Heat Stroke in Guinea Pigs

Guinea pig playing outside
Guinea pigs can overheat if exposed to high temperatures.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Guinea pigs are native to South America and can be found in a variety of areas from forests to swamps to savannas. As pets, these furry rodents make great companions but can be sensitive to sudden changes in their environments. High temperatures in particular can be problematic for guinea pigs as it can result in heat stroke. Knowing more about heat stroke and how you can recognize it and treat it can help save your guinea pig's life.

What Is Heat Stroke?

Heat stroke is also often referred to as sun stroke and occurs when a guinea pig's body temperature gets too high. A guinea pig's normal body temperature is between 102 and 104 degrees so heat stroke can occur if its body temperature gets over 104 degrees but heat stroke is not the same as developing a fever due to an illness. When the body is unable to thermoregulate itself, the high body temperature from heat stroke can cause physical problems. Simply put, a guinea pig with heat stroke is overheating and just like a car engine that overheats, serious internal damage can occur. Inflammation and blood clotting issues can develop inside your guinea pig when it has heat stroke and this condition can even be fatal if left untreated.

Signs of Heat Stroke in Guinea Pigs

Signs of Heat Stroke in Guinea Pigs

  • Lethargy
  • Rapid breathing
  • Open mouth breathing or panting
  • Laying on side
  • Drooling
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

The signs of heat stroke in a guinea pig may seem subtle at first, but if you notice your guinea pig is slower and more lethargic than usual, these could be the first indications that it is overheating. Rapid breathing may be seen if you watch its chest and see that it is moving more quickly than usual. Panting or open mouth breathing may also be observed. Drooling or excessive slobbering, lying on its side, and even seizures can also occur with heat stroke. Finally, if heat stroke symptoms are not quickly addressed, coma, and ultimately death, can occur.

Causes of Heat Stroke in Guinea Pigs

Heat stroke in guinea pigs can happen in less than an hour and can result from anything that makes a guinea pig's body get too warm too quickly. Some examples of situations that may result in heat stroke include:

  • Being left in a hot vehicle
  • Sitting in the sun
  • Sitting under a heat light
  • Being outside on a hot day
  • Sitting in front of a heat vent
  • Being in a house that is over 80 degrees

Treatment of Heat Stroke in Guinea Pigs

If you suspect your guinea pig is developing or has heat stroke, immediately get it to a cooler location. This may mean you need to bring it into an air-conditioned house, move it out of direct sunlight, or get it away from a heat vent, but regardless of the cause of the heat stroke, you need to cool your guinea pig down. A cool water bath is helpful for lowering body temperature but only if a bath won't stress out your cavy. Otherwise, a misting with cold water from a spray bottle, a cold, wet towel placed on its back and under its feet, and a cold water drink from a syringe can all help lower your guinea pig's body temperature. If your guinea pig is so weak that it cannot stand, is non-responsive, or is having seizures, it needs to see a veterinarian immediately.

Many guinea pigs with severe heat stroke are also dehydrated and have low blood sugar levels. If this is the case for your guinea pig, after it has been cooled down a bit, a high-calorie, liquid herbivore diet, such as EmerAid or Critical Care, may need to be syringe fed. A veterinarian will be able to determine if your guinea pig needs IV or subcutaneous fluids to correct dehydration, oxygen therapy may be indicated, and an oral sugar solution or medications to treat specific symptoms of heat stroke might also be necessary.

How to Prevent Heat Stroke in Guinea Pigs

There are some simple ways you can help prevent your guinea pig from ever developing heat stroke.

If you plan on taking your guinea pig outside with you on a hot day, be sure to keep it out of the sun and limit its time outdoors. If it is over 80 degrees outside, it is best to keep your guinea pig indoors. If the outside temperature isn't over 80 degrees, a shady spot in the grass, plenty of water to drink, and some fresh, dark, leafy greens to much on should be provided. These things can help keep your guinea pig hydrated and happy.

If your guinea pig needs to take a car ride with you on a warm day, make sure you don't leave it in the car without the air conditioning on. Cars will get very warm, very quickly, even with the windows rolled down.

Finally, make sure your home's indoor temperature stays below 80 degrees at all times. A fan or some other sort of air circulation should be present to keep your guinea pig cool and avoid placing its enclosure in front of a heat vent or sunny window.