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Miscellaneous health problems in guinea pigs

Two medical conditions of guinea pigs that demand special mentions are slobbers (teeth malocclusion) and pneumonia, therefore these are covered in separate factsheets.

However, there are other medical conditions that affect guinea pigs that are briefly covered here.

Your questions answered

Do guinea pigs suffer from intestinal problems?

Intestinal parasites are usually not a significant problem in guinea pigs. A protozoan parasite may cause coccidiosis in guinea pigs. Signs of this disease include weakness, diarrhoea and severe weight loss.

Pinworm infections (a common intestinal parasite) of guinea pigs usually go unnoticed. Both of these parasitic infections can be diagnosed by undertaking a faecal examination. Both are treatable using specific drugs prescribed by the vet, and neither parasite problem is transmissible to people.

Is it true that guinea pigs suffer from vitamin C deficiency?

Yes, guinea pigs cannot manufacture vitamin C and must receive an adequate supply of it from outside food sources.

Vitamin C deficiency results in scurvy, which is characterized by inappetence, swollen, painful joints and ribs, reluctance to move, poor bone and teeth development, and spontaneous bleeding from the gums and into muscle.

Adequate levels of vitamin C are always included in the formulation of pelleted diets for guinea pigs. Often, however, handling and improper storage (exposure to light, heat and dampness) of the feed pellets results in loss of vitamin C. Therefore, even guinea pigs fed presumably reliable pelleted diets may develop scurvy if the diet's vitamin C content has been reduced or lost.

A vet should be consulted if this disease is suspected so that the diagnosis can be confirmed. The vet will prescribe a programme of vitamin C supplementation (via food or water or injection) to reverse the signs.

Do guinea pigs suffer from skin problems?

Thinning of the hair is a common problem of female guinea pigs that have been repeatedly bred. These sows tend to lose hair with each successive pregnancy.

Hair loss is frequently noted among juvenile guinea pigs at weakened state at or around the time of weaning. "Barbering" also results in hair loss. This vice (bad habit) occurs when guinea pigs habitually chew on the haircoats of guinea pigs that are lower in the social "pecking order".

Younger guinea pigs in particular, can lose substantial amounts of hair as a result of this activity.  Hair can also be lost because of fungal disease and external parasite infestations.

Ringworm is a skin disease caused by a fungus similar to the one that causes athlete's foot in people. Young guinea pigs are usually more susceptible than adults and is generally characterised by patchy hair loss on the face, nose and ears. The skin in these areas may appear flaky, and areas of hair loss may extend along the top side of the trunk.

Your vet will be able to confirm the diagnosis and prescribe topical and/or oral medication. The medications used will depend on the number of ringworm areas present and their distribution on the body. Ringworm can be transmitted from guinea pigs to people. It is, therefore, important to limit or restrict handling of infected guinea pigs, especially by young children, until their disease has been successfully treated. If handling is necessary, the handler should thoroughly wash their hands afterwards.

Can guinea pigs get sun stroke?

Guinea pigs are especially susceptible to sun or heat stroke, particularly those that are overweight and/or heavily furred. Environmental temperatures above 29.5°C / 85°F, high humidity (above 70%), inadequate shade and ventilation, crowding and stress are additional predisposing factors.

Signs of heat stroke include panting, slobbering, weakness, refusal to move about, delirium, convulsions and eventually death. Heat stroke is treatable if recognised relatively early. Heat-stressed guinea pigs should be immediately sprayed with or bathed in cool water.

Once this first-aid is undertaken, a vet should be contacted immediately. Prevention of heat stroke involves providing adequate shade from the sun (if guinea pigs are housed outdoors) and adequate ventilation (if housed in-doors).

A continuous light mist or spray of water and/or a fan operating over a container of ice can be directed at a guinea pig within its enclosure to lower the air temperature, whether the guinea pig is housed indoors or outdoors. 

This condition however, is rarely seen in the UK!

What about cancer?

Cancer is a relatively rare problem of guinea pigs.

As with most animals, it is most likely to affect older guinea pigs.

Most tumors are benign and involve the skin and respiratory tract lining.

Cancer may also affect the reproductive tract, mammary glands (breasts) and blood (leukaemia).

I have heard that guinea pigs can get lymph node abscesses - is this true?

Yes, abscessation of the lymph nodes immediately beneath the lower jaw, in the upper neck, usually results when coarse foods (such as hay) injure the lining of the mouth or when superficial wounds penetrate the skin over these lymph nodes. Bacterial invasion causes painful, swollen abscesses under the lower jaw.

Sometimes these abscesses break open and exude a thick, creamy yellow-white pus. A vet can perform a bacterial culture of the pus with antibiotic sensitivity testing to determine the appropriate antibiotic to use by injection. If the abscesses are large, surgical removal and aggressive antibiotic therapy may be recommended.

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