It is important that your guinea pigs are well cared for to ensure they live a healthy life. It is good to know in advance about the health problems that are most common in guinea pigs so that if they become ill you will be in a better place to respond quickly.
There are a few complaints which guinea pigs are prone to. Some of these can be very serious and will require veterinary advice and treatment. Others can be treated at home and, in many instances, prevented with the correct diet and the proper care.
Parasites on their coat or skin
As with most furry creatures, they can sometimes get parasites such as mites, lice and fleas.
Signs of Parasites: With regular grooming you should be able to spot the signs of any infestations as the eggs, droppings or adult parasites will be visible to the naked eye.
How to Treat Parasites: You can usually treat these with spot-on solutions that are available from both your vet and at certain pet shops.
Because these parasites can cause itching, your guinea pig may scratch. This may break the skin and on some occasions cause a secondary infection. If this is the case, you will need to make a trip to the vet who will probably prescribe antibiotics to clear it up.
Parasites under the skin
Some parasites live under the skin and one of these is a fungal infection called ringworm.
Symptoms of ringworm: These can include hair loss, crusty lesions on the skin and excessive itching. Scabs are most commonly found around the head, face and ears but do spread across the back and legs.
How to Treat Ringworm: If you think your guinea pig might have this, you must take him to your vet. If they diagnose ringworm, they will prescribe a course of anti-fungal medication for your pet.
Scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C and can be a very serious illness in guinea pigs.
Signs of scurvy: A rough coat, swollen feet, ulcers and being off their food. They may also have diarrhoea.
How to prevent scurvy: Guinea pigs need 10-50mg of Vitamin C daily from their diet. Always ensure that your guinea pig pellets contain vitamin C and are used within 90 days of the date of manufacture. Your guinea pig must have fresh vegetables daily and this should provide him with the vitamin C he needs.
Respiratory problems are probably the most common health complaint in guinea pigs.
Many cavies carry the bacteria which causes pneumonia (Streptococcus and Bordetella) but never develop any infection. However, in some cases, such as stress, your guinea pig will develop signs of an infection.
Symptoms of Pneumonia: These include sneezing, difficulty breathing and discharge around the nose and eyes.
Treating pneumonia: If you think your guinea pig might have pneumonia, you must take them to the vet straight away. They will prescribe antibiotics which are usually sufficient to combat the infection. Occasionally, a sick cavy may need to be kept at the vet for a period of time to provide the additional care and rehydration necessary to get over a bout of pneumonia.
All animals can develop tumours but guinea pigs seem to be more prone to skin and mammary tumours. More often than not, they are totally harmless and can be removed in a simple surgical process. All lumps should be checked by a vet as it could be a tumour or an abscess (see below).
An abscess is a swelling that is infected and contains pus.
Treatment of an abscess: This will involve a trip to the vet and they will need to drain the abscess or surgically remove it. Your guinea pig may need antibiotics to treat any underlying infection.
Guinea pigs have very sensitive tummies and need to carefully balance the bacterial flora in their gastrointestinal tracts. If this becomes unbalanced or upset then the levels of ‘bad’ bacteria can cause toxins to build-up and damage to the intestinal tract. This results in diarrhoea which can be very serious for your cavy’s health.
How to treat diarrhoea: Any episode of diarrhoea should be followed up with a visit to the vets to ensure that the correct care is given. Diarrhoea can often be accompanied by dehydration and hypothermia, both of which can be life threatening if not treated.
Cavies are prone to urinary stones that can form in the kidney or bladder and may become lodged in the urethral tubes. Female guinea pigs tend to suffer more with this as a result of getting frequent infections such as cystitis.
Signs of a urinary complaint: This can include blood in the urine, a hunched posture and straining (or inability) to produce urine. You may also find that your guinea pig goes off their food.
How to treat a urinary problem: If a total blockage occurs, this can be a life threatening complaint and will need urgent medical attention. Signs of urinary problems must always be referred to your vet for further investigation.
Quite common in caged animals, bumblefoot (or pododermatitis) is a result of heavy abrasion of the feet and can occur more frequently in overweight guinea pigs.
If the cage has a wired bottom (not recommended) or is not cleaned regularly then this can exacerbate the problem.
Signs of Bumblefoot: Your guinea pig’s feet will look inflamed and may also have lumps and abrasions.
How to Treat Bumblefoot: This problem can be rectified but, if left untreated, can cause pain and lameness so always take your pet to the vet if you think he might be suffering from this condition.
Barbering is when a guinea pig “barbers” or chews his own hair or that of his guinea pig companions.
This behaviour is a sign of stress or boredom and can be alleviated by providing toys and alternatives to chew on.
Satin bred varieties of guinea pig are prone to this abnormal bone development and can cause considerable pain for your cavy.
Signs and symptoms of Osteodystrophy: These can include changes in eating habits and temperament coupled with an unbalance or wobbly gait
Treatment of Osteodystrophy: If you think your cavy has this health issue, it is vital that he sees a vet who will prescribe the necessary treatment.