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Medical Care for Guinea Pigs

Common Problems

here are many common problems in cavies, including lice, mites, Vitamin C deficiency and diarrhea. Each can be readily treated by the cavy's owner with minimum direction from the veterinarian. Others need the direct intervention of a competent exotic vet. The wise cavy owner learns which situations they can handle themselves, which emergency actions they can take until they can get to the vet, and which require immediate veterinary attention!

Lice
will appear as short dull white, 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 such as for lice will not be effective, what is needed is a strong medication given orally or by injection. A veterinarian will give ivermectin shots over several weeks; you could use the ivermectin paste for horses and give a small pea sized drop orally once a week for three weeks. The danger of this is overdosing, although it seems to not have major effects at fairly high doses.
Vitamin C Deficiency
is caused by insufficient Vitamin C in the cavy's diet. While Guinea Pig pellets are supplemented with Vitamin C, 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. Other sign of vit. C deficiency is poor skin or a poor haircoat. Vit. C deficiency may also be responsible for weakening the ligaments that hold teeth in bone thus causing them to rotate toward the tongue (Thank you Dr. Orcutt for these added symptoms.). 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 all 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.
Respiratory Distress
It is not uncommon for a cavy to get respiratory infections. These can be brought on by being in a draft, being in too cold an area, or simply the animal is stressed and gets a cold. This would be indicated by some fairly obvious signs including sneezing, runny nose (discolored, not clear) and possibly a clicking in the chest when he breathes. This needs to be treated with an antibiotic so check with your vet as soon as possible.
Enteritis
The biggest cause of death in guinea pigs, which can be helped, is enteritis. Symptoms will include a low temperature, which causes the pig to remain immobile, listless, not eating nor drinking.

It's best to take his temperature if you can, but if not, I'd assume that he is shutting down and that his temperature is *low*. Put him on a heating pad or under a heat lamp immediately (or into the covers of your waterbed if you have one), but get him warmed up. An anti-gas liquid for infants can be given, assuming that his tummy is either hard or very mushy. Simethicone is the ingredient you are looking for and make sure it's the infant or pediatric type which includes a dropper to dispense the liquid. You can give your pig 1/2 to 1 full dropper every 3-4 hours. When you go out to get the simethicone, also pickup some pedialyte (used for diarrhea in babies, it contains helpful electrolytes). You can also try to get him to swallow some of this liquid (don't squirt it in, but rather just "dropper" it into him, otherwise you could cause him to breath the liquids into this lungs.

Once you've done these things, I'd also suggest that you lay down with him and massage his tummy, trying to breakup gas bubbles. Then get to the vet as soon as possible.

Some information from Tex Green: (Tex I know you won't mind me passing this on)
Enteritis is usually caused by parasites, antibiotics, or problem food (bacteria-laden lettuce, or moldy food). You should check all your pellets, hay and treats to make sure there is no mold. You can help prevent its occurance on Lettuce & veggies by washing thoroughly and using a safe disinfectant like Novalsan. In addition to the antibiotic your vet gave you ( I would guess that it's baytril or sulphadimadine), you may also want to pick up either some Bene-bac or powered acidophillus, to have on hand in case it strikes again.

I have heard that sometimes they just get it (don't know why) and the bacteria spreads to the blood which causes poison and shock to their system. I know this is not very technical but if one other cavy can be saved it doesn't matter.
Ovarian Cysts
This was a new one to me. Apparently sows can develop these as young as 15 months! They tend to be fluid filled, and, of course, there is bacteria hiding in there. So far, so good, but if the cyst bursts, it will almost certainly lead to death of the cavy! The most obvious sign is bilateral alopecia (don't you just love that phrase? It means that both sides of the body start to go bald!). This will be just forward of the hips. In Manda Mae it was a one inch circle on one side and a one inch by three inch ovel on the other. If you see a sow going bald on the abdomen, and no other signs of balding, then this would be a good thing to check with your vet on. Surgery is the recommended procedure, a spay will remove the ovaries and the uterus. As with all surgical procedures, ensure that the surgeon is competent with guinea pigs.
Eye Infections
These can be caused by many things, and can be initiated by some foreign object, like hay, getting in the eye. It is usually indicated by crusting around the eye, at the corners mostly. This will look like common "sleepers" but they will be more frequent. As the infection advances you may see some reddening and swelling of the eyelid, this indicates a serious case. The animal should be taken to your vet as soon as possible, there are many eyedrop solutions that can be used to address the problems.

