cavymadness: guinea pig care and gifts
 

care links:    home    food    habitats    health    boys & girls    cavy life
These care pages serve as a basic overview of guinea pig care.
More in-depth information can be found through the CavyMadness Facebook community
and via excellent care pages listed on my links page.

health

the well-piggy checkup
what can possibly go wrong with guinea pigs?
antibiotics

common illnesses
skin
the respiratory system
the digestive system
scurvy
bladder and urinary tract issues
bladder stones
eye injuries
teeth
lethargy
impaction in male guinea pigs
other conditions and valuable medical sites


grooming
brushing, barbering and bathing
toenails: piggy pedicures
ears
health-well piggy
To ensure the best life for your guinea pig, you must provide not only food and shelter, but also companionship and care. A guinea pig needs social interaction (remember, two are no more trouble than one), and it needs to spend time with you. In addition, you should learn how your guinea pig acts: some are calm, while some are very energetic. Once you know your guinea pig's distinctive personality, you will be able to tell when something is wrong.

The CavyMadness Facebook community is an excellent resource for medical questions. Sites listed under the "Care" section on the CavyMadness Links page also delve deeper into medical care for your guinea pig. Be as knowledgeable as you can about the common illnesses that affect guinea pigs before you are faced with an emergency.

the well-piggy checkup

Find a good vet BEFORE you need one. Guinea pigs are often considered exotic pets, which basically means their care is considered a bit specialized. Find a vet who is experienced with guinea pigs! Many vets can be certified as exotics vets without treating any guinea pigs. If you ask a shelter in your area, or post to a newsgroup, you should find an experienced guinea pig vet.

Finding a good veterinarian should be one of the first steps of guinea pig ownership. CavyInfo.com has an excellent article on finding an experienced guinea pig vet.

It is always a good idea to take your new guinea pig to a veterinarian for a "well-piggy" checkup. The vet will be able to check your guinea pig's teeth, ears, and coat. It is also important to know your guinea pig's weight, since weight loss is one of the most common signs of illness in a guinea pig. Become aware of what a healthy guinea pig looks and feels like, so you can better tell when something's amiss.

vet visit

If your guinea pig is ill, you'll need to seek treatment as soon as possible. You'll notice that "consult your vet" is mentioned several times in the following paragraphs. As a beginning cavy owner, never treat illnesses yourself unless you have consulted with a veterinarian or a guinea pig expert.

A healthy guinea pig:

  • is alert and reactive to his surroundings
  • has bright, clear eyes, with no residue or crust
  • has ears that don't smell, and are not coated or excessively waxy
  • has a thick coat with no dry spots or raw patches
    (but no hair behind ears is normal)
  • has no residue or wetness around the nose or mouth
  • will have teeth that meet correctly
  • has no impaction or diarrhea
  • is free from lice or other parasites
  • will still need to be quarantined from other guinea pigs
    because not all illnesses are visible

 

what can possibly go wrong with guinea pigs?

As long as you follow the basic guidelines for food, water and housing, your guinea pigs will be generally healthy. Guinea pigs live from 5 to 8 years, with genetics as much of a factor as care.

Instinctively, as with many mammals, guinea pigs will generally hide their illness. However, a change in weight or eating/drinking habits, lethargy, and differences in urine/poop all signal that something is wrong. As a new guinea pig owner, you must visit your vet so you can understand how to do a quick examination of your guinea pig at home, and to get a baseline weight of your pig.

Generally, you should hold and cuddle your guinea pig daily, so you can bond with it. Your guinea pig will learn to be comfortable with you, and you will then be able to check for any signs of illness (teeth, ears, eyes, feet, bottom).

antibiotics

If your veterinarian prescribes antibiotics or other strong medications for your guinea pig, ask about side effects. Antibiotics can cause loss of appetite, which is dangerous; you may need to syringe-feed your piggy some mashed-up food to ensure that he or she gets the right nutrition while recuperating.

