all pets, guinea pigs have particular health problems they’re most prone to.
- Bladder stones – If your guinea pig has infrequent or bloody urine, she might have bladder stones. These painful stones are detected by a radiograph and must be surgically removed.
- Ileus – When a pet guinea pig loses her appetite or starts passing fewer stools, she might have ileus. Guinea pigs develop ileus when they stop eating, and gas builds up in the gastrointestinal tract. The excess gas is uncomfortable and could lead to more serious health problems. External stressors, like moving your cavy’s cage, can be enough to make a guinea pig stop eating. If you suspect your pet has ileus, take her to the vet.
- Infrequent urination – Female guinea pigs may develop uterine and ovarian problems that are mitigated by spaying them. Wait until your sow is at least six months old before having the procedure done, though.
- Hair loss – Pet guinea pigs can also be prone to parasites like lice or mites. If you notice your pet scratching herself often, along with hair loss, then speak to a veterinarian. One way to avoid parasites is by freezing any new food or bedding you give to your guinea pigs for at least one day. Freezing will kill mites or lice in the packaging, if there are any.
- Respiratory problems – Exposure to cold air can cause an upper respiratory infection in your guinea pig. Guinea pigs are susceptible to pneumonia as well, which is one of the top causes of death among guinea pigs. To prevent infections, keep your guinea pigs’ cage away from drafty areas like doors or windows.
Signs of a Healthy Guinea Pig
Keeping an eye on your guinea pig’s health helps prevent ailments from taking hold, but only if you know what to look for. What does a healthy cavy look like?
- Clean coat – A healthful characteristic of guinea pigs is their coat. It should be clean and dense. A dull coat, or thinning patches are signs that something’s wrong. Short-haired guinea pigs don’t’ need haircuts at all, but long-haired ones do. Long hair that grows too long can get tangled and matted, which is uncomfortable for your guinea pig. A poor coat could be a sign of lack of vitamin c.
- Eyes and nose – Healthy guinea pig eyes are clear and bright. Cloudy eyes could be from an ulcer, which guinea pigs get when a piece of hay gets stuck in their eyes. Just before grooming, their eyes secrete a milky discharge, which is normal. A guinea pig’s nose should be clean, and any discharge might mean your cavy has a cold.
- Teeth – Guinea pig teeth grow constantly, so they need filing down occasionally. If your pet seems interested in food but doesn’t eat, or has difficulty eating, chances are her teeth are too long. A vet can take care of your pet’s teeth if they need filing.
- Feet – Guinea pigs don’t have any fur on the bottom of their feet, so they could become sore easily. Make sure they have soft bedding and check their feet often. Their nails shouldn’t get too long either, so clip them often if they don’t wear down naturally.
- Rear-end – Your guinea pig’s bottom should be clean and dry – wetness between their legs could be a urine infection.
Tips to Keep Your Guinea Pig Healthy
Keeping an eye on your guinea pig essential for preventing health issues, but there are actions you should take as well.
- Neutering – Male guinea pigs should be neutered, and female guinea pigs spayed to keep them healthy and prevent infections. If you intend to breed your guinea pigs, ask your veterinarian for advice on pairing up guinea pigs first.
- Diet – Your pet’s diet can help prevent many common dental or gastrointestinal diseases. They should have green grass, hay, and plenty of fruits and vegetables to munch. Guinea pigs can be prone to vitamin C deficiency, so it’s important they get enough in their diet. For fruits and veggies, they like carrots, sweetcorn, broccoli, pea pods, cucumber, apples, pears, and tomatoes.
- Check ups – In addition to keeping an eye on your guinea pig’s health yourself, you should take her to a vet for a checkup at least once a year.
- Regular grooming – Guinea pigs should be groomed on a regular basis. Long-haired cavies need grooming every day. All guinea pigs need love and attention, though, whether short-haired or long-haired. So don’t hesitate to run a brush through your pet’s hair often. Guinea pigs don’t need baths, unless they get dirty rooting around outside or the grease gland near their tails covers them in dark grease.
