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Cavy Health Information

Signs of a Healthy Guinea Pig

he general signs of a healthy Guinea Pig are fairly straight forward. The cavy will have bright eyes, be very alert, and a bit "skittish," that is it will attempt to avoid being caught and will probably whistle or "wheek" when caught. It will have a soft coat (for its breed) with no bare spots; the skin underneath will look healthy, smooth without "dandruff." The belly will be covered with hair that is as full as the rest of the body. There will be no signs of runny nose, cough, lung congestion, open sores on the feet or body, and no signs of diarrhea. You may find an occasional bite scab, this indicates some fighting has occurred, check the scab to see that it is healing cleanly and there is no inflammation in the area.

Once you have caught the cavy, check for all of the above. In addition, look at the incisors, see that none are broken and that they meet smoothly in the middle of the mouth. Inspect each foot for broken nails, or missing nails; also check for "extra" toes (should have four on each front foot and three on each rear foot). Check the pads to ensure there is no inflammation or large callouses. The pad should be fairly tough but supple. While you are at it, attempt to determine the sex of the animal, especially if you are dealing with a pet shop as many do not know how to sex a cavy! This "belly-up" inspection should also cause the animal to give a loud squeak. This sound should be high, loud and clear. Oh yes, if it is a female such an inspection may cause it to spray you, so be careful! This is actually a good sign, it indicates that she is willing to "fight" against the intrusion.

Common Health Problems

Lice
will appear as short dull grey or brown moving "thingies" down near the base of the hairs, they do not like light and will move towards deeper fur when you expose them. Lice can be treated with a spray or shampoo that contains pyrethyrins. Since the louse's life cycle is about 14 days you will need to treat for three weeks to ensure you kill all the young and all the hatchlings. I give baths every 6 days for three weeks.
Mites
are usually under the skin, so a surface treatment like for lice will not be effective, what is needed is a strong medication given orally or by injection. A veterinarian will give ivermectin shots once a week for three weeks; you could use the ivermectin paste and give a small pea sized drop orally, again once a week for three weeks.
Vitamin C Deficiency
is caused by insufficient Vitamin C in the cavy's diet. While Guinea Pig pellets are supplemented, they can lose potency fairly quickly, especially in hot, humid weather. The best way to prevent the problem is to supplement the animals diet with high vitamin c foods. Some of the best are red and green bell pepper, kale, leaf lettuces, etc. some of the worst are fresh fruits and iceberg lettuce is totally useless! The signs of deficiency are stiffness, difficulty walking, even paralysis, and general discomfort. To relieve the problem you need to high dose the animal. Several methods are available, you can add drops to the water, but the chlorine destroys the vitamin c fairly quickly, you can give more of the high vitamin c veggies, this can have the unpleasent side effect of causing diarrhea, or you could feed them a piece of a chewable tablet. One trick that works for me is to crush the tablet and spread it on cucumber slices; this seems to be a really big hit with everyone.
diarrhea
is caused by several possible agents; a bacteria could be causing it, this would be accompanied by other symptoms, take the animal to the vet and get him/her on antibiotics immediately! Unfortunately, antibiotics, especially the broad spectrum kind, kill gut flora and can lead to diarrhea. Too much fresh vegetables or fruit can cause the same problem (many people have had this happen to them when they "binged" on fresh fruit); cut back on the veggies, especially if you just introduced a new one to the herd. Another possible cause is changing the feed, most people recommend that you mix 1/3 new with 2/3 old feed for a few days, then 50/50 then 2/3-1/3 then move to the new feed totally; this takes about two weeks. Of course, if you are moving from some store brand to a good local fresh milled brand,your herd will ignore the old stuff and gorge on the new stuff and make themselves sick (silly piggens!). Bob Longe suggests, and I agree, that the best treatment, in almost every case, is large quantities of Timothy Hay, this provides necessary roughage, probably has useful flora riding along, and is generally loved by the little ones anyway.
Fungal infestations (such as ringworm) are also possible, these can be treated with antifungal baths or ointments. Try to avoid internal medications this can aggrevate the animals digestive system or other systems. A cavy should never be given any penicillin, they are highly allergic and will probably die! Additional information on treatment is on the medicine page.

Sometimes a cavy will tilt its head to one side and maybe fall over easily; this is usually a sign of an inner ear infection or ear mites. See a veterinarian for proper medication. Sometimes a cavy will appear to have arthritis, walking stiffly or having difficulty moving the rear legs; this is often a sign of a Vitamin C deficiency. Provide additional Vitamin C either with additional vegetables or with a supplement, either in the water or in chewable form. Vegetables are to be preferred since they also provide other trace minerals that the animal needs. However, too many veggies can cause diarrhea, so use other forms if that is already a problem.


Pregnancy

If you have a guinea pig that is pregnant, don't panic, even very young sows can deliver a healthy litter with a little care, proper diet and attention by the owner. One item, suggested by Margaret Wells, that several people have had success with, is providing molasses water (one teaspoon per eight ounces of water) to provide trace minerals and a little extra energy from the complex sugars. My vet agreed with the idea of additional glucose, so this seems to be a helpful idea. This prevents toxemia, which is almost always fatal to the sow and the babies. Seagull has some wonderful pages on proper care and handling of pregnancies. The key is to keep stress to a minimum, provide extra food - especially Vitamin C rich foods. A clean cage, plenty of exercise and gentle handling will permit the sow to deliver a healthy litter in 60-70 days. This can be one of the most exciting event in your pet owning life. However, do not mate just to have this experience. If you check with the Rescue and Shelter sites, you will find that there are many animals being abandoned. Be a responsible pet owner, prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Several signs of late pregnancy are:
a. active movement of the babies indicates about ten days to three weeks from birth,
b. change in activity or eating/drinking habits by the mother usually indicates birth is probably within the next day or so (although my little sow just kept eating, so don't depend on this one too much),
c. separation of the pelvic bone about 25mm (1") indicates birth should occur in 2-3 days.

Imminent birth is indicated by the mother curling up like she's cleaning her stomach or hiccupping. Watch to ensure the babies are able to pass. If they don't come out easily, you may have to help by getting a finger nail under the top front teeth and pulling the head downward gently. The babies are born contained in their own individual sac, the mother should open the sac over the baby's mouth immediately. She will then clean off the entire sac from each baby as it is born. If she doesn't, just clear the mouth so the baby can breath, the mother should clean it up later. This cleaning helps the mother identify her young and bond with them. If you have to clean up everything, you may cause the mother to reject her own baby. This can often lead to the death of the baby since it needs the mother's milk to survive.

All that said, the sow will often deliver in the late evening/early morning or when the house is quiet and no one is around to assist. Honeybear delivered about 8:00 a.m., after everyone had gone to work and school. She was a very young sow but delivered four very healthy babies and we had no problems at all.


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Page maintained by Dale L. Sigler. Copyright © 1997. Updated: 4/26/00