Antibiotics remove ALL bacteria, good and bad, from the digestive tract. Since some bacteria is needed to maintain a balance in the gut, the good bacteria needs to be replaced. Bene-bac (available from your veterinarian) will replenish the flora in the digestive tract. Bene-bac must be fed several hours apart from any dosage of antibiotics or other medication.

If your guinea pig stops eating, tell your vet immediately. Lack of energy and diarrhea should also be reported to your vet immediately. Be aware of antibiotics that are deadly to your guinea pig, since many vets may not be experienced enough to know the dangers. And one final tip: just like humans, guinea pigs should finish the entire round of antibiotics in order for the treatment to be effective. Don't administer medications yourself; always consult a vet.

Potentially harmful antibiotics:

  • Penicillin in ANY form, including synthetic penicillin amoxicillin (Clavamox) clindamycin erythromycin lincomycin streptomycin ampicillin clinamycin (Anitrobe) neomycin
  • tetracycline

Safe antibiotics for guinea pigs:

  • Baytril (enrofloaxin) sulfamezathine
  • Bactrim
  • tribissen (trimethoprim)

common illnesses.

skin: lice and mites
Don't worry, you can't catch lice or mites from your guinea pig. Neither can your other pets; they're species-specific. Signs for both include excessive scratching, loss of hair, and perhaps lesions (from the guinea pig scratching and biting itself). With lice, you'll be able to see tiny little white things attached to hairs, especially near the head and ears. Both require treatment of ALL guinea pigs in the cage.

Lice can usually be treated at home. Check with an expert or vet if you have any doubts or questions. Basically, an organic, gentle lice treatment suitable for kittens will work for guinea pigs. Make sure that the lice dip contains Pyrethin, and massage into the coat. Do NOT dip the head; take a small cloth with the solution on it and rub on the head. The smell will be strong, but you need to get under the eyes and around the ears, which are two places that lice like to "run." Rinse and dry thoroughly, and keep your pig warm. Before you place your guinea pig back into the cage, change all the bedding and clean the cage with the lice dip, to kill any lice that may be remaining. Since lice products often don't kill all of the eggs, it will be necessary to re-do your piggy a few days after the first treatment. The safety of pyrethin treatment is debated; your veterinarian may have other suggestions for you to consider.

One such alternative for lice is Neem Oil, a natural, food-safe insecticide. It is used in foods in Asia, so it's safe for your pig. However, your pig will smell a bit like Chinese takeout food during this process. Dilute four parts of carrier oil (such as mineral oil) to one part of Neem oil. Massage the oil into the skin, leave on for two days, then shampoo.Wait five days, repeat oil massage, leave for another two days, then shampoo off. This should kill the parasites and encourage hair regrowth. Your guinea pig will also ingest a little of it while grooming, so be prepared for soft poo.

cavymadness care mitesMites, on the other hand, live beneath the skin and cannot be seen until they cause irritated skin and hair loss. You must go to a vet to confirm that mites are present. Treatment usually begins with a skin scraping and, if confirmed, requires two shots of Ivermectin. While injection is the standard course of treatment, your vet may also have topical treatments available for mites. Mites can cause excessive itching and pain for your guinea pig, so prompt treatment is essential. Guinealynx's site has excellent information on the use of Ivermectin for parasites. Photo at right: a badly infested guinea pig. Note the bright red skin and hair loss.

skin: cysts and fungus
Sebaceous cysts are basically big pimple-like pockets of fluid right below the skin. Yep, they're pretty gross and sometimes come to a "head," which you can then squeeze gently to drain. Sometimes they just sit there as a big squishy lump on your guinea pig. You may opt to go to the vet to have the cyst drained, since a cyst that bursts INSIDE your guinea pig can cause problems.

What's in there? Basically a toothpaste-like ooze that stinks. You remember zits, right? Well, this is about the same thing, but a lot bigger. If you do (gently) drain one, keep the area clean, and prevent other piggies from nibbling the area. There's no guarantee that the cyst won't come back; many will fill up again over time. Remember, though, that they are basically harmless compared to everything else that can affect a guinea pig.