- Medicine – Sometimes, your guinea pig might fall ill and need medication. Only give your guinea pig medicine the veterinarian prescribes. Medication used for other pets such as dogs and cats is not suitable for guinea pigs. If you have to give a guinea pig a pill, try holding her closely but gently to your chest with her head up, and slip the pill into the side of her mouth, near her molars. Your pet should be able to swallow the pill without chewing if done correctly.
What Are the Signs of a Guinea Pig Dying?
The passing of a beloved pet is hard, but you can prevent early death or make your furry friend’s passing as comfortable as possible by watching out for a few signs.
- Lack of appetite – Sometimes guinea pigs lose their appetite, which can be the result of stress, disease, or poor nutrition. If a guinea pig goes a long time without eating, it can turn into anorexia, a dangerous and sometimes fatal health problem for these little animals.
- Irregular urine and feces – The guinea pig’s gastrointestinal tract is delicate and vital to good health. Any irregularity in urination or defecation should, therefore, be taken seriously. Diarrhea, bloody urine, strain when urinating or defecating, or smaller amounts of feces are all problems that require veterinary attention.
- Fever – If your guinea pig has a fever, then she’s very ill and needs medical attention right away. Fever is a symptom of pneumonia, which is a common disease among guinea pigs.
- Poor coat – A dying guinea pig won’t have a clean, clear coat. It might be dull or thinning, with rough-looking patches of skin.
- Limping and lethargy – Guinea pigs that are limping or moving around more slowly than normal might be ill and almost dying. Always look out for your guinea pig showing signs of pain and discomfort, or appearing hunched over as she moves. Lethargic guinea pigs might also not be getting enough vitamin C.
- Change in behavior – Any drastic change in your pet’s behavior is cause for concern. A dying guinea pig might be depressed, hide excessively, avoid being picked up by you, or stare into corners. If your cavy usually doesn’t like being handled because she’s shy, this behavior is no cause for concern. It’s only a problem when your pig’s actions stray from the norm.
What is the most common cause of death in guinea pigs?
Many vets consider pneumonia as the leading cause of death among guinea pigs. Pneumonia is caused by a bacterial infection, usually Bordetella and Streptococcus. Cavies are susceptible to infection due to overcrowding, pregnancy, or the presence of other illnesses. Often, guinea pigs will be asymptomatic, making the disease hard to detect. Your pet might display signs, however, including discharge from the eyes or nose, sneezing, difficulty breathing, or loss of appetite. Pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics if you catch it early enough.
When should you see a vet for your guinea pig?
Some guinea pig health issues you can address at home. Others will require veterinary care. If your cavy has any of the following problems, take her to a vet.
- In pain or injured
- Excessive scratching or hair loss
- Not eating
- Not urinating or defecating
- Swollen feet
- Significant weight loss
- Bloody urine
Is It a Good Idea to Get a Guinea Pig?
Guinea pigs make great pets, but these lovable little animals can carry diseases that they pass onto humans. Many of these illnesses aren’t serious and you have a low chance to contract them, but you should still take steps to mitigate the risk. Guinea pigs can spread the following to humans:
- Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus – more commonly spread through rats and mice than guinea pigs
- Leptospirosis – guinea pigs can carry when they come into contact with rats
- Salmonella – guinea pigs might appear perfectly healthy even if they have salmonella
Are guinea pigs bad for your health?
Some people might be allergic to guinea pigs as well. Allergic symptoms could be eczema, conjunctivitis, or asthma.
Guinea pigs might also carry germs tied to pneumonia, as Dutch researchers found out in 2017. They carry the bacteria Chlamydia caviae (C. caviae), which causes pink eye in guinea pigs but can cause pneumonia in humans. The researchers who carried out the study said that the three cases of humans in the Netherlands with pneumonia were extreme. But pet owners should still be vigilant and ask a veterinarian for information regarding their own and their pet’s health.
Keep Your Guinea Pig Healthy
Nobody likes a sick pet. By keeping an eye out for problems and taking preventative action, you can keep your pet guinea pig happy and healthy.