Another appearance of the eye infection could be clouding of the eye. This can appear to be either white or blue, but presents as a definate "haze" over the eye. Unfortunately, this could also represent a cataract. A knowledgable veterinary opthomologist should be able to distinguish the two and prescribe the appropriate treatment.
Impaction
This is a sticky subject but I thought all should hear instead of e-mailing directly because this is information that everyone needs to know that owns a boar. First of all, whenever you pick up your guys, rest your hand under his behind so that you feel the testicles. If he is starting to get an impaction, you will feel a hardness within the pouch instead of the usual "mushy" feeling. His testicles are shaped like a donut with the pouch in the middle. The pouch is coated with a horrendous smelling white pasty like substance normally. An impaction would be darker colored with bits of poo, shavings, hair and the secum (white stuff) forming a lump. Use Q-tips soaked in mineral oil to wet the inside of the pouch around the impaction. Continue in a circular motion with as many oil soaked q-tips as it takes to get the impaction out. Don't pull on the lump, you may hurt your boar. If it is really hard you may have to soak it in warm water to soften it and then use the oil soaked q-tips. I check all my fellas at least once a month no matter how gross this task is. Most boars don't have a problem with impactions at all, but some do so check your boys regularly just to be on the safe side, (especially those really zealous bottom draggers) Lisa and the Cavy Caboodle in Spring, Texas

I'm not sure I'll cover all of it, but here goes. There are actually two problems which this refers to. The first is when a boar drags his bottom to leave a scent trail, in the process he often gathers up bits of bedding and other foreign matter. This can irritate his bottom. This can be handled by turning the boy over, pressing either side of the anus, and cleaning out the foreign matter with a cotton bud or other soft material. This prevents a "dam" from forming and causing fecal matter from collecting there. After cleaning it is usually a good idea to apply some mineral oil or vasaline to the anus to ensure proper passage of any poops in the track.

The second form is usually seen in an older boar, usually after about 2.5 years of age. This involves unneutered males (if anyone has heard of a neutered male having this problem I'd like to hear about it) and involves the fact that the anus in a guinea pig doesn't have very strong muscles. As the boar ages the anal "pouch" softens. The cecal poops (the soft ones they reingest) can get trapped in the area, this can cause the regular poops to back up and get mixed in with the cecals. What then happens is that the entire digestive system backs up, leading usually to liver or kidney failure and finally death. To solve the problem, the slave must clean out the pouch on a regular basis. This is determined by the weakness of the pouch and the pooping properties of the pig. I have Shadow who use to require twice daily cleanings. Since he is on a much better diet here than where ever his former home was, this has dropped to every other day or so. I clean him out when it appears that he has a mass about the size of a grape stored in the pouch, this can be seen by a greater "swelling" of the genital area. Unfortunately, this process is both uncomfortable to the pig, while being done, and presents a serious smell problem for the slave. I use a latex glove on the hand that does the cleaning, preventing the smell from penetrating to my hand. This has to be one of the most difficult care issues with a pig. Again, after cleaning, a generous coating of mineral oil or vasaline is appropriate, this helps the poops pass and so minimizes the frequency of cleaning. In addition, it may be necessary to do frequent "bottom baths" to clean off the rump area and remove any smell. Obviously the pig doesn't like any part of this process, however, a generous helping of kisses and cuddles seems to mellow the little guy a bit. Sort of like kissing the baby after a particularly nasty diaper change!

Several ideas have been suggested for how to handle this problem on a more permenant basis. Some indicate that a properly done neuter - which involves taking a tuck in the abdominal wall of the male - will tighten up the anus and so eliminate the pouch problem. A diet rich in hay (especially timothy or other low protein grasses) will also help in that it decreases the amount of cecals being produced. Raspberry tea, added to the water has been suggested, decreasing veggie intake has been suggested. The ones that help Shadow (and it would take a lot to "cure" him) has been the liberal use of top quality pellets and generous hay feeding. He receives the same diet as all the other pigs in the herd so his problem now is that the anus is loosened from the constant stretching. We are considering getting him neutered this spring to see if that will help his problem. Stay tuned.

Veterinarian Referrals

Veterinarians can consult with the following schools and other vets.

The Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine can be reached by calling (607) 253-3060. They are considered one of the best Veterinary Schools and gladly consult. Texas A&M Veterinarian Medical Center is another top notch school, they can be reached at (409)-845-4300.

Drs. Valerie and Kevin Blaes are also available for consultation. They are members of the ACBA and pretty much work on piggies and bunnies only!

Dr. Connie Orcutt established and is head of the avian and exotic pet service at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston. She sees a large proportion of small mammals in her practice including many guinea pigs. Many animals are referred in to her, but she also is available to consult with veterinarians by phone. She can be reached at (617) 522-7282.


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