Not-so-harmless are fungal infections, which are usually associated with patches of hair loss. The skin is usually scaly or flaky, and your piggy will no doubt be scratching at the area. Two common types of fungal infections are Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Microsporum canis. Treatment for fungal infections is fairly easy; topical shampoos and creams are available in your local pharmacy. Tea tree oil is an organic option; Miconazole cream, Lamisil (2x/day for 1-2 weeks), Veltrim/clotrimazole and Nizoral shampoo (twice in a week) are all topical creams that work well. In severe cases, Griseofulvin, an oral medication, can be prescribed by your veterinarian.

KEEP IN MIND that, to the beginner, fungus and mites may present themselves in the same way. They require very different treatments. If you have any doubts, consult your veterinarian. Peter Gurney's website offers some great explanations and treatment options for skin infestations.

 

the respiratory system

A guinea pig's nose is constantly active, sniffing for changes in the environment, nearby pigs, and food. A congested guinea pig is a sad, frightened guinea pig.

Guinea pigs are highly susceptible to respiratory infections, caused by bacteria, dampness, drafts, and a dirty cage. Guinea pigs can pick up germs from humans, so if you have a cold, handle your guinea pig only as necessary, and wash your hands before preparing food and picking up your pig.

Always consult a veterinarian if your guinea pig has a cough, runny nose, or trouble breathing (place your ear against your guinea pig's chest and listen; if the breathing sounds "wet," irregular or "clicky," get it checked). An untreated "cold" or upper respiratory infection is almost always fatal for a guinea pig. (they don't get colds and recover after a few days, like we do.)

Signs to watch for include runny nose, crusty eyes, irregular breathing, loss of appetite, and coughing/sneezing. If you suspect a cold, it's best to seek treatment as quickly as possible.

the digestive system

If given an adequate diet, including plenty of fresh hay, guinea pigs rarely have stomach troubles. The most common malady is diarrhea from eating too much "watery" vegetables. This is easily fixed by cutting back on the fresh veggies until your guinea pig's poop returns to normal.

But chronic diarrhea, a watery bum, black diarrhea or foul-smelling mess indicates a very serious intestinal problem. If your guinea pig is on antibiotics and develops chronic diarrhea, contact your vet immediately, as many antibiotics (listed below) are harmful to piggies and can cause deadly diarrhea. Moldy fruits and vegetables can also be culprits. If you piggy shows any of the signs I've just mentioned, contact your vet.

Another serious condition called bloat occurs when there is an intestinal blockage or too much gas builds up in the stomach. The abdomen will be tight and hollow-sounding. Over-the-counter gas treatments such as simethicone will help if your guinea pig just has a case of gas, but get advice from an expert or vet first. Treatment for the two is not the same! Bloat requires more intensive monitoring to rule out obstructions in the digestive tract. It's best to get to a vet immediately, especially if your piggy has stopped pooping.

bladder and urinary tract issues

Bladder sludge and stones are caused by too much calcium buildup in the bladder and urinary tract. Some calcium is good for your guinea pig, but calcium-rich foods, such as alfalfa, must be fed sparingly to avoid getting a surplus of calcium in your guinea pig's system. Ironically, too little calcium in your guinea pig's diet can cause calcium to leach from the bones, which is also a risk for bladder stones!

Signs of bladder stones and urinary tract infections (UTIs) include squeaking or raising up of the rear end while going to the bathroom. In males, some calcium can build up around the base of the penis, causing inflammation and pain. Blood in the urine is also a sign of bladder stones or a urinary tract infection.

Some treatments can get rid of excess sludge, but once a bladder stone has formed, surgery is often needed. Bladder stones and urinary tract infections require a trip to your veterinarian. Your vet will treat UTIs with antibiotics and bladder stones with medication or surgery, depending on the size and placement of the stone.

Bladder stones and urinary tract infections need to be treated immediately. View a more in-depth page of bladder stones and treatment by clicking on the x-ray image at right.

