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Common Health Issues in Guinea Pigs

Kate loves her guinea pigs and encountered several guinea pig health issues during her time as a cavy-keeper.

Do you know how to care for a sick guinea pig?

Do you know how to care for a sick guinea pig?

Caring for Sick Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs make wonderful pets. Those of you who have cavies at home or have kept them in the past know how much joy they bring to your household. However, maintaining their health can be a very stressful job. Guinea pigs are prone to a few common sicknesses and diseases.

5 Common Health Issues in Guinea Pigs

  1. Respiratory tract infections
  2. Diarrhea
  3. Scurvy
  4. Abscesses
  5. Infections due to lice, mites, or fungus

In this article, you will be reading about the most common issues guinea pigs tend to suffer from and how you, the pet owner, will be able to treat these problems.

1. Respiratory Tract Infections

Respiratory tract infections (or, URIs) are deadly bacterial infections that can lead to your guinea pig's death if left untreated. Most pet stores are constantly battling with guinea pigs that were sent to their store with URIs. That is why in most cases, it is best to adopt a guinea pig rather than to purchase one at a pet store. Signs your guinea pig is suffering from a URI include:

  • Refusal to eat or drink
  • No feces (as a result of not eating)
  • Delayed breathing or wheezing
  • Sneezing/Coughing
  • Crusty eyes or eyes that are almost sealed shut
  • A rough-looking or puffed up coat
  • Lethargy

If you see any of the above signs, you MUST take your guinea pig to an exotic vet right away! The vet will then do the usual check-up to make sure that your guinea pig has a URI. They will check to see if they are hydrated, check their lungs and heart, and may or may not take x-rays to see how much fluids they have in them. Then they will usually perform a test on the piggy to see which antibiotics are best suited for them.

A vet performing a usual check-up for a guinea pig.

A vet performing a usual check-up for a guinea pig.

2. Diarrhea

Please see a vet immediately if you notice your guinea pig has diarrhea. If you notice a black watery type of feces in the cage accompanied by a foul-smelling odor, that is a clear sign of a very serious intestinal problem. Milder forms of diarrhea are caused by overfeeding your guinea pig fruits and vegetables. If the diarrhea is bad enough that a vet would need to look at your piggy, there are a few things they will do:

  • Fecal float: This test is a check for parasites in your guinea pig's feces.
  • Gram Stains: This test shows the rough amount of both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria in your guinea pig's feces.
  • Culture: This test shows what bacteria are causing discomfort in your guinea pig.

If there is no real threat endangering your guinea pig's life, your vet will walk you through a few steps to nurse your piggyback to health again. If antibiotics are needed, your vet will then assign the proper medications your piggy needs.

3. Scurvy

Unlike us humans, guinea pigs are not able to store their own Vitamin C. We must supply them with the proper amount of Vitamin C each day so they do not get scurvy. Signs that your guinea pig is suffering from scurvy include:

  • Hopping instead of walking or trotting
  • Unwillingness to move, lethargy, or weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Eye and nose discharge
  • Tenderness to touch (will not let you touch, pick up, or hold them)
  • Internal skeletal-muscular hemorrhage

Most pet stores offer Vitamin C tablets that your guinea pig can eat or drops you can place into their water bottles. Most times guinea pigs will not eat the tablets and will refuse to drink their water if the droplets are placed into their water bottles. So to be safe, DO NOT add the Vitamin C drops into your guinea pig's water. Speak with your vet about which fruits, vegetables, and pellet foods provide the best amount of Vitamin C for your piggy.

4. Abscesses

Abscesses are caused by multiple things and are not rare in guinea pigs. Abscesses are caused by

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  • Malnutrition
  • A bite or scratch wound inflicted by another guinea pig or pet
  • Unclean cage and environment
  • Internal problems

If you notice a lump or a bulge forming on your guinea pig's body, it is best to take it to the vet right away. A number of things could possibly be wrong and it may not even be an abscess! It could be a few things such as:

  • Cervical Lymphadenitis
  • Cyst
  • Lipoma
  • Mammary tumor
  • Thyroid adenoma
  • Trichofolliculoma

A few tests are mandatory in finding out which illness your piggy has. In most cases, whether it is an abscess or other skin lump caused by a different illness, they will most likely have to lance and drain the bump as long as it is not a tumor and as long as it is not cancerous. After the procedure, your vet will give you two certain medications. An antibiotic and pain medication.

5. Skin Parasites

Guinea pigs usually scratch themselves, however, if you notice that your guinea pig is constantly scratching and even losing hair, there could be a serious problem with your piggy. The most common parasite in guinea pigs is the mange mite. It causes excruciating pain for guinea pigs and needs to be treated ASAP! There are also other parasites common with guinea pigs and they are known as cavy lice and Chirodiscoides (which are harmless fur mites but should still be treated.)

Vets have said the popular flea and tick medication Advantage works on lice, but it does not treat mange mites. Avoid using any flea or tick shampoos on your guinea pigs. Your vet will be able to provide you with a simple skin and fur medication that you can apply to your guinea pig, as well as any shampoos they seem fit.

You and Your Vet

It is very important that you have routine check-ups for your guinea pig. Dogs and cats have them, why not guinea pigs? Find an exotic vet near you and take your piggy in every few months for a standard check-up. Be sure to take your piggy to the vet if you notice clear signs of discomfort or unusual behavior as well. There could be a serious problem with your guinea pig and you may not even notice!

Please remember that guinea pigs are prey animals. Therefore, in most cases, they will not show any signs of sickness until it is too late for treatment. Always keep a watchful eye on your guinea pig and its behaviors. Always make sure they are eating and occasionally check their water bottle to see if they have been drinking. Lower amounts of water in the bottle means they have been drinking and they are staying hydrated!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Michelle Himes on July 07, 2019:

It says if guinea pigs cough / sneeze my one has sneezed but not alot how do i know if i should go get them checked ?

Kendra Duest on December 28, 2018:

need help my guinea pig looks like it has a huge fatty tumor on its memory Glenn and it's bleeding a little bit like watery pus blood is that normal it looks like it popped

Nhi Nguyen on November 11, 2016:

Scrub his nails, then brush his fur everyday to make sure they are clean, feed him lots of vegetables because that will give him the nutrients to heal him. Keep him in a VERY clean cage. Do not bath him yourself cause it will remove the oils from his fur. Just brush him GENTLY. Eventually, he will recover.

Rebecca on October 30, 2016:

Someone gave me a ginnie pig about 4years old he was in bad shape his nails his skin he didn't bath so I did it and he had poop on nails for those years and he has a hard time popping so I clean him out to help him and his ears feel like sand papers what can u advise me to help him so I can help him bring him back to normal

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