Common Health and Sickness Issues With Guinea Pigs

Kate loves her guinea pigs and encountered several guinea pig health issues during her time as a cavy-keeper.

Guinea pigs make wonderful pets. Those of you who have cavies at home or have kept them in the past know how much joy they bring to your household. However, maintaining their health can be a very stressful job. Guinea pigs are prone to a few common sicknesses and diseases.

5 Common Health Issues in Guinea Pigs

  1. Respiratory tract infections
  2. Diarrhea
  3. Scurvy
  4. Abscesses
  5. Infections due to lice, mites, or fungus

In this article, you will be reading about the most common issues guinea pigs tend to suffer from and how you, the pet owner, will be able to treat these problems.

1. Respiratory Tract Infections

Respiratory tract infections or URIs are a deadly bacterial infection that can lead to your guinea pig's death if left untreated. Most pet stores are constantly battling with guinea pigs that were sent to their store with URIs. That is why in most cases it is best to adopt a guinea pig rather than to purchase one at a pet store. Signs your guinea pig is suffering from a URI include:

  • Refusal to eat or drink
  • No feces (as a result of not eating)
  • Delayed breathing or wheezing
  • Sneezing/Coughing
  • Crusty eyes or eyes that are almost sealed shut
  • A rough-looking or puffed up coat
  • Lethargy

If you see any of the above signs you MUST take your guinea pig to an exotic vet right away! The vet will then do the usual check up to make sure that your guinea pig has a URI. They will check to see if they are hydrated, check their lungs and heart, and may or may not take x-rays to see how much fluids they have in them. Then they will usually perform a test on the piggy to see which antibiotics are best suited for them.

2. Diarrhea

Please see a vet immediately if you notice your guinea pig has diarrhea. If you notice a black watery type of feces in the cage accompanied by a foul smelling odor, that is a clear sign of a very serious intestinal problem. Milder forms of diarrhea are caused by overfeeding fruits and vegetables to your guinea pig. If the diarrhea is bad enough that a vet would need to look at your piggy there are a few things they will do:

  • Fecal float: This test is a check for parasites in your guinea pig's feces.
  • Gram Stains: This test shows the rough amount of both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria in your guinea pig's feces.
  • Culture: This test shows what bacteria are causing discomfort in your guinea pig.

If there is no real threat endangering your guinea pig's life, your vet will walk you through a few steps to nurse your piggyback to health again. If antibiotics are needed, your vet will then assign the proper medications your piggy needs.

3. Scurvy

Unlike us humans, guinea pigs are not able to store their own Vitamin C. We must supply them with the proper amount of Vitamin C each day so they do not get scurvy. Signs that your guinea pig is suffering from scurvy includeL:

  • Hopping instead of walking or trotting
  • Unwillingness to move, lethargy, or weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Eye and nose discharge
  • Tenderness to touch (will not let you touch, pick up, or hold them)
  • Internal skeletal-muscular hemorrhage

Most pet stores offer Vitamin C tablets that your guinea pig can eat or drops you can place into their water bottles. Most times guinea pigs will not eat the tablets and will refuse to drink their water if the droplets are placed into their water bottles. So to be safe, DO NOT add the Vitamin C drops into your guinea pig's water. Speak with your vet about which fruits, vegetables, and pellet foods provide the best amount of Vitamin C for your piggy.

3. Abscesses

Abscesses are caused by multiple things and are not rare in guinea pigs. Abscesses are caused by

  • Malnutrition
  • A bite or scratch wound inflicted by another guinea pig or pet
  • Unclean cage and environment
  • Internal problems

If you notice a lump or a bulge forming on your guinea pig's body it is best to take it to the vet right away. A number of things could possibly be wrong and it may not even be an abscess! It could be a few things such as

  • Cervical Lymphadenitis
  • Cyst
  • Lipoma
  • Mammary tumor
  • Thyroid adenoma
  • Trichofolliculoma

A few tests are mandatory in finding out which illness your piggy has. In most cases whether it is an abscess or other skin lump caused by a different illness, they will most likely have to lance and drain the bump as long as it is not a tumor and as long as it is not cancerous. After the procedure, your vet will give you two certain medications. An antibiotic and a pain medication.

5. Skin Parasites

Guinea pigs usually scratch themselves, however if you notice that your guinea pig is constantly scratching and even losing hair there could be a serious problem with your piggy. The most common parasite in guinea pigs is the mange mite. It causes excruciating pain for guinea pigs and needs to be treated ASAP! There are also other parasites common with guinea pigs and they are known as cavy lice and Chirodiscoides (which is a harmless fur mite, but should still be treated.)

Vets have said the popular flea and tick medication Advantage works on lice but it does not treat mange mites. Avoid using any flea or tick shampoos on your guinea pigs. You vet will be able to provide you with a simple skin and fur medication that you can apply to your guinea pig, as well as any shampoos they seem fit.