Urine scald is a secondary condition resulting from urinary tract issues or injuries that result in decreased mobility in guinea pigs. A painful, often crusty, rash will appear around the affected area. Treatment consists of a gentle cleaning with warm water, application of diaper rash or similar topical ointment (sparingly), and vigilance in keeping the cage bedding DRY. (GuineaLynx.com has an excellent article on urine scald.)

 

cavy madness bladder stone surgery

 

scurvy

One thing that guinea pigs have in common with humans: we both need to supplement our diets with vitamin C. Too little vitamin C in your guinea pigs' diet will cause scurvy — lethargy, stiffness and difficulty walking, even paralysis. however, symptoms of scurvy are similar to other illnesses; ANY lethargy or loss of appetite in a guinea pig is indicative of many illnesses, and should be immediately checked by a veterinarian.

Feed your piggy foods rich in vitamin C (as discussed on the Food page) and, if you feel that you need to supplement still, use ascorbic acid in the water bottle or a powdered, unsweetened C tablet. Vitamin C, once added to water or a mix, will deteriorate rapidly, so you must administer supplements daily. Liquid vitamin C supplements are pretty much useless; ascorbic acid is the best option. Also keep in mind that too much C can cause diarrhea, so moderation is key.

Angel, pictured at right, came to me with a bad case of scurvy that caused paralysis in her legs. I rehabilitated her (story here) through diet and exercise.

 

health-scurvy

eye injuries

If you notice a white cast over the eye, chances are it's either a cataract or an injury. The latter is most often the case, though: if a guinea pig's eye is injured by a sharp blade of hay or a scratch, the eye will respond by creating a cataract-like cover, causing temporary blindness, so that the eye muscles can rest. Eye ointments are available from your vet. You gently rub over the eye for a few days; if the eye does not clear up within two or three days, consult your vet.

Cataracts, on the other hand, are only removed via surgery, which is often too traumatizing for guinea pigs. Older guinea pigs with cataracts can live quite normally with the limited vision, as long as their surroundings are constant. If you are concerned about your piggy having cataracts, consult your vet.

teeth

A guinea pig's teeth grow continuously, so it is important that your pig has enough hay and other roughage in his diet to wear the teeth down. If the front (incisor) teeth are overgrown because they do not meet properly (malocclusion), your guinea pig will be unable to eat and may eventually die. The back teeth (molars) can also overgrow and cause problems and death. Symptoms of overgrown teeth include loss of weight and excessive salivation. In the case of overgrown or infected molars, surgery may be the only option.

If the front teeth are broken, they must be clipped to an even level so that the bite is even. Keep in mind that the teeth are always growing; if a tooth is actually missing, it will grow back as long as the root remains. You may need to feed your guinea pig soft food, if the alignment is affected, until the teeth grow back.

 

lethargy

Seagull's Guinea Pig Compedium features a Field Guide to Reclining Guinea Pigs. To quote Seagull, this wise guru of guinea: ... if you happen to come across a guinea pig in your daily travels, chances are that it's going to be in the middle of a nap, or about ready to take one. This is an important part of guinea pig behavior (or, non-behavior, depending on your point of view), and therefore it deserves serious scientific study.

Guinea pigs do seem to lay around a lot, but they are generally always alert. A flat-out piggy is cute indeed, but you should note when your guinea pig has a change in habits; instinctively, sick guinea pigs will separate themselves from the herd, and they will also sleep more to conserve energy.

Older guinea pigs will naturally sleep more; as long as appetite and interest in surroundings remain normal, there isn't necessarily cause for alarm. Just be aware of your guinea pig's habits so you will notice when something changes.

 

impaction in male guinea pigs

If you have a male guinea pig, there is one chore that you will need to do on a regular basis. It's not pretty, but it ensures the health of your boar.

When attracting a female, boars will drag their bottom along the cage floor to secrete their scent. Their perineal pouch is open, and bedding can get caught inside when the pouch closes. What, exactly, is a perineal pouch? Place your boar on a flat surface and turn him over. Look between his hind legs, and you'll see a donut-shaped swelling. That "donut" contains his anus and testicles. The inside of the donut is called the perineal pouch, and it's coated with a sticky fluid that acts as a scent gland. Since poop comes through this pouch as well, it can get "backed up" from time to time, which causes impaction.

