If your guinea pig becomes sick, there are several important things that you can do to help the piggie feel better and to help him recover. The most important thing is to make sure your pet gets the medication your veterinarian prescribes. Also, make sure that he’s drinking, eating, and warm enough. In some cases, you might want to limit certain activities.
As always, follow your veterinarian’s advice and instructions first and foremost.
Guinea Pigs: General Health and Illness
Just like any other pet, guinea pigs sometimes require veterinary care. This is something to consider before making a gerbil, or any pet, part of your family. Your commitment should be for life and must always include proper veterinary care.
You should find a least one clinic that deals with pocket pets or exotics, as not all clinics do, preferably before you bring your pet home. However, it is best to know of several clinics if you cannot get to your regular veterinarian. Always have a backup plan. It is also good to have the emergency vet clinic number and address on hand and ensure they see exotics. Many times problems will be noticed outside of regular clinic hours. Remember that emergency clinics are usually a lot more expensive than regular clinics, so make sure that you factor this into your pet care budget.
Guinea pigs, as prey animals, tend to hide illnesses very well, so in many cases, symptoms will not be visible until the illness is quite serious and needs quick treatment.
Symptoms Requiring Immediate Emergency Care
- Lying around the cage puffed up.
- Respiratory Problems – any trouble breathing
- Bleeding – bleeding from anywhere is a bad sign, including vaginally – females do not show when they are in heat.
- Not eating or drinking – this can become VERY serious quickly in guinea pig
- Rectal, or vaginal prolapse; a male can also have a prolapse of the penis where he cannot get it back into the prepuce or ‘sheath.’
- Anything that may be causing pain
Symptoms Requiring Vet Care in General
- Eye discharge
- Lumps or swellings
- Over-grown teeth
- Weight Loss
If in doubt, always call and talk to your veterinarian, make an appointment, or go to the emergency clinic.
If your guinea pig becomes dehydrated, he may become weak and will, in a short time, be the cause of death. No living thing can live without water. It may help to offer extra fluids in times of illness. Alternatively, your veterinarian may inject fluid under the skin (subcutaneously), which may help. At home, you can help by making sure your guinea pig has access to clean drinking water in his bottle and be sure that he can reach it.
You can also offer water via an oral syringe (that is, a syringe without a needle). Be careful not to cause your guinea pig to take water into his lungs, which will just cause more problems. Use a one cc syringe, which should be available from a veterinary clinic or your pharmacist, fill it with water and offer it to your guinea pig. It is safest to put the syringe in the side of the guinea pig’s mouth, just behind the teeth. This method will help to reduce the risk of aspiration of fluid into the lungs. If you are lucky, the pig may start drinking from it himself. It’s important to slowly depress the plunger. It helps to give your guinea pig enough time to swallow any fluid. When you use a one cc syringe, it will generally allow you to drip water drop by drop.
Another way to re-hydrate is to use a children’s electrolyte solution. For example, Pedialyte should work, especially when mixed 50/50 with water. You can again syringe this to your guinea pig. You can also add a second water bottle with the 50/50 mixture. It is not recommended to change his main water bottle to this as some animals will stop drinking if there is a change in taste to their water. Flavored Pedialyte is OK.
Sometimes guinea pigs will stop eating when they are not feeling well. This can become serious quickly due to their size and fast metabolic rate. Guinea pigs that are not eating can go into gut stasis within hours. Even with quick treatment, this can often prove fatal. Moving his food dish closer to his sleeping area will give him access to his food without having to go too far. As soon as you notice your guinea pig not eating or eating a lot less, it would be best if you started force-feeding. Force-feeding can be very difficult at first, but once you get the hang of it is fairly easy. To force-feed a guinea pig, you will need a feeding syringe (a syringe without the needle), “slurry” or critical care, and a towel or two.
Critical care is available through some veterinary clinics. It is made by Oxbow and is formulated to feed the animal and build up strength and keep the gut moving. If you cannot get critical care, you can create a “slurry” for your guinea pig, which also works well. Directions to create a “slurry” will follow.
