Guinea pig health and top tips

Guinea pigs are wonderful animals and make excellent pets – they’re sociable, interactive and relatively easy to care for. Whilst they’re often considered just a child’s pet, they do require special attention and have specific dietary requirements to maintain good health. As a species they face some specific health issues which all owners should be aware of, so make sure you discuss all of the following. 

Posted: 14 January 2020

Guinea pig health and top tips

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A. Vitamin C deficiency

Unlike most other rodents, guinea pigs can’t make their own Vitamin C and need to have a continuous natural source from their food. This is best achieved by feeding a guinea pig specific diet together with plenty of fresh greens. Typical safe foods might include grass, dandelions, herbs and good quality hay.

Signs of Vitamin C deficiency include;

  • Swollen and painful joints 
  • Stiff movements
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhoea

At Burgess Pet Care we produce high quality guinea pig food. Find out more >

B. Ulcerative pododermatitis

Swollen ulcerated footpads in guinea pigs are a common problem. The pads are usually soft but can become sore, damaged and infected as a result of being kept on uncovered wire mesh floors. Without protection and cushioning, pressure sores can form resulting in discomfort and pain. Without treatment, pododermatitis can eventually result in chronic osteomyelitis with irreversible consequences.

C. Cystic Ovaries

Ovarian cysts are a common cause of abdominal distention in the guinea pig. The animal will usually be anorexic, depressed and develop a non-pruritic symmetrical alopecia. Typically, these signs will only appear once the ovarian cyst is greater than 15mm in diameter.

Surgery to remove the ovaries usually results in complete resolution of the clinical signs, and the hair loss will usually return within a few months.

D. Mites

Burrowing mites (Trixacarus caviae) and fur mites (Chirodiscoides caviae) are very common in the guinea pig.

  • Trixacarus caviae – this is the most common mite. Transmission from one animal to another is by direct contact or fomites. It causes intense pruritus, which can occasionally trigger convulsions when the animal is handled. Look for alopecia, scaling, hyperkeratosis and dermatitis over the shoulders, neck and inner thighs.
  • Chirodiscoides caviae - this is the main fur mite species that affects guinea pigs. These animals are usually asymptomatic, though with heavy infections they might show signs of pruritus, alopecia and self-trauma.

E. Overgrown nails

Guinea pig nails tend to grow rapidly and often in unusual directions. The front nails often curl round in a tight circle and can grow back into the pads, whereas the nails on the back feet can grow long and twisted. Nail trimming is often necessary to avoid penetration of the pads and infection.

F. Dental disease

Dental disease is very common in guinea pigs. Often the problem is missed for some time and the animal is finally presented in an advanced stage of disease with drooling, anorexia, pain and weight loss. The most common causes of a dental disease are a poor quality low fibre diet and a  lack Vitamin C. 

Common problems include;

  • Overgrown incisors - they become misaligned when the cheek teeth are overgrown.
  • Upper cheek teeth spurs – these will cause pain and ulcers to the cheeks.
  • Lower cheek teeth spurs – these can protrude inwards towards the tongue. In severe cases, the spurs from both right and left lower cheek teeth are so long that they touch each other in the centre, above the tongue to form a bridge, which traps the tongue and cause difficulty chewing and swallowing. 

Avoid the problem – educate your clients

As is so often the case, time spent discussing and sharing the potential problems with your clients will be invaluable. Prevention is always better than cure, so we’ve come up with 14 top tips to share with your guinea pig owners.

  1. Social enrichment – in the wild they live in large social groups. It’s important for their wellbeing to have two or more to avoid loneliness. So as to avoid unwanted pregnancies, check that they are either both female or both male.
  2. House pets - guinea pigs are best kept inside in the UK, especially during the colder winter months.
  3. Size matters – make sure these pets have plenty of room to explore, play and exercise. The minimum area recommended per animal is 120cm x 60cm, but we would recommend larger.
  4. Environmental enrichment - homemade toys always go down well. Old carpet tubes and cardboard boxes are particularly popular, especially if they are stuffed with feeding hay.
  5. Hygiene - keep the environment clean at all times. This means clearing up droppings on a daily basis. Make sure the feeding bowls are cleaned as well.
  6. Dust free bedding – make sure they are provided with plenty of dust-free hay to make a warm comfortable bed.  
  7. Water daily – ensure a supply of fresh water every day, either in a bottle feeder or a shallow bowl. Guinea pigs will often drink from both.
  8. Guinea pig feed – you can offer small quantifies of dried guinea pig food. Make sure you recommend a brand which is fortified with Vitamin C. At Burgess Pet Care we produce some of the best commercially prepared foods for fibrevores.
  9. Never feed muesli – some of the older brands of food were based on muesli, but it’s now known that these will cause significant harm.
  10. Avoid grass cuttings – in the summer months, it’s fine for guinea pigs to eat the grass as long as there have been no harmful chemicals used. However, make sure they don’t feed cuttings as these can ferment in the gut.
  11. Herbs now and again – as a treat you can offer some of the safe garden plants and herbs such as dandelion leaves, rocket, thyme and parsley.
  12. Pedicure care – encourage owners to check their pet’s nails regularly.
  13. Monitor – body weight, body condition, teeth length and general behaviour all need to be assessed regularly. Encourage regular vet checks.
  14. Know the signs of illness – a loss of appetite, weight loss, diarrhoea, runny eyes, saliva from the mouth, dry or flaky skin, bald patches, breathing problems all signal a problem. Make sure your clients know what to look out for.

How well do you know our range of guinea pig diets?

We have a selection of hay of the finest quality, dust free and packed in convenient sizes. Check to see what we have available in our shop

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