I have had several guinea pigs and I can personally tell you they all had such unique personalities. Over the years as a veterinarian I have met many of little guys. I can tell you they are as much a part of a family as any dog or cat. However there is a lot of mystery about them especially when it comes to some of the health related issues.
Guinea pigs are easy to care for and make great family pets. They need to be handled gently and often. They are generally hardy, healthy animals but are susceptible to certain problems and diseases. They are very different than dogs and cats in many ways, but also very similar. It is important when getting any pet that you do a little research about there housing and dietary needs. It is also important to have some ideas of the common illness they get and the signs to look out for so you can be aware. They have very individual personalities and can range from very timid to very bold. In this post I will discuss briefly some of the more common problems, which include respiratory infections, diarrhea, scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), tumors, abscesses due to infection, urinary problems and infestations by lice, mites or fungus. In addition they require both nail and teeth trimming frequently about every 6-8 weeks. This can be done easily by your veterinarian and will help ensure good long health for your pet.
Pneumonia is one of the most significant diseases of pet guinea pigs and can be caused by a number of bacteria, including Bordetella and Streptococcus.
Guinea pigs have a sensitive gastrointestinal tract. They have a very specific natural population of “good” bacteria (flora) critical to normal bowel function. If this normal bacterial flora becomes upset or unbalanced, then the “bad” bacteria can overgrow, damage the intestinal tissues, release toxins and cause severe diarrhea; in severe cases, death may occur.
Other clinical signs include anorexia (not eating), depression, dehydration, and a low body temperature. These sick guinea pigs need immediate veterinary attention and supportive care.
Scurvy (Vitamin C deficiency)
In guinea pigs and primates, including man, one key essential nutrient is vitamin C. Vitamin C is vital in the normal development and maintenance of skin, joints and mucosal surfaces like gums. It is also important in the healing of wounds. A guinea pig that has a rough hair coat, is off food, has diarrhea, is reluctant to walk, perhaps seems painful, has swollen feet or joints, or has hemorrhages and ulcers on its gums or skin is likely to be deficient in vitamin C.
Guinea pigs can get various tumors but skin tumors and mammary tumors are the most common. They are often benign. Any mass should be brought to the attention of your veterinarian. In most cases surgical removal is curative.
Abscesses (an infected swelling within a body tissue, containing an accumulation of pus) can affect lymph nodes, the skin, the muscles, the teeth, the jaws, or other areas of the face.
Guinea pigs are very prone to urinary calculi (stones). These stones most often form in the bladder but some may form in the kidney itself. Female pigs are more prone to cystitis (bladder infection) then are male guinea pigs and often stones develop in association with a bladder infection. The signs of urinary problems include anorexia (off food), blood in the urine, straining to urinate, a hunched posture (with straining); if an obstruction has occurred, the guinea pig will be unable to produce urine.
Parasites and Skin problems
Guinea pigs (especially young ones) are prone to ringworm, which is a fungal infection, not an actual worm. The areas affected by ringworm can be itchy, usually lose hair, and may have crusty scabs on them. Ringworm lesions are found most commonly around the face, head and ears, but will spread to the back and legs.
Guinea pigs can get fleas and lice; A mite that can cause itching (pruritus) so intense as to occasionally cause seizures can infest guinea pigs. With a mite infestation, the skin is crusty, often is scraped or raw from scratching so much, has visible hair loss and may have secondary infections.
Barbering is a problem, usually associated with boredom, in which the guinea pig chews or barbers its own hair so that it looks like it has been given a “brush cut”.
Pododermatitis or bumblefoot is reasonably common in guinea pigs. It occurs most often in overweight animals housed on wire-bottomed cages or in filthy cages that abrade the feet, making them susceptible to a chronic, deep infection that causes lameness and pain.
To discuss any further questions you may have about your Guinea Pig, please contact Meadowlands Veterinary Hospital at 201-646-2008