Guinea pigs make great pets. While they are usually healthy animals, there are a number of diseases that commonly affect pet guinea pigs. By knowing what the most common illnesses are, you can be better prepared to monitor for signs and symptoms that your guinea pig may be getting sick.
Signs and Symptoms of Common Guinea Pig Ailments
All guinea pigs are different and even the five most common health ailments can present differently in different animals. It is important to note any change in behavior, appetite, elimination (urination and defecation), or other daily habits. Be aware of physical changes such as hair loss, skin redness, or swelling. Monitor any changes and speak with your veterinarian if you suspect there might be something off with your pet guinea pig.
Guinea pigs should always be eating and defecating. If you see your guinea pig hasn't touched its food and you are seeing fewer and smaller stools being passed, your guinea pig may have ileus. Ileus is caused when gas builds up in the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestines). Due to the lack of normal peristalsis and no food coming into the digestive system, gas is unable to leave the body. This causes discomfort and can actually be life-threatening. Your guinea pig should receive immediate medical attention if you suspect ileus, so it can get a diagnosis and be prescribed the proper medications.
Ileus can be caused secondarily by an underlying illness or stressor which, in turn, causes your guinea pig to stop eating. Things as simple as moving the cage or introducing a new guinea pig, or an upper respiratory infection or ectoparasites like lice can stress your guinea pig out enough so that it doesn't eat and develops ileus. Monitor food intake and be aware of how any changes may have impacted your pet.
If your guinea pig has hair loss and is itching or scratching a lot, it may have lice or mites. The thought of having these things in your house—much less on the guinea pig—may make you itch all over. Lice or mites can be easy to avoid and treat. Lice, sarcoptic mange mites (scabies), and Demodex mange mites (Demodex) are conditions that can all cause itching and hair loss. Lice and their eggs are usually seen in the bald patches behind your guinea pig's ears and the mites can be seen microscopically all over the body. Speak with your veterinarian if you suspect any of these parasites to determine the best course of action.
Guinea pigs can give these parasites to each other and can also get them from food and bedding. Be aware before introducing any new guinea pigs if they seem to have any skin conditions. Before introducing food or bedding into the cage, make a habit of freezing it for a day. The extreme cold temperatures will kill off any potential parasites that may have been lurking in the packages.
Uterine and Ovarian Diseases
Spaying your female guinea pig is definitely recommended. If she is living with a male, this will ensure population control and prevent multiple litters of guinea pigs. Besides preventing babies, females often develop uterine and ovarian issues, including various cancers, and having your female spayed can prevent these issues. Sometimes the uterus and ovaries can be removed even after the problem has been discovered but other times cancer has already spread to other parts of the body, rendering it untreatable. A complete ovariohysterectomy can be performed by your exotics vet on your guinea pig to prevent uterine and ovarian diseases, just as it would in a dog or cat. This can be done after the guinea pig is 6 months old. While some guinea pig owners are not able to justify the cost of the procedure, others see the great benefit to having their guinea pigs longer and not having to pay for emergency treatment when they notice their pig is sick.
Guinea pigs are sensitive to cold air drafts and can easily develop an upper respiratory infection—or worse, pneumonia. They can even get Bordetella bronchiseptica from your dog, cat, or pet rabbit. Take notice of your guinea pig's cage location and be sure to keep them away from drafts, open doors, and open windows. This simple act will help decrease the likelihood of them getting a respiratory infection. Wash your hands after handling other animals, including guinea pigs at pet stores, your dog or cat if they are coughing or sneezing, and even your rabbit. If you or your family are feeling ill, it's best to keep your germs to yourself.
More commonly referred to as bladder stones, uroliths often form in the bladder of pet guinea pigs. They cause pain and discomfort in your pet and you may also notice that their urine is often bloody due to the irritation the stone causes. If you notice infrequent urination or bloody urine, call your veterinarian right away and they will do some tests to determine the cause. Bladder stones are often found on radiographs being taken for a diagnosis of ileus and must be surgically removed.
Guinea pig ailments can be hard to diagnose. The best way to keep your guinea pig healthy is to keep a close watch on your pet. Make sure it is eating and defecating, wash your hands before and after handling, freeze your pet's bedding and food before use, and keep it away from drafts. These actions will help you prevent the bulk of the most commonly seen diseases, though there are of course numerous other diseases that affect guinea pigs. To rule out anything else or to look for internal issues, an annual physical examination with your exotics vet is always recommended.