Impaction also occurs when older boars lack the muscle tone to fully push out their poop, causing the same type of "backup"; the result is a large mass that, once hardened, can be very painful.

Gently open the pouch, and you'll see debris and/or poop stuck inside. This mix can result in quite a stench, so brace yourself! Gather a lot of Q-tips, mineral oil, and tissues. You may also want to put a perfumed lotion under your nose if you're squeamish. Moisten the Q-tips with mineral oil and gently clean inside the pouch to remove the debris. NEVER, EVER pull at something that's stuck to the pouch! The skin in this area is very thin, and can easily tear, causing a lot of pain to your piggy. Your mission is to gently remove the mass and lubricate the inside of the pouch.

Naturally, your boar may not take kindly to this procedure at first, but it's necessary. You may want someone else to hold him while you do the honors. Use a clean Q-tip every time you enter the pouch. This procedure should be done at least monthly, depending on how impacted your boar becomes.

Boars can also get debris caught around their penis; have your vet or an experienced owner show you how to gently check the penis for debris or hair twisted around it. Inflammation or debris in this spot can be a very painful thing for boars. Grainy white residue around the base of the penis can be indicative of calcium buildup. If you don't have the stomach for cleaning your boar's perineal pouch and penis, perhaps you may want to stick to female guinea pigs only.

other conditions and valuable medical sites

  • obesity, caused by lack of exercise and boredom, is dangerous to guinea pigs and all pets.

  • bumblefoot and foot deformities, whether congenital or caused by wire flooring, need to be treated with a vet's supervision.

  • pregnancy, though not an illness, requires some preparation should complications arise.

  • malocclusion and other dental problems require veterinary care.

  • Ovarian cysts, tumors and other malignant growths require veterinary care.

The sites below are highly recommended; you can also check out the Medical Forum at the CavyMadness Messageboard if you have general questions about illnesses. Remember, though, that these are not substitutes for treating a sick piggy. Find an experienced vet before you need one, including your local emergency vet, so that you can treat your piggy quickly if needed.

  • GuineaLynx is a comprehensive medical guide that includes a Medical Emergency Guide, a listing of symptoms that require treatment.

  • The Peter Gurney Guinea Pig Pages is UK-based, so some products may not be familiar to those living outside the UK. But the information is valuable to anyone who wants a better understanding of the illnesses that affect guinea pigs. (the page remains as a reference; it has not been updated since Gurney's death.)

 

grooming

Guinea pigs will generally clean themselves, but long-haired breeds such as the Peruvian, Texel and Silkie need a little extra attention to the coat. The Baldwin, new to the guinea pig scene, is hairless and needs extra attention to its skin. Abyssinian guinea pigs have rosettes in their coat, and need brushing, though not as much as longhaired breeds. Grooming piggies takes some patience; most guinea pigs won't like their hair being pulled this way and that. But with some gentle words and lots of parsley bribes, guinea pigs will eventually take well to brushing, bathing and general inspection.

brushing, "barbering" and bathing

For the beginner, short-haired breeds may be a better choice, since they require less maintenance than the long-haired breeds, which need almost daily brushing to prevent matting. With a short-haired guinea pig, a periodic gentle brushing is all that's needed to get rid of dirt or debris in the coat. Teddies, or Rex cavies have wiry hair that can be very curly or wavy. They can be "fluffed" by brushing from back to front (although they may not like this treatment...it's like petting a cat the wrong way).

If you have a long-haired guinea pig, brushing is essential to keep the coat untangled and free of debris. You may want to keep their hair trimmed, mainly at the back, where urine leaves hair matted and smelly.

If you have a male long-haired guinea pig, check to make sure that long hairs around his genital area are not getting stuck in the penis (which easily leads to infection or injury!) Although a Peruvian guinea pig with hair flowing on the ground is a beautiful sight, trimming the hair results in less matting and general ease of care for a pet guinea pig.