Force-feeding is done in the same way as giving fluids. Put the syringe in the side of the mouth behind the front teeth. If you get it in the right place, the guinea pig will start grinding his teeth on the syringe. At this point, you can slowly depress the plunger; some guinea pigs will fight you a great deal. This is where the towel comes in handy. If you gently wrap your guinea pig, he won’t be able to fight you off as easily and may also find being wrapped to be somewhat calming.
If you put the syringe in the correct place in the mouth, your guinea pig will grind his molars on it. As long as he’s making this chewing motion, he should be swallowing. It is also a lot harder for him to spit out the food. Guinea pigs can spit a lot further than you may think!
Using a coffee grinder that has never been used for coffee, grind some of his regular pellets. Grind it all into a powder. With the powder, mix Pedialyte and water, about 50/50. The measurements don’t have to be exact. Combine this mixture with a bit of vegetable baby food. Make sure that the baby food has no garlic or onion in it.
You can also add to this some crushed-up vitamin C. About 1/8 of a 250 mg chewable vitamin C tablet will do the trick. The powder from an acidophilus capsule can be added. Half a capsule is enough. Acidophilus is the “good” gut bacteria normally found in yogurt, however, do not feed your guinea pig yogurt. Guinea pigs cannot digest dairy.
The combination of ground pellets, water, baby food, Pedialyte, acidophilus and vitamin C. Keep the mixture as “solid” as possible as this keeps the gut moving better. At the same time, you need to make sure it is thin and runny enough to pass through the syringe.
How to keep your guinea pig comfortable?
If a guinea pig is not eating or dehydrated, he may feel cold. It’s also critical that your pet doesn’t overheat. It could cause heatstroke.
Make sure that your guinea pig has something to curl up in. An extra blanket or a cuddle cup should work.
You could fill a small hot water bottle. Place it under the cage in a spot near where your pet sleeps. The hot water bottle will allow him to move closer to it if he’s cold. Your pet will move away from the bottle if it gets too warm.
Note: if you are treating heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke, you may use an ice pack instead of the hot water bottle. Set it under an area of the cage so that your piggie can lie near it to cool off or move away from the ice pack if it is too cold.
If your guinea pig is comfortable with it and isn’t frightened, you could wrap him in a small towel to warm him. Sick guinea pigs can become very lethargic. Don’t be surprised if your guinea pig will curl up and sleep on you. Your body heat and the warmth from being wrapped in a towel will keep him warm.
Suppose you have a multi-level cage and can cut it down to a single level to prevent too much activity and prevent falls. If you cannot convert the cage into a single level, make sure that all food and water are brought to the level the guinea pig has his nest. If the piggie uses a litter box, be sure to move it.
Pet store cages can come in handy in these situations because they are small enough to use as a hospital cage if necessary.
Should I separate my sick or injured guinea pig from his cage mate?
This depends on the situation. If a fight between the guinea pigs caused the injury, it is best to separate them immediately. Ideally, they should not be living in the same cage. Generally, it is better to leave them together because guinea pigs are social creatures. Unfortunately, you need to separate them if one of them is being bullied.
If there is a contagious illness, there is a good chance the other guinea pig(s) are also affected and should be treated. Separating a guinea pig from his cage mate will stress your pet more and make him lonely. The other guinea pig(s) will help keep the ill one warm and provide comfort, and it has been observed that the others will bring the injured or ill pig food and bedding. If you feel that the situation may require separation, check with your veterinarian for advice.
Common Illnesses Seen in Guinea Pigs
Diarrhea; Soft Stool
Some common causes are a change in food, food that was “off,” too many vegetables or fruit, or infection. Sometimes diarrhea will be secondary to another issue, such as an infection or other illness. If it is just a couple of softer fecal pellets, stop feeding vegetables, fruits, new treats or new food and monitor. Adding a second water bottle with a 50/50 mix of water and Pedialyte will help with dehydration. Make sure that the guinea pig has lots of hay available at all times and also pellets.
