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Guinea Pig Eyes: Guide to Eyesight, Problems, Infections & Treatment

Guinea pig eyes have evolved to suit their specific environment and needs. These eyes help them navigate, detect threats, and communicate with other guinea pigs. Maintaining eye health is essential for their overall well-being, as vision problems could indicate underlying diseases.

Table of contents

How good is a guinea pig’s eyesight?

Guinea pigs have their eyes positioned on the sides of their head. This provides them with an expansive field of vision, enabling them to efficiently spot predators approaching from above or from almost any direction on the ground. Interestingly, they have a blind spot directly in front of their nose.

a healthy guinea pig's eye

Though their eyesight might not be exceptionally sharp, guinea pigs excel at detecting moving objects. Additionally, they are believed to have the ability to distinguish colours. The eye is protected by a translucent protective layer called the cornea, which remains moist from the tears produced by the lacrimal glands.

Guinea Pig Care Sheets - Printable PDF Download - Checklists, Logs and Information Sheets

Warning signs of guinea pig eye problems

If you notice any changes in your guinea pig’s eyes, it’s essential to be vigilant and seek a veterinarian’s advice. Symptoms that warrant immediate attention include:

  • Crusty eyes
  • Excessively watery eyes
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Eyes that seem to be receding into the head
  • Eyes that protrude outward unusually
  • Ulcerations on the eyes or redness

What can cause a guinea pig to go blind?

Guinea pigs can experience blindness due to several factors, whether from age-related degeneration, physical injuries, as a result from an eye infection or certain genetic conditions.

Although guinea pigs with white hair and pink eyes are more susceptible to blindness, this colouration does not necessarily mean they are blind. Guinea pigs of all types and colours can experience blindness.

Roan and Dalmatian-patterned guinea pigs possess a genetic marker that results in a condition called microphthalmia. Those born with this characteristic, often called “lethals,” have white hair and either significantly small eyes or lack them entirely. It’s common for these guinea pigs to face additional health challenges and typically have a shorter lifespan.

guinea pig with red eyes
A lunkarya guinea pig with red eyes and good eyesight

How do you know if your guinea pig is blind?

If you have concerns about your guinea pig’s vision, there are certain indicators and tests to help determine if they might be experiencing blindness:

  • Watch how your guinea pig behaves in new settings. Difficulty navigating can indicate vision issues.
  • Blind guinea pigs often exhibit a heightened startle reaction.
  • Conduct a simple eye test: shine a light into their eye. A blind eye may reflect white, while a healthy eye typically reflects red.
  • A noticeable head tilt in guinea pigs can indicate blindness. However, this could also be indicative of a middle ear infection.
  • To test their vision, place their favourite food a few inches away and move it around. If they consistently fail to notice or approach the food, it’s a strong sign they could be blind.
white guinea pig with pink eyes
This white guinea pig with pink eyes is not blind

How can I help my blind guinea pig?

Although the thought of your guinea pig being blind can be worrisome, most guinea pigs adapt impressively to their lack of sight with remarkable resilience.

To help your blind guinea pig in their day-to-day lives, providing a consistent environment for their comfort and confidence is best. Keeping essentials such as food, water, and hay in familiar locations helps them easily navigate their surroundings.

For the safety of blind guinea pigs, it’s best to keep their living space on a single level. They might not detect the edges of ramps, posing a risk of injury if they try to navigate them.

A single level enclosure is necessary for blind guinea pigs

What are blocked tear ducts?

Occasionally, a guinea pig’s tear duct, which drains at the front of the eye, can become blocked. This blockage results in excessive eye watering as tears meant to cleanse its surface can’t drain as they should, leading to an overflow over the eyelid.

Treatment to unblock tear ducts

If your guinea pig is experiencing watery eyes, a visit to the vet is recommended, where they may prescribe eye drops.

Guinea pig expert Peter Gurney suggests a home remedy for blocked tear ducts using Optrex:

  1. Securely hold the guinea pig, using a towel wrap for added stability.
  2. Gently pour a few drops of Optrex onto the eye’s surface (a syringe is helpful for application).
  3. Massage gently at the spot just in front of and slightly below the eye.
  4. The Optrex will typically drain into the nasal passages within a few seconds, which might make the guinea pig sneeze.
  5. Repeat this process 2 or 3 times to ensure the tear duct is adequately flushed.

However, if both eyes are watering, it often indicates a broader health issue, so a comprehensive health check with a competent vet is advisable.

What does a cataract look like in guinea pigs?

In guinea pigs, cataracts give a cloudy appearance to the pupils, caused by the breakdown and clumping of lens proteins. Abyssinian guinea pigs tend to be more susceptible to this condition than other breeds. While cataracts may impair vision, they usually don’t cause total blindness in guinea pigs.

A guinea pig with an advanced cataract
This six and a half year old guinea pig has an advanced cataract

How do you treat cataracts in guinea pigs?