You and Your Vet

It is very important that you have routine check ups for your guinea pig. Dogs and cats have them, why not guinea pigs? Find an exotic vet near you and take your piggy in every few months for a standard check up. Be sure to take your piggy to the vet if you notice clear signs of discomfort or unusual behavior as well. There could be a serious problem with your guinea pig and you may not even notice!

Please remember that guinea pigs are prey animals. Therefore, in most cases they will not show any signs of sickness until it is too late for treatment. Always keep a watchful eye on your guinea pig and it's behaviors. Always make sure they are eating and occasionally check their water bottle to see if they have been drinking. Lower amounts of water in the bottle means they have been drinking and they are staying hydrated!

Michelle Himes on July 07, 2019:

It says if guinea pigs cough / sneeze my one has sneezed but not alot how do i know if i should go get them checked ?

Kendra Duest on December 28, 2018:

need help my guinea pig looks like it has a huge fatty tumor on its memory Glenn and it's bleeding a little bit like watery pus blood is that normal it looks like it popped

Nhi Nguyen on November 11, 2016:

Scrub his nails, then brush his fur everyday to make sure they are clean, feed him lots of vegetables because that will give him the nutrients to heal him. Keep him in a VERY clean cage. Do not bath him yourself cause it will remove the oils from his fur. Just brush him GENTLY. Eventually, he will recover.

Rebecca on October 30, 2016:

Someone gave me a ginnie pig about 4years old he was in bad shape his nails his skin he didn't bath so I did it and he had poop on nails for those years and he has a hard time popping so I clean him out to help him and his ears feel like sand papers what can u advise me to help him so I can help him bring him back to normal


Guinea pigs tend to suffer from arthritis as they grow old. They are less mobile and show less physical activity.

They exert lots of pressure on their joints when they move from one place to another.

The joints subjected to such wear and tear eventually cannot pace with age. Guinea pig suffering from arthritis will have following problems:

  1. Guinea pig, unable to walk correctly.
  2. Move unwillingly or do not move during cold weather.
  3. Urine marks like redness, fur burnt on the hind legs as the guinea pig cannot move them while excreting.
  4. They are unable to clean their hind portion, so it is usually dirty.
  5. They appear not groomed as they cannot clean themselves with limited mobility.

Guinea pigs above five years usually suffer from arthritis, whereas younger ones can also have this problem.

Muscle massage is the suggested remedy for this problem, along with you can also feed some supplements to improve the production of collagen fibers.

Obesity also increases the chances of arthritis as it puts pressure on the joints. So, maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise to manage the weight.

8 Most Common Guinea Pig Health Problems

Dr Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM completed her clinical year at Louisiana State University and graduated in 2015 from St. George’s University. Since veterinary school she has been working at a small animal and exotic veterinary clinic in east Texas, where she has experience treating all species that walk in the hospital. Read more


Guinea pigs are very common house pets for people to own. These are small animals that can be kept in a small apartment and are great first pets for kids. With any animal, there is always the potential for illness. These are some of the most common diseases that affect Guinea pigs.

1. Vitamin C deficiency (Scurvy)

A prevalent disease seen in guinea pigs is Scurvy. This is due to a vitamin C deficiency. Guinea pigs are unable to make vitamin C, as most people can, so they need added vitamin C in their diets. Signs of Scurvy in Guinea Pigs are:

  • Lameness – "Bunny hopping"
  • Lethargy
  • Joint pain
  • Rough hair coat

The treatment for Scurvy is correcting the diet by adding vitamin C. Sometimes, in severe cases, hospitalization is needed to provide fluids, pain medications, and nutritional support. Many times, these guinea pigs can be treated as outpatients.

Scurvy can be prevented by giving daily supplements of vitamin C. Vitamin C degrades very quickly. A vitamin C deficiency can occur if supplements are offered in water or if the supplements are old.

2. Bumblefoot (Ulcerative Pododermatitis)

Bumblefoot is an infection on the underside of the Guinea Pig's feet. This occurs when the Guinea Pig is standing on hard surfaces for too long. Usually, the guinea pig is overweight, causing more pressure on the bottoms of their feet. This pressure causes the tissue to die and slough off. This is an excellent place for bacteria to grow and ulcerations to happen. There are many signs seen with bumblefoot

  • Mild symptoms such as the bottom of the feet become red, and feet become swollen
  • Moderate signs include pus, ulceration, and scabs on the feet.
  • Severe signs include bone and tendon involvement leading to an abnormal stance.

To treat bumblefoot, your veterinarian will examine your guinea pig and prescribe them antibiotics and pain medication. Depending on the severity of the disease, they may give you something to clean the bottom of the feet and topical medications.

To help prevent bumblefoot, make sure your guinea pig is on a soft surface or has soft bedding for them to walk around on. It is best not to overfeed your guinea pig as obesity can cause many health problems, including bumblefoot.