Once the fecal pellets are back to normal, start introducing vegetables and fruit slowly again. Chewable vitamin C can be added to the diet for a few days in place of vegetables.
Veterinary treatment is required if it is severe, if the animal is dehydrated or if it persists for more than a day.
Upper Respiratory Infections (URI)
Upper Respiratory Infections are usually noticed because the guinea pig will be puffed up, lying in a corner, and breathing faster than normal. You may also hear a clicking or wheezing sound. A vet should examine your pet to determine if the issue is a URI that requires antibiotics. URI’s can be fatal if not treated. Respiratory issues can also be caused by bedding allergies, as well as other allergies.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
A urinary tract infection often presents with frequent urination, sometimes containing blood. There also may be urine staining the fur. UTI’s require a veterinary exam and antibiotics. If you notice that your guinea pig cannot pass urine, it should be treated as an emergency.
Lumps and Swellings
Lumps and swellings can be anything from cysts to abscesses to tumors. Any unusual lump needs to be examined by a veterinarian.
Overgrown or Misaligned Teeth
As with all rodents, guinea pigs’ teeth grow constantly. In some cases, either due to a genetic jaw deformity, or injury a guinea pig can develop overgrown teeth or misaligned teeth. Signs that there may be a teeth issue include drooling, dropping food, weight loss, and in serious cases, the guinea pig will stop eating completely. A veterinary visit is needed to determine how bad the issue is and what can be done about it.
Treatment consists of anything from a quick trim in the vet’s office every few weeks up to surgery if the molars are involved. Sometimes one trim will do the job, and everything is fine from that point, but it often becomes a regular occurrence needing regular vet care.
First Aid Kit for Guinea Pigs
Keeping a first aid kit stocked with supplies for your guinea pig is a good idea, and the more pets you have, the better it is to ensure that you have the things you need on hand in case of illness or injury. Before using any medication on this list (e.g., simethicone drops), talk to your veterinarian. If used for the wrong illness, some things can make the situation worse.
- Styptic powder or Styptic pencil – This can be used when cutting nails if you cut the quick and other small skin wounds that aren’t deep.
- Cotton swabs or Q tips – Variety of uses
- Cotton balls
- Vet wrap – Self-adhesive bandage, sticks to self but not to fur or skin. Good for holding gauze on a wound
- Gauze – Non-stick to stop bleeding as well as cover wounds
- Saline Solution – Contact lens cleaning saline solution can be used as it’s sterile. Used to flush out wounds
- Feeding syringes in a variety of sizes – Used for force-feeding/hand feeding as well as medicating
- Simethicone drops – Baby Ovol, children’s Maalox, etc. – anti-gas drops. Used for bloat – do NOT use unless you are SURE it is bloat and not fluid causing the swelling – check with a veterinarian first.
- Acidophilus capsules – Powder used to replenish “good” bacteria in the intestinal tract.
- Vegetable flavored baby food – Used to force feed as part of the slurry described in the caring for a sick guinea pig section of this site.
- Pedialyte – Electrolyte replacement fluid for a guinea pig who isn’t drinking/eating. Also good to add a second water bottle during hot summer temperatures.
- Critical Care – Force-feeding formulation created by Oxbow can be obtained through some vet clinics.
- Chewable or liquid vitamin C – For a guinea pig who isn’t eating or one who is suffering from scurvy.
- Towels – Can be used to restrain, keep warm, or to stop bleeding
- Fleece blanket – Can be used to keep guinea pig warm
- Ice pack – Used for heat-related illness (e.g., heat stroke), do NOT put directly on the animal
- Small hot water bottle – Used to help warm guinea pig, do NOT put directly in the cage or on animal
- Stethoscope – Can help in hearing respiratory or gut motility issues
- Hand warmers – Used for camping, there’s a pouch inside that you break, and it stays warm for hours, DO NOT put anywhere the animal can get to it; they are toxic!
- Small flashlight – Can help to see wounds or other issues.
- Magnifying glass – Can help to see wounds or other issues.