This is part 4 of a multi-part series. (To begin at part 1, click here.)
Guinea pigs, like any other animals, can live their lives happy and healthy with the right support. When it comes to sickness, guinea pigs have many possible illnesses and conditions and require an experienced veterinarian.
Cavy owners swear by the scale. It is important to weigh your guinea pig every day to look for weight changes. Usually the first sign of illness will appear as a weight loss, and watching the weight consistently will give you a good idea of your pet’s average range. Keep a small notebook or chart near the scale and note the weight any time it is checked. Some changes in weight can be small initially but continue, and you want to be able to see if weight is decreasing or increasing over a longer period.
Environment, Food and Safety
As discussed in our previous articles, a proper environment should be clean, safe and designed specifically for guinea pigs. Your pet can be bathed with baby or small pet shampoo, just make sure to rinse and fully dry before returning them to their cage. Keep the nails clipped regularly and watch the length of the teeth for eating problems.
Their diet must contain the appropriate foods and treats to keep them healthy and clean water given daily. Safety is important for the cavy’s environment and their interaction with other animals and handling by owners.
Other animals can cause injury or death, and sometimes just the stress of being threatened by another animal can leave a guinea pig susceptible to illness. Always monitor these interactions and ensure your pet has a safe place available to hide when needed.
Don’t expect to put your guinea pig on the scale, match the weight with yesterday and replace in the cage. Other symptoms can be warning signs for illness, and it’s important to look for them every day. These changes can be behavioral or physical, and the more attention you pay to your pet the sooner you will notice them. Some of the most notable changes are:
- Hiding most of the time
- Chewing habitat bars
- Over-grooming or patches of hair missing
- Lack of appetite
- Drinking water excessively
- Reluctant to move
- Pacing their habitat continuously
- Toilet habits change
- Open sores
- Sneezing, coughing or wheezing
Stress increases the vulnerability to disease and other illnesses. If you notice any of the above symptoms or anything out of the ordinary, check the weight and look for other signs. Check hair for matting, eyes for excessive drainage and the color and consistency of the droppings. You should also consider quarantining your pet from other cavies in case the illness is contagious. Make an appointment with your vet to get it checked out; often times the animal can die from delayed care.
If there is any activity that causes your pet to squeak, such as during urination, movement, eating or other activities, check them thoroughly and make an appointment with your vet. Guinea pigs feel pain but often do not show it visibly. The above symptoms or their vocal outbursts may be trying to tell you something.
Beating the Bugs
The most commonly prescribed medicine for guinea pig illnesses are antibiotics, but not all drugs are safe for your animal. Make sure your vet is trained and experienced with guinea pigs, and always check any prescribed medication before administering it to the animal. Guinea pigs should never be given certain medications since they can cause illness or death, especially penicillin-based drugs.
Never assume your vet is experienced with guinea pigs. Always ask about their training, experience treating them and if they have any other patients like yours. If they do not, ask for a recommendation for another vet or find your own.
Vets that are listed as exotic animal veterinarians may have more experience than the neighborhood animal facility and some areas might just be too rural for a qualified vet. Be familiar with the signs if illness and be prepared to travel a distance if needed. Just don’t delay in getting your guinea pig the care it needs by dismissing the symptoms. By the time you notice them it may be a critical situation. When symptoms arrive, it’s time to drive.
Keep reading! In the final part of this series on guinea pig care, I discuss the guinea pig communities and replies from real owners.
Photos: Plastic_Bat (top), kitkatherine/Flickr