3. Overgrown teeth

Guinea pig's, just like most rodents', teeth are continually growing. Your guinea pig should have approved toys to chew on to wear down their teeth. If they do not chew on these toys, their teeth can overgrow, leading to lots of problems. Signs that your guinea pig may need their teeth checked are:

  • Excessive drooling
  • Dropping their food
  • Not eating
  • Weight loss
  • Visually seeing the teeth are too long

If you notice any of these signs in your guinea pig, take them to your veterinarian immediately as this dental problem can be very painful. Your veterinarian will sedate your guinea pig and examine their mouth to see if their teeth are overgrown. If they are, they can file the teeth back down to a regular length.

Usually, teeth overgrowth can be prevented by giving your guinea pig approved chew toys and hay. Some guinea pigs are predisposed to dental problems, and even with the proper toys and hay will still need their teeth filed.

4. Ileus

Ileus is the slowing down of the gastrointestinal tract. When the intestinal tract slows down, there is little to no food being able to be digested and pass through. This is a very painful condition that can cause your guinea pig to become dehydrated and even die. Signs that your guinea pig’s gastrointestinal tract has slowed down or even stopped are:

  • Not eating
  • Small fecal pellets
  • Lethargic
  • Grinding teeth and acting painful

If you notice any of these signs, bring your guinea pig to your veterinarian immediately as this can cause death very quickly if not treated. Your veterinarian will give your guinea pig fluids, medication to help increase the movement in the gastrointestinal tract, pain medication, antibiotics, and syringe feedings.

To help make sure that your guinea pig's gastrointestinal tract is moving, give them plenty of hay and water. The hay helps stimulate the digestive tract. The water makes sure that their gastrointestinal tract is fully hydrated.

5. Bladder stones (Uroliths)

Bladder stones can commonly form in a guinea pig’s bladder. These stones can move around in the bladder, causing inflammation of the lining of the bladder leading to infection and bloody urine. Bladder stones are created from too high levels of calcium in the diet. Signs of bladder stones can include:

Most stones need surgery to remove them and then transitioning them to a special diet to help stones from recurring.

6. Lice and Mites

Lice or mites in Guinea Pigs is a very itchy condition. Your guinea pig will be itching, having hair loss, and have flaky skin. Your veterinarian can diagnose your pet with lice or mites. Most of the time, lice and mites are microscopic and need a veterinarian to find them.

These can be easily treated with topical medication. Most veterinarians use Revolution or advantage Multi. These are prescription flea and tick medications used for cats but also approved for use in small mammals for treatment of lice and mites.

7. Uterine and Ovarian masses

Unfortunately, Guinea Pigs, like most other small rodents, are prone to uterine cancer. These tumors usually start with these signs:

  • Blood in urine or on back end
  • Not eating
  • Bulging abdomen

The only way to get rid of the cancer is for your guinea pig to be spayed and remove the uterus and ovaries.

8. Respiratory diseases

Guinea pigs can commonly get upper respiratory infections. Inflammation of the nose and upper airways make an excellent place for bacteria to take over. Common signs seen in Guinea pigs with a respiratory disease include:

  • Sneezing
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Head tilt
  • Not eating

Your veterinarian can determine the exact cause of the upper respiratory infection and help you with treatment. These treatments usually include antibiotics. If your guinea pig is not eating or drinking, then fluid therapy and syringe feedings are needed. Sometimes guinea pigs will show upper respiratory signs due to the type of bedding that you are using. The strong-smelling wood chips are not best for guinea pigs, as these irritate their respiratory tract.

Skin Problems And Parasites

Young guinea pigs are very susceptible to ringworm. This is a fungal infection of the skin and does not involve a worm. Some guinea pigs do not get this but are carriers and will infect other guinea pigs. The skin will be itchy, they may lose hair, and will develop scabs that are crusty looking. They are mostly found around the head, ears, and face but can spread to the legs or back.

You will need to see your veterinarian to get a fungal mediation. A guinea pig can also get lice and fleas. If you think your guinea pig has either one, take it to your veterinarian for a diagnosis. They will prescribe anti-parasitic mediation to put on your guinea pig. If there is a secondary bacterial infection, they will prescribe antibiotics.

Quite common in caged animals, bumblefoot (or pododermatitis) is a result of heavy abrasion of the feet and can occur more frequently in overweight guinea pigs.
If the cage has a wired bottom (not recommended) or is not cleaned regularly then this can exacerbate the problem.

Signs of Bumblefoot: Your guinea pig’s feet will look inflamed and may also have lumps and abrasions.

How to Treat Bumblefoot: This problem can be rectified but, if left untreated, can cause pain and lameness so always take your pet to the vet if you think he might be suffering from this condition.

Watch the video: 5 Simple Health Checks for Your Guinea Pig. MediCavy Monday (May 2021).