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Three Common Illnesses in Guinea Pigs

Three Common Illnesses in Guinea Pigs

               Guinea pigs are fairly hardy pets but they can get sick.  This week, we discuss three common diseases of pet guinea pigs and how they are treated.

               Respiratory illnesses:  Guinea pigs can be susceptible to bacterial and viral infections that may cause coughing, sneezing and difficulty breathing and may progress to pneumonia. Strep and kennel cough (Bordetella) are commonly found as the underlying cause. Affected guinea pigs may develop nasal discharge, fever, weight loss, lethargy, and loss of appetite.  Unfortunately, sudden death is also possible. A sick guinea pig with respiratory signs may need x-rays to rule out pneumonia and will likely be treated with antibiotics and supportive care. Syringe feeding, vitamin C, fluids and oxygen therapy may all be necessary depending on the severity of the illness.

               Digestive Problems:  Often the result of an improper diet, guinea pigs can develop slowing down of the gut (GI stasis) secondary to dental disease, any loss of appetite, certain drugs, GI tumors and blockage/foreign objects in the intestinal tract. Build up of gas and lack of movement through the intestines causes stress and pain and can lead to shock and death if not treated. Symptoms may include grinding of the teeth, drooling, loss of appetite, decreased activity, dehydration, dull eyes and coat and hunching or acting painful when the abdomen is touched. Diagnosis is made by physical exam and x-rays.  Treatment may involve fluid therapy, pain management, syringe feeding/dietary changes, and drugs to increase intestinal contractions if there is no blockage.  If a tumor or foreign object is blocking the intestines, surgery may be necessary.  Guinea pigs can also develop diarrhea secondary to bacterial infection, medications, and parasites.  Severe diarrhea may lead to dehydration and death.  The underlying cause must be treated and sick pigs may require supportive care with fluids, assisted feeding, dietary changes, probiotics and proper cleaning and sanitization of the environment.

               Skin Conditions:  Guinea pigs are susceptible to external parasites such as lice, fleas, and mites that can cause intense itching and hair loss.  They can also suffer from ringworm, a fungal infection that can cause dry, red scaly patches often on the face and head.  Guinea pigs can acquire any of these infections from contaminated bedding or contact with another infected animal. Diagnosis of skin infections may be made by visually seeing evidence of external parasites or by tests like skin scrapings or ringworm testing.  Treatments vary and are based on the underlying cause, but affected guinea pigs will likely need drugs to clear the parasite or ringworm infection and thorough sanitization of their housing.

Help prevent illnesses by providing proper housing in an area free from drafts, proper cleaning of cages, food and water containers and frequently changing the bedding, good nutrition including proper roughage and supplementation with vitamin C and pay attention to eating, drinking and bathroom habits. If something seems off, take your guinea pig to the vet. Prompt treatment at the start of an illness is likely to have a better outcome.

This blog brought to you by the Patton Veterinary Hospital serving Red Lion, York and the surrounding communities.