Guinea pigs tend to be fairly robust and healthy creatures if fed and housed correctly and provided they originate from healthy stock themselves. I have heard a number of tales of woe where guinea pigs were bought from a pet superstore and fell sick within days, incurring large vets bills.
The signs that a guinea pig is healthy are fairly obvious – eyes, ears, mouth and bottom should be free from soiling or discharge. Feet should be clean. Coat should be in good condition without scabs or patches of fur missing. Teeth should align nicely.
Under the weather
The main health problems guinea pigs suffer from tend to be parasitic or fungal skin problems which commonly occur during major seasonal changes such as occur in Spring and Autumn
Other things that guinea pig owners worry about, but which are quite common and not too serious, are sticky bottom in boars and a build up of waxy material around the ‘grease spot’ of guinea pigs of both sexes. If this waxy build up on the grease spot becomes excessive, it can be removed using a solvent cleaner designed for use on human skin, such as the stuff used to remove bandaid type plasters available from pharmacies or even Swarfega hand gel. A gentle wash in mild soapy water and then rinsing to remove any residue is recommended.
Another common problem affecting guinea pigs seems to be urinary tract problems including gravel or stones in the urinary tract or cystitis. These heath problems seem to me to have both a dietary and an environmental factor. The prevalence of urinary calculus, or lithiasis, in guinea pigs is almost certainly connected with some imbalance in the calcium and other mineral levels in the diet. A healthy urinary tract requires correct levels of fluid in the diet and there are some guinea pigs who do not drink enough from a standard water bottle to compensate for the lack of moisture in a predominantly dry diet. In the wild, guinea pigs consume moisture as part of the plant material which forms their natural diet.
In addition, there is no avoiding the fact that guinea pigs, especially as they get older, are rather ‘low slung’! The closer the urinary outlet is to the floor litter, the greater the risk of infection. The fatter a guinea pig is, the more likely it is to sit in its own urine and the harder it will be for the guinea pig to clean itself. One good reason to keep your guinea pigs fitter rather than fatter.
Common health problems
Respiratory infections can be very distressing for both the guinea pig and their owner. A common cause is Bordatella but there a number of opportunist bacteria in the guinea pig’s environment which could cause a respiratory infection. In addition, guinea pigs, like humans, can display an allergic reaction to pollen, dust, bedding or other environmental factors.
Eye infections can occur in guinea pigs just as they do in humans, but guinea pigs do have a higher incidence of eye injuries than other animals, often caused by coarse hay or seeds. This is why soft hay free from loose seeds is recommended for guinea pigs. There is also a harmless condition in guinea pigs known as fatty eye which is covered in the general section on eyes.
Infection of the foot, known as ‘bumble foot’ in guinea pigs, is covered in our section under it’s technical name of pododermatitis.
Dental problems are not uncommon in guinea pigs and some guinea pigs are more susceptible than others to ‘scabby mouth’ infections. Both of which are covered in the Mouth section of the Health pages. Guinea pigs with dental problems often need syringe feeding until they recover from the soreness.
Veterinary emergencies and urgent treatment
Guinea pigs, like all prey animals, are adept at hiding the symptoms of illness until they are very sick indeed. Owners are often the first to spot that there is ‘something wrong’ with the sick guinea pig but can’t quite put their finger on it. In the beginning the signs may be very subtle, a sick guinea pig may simply eat less, drink more, move less, look odd around the eyes, scratch more, but not enough to warrant a trip to the vet.
Always trust your hunches as a guinea pig owner and if you feel your guinea pig is sick then observe it closely over a 24 hour period. A guinea pig which is hunched up with fur stocking out, eyes half close and barely moving is very, very sick indeed. Diarrhoea is relatively rare in guinea pigs and always a cause for concern. Stuff coming out of the mouth is always a sign that the guinea pig is sick. accompanied by diarrhoea, stuff coming out of the mouth could well mean a rare condition where part of the gut turns back on itself which is fatal.
Guinea pigs suffer occasionally from what could loosely be termed ‘lumps and bumps’. These may be simple fatty lumps, cysts or abscesses. Your vet or local rodentologist will be able to determine what type of lump it is and recommend the proper treatment.
You will find a lot of useful guinea pig health links on our cavy links page. including links to emergency advice, the CCT, Peter Gurney’s pages and Eva Johansson’s sick guinea pig pages.