Dr. Tiffany Moore explains common ailments that can affect guinea pigs, and what is considered proper guinea pig handling and care to help ensure your pet stays healthy.

Like any other pet, guinea pigs should be seen by a veterinarian at least once a year to make sure they are happy and healthy. Pet owners can do their part by regularly checking their guinea pigs to ensure they are eating well, urinating, defecating normal droppings, and walking around easily. Checking your guinea pig to make sure it has a healthy coat, clear bright eyes, a nose free of any discharges, normal length nails, and normal healthy footpads are also key in making sure your guinea pig is in tip-top shape.

However, guinea pigs are good at hiding illness and pain. If you suspect your guinea pig may be feeling unwell – their eating habits have changed, or they aren’t going to the bathroom as frequently – you should bring your pet to your veterinarian right away for an examination. The sooner we can diagnose a problem, the faster your guinea pig may recover.

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Basic Guinea Pig Handling

There are a variety of noises – squeaks, rumbles, purrs – that guinea pigs make which can indicate excitement, discomfort, contentment, and many other emotions. When guinea pigs get really excited, they sometimes perform a cool (and cute) move called “popcorning”.

Handling your guinea pig for a minimum of 15 minutes a day can allow them the opportunity to bond with you and trust you more. Guinea pigs are social animals, so they tend to do better in pairs or groups. Guinea pigs can still be solo pets as long as they get plenty of love and attention.

Guinea pigs can’t produce their own Vitamin C like other animals, so be sure to provide a lot of Vitamin C within their diet to prevent the development of a condition called scurvy (a condition that results in bone, skin, and joint issues). Their diets should consist of commercial pellets, Vitamin C supplements (pellets or water additives), unlimited hay (Timothy Hay ideally), fresh green leafy vegetables like Romaine lettuce, parsley, bell peppers, Broccoli, kale, cilantro, etc., and unlimited access to fresh water.

Symptoms of Illness

Some of the most common ailments that affect guinea pigs are dental disease, difficulty giving birth, pododermatitis (an infection of the feet), upper respiratory infections, and ectoparasites (mites, ringworm, lice).

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The most common signs of a guinea pig feeling unwell are a decrease in appetite, drooling, weight loss, hunched posture, increased respiratory rate, teeth grinding, difficulty urinating or fecal production, decreased activity, and diarrhea.

Avoiding Common Health Issues

Guinea pigs and other rodents have hypsodontic teeth, which means that their teeth never stop growing. Feeding them an appropriate high fiber diet, specifically hay to chew and grind their teeth on, is vital to keep their teeth at a normal length.

To avoid foot infections or any possible health concerns with your guinea pig’s feet, using cushioned, clean bedding will help decrease those chances. The bedding should not be left soiled and should be cleaned regularly. Wire flooring should not be used for guinea pigs because the wires cause abrasions on the surface of their feet, which causes significant pain and discomfort. Soft cushioned paper materials sold at pet stores are a great option. 

For parasitic infections, guinea pigs can be treated by a veterinarian for parasites with an injectable or oral anti-parasitic medication. Cleaning the environment that the guinea pig lives in is also very important in preventing infections. 

Other common health issues that can affect guinea pigs are ovarian cysts in females (the most common sign being bilateral hair loss on the back), mammary tumors, which are more common in male guinea pigs; GI stasis, or when the gastrointestinal tract comes to a stand-still. If left untreated, GI stasis can be fatal. The tell-tale signs of GI stasis in guinea pigs are not eating, decreased fecal production, or diarrhea.

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Keeping a Guinea Pig Healthy

Spaying or neutering your guinea pig can help ensure your pet lives a long and happy life. Providing a daily diet with plenty of Vitamin C and keeping a guinea pig’s environment clean will also help in maintaining their health.

Socializing your guinea pig and making sure that they are always eating well and producing normal healthy feces is a good litmus test to see where your guinea pig’s health is. If they stop eating or producing feces, consider it an emergency and take them to see a veterinarian immediately.