Treatment for cataracts in guinea pigs isn’t commonly offered due to the high expenses involved. Yet, there was a remarkable exception: Poppy, a two-year-old guinea pig, underwent successful cataract surgery at the Royal Veterinary College in the UK. This groundbreaking surgery marked the first recorded cataract operation for a guinea pig in the UK.

For those curious about Poppy’s pioneering procedure, more information can be found here.

Conjunctivitis and eye infections

Conjunctivitis is an infection of the mucous membranes on the inner side of the eyelids. Symptoms you may notice in your guinea pig can include red and swollen mucous membranes, as well as excessive watering that can become sticky, leading the eyelids to stick together. Despite these symptoms, a guinea pig might still appear generally healthy.

Guinea Pig Care Sheets - Printable PDF Download - Checklists, Logs and Information Sheets

How do guinea pigs get conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis in guinea pigs can arise from various causes. Chemical irritants, such as the accumulation of ammonia in their living space, can be a significant factor. Similarly, exposure to aerosol sprays or dust and foreign bodies becoming trapped in the conjunctival sac can lead to this condition. Additionally, chronic conjunctivitis, often referred to as “red eye”, may result from allergies. Issues like overgrown tooth roots or malocclusion can also cause irritation in the tear duct, subsequently producing discharge.

How do you treat conjunctivitis?

For effective treatment of conjunctivitis, it’s crucial to identify the underlying cause. Dental problems require immediate attention from a vet, and any foreign objects in the eye should be removed promptly.

To prevent eye issues such as conjunctivitis, ensure your guinea pigs are in a dust-free environment that’s regularly cleaned to avoid ammonia build-up. Additionally, avoid using aerosol sprays near them.

guinea pig with beautiful eyes

What is entropion in guinea pigs?

Entropion is an eye condition in which the eyelashes curl inward, causing discomfort and irritation. Often seen in newborn guinea pigs, the continuous rubbing of the lash against the eye increases the risk of developing a corneal ulcer.

What are the causes and symptoms of entropion?

This condition is thought to have a genetic link and is more prevalent in breeds like Teddies, Rexes, and Texels compared to others.

Besides the distinctive inward curl of the eyelashes, the affected eye may take on a milky white hue. While alarming to witness, it’s comforting to note that most guinea pigs with this condition naturally outgrow it within several weeks.

How to treat entropion

Sterile eye lubricants, readily available at local pharmacies, can alleviate the irritated eye. Specific ophthalmic ointments, such as GoldenEye, can also provide relief. Some guinea pig owners gently redirect the lashes away from the eye during ointment application for immediate comfort.

What is a hay poke?

A hay poke is when a small piece of hay or hayseed becomes lodged in a guinea pig’s eye. In most instances, the hay can be easily removed without lasting consequences. However, in severe cases where a sharp piece of hay has penetrated the eye, it can result in permanent damage.

guinea pig's eye with a hay poke injury
This guinea pig had a hay poke but fully recovered

What are the symptoms of a hay poke?

Symptoms can include the eye looking cloudy (sometimes a kind of blue colour), opaque, bloodshot, or excessively watery. Sometimes, the hay might be visible, often found in the eye’s corner or on the inner eyelid surface.

What should I do if my guinea pig has a hay poke?

If you’re confident and can clearly see the hay in your guinea pig’s eye, you might attempt to gently remove it using rubber or silicone tipped tweezers. If you can’t easily grasp the hay, consider applying eye drops (such as Optrex) to help dislodge it. 

But if the hay doesn’t come out easily or there’s resistance, it’s important to stop immediately to avoid causing pain or further damage. If unsure about the removal process or if complications arise, consult a veterinarian promptly. They can ensure the hay is safely and professionally removed.

Fortunately, after the hay’s removal, such injuries generally heal quickly and seldom cause lasting vision issues.

How to avoid hay pokes in guinea pigs

While it’s impossible to eliminate the risk of hay pokes completely, there are measures you can take to reduce their likelihood. Ensure the bedding hay is soft and without hard stalks. While guinea pigs need coarser hay for eating, position it to minimise potential injury.

What is keratitis in guinea pigs?

Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea, the transparent protective membrane covering the eye. This condition can arise due to various causes, but in guinea pigs, it’s often the result of a foreign body, such as a piece of hay, hayseed, or shaving, becoming lodged in the eye. Eye infections, bacteria, fungal infections and parasites can also cause keratitis.

If a foreign object punctures the cornea, it could lead to an extensive eye infection. This infection can result in irreversible blindness and even cause the eyeball to collapse.

severe hay poke injury in guinea pig
This severe hay poke injury lead to blindness in the eye of this guinea pig

Symptoms of keratitis

When keratitis sets in, the cornea often appears milky and opaque. A discharge from the eye may be noticeable, and sometimes, an ulcer can be visible. In more severe situations, blood vessels may grow into the cornea to assist in healing. These usually retreat once recovery is complete.

