Guinea pigs, like many other exotic pets, are prone to eye problems. There are a variety of diseases and issues, such as infections and tumors, that can affect the health of your guinea pig’s eyes, but some of these problems are seen more commonly than others. By familiarizing yourself with some of the possibilities, you’ll be better prepared to deal with an eye problem that your guinea pig may have in the future.
What Are Eye Problems in Guinea Pigs?
Eye infections or problems refer to a variety of issues that impact a guinea pig's eyes. The symptoms all range depending on the type of problem. Once diagnosed, treatments will vary greatly.
Symptoms of Eye Problems in Guinea Pigs
Depending on the symptom, some at-home remedies can work. If you notice any eye issues, it's best to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Eye issues can be serious and if left untreated, they could result in blindness.
Cloudiness or Redness
You may see a bit of cloudiness or redness in the eye if your guinea pig has a corneal ulcer. A corneal ulcer is a defect in the layer of your pet's eyes known as the cornea.
Frequent Pawing, Scratching, or Closed Eye
If your guinea pig is pawing at its eye, keeping it closed, or even rubbing it on the ground, it is signaling that it has a problem. The pain from the ulcer may cause your guinea pig to stop eating and then even develop ileus.
Your guinea pig may have an infection if there is hair loss around the infected eye. It may also have an infection if there is redness called conjunctivitis, discharge, inflammation, or swelling. Your pet may even hold the infected eye shut if it's infected.
Normal ducts flow through the nose and allow drainage from the eyes. But if that duct is blocked or clogged, excessive drainage will occur from the eye.
Tumors and growths can cause your guinea pig's eye to bulge or swell.
Causes of Eye Problems in Guinea Pigs
The cause of a guinea pig's eye problems could range from a scratched cornea, corneal ulcer, infection, or even more serious tumors.
Sometimes eyes get scratched or irritated by something in your guinea pig's cage such as hay or bedding, or even after a struggle with another guinea pig. These scratches or irritations can cause an injury called a corneal ulcer.
Irritation or exposure to excessive amounts of bacteria or fungal spores can cause your guinea pig’s eyes to become infected. If your guinea pig has a lot of discharge from the eye and it is crusting shut, you can use a warm, damp cloth to gently clean it until you can see your vet.
Guinea pigs have teeth similar to those of a rabbit. Their front teeth are called incisors. The roots of these incisors can grow into a pathway between the nose and the eyes, called the nasal-lacrimal duct, and cause your guinea pig’s eyes to weep.
Sometimes growths or tumors will, unfortunately, develop behind the eyes of guinea pigs. These growths will likely be very uncomfortable for your guinea pig.
Diagnosing Eye Problems in Guinea Pigs
Eye issues in guinea pigs can be hard to diagnose. Each cause of an eye problem in a guinea pig requires a different test for an accurate diagnosis.
- Corneal ulcers: Your veterinarian will likely be able to determine if your pet has a corneal ulcer just by a physical examination and observing the guinea pig's behavior.
- Eye infections: Your exotics vet may choose to treat the eye without obtaining a sample to culture first. But if the infection does not resolve itself, a bacterial and/or fungal culture should be obtained. The culture will tell your vet exactly what kind of bacteria or fungus is growing around the eye and will dictate the correct treatment for your pet.
- Overgrown teeth: An easy test to see if there is a blocked nasal-lacrimal duct because of overgrown teeth is to use a fluorescein eye stain and wait to see if it leaks out of your guinea pig's nose.
- Tumors: Sometimes X-rays will be used by your exotics vet to identify a tumor on the skull of your guinea pig. These X-rays may also need to be read by a radiologist before your vet can make a diagnosis. Unfortunately, not all abnormalities are visible on an X-ray so your vet may also recommend an MRI be performed on your guinea pig. This is not something many guinea pig owners pursue and it is also not something many veterinary hospitals can provide.
The cause of the issue determines the course of treatment for eye problems in a guinea pig.
- Corneal ulcers: Corneal ulcers can be treated with special prescription eye ointments from your exotics vet. Some of these ointments are antibiotics and some are made specifically to heal ulcers. If the ulcer is really large or hasn't healed after the use of some medications, your vet may draw some of your guinea pig's blood. The blood will then be centrifuged, and the serum will be used as eye drops to help the ulcer heal. If the ulcer still hasn't healed, a special procedure called a grid keratotomy may need to be performed on the eye to encourage healing. This procedure is done under anesthesia by an exotics vet.
- Eye infections: Bacterial and fungal infections can affect one or both eyes and need to be treated with the appropriate antibacterial or antifungal medications. Sometimes just cleaning out the eye makes a world of difference to your guinea pig. Once your guinea pig has been diagnosed with an infection, take care to fully sanitize and clean its cage and all the elements inside. This will remove any lingering spores.
- Overgrown teeth: If there's a diagnosis for overgrown teeth, your vet will decide if an extraction surgery is the right course of action.
- Tumors: If a diagnosis is made, there is typically no treatment for a tumor behind the eyes.
Prognosis for Guinea Pigs With Eye Problems
Most eye problems can be cleared up in guinea pigs and go on to live normal lives. However, guinea pigs that are suspected to have tumors behind their eyes are often treated symptomatically and provided with hospice care.
How to Prevent Eye Problems
Some of the common eye issues in guinea pigs are somewhat preventable and others are not. Take these three steps to help prevent eye problems in your pet:
- Maintain a clean cage to prevent unnecessary bacteria from growing near your guinea pig.
- If you have more than one living together, try to avoid or break up any fighting, since they can injure each other's eyes.
- Pay attention to any changes in your pet's eyes and take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
Disorders and Diseases of Guinea Pigs. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Health Problems in Guinea Pigs. VCA Hospitals.
Disorders and Diseases of Guinea Pigs. Merck Veterinary Manual.
Disorders And Diseases Of Guinea Pigs. Veterinary Manual.
Quinton, Jean-François et al. A Case Of Well-Differentiated Palpebral Liposarcoma In A Guinea Pig (Cavia Porcellus). Veterinary Ophthalmology, vol 16, 2013, pp. 155-159. Wiley, doi:10.1111/vop.12042