By Emma Purnell, RVN Cert.Nut.
Guinea pigs can make wonderful pets, but they tend to hide any illness or injury until it is severe.
If you see any of these signs in your guinea pig it is an emergency, and you need to seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
Guinea pigs need to be constantly eating in order to keep their digestive tract moving – if they stop eating (become anorexic) this is an emergency. There can be several causes for guinea pigs to become anorexic and it is not possible to tell which of these is occurring without veterinary care. Dental disease is common in guinea pigs. Usually the back teeth (the ones you cannot see) overgrow and form a bridge, blocking the tongue and making it so they cannot pick up and chew their food properly. Dental treatment is needed urgently to free their tongue and allow them to eat. Gut stasis is when their guts slow and stop moving food through their system. This is difficult to correct and can have many causes, although many are linked to pain in some form. Finding any potential cause of pain, treating this pain and providing medications to help stimulate the gut are needed urgently otherwise this can be fatal. Any sign of guinea pigs slowing down eating or being picky over their food should also lead to a veterinary check as soon as possible.
Not passing faeces
This often occurs alongside anorexia and can be seen for the same reasons. If their gut motility has slowed, then they will stop producing faeces. The sooner treatment can be started the better the chances of survival.
Bloating can potentially be a sign of gastric dilation volvulus – the stomach filling with gas and twisting to trap the gas within the stomach, this is extremely painful and rapidly fatal. This is often secondary to other gastrointestinal issues but needs urgent treatment if the guinea pig is to survive.
Significant lameness, especially after a fall or trauma, can indicate a potential fracture. The key thing to remember is that if they are limping or holding a leg up, that leg is causing them pain. The sooner a vet can find the cause of the problem and prescribe pain medication the better.
Eye issues can very rapidly and go from minor problems to issues significant enough to cause the loss of an eye. ‘Hay poke’ is a common condition where a piece of hay causes a scratch to the eye surface, however it is important to realise that any eye trauma is seriously painful and can rapidly move to becoming an ulcer. Ulcers are very difficult to treat and manage, as well as being very painful, and can lead to the loss of an eye. It is also possible that the piece of hay causing the initial trauma can be trapped under an eyelid so a vet check to help ensure this is not the case is vital.
Struggling to urinate
Guinea pigs can be prone to calcium stone formation within their bladder, often dietary related, which can cause repeated urinary infections and, in worst case scenarios, blocking of the urinary tract. In mild cases this can be managed however if the guinea pig is seen to be visibly straining then it could be that they are blocked. Blocking the urinary tract will cause pain, the bladder will continue to fill and could rupture or lead to kidney damage.
If a guinea pig becomes lethargic, quiet and floppy then they are usually seriously ill. They must be seen by a vet immediately as without diagnosis of the cause of the lethargy it cannot be treated and it is likely they will die.
Flystrike is a true emergency when seen in any species. Flystrike is when a fly lays its eggs on a pet, these eggs hatch to maggots and they begin to feed upon the pet. Most common causes of flystrike include reduced mobility, soiled areas within the habitat attracting flies and open wounds. Fly eggs are seen as tiny white ovals within the fur or on the skin and must be removed immediately using a flea comb or with bathing of the affected area. If the eggs have hatched already then the visible and easy to remove maggots should be removed where possible and urgent veterinary care sought.
Hopefully these pointers will help you spot urgent signs in your own pet and they can be treated and begin to recover as soon as possible.
Emma qualified as a Veterinary Nurse in 2008 and works for Nutravet (UK) Ltd. She has a BSc in Zoology with Animal Ecology and an MSc in Ecology, helping to fuel her interest in more exotic species. She has a particular love of small furries and has a grade A distinction in Canine and Feline Clinical Nutrition (CertNut).