How to treat keratitis

If keratitis is suspected, immediate consultation with a veterinarian is crucial. A detailed examination is vital to ensure no foreign object remains beneath the eyelid, which could hinder the healing process. Without timely intervention, there’s a risk of permanent eye damage, like scar formation. 

What is the white milky discharge in my guinea pig’s eye?

Guinea pigs often have a white fluid in their eyes during their cleaning rituals. This is entirely normal. It’s the result of one of the lacrimal glands producing milky-white tears, most often seen in the eye corners, and is used to help them groom themselves.

Milky discharge in guinea pigs eye
This milky-white discharge occurs when a guinea pig cleans themselves

However, if this white discharge is accompanied by eyes that seem sore or irritated, it might suggest conjunctivitis or another eye-related issue.

What is pea eye in guinea pigs?

Pea eye, also known as “fatty eye,” shows as a noticeable bulge in the pinkish area below the eye, which is the mucosa or conjunctival sac. This pale pink protrusion often gives the lower eyelid a droopy appearance.

Why do guinea pigs get pea eye?

The exact reasons for the development of pea eye are varied. Some experts believe there’s a genetic component. In certain instances, it can appear after an eye infection and persist even once the infection has healed. 

Significant weight gain in a guinea pig is thought to be another leading cause of pea eye. The progression of this condition can be gradual, often going unnoticed until it’s considerably advanced. 

Though rare, heart conditions or cysts behind the eye have also been linked to pea eye.

Minor pea eye in guinea pigs
This looks like a very minor case of pea eye

Does pea eye require treatment?

Typically, pea eye doesn’t require treatment; contrary to some beliefs, antibiotics do not cure the condition. Most guinea pigs with pea eye don’t experience pain or discomfort and can live happily. However, observing your guinea pig for signs like redness, soreness, or discharge from the eye is essential, as these could point to an infection that needs attention.

How to prevent pea eye

Maintaining a healthy weight for your guinea pig is key to preventing the onset of pea eye. For guinea pigs already showing signs of the condition, managing their weight can help reduce its prominence.

The link between diet and eye health in guinea pigs

Guinea pigs’ overall health, including the health of their eyes, is closely linked to their diet. A balanced diet rich in essential nutrients like Vitamin C ensures overall well-being and helps maintain clear vision and eye health. A proper diet can help prevent eye issues and boost the guinea pig’s natural defences against potential eye problems.

guinea pigs eating healthy food
A nutrient-rich and appropriate diet is essential for a guinea pig’s eye health

FAQs

Do guinea pigs blink?

Although you may rarely have seen your guinea pig blink, they do blink much faster than humans or rabbits. When they blink, their eyes move upwards and slightly to the side, with a slight backward movement of the eyeball into the socket.

Do guinea pigs close their eyes?

Given their status as prey animals, guinea pigs are naturally vigilant. Their need to be constantly wary of predators means their eyes remain open most of the time, even when sleeping. However, in moments of deep relaxation, domestic guinea pigs might occasionally drift into slumber with their eyes closed.

Why do some guinea pigs have red eyes?

Red or pink eyes in guinea pigs result from a lack of colour or pigment in certain parts of their eyes. When this pigment is absent, the light entering the eye reveals the pinkish tissues behind the retina. 

Contrary to common belief, the difference in eye colour doesn’t mean the guinea pig is blind. Even without the pigment, their eyes detect light just as effectively as other guinea pigs, so their vision is just as good.

ginger and white guinea pig with pink/red eyes

Can guinea pigs see colours?

Yes, guinea pigs can see colours! Researchers have conducted specific tests to determine how guinea pigs perceive various lights and hues. Their findings revealed that guinea pigs are especially responsive to colours around blue and green. Guinea pigs can also distinguish between specific colours, indicating that they have a basic form of colour vision. Interestingly, guinea pigs perceive colours differently from many other rodents. So, while their colour vision isn’t as vibrant as humans, they certainly aren’t colourblind! 

Information regarding the colour vision of guinea pigs was sourced from a study on the National Library of Medicine website.

Why does my guinea pig have a cloudy blue eye?

If your guinea pig’s eye appears bluish and seems misty or cloudy, there are several potential causes. The eye could have been irritated by a piece of hay or might be showing signs of an infection. Another possibility is cataracts, though they usually become gradually more cloudy over time. If you notice something in the eye, try to remove it safely, following the method mentioned for treating hay pokes. Regardless of the cause, it’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian promptly, as the condition might be indicative of a severe infection or other medical issue.

Why is my guinea pig’s eye bulging?

If a guinea pig’s eye looks like it’s bulging or sticking out, it might be because of a problem with their teeth. Guinea pigs’ teeth keep growing, and sometimes a tooth can grow the wrong way. This can cause an infection near the eye, making it look like the eye is popping out. This is a serious problem and needs medical attention with a professional vet as soon as possible.

Guinea Pig Care Sheets - Printable PDF Download - Checklists, Logs and Information Sheets
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