During brushing and/or trimming, the trick is to keep your guinea pig calm. I generally trim my long-haired girls on a flat surface, so they don't thrash about. Only rarely will a long-haired piggy submit to being brushed without wheeking loudly in protest!

Some guinea pigs will actually practice barbering, where they eat the hair from their long-haired cagemates, but there's really no explanation for that habit. It appears to be a personality quirk.

I often get an email from a concerned person whose guinea pig has a white fluid in the eye. While grooming, the guinea pig may produce a white liquid in the eye, which is quite normal. Our tear ducts constantly wash away particles that lodge in our eyes; for guinea pigs, they have their own special eye cleaning solution.

Bathe your guinea pig only on an "as needed" basis. Don't bathe a guinea pig unless its coat is dirty or oily. Bathing removes natural oils in the skin and will dry out the coat.

That said, if you must bathe your guinea pig, it's best to use a small dishpan or bathroom sink with a washcloth in the bottom and warm, shallow water. Use a very mild shampoo such as baby or kitten shampoo, and work a small amount into the coat. If your guinea pig struggles, hold it gently. Keep your guinea pig's head out of the water, especially the ears and nose. Rinse well, and dry thoroughly.

Use a hair dryer on a warm, not hot, setting, to help dry the pig. Wet guinea pigs are very susceptible to colds, so keep them warm until they are completely dry. A vegetable treat is always good after a bath. I never bathe my girls during the winter, as my house is very old and can be a bit drafty. I must reiterate that guinea pigs, especially wet or damp ones, can become very ill if they get chills.

You can touch-up your guinea pig's beard and rear end, since those areas get dirty the quickest. You'll quickly become familiar with the orange post-carrot lips or sticky hair from melon dripping down the front of your piggy. This is easily cleaned off with a damp washcloth.

As for the rear end, occasional trimming is important to prevent matting in long-haired breeds. Sometimes I will dip just the bottom in some soapy water to get the matted hair soft before I do a trimming.

bathing

toenails: piggy pedicures

Clipping toenails can be hazardous, since it's mainly you holding a sharp instrument while trying to wrestle with a nervous guinea pig! It is best to be taught by an experienced piggy person or veterinarian first.

Basically, clipping a guinea pig's toenails is much like clipping a cat's: you get a gentle but firm grip on the foot, and trim, avoiding the nail quick (the blood vessel, which is that dark thing that you can see through the nail). Many guinea pigs can be held without a struggle to be clipped; some guinea pigs need to be wrapped tightly in a towel. Another method — possibly the best method, in my opinion — is simply holding the guinea pig against your chest or in your lap. Hold the piggy in one hand, and place his or her back against you. Use the fingers of that hand to hold the paw firmly, while you trim with the other hand. An even better idea is to hold the guinea pig while another person does the clipping.

nail trimming

Get a good grip on the paw, and try to prevent your guinea pig from squirming. Make sure you have a styptic pencil or powder (flour, cornstarch) on hand, to stop the bleeding in case you cut the quick. It is wise to invest in a good pair of toenail clippers for animals, as human nail clippers and even (gasp!) scissors can crush a piggy's toenail. I suggest trimming along the flat side of the nail, as this will mean less smooshing as you clip the nail.

While you're clipping away, you may notice what appears to be a soft "extra" toe. Leave it alone, or immerse in warm water to remove some of the dirt/poop. I learned the hard way: don't pull at this callous. You'll pull the toe pad skin right off, and your piggy will be very cross with you!

ears

Periodically check your guinea pig's ears for waxy material. Moisten a cotton swab with a very small amount of mineral oil and lightly clean the outer ear area. Use a clean swab each time you wipe the ear. DO NOT go deep into the ear! You can cause serious damage. If there is a large buildup of waxy material, you may want to take your guinea pig to a vet to check for mites. A funky smell can also indicate mites.

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care links:    home    food    habitats    health    boys & girls    cavy life
These care pages serve as a basic overview of guinea pig care.
More in-depth information can be found through the CavyMadness Facebook community
and via excellent care pages listed on my links page.

 

 

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