How Do I Care for a Sick Guinea Pig?

Cynde Gregory

A guinea pig that pauses between snacks for the occasional sneeze is probably nothing to worry about. Cavies are immune to cold viruses, and sneezing is usually just a way for them to clear the nasal passages; however, cavies can be felled by a long list of other illnesses. Recognizing signs of sickness and isolating a sick guinea pig in a specially prepared cage is the first step toward getting them well. As a number of cavy diseases can quickly result in death, it’s important to get them to a vet at the earliest sign of serious illness.

A dab of eucalyptus ointment on the snouts of guinea pigs can help relieve their stuffiness.
A dab of eucalyptus ointment on the snouts of guinea pigs can help relieve their stuffiness.

Owners who know their pet’s habits, right down to urination and defecation, tune into unusual behaviors or evidence of discomfort. Some things are hard to miss; a pig with diarrhea or one that is having a seizure must be rushed to the veterinarian immediately, or it will likely die. Other things might be harder to diagnose. It might be tempting to just keep an eye on a guinea pig who ignores its food in hopes it will feel better in a day or two, but in a day or two, that sick guinea pig will likely be dead.

Guinea pigs require some basic maintenance.
Guinea pigs require some basic maintenance.

An owner with more than one cavy should be prepared for the eventuality of disease. It’s urgent to immediately separate a sick guinea pig from its cage mates. A failure to do so could result in an infection taking over the tribe. Besides, a pet that doesn’t feel well has a better chance of stabilizing in a quiet, clean environment away from distractions.

The "sick cage" can be prepared and kept at the ready in a warm room with cold drafts. The cage should be small, both to discourage excess movement and to provide the animal with a sense of security. Scrupulously clean bedding and a disinfected water bottle are must-haves, and a bottle of antibacterial gel should be situated nearby to remind the owner to clean up before touching healthier cavies.

While a standard cold is something cavy owners don’t have to fret about, a sick guinea pig can suffer from more serious bacterial respiratory infections. A dab of eucalyptus ointment on their snouts and paws can help the stuffiness because when a sick cavy rubs its nose, it reapplies the ointment. Allergies are a common cause of wheezing, sneezing, and coughing; however, kennel cough or pneumonia are equally common and can quickly lead to death. A vet should be consulted as quickly as possible for any cavy that exhibits signs of respiratory discomfort and is off its feed.

Fast metabolisms are a mark of guinea pigs, and failure to constantly feed and drink can become serious rapidly. Dehydration caused or worsened by diarrhea requires immediate veterinary intervention. A pet that is on antibiotics, though, might suffer a secondary diarrhea as a result of digestive imbalances brought on by the destruction of healthy intestinal bacteria. With the vet’s approval, lactobacillus acidophilus can be added to the pet’s water to help stabilize the situation.

Pink or milky urine can indicate bladder stones, frequent scratching suggests parasites, and stiffness or seizure can signal an inner ear infection. These conditions, like other cavy disorders, are serious enough to warrant veterinary oversight. A conscientious guinea pig owner knows the signs of sickness and makes the pet comfortable until it can be seen by a medical professional.

Guinea pigs are immune to the common cold.
Guinea pigs are immune to the common cold.

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Discussion Comments

Practically every guinea pig I've ever owned has died from either a respiratory infection or a digestive problem. Male guinea pigs are especially prone to a condition called "megacolon". Stool gets backed up in their colons and leads to constipation. The pressure can become unbearable and they will squeal in pain. The best anyone, including a vet, can do is administer guinea pig laxatives.

As far as respiratory problems are concerned, we found that the right bedding can make a big difference. Instead of using the inexpensive pine chip bedding, we switched to a paper-based product. It didn't create nearly as much dust, and the paper wicked away a lot of urine, so the guinea pigs weren't lying in their own waste all day long. If you build a sick cage like the one described in the article, I recommend using a higher grade litter.

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