Guinea pigs are typically very healthy animals when kept properly. Indeed, as you’ll see, many of the more common guinea pig diseases are easily avoided with the right husbandry.
That said, there are a number of ailments which guinea pigs seem more prone to, which is the focus of this article.
Signs of Guinea Pig Illnesses
While guinea pigs suffer from very few health issues, the diseases and problems affecting guinea pigs can be surprisingly diverse. Some of the more common symptoms of illness in guinea pigs include:
- Loss of appetite
- Audible breathing problems
- Lack of urination/defecation
- Hair loss
- Persistent scratching
If any of these symptoms are experienced then it makes sense to seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible, as most guinea pig illnesses will clear up quite quickly if caught early on.
Common Illnesses in Guinea Pigs
Guinea pig’s teeth grow constantly throughout their lives. If these are not kept in check they can become overgrown or misaligned. Dental problems in guinea pigs can result in your piggie going off his food for long periods of time. Monitoring the volume of food that your guinea pigs are getting through can be a good indication of problems.
Even more effectively, carry out weekly health checks on your guinea pigs, where you can very gently pull back the lips and inspect your guinea pigs teeth. Here’s how.
As a preventative method, guinea pigs should be provided with tough chews to gnaw on. Anything from wooden toys to toasted wholemeal bread are suitable options.
If your guinea pig is still unlucky enough to be affected then it will normally be necessary to have your vet gently clip the overgrown teeth. This is a fiddly, but reasonably hassle-free procedure.
While guinea pigs positively thrive on a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, such foodstuffs have been known to cause diarrhoea in the past. This is especially so when very watery items – such as iceberg lettuce – have been fed in large quantities.
However, it’s not just diet which can cause digestive problems in guinea pigs; bacterial infections of the gut can also be a causative factor.
In cases where your guinea pig is producing runny stools, withdraw all fruit and vegetable matter from their diet, increase the fibre content of their menu (such as with the provision of extra hay) and seek veterinary attention. In most cases guinea pigs with diarrhoea will recover quickly once the necessary changes have been made to their care.
Guinea pigs are not normally prone to too many parasitic infections. Of the potential problems, however, mites are one of the most common. These are typically picked up either from contact with another infected guinea pig, or are transported in the hay/straw they are given.
As a result, there is little that can be done to fully protect your guinea pigs from mites, apart from carrying out regular health checks and ensuring you use only good quality hay and straw.
If infected, the mites will burrow into the skin of your guinea pig, leading to irritation. This is turn can cause your guinea pig to constantly scratch itself, leading to red-raw skin and hairloss.
There are a range of effective treatment available to get rid of mite infections, but it is always wise to seek the advice of your vet. Remember that it will normally be necessary to disinfect the cage too, in order to prevent mites from coming back again in the future.
Guinea pigs come from drier areas of South America, and they tend not to cope very well with damp British weather. If kept outside, or in a damp room of the house, guinea pigs may develop signs of pneumonia or other respiratory infections.
Such diseases most commonly manifest themselves in the form of wheezing, crackling when breathing or general lethargy. If your guinea pig looks or sounds like it’s just run a marathon then there’s a good chance that he or she is suffering from a respiratory infection.
As with all guinea pig illnesses, veterinary advice should be sought as early as possible, though in the future note that keeping guinea pigs indoors during the winter months can avoid many respiratory problems.
Guinea pigs are notable for being one of the few species (besides humans) which cannot create their own ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Just like us, therefore, it is necessary to ensure that your guinea pig has suitable vitamin C in their diet.
A range of dietary options may be chosen. Firstly, try to feed foods which are rich in such vitamins, such as citrus fruits and kiwi. Supplements may also be purchased which can be added to your guinea pig’s water bottle.
A lack of vitamin C can make itself felt in a range of ways, including locomotive problems, diarrhoea and weight loss, so it’s best to avoid problems before they arise.
Female guinea pigs in particular seem prone to cystitis. Urinary infections can make themselves known in a range of forms, from blood in the urine, to a lack of urination, through to discomfort when urinating.
It is very difficult to treat urinary problems at home, so if you see any signs of potential infection it is best to consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.