Cavies and Guinea Pigs

Common Ailments

While domestic guinea pigs are generally hardy, they can suffer from a number of ailments. Some are more common than others such as respiratory tract infections, abscesses, diarrhoea, scurvy, fungal ailments and infestations of lice or mites.

Guinea Pig(58998)Credit: Wikimedia

Many domestic guinea pigs are fed hay. If a splinter of hay becomes embedded in the throat, the infection may manifest itself as an abscess. Hay or straw sometimes gets into the eyes causing tearing or corneal ulcers. Frequent sneezing is an indication of pneumonia which may come about due to atmospheric changes.

Upper respiratory infections (URI) and pneumonia are generally due to damp bedding and/or draughts. Symptoms are runny eyes and nose, coughing, sneezing and difficulty in breathing. These symptoms may be accompanied by ear infections manifested by lack of coordination, circling one way, torticollis (twisting of the neck) and rolling. Pneumonia can also be caused by stress and an incorrect diet.

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Being stout and compact, the guinea pig tolerates cold conditions better than hot. Consistent excessive heat (32oC+) leads to hyperthermia. Pregnant sows are particularly at risk from high temperatures. Draughts, wind and extremes of humidity also takes a toll on the health of a guinea pig. Heat stress is a worry with overweight or heavily furred guinea pigs. Panting, slobbering, and weakness leads to convulsions and eventually death. Prevent heat stroke by always providing shade, plenty of water, good ventilation and maybe a fan during heat waves.<

Some diseases are caused by careless or uninformed husbandry practices. Incorrect feeding can result in diarrhoea, scurvy or constipation.

Diarrhoea can be caused by too many fresh greens or fruit. Iceberg lettuce will also cause diarrhoea. Stop offering the offending food for a few days then reintroduce new foods gradually.

A diet deficient in Vitamin C can cause scurvy. The animal may appear to be in pain and loses condition. The joints may be swollen and painful, the gums may bleed and the guinea pig may be reluctant to move. Feed fruit and vegetables with a high Vitamin C content.

Insufficient amounts of greens or water can cause constipation. Feeding a little romaine lettuce dipped in mineral oil will help fix the situation.

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Unclean hygiene practices can result in footpad infection, bacterial enterisis and coccidiosis.

Footpad infection, also called bacterial pododermatitis or bumblefoot, is most often caused by faecal soiling of the wire flooring of cages.

Bacterial enteritis is caused through contaminated greens, vegetables or water. Again, good husbandry should prevent these problems.

Coccidiosis is caused by a parasite and spreads from contaminated food and/or faeces. Diarrhoea, loss of appetite and listlessness are symptoms of coccidiosis. Consult your veterinarian if you suspect this condition.

Ringworm presents as bare, patchy areas which are dry and scaly. Ringworm is caused by a fungus. It is best to consult your veterinarian if you think your pet has ringworm.

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Animals that continually scratch and itch may have lice, mites, fleas or ticks. Generally a visit to the veterinarian is the only way to get a definite diagnosis. Lice and mites can be controlled by treaing with Ivermectin or Selemectin. With fleas and ticks, clean and disinfect the cage. Use a flea comb on the animal and try to eliminate insects at least from the immediate environment.

Slobbers occurs when constant drooling wets the fur under the jaw and down the neck. Causes include an overgrown tooth and subsequent injury to the tongue or mouth, dental malocclusion (this may be hereditary). Low fibre diets may also cause this condition.

Guinea pigs also inherit a number of abnormalities. The attractive roan colouration of some Abyssinian guinea pigs has links to congenital eye disorders and digestive problems. Palsy, tremor conditions and 'waltzing disease' (deafness together with a tendency to run in circles) are other conditions that may be inherited.

While the above may sound like a litany for disaster, pet guinea pigs usually live a long, happy life giving lots of pleasure to their lucky owners. Many of the above are preventable with good feeding and good hygiene practices.

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