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Guinea Lynx :: Guinea Pig Heath Care
        A Medical and Care Guide for Guinea Pigs



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Home > Medical Guide > EMERGENCY

Become Familiar With These Signs Of Illness

A guinea pig's health can deteriorate very quickly. By the time problems become apparent, illnesses may be life-threatening. Guinea pigs very seldom get over an illness without help. Prompt, competent veterinary care is crucial to saving the life of a sick guinea pig. When caught early, most illnesses can be cured fairly easily with a course of antibiotics safe for guinea pigs. Find a guinea pig-knowledgeable exotics vet soon after adopting a guinea pig so you know whom to contact in an emergency.

Do not hesitate to seek competent veterinary care if you suspect your pig is ill.

Signs of illness and possible causes:

    Refusal to eat or drink (anorexia) -- URI, Malocclusion, other
    Weight Loss -- Malocclusion, other
    Labored breathing, wheezing -- URI, Circulatory Problems, other
    Crusty eyes, sneezing -- URI, other
    Rough or puffed-up coat -- URI, other
    Swollen abdomen -- BLOAT, other
    Dull and/or receding eyes -- URI, other
    Lethargy, hunched posture -- URI, other
    Drooling -- Malocclusion, other
    Watery diarrhea -- Diarrhea, other
    No feces -- Anorexia (not eating), Bloat, other
    Unable to urinate -- Bladder Stones, other
    Blood in urine -- UTI, Bladder Stones, Pyometra, other
    Bleeding from rectal area -- UTI, Bladder Stones, Pyometra, Retained Placenta, other
    Limping, hopping -- Injury, Vitamin or Mineral Deficiency, Arthritis, other
    Hair loss, excessive scratching -- Mange Mites, Fungal Infection, other
    Loss of balance -- Ear Infection, Injury, Poisoning, other
    Delivery problems -- Dystocia, Retained Placenta, other
Any behavior unusual for your pig, such as facing a corner and being slow to respond, can be an indication your guinea pig is seriously ill.

Mange Mites and URI's (upper respiratory infections)

To help monitor health, be sure to weigh your guinea pig weekly. A two or three ounce loss may indicate the onset of a problem. If your guinea pig has lost four or more ounces, see a vet immediately! A guinea pig that is not eating is seriously ill and must be seen by a vet for treatment and must be hand fed. Be observant!

Your vet should know that some medications that disrupt the intestinal flora, like penicillins, are deadly to guinea pigs. Do not allow your vet to prescribe Amoxicillin! Check the Dangerous Medications list. If your pet is prescribed antibiotics, ask how quickly the medication should take effect. If your guinea pig does poorly on a particular antibiotic and stops eating, he may be intolerant to that particular antibiotic. Call your vet to discuss changing antibiotics.

If you suspect your pig is sick, it is always best to seek veterinary treatment. Your pig may have been ill for some time before the signs are noticeable. If you have one, bring a healthy one along for comparison, unless you have already quarantined the ill pig.
The above signs are SERIOUS and warrant a trip to the vet ASAP. As this list may not be complete, if you have any concerns, PLEASE, see a vet immediately.
Not eating is extremely serious, as your pet's system will shut down with dire consequences. After as few as 16 to 20 hours of anorexia, liver cells begin to break down and from then on, your pig will only get worse. If your guinea pig is not eating, get to a vet immediately to determine the cause and begin treatment.
    See also: Anorexia and Hand Feeding
If your guinea pig appears swollen and the stomach appears distended (a light tap on the side sounds hollow), see a vet immediately. Your guinea pig may have an intestinal blockage (torsion). This condition can be fatal if left untreated.
Labored breathing, blue tinge to the lips and snout (only visible in pink skinned pigs) can all signs of heart problems. A vet can give oxygen and check for fluid in the lungs (X-ray). Heart medications extend the life of your pet. For more signs, see this forum post.
Kleenmama emphasizes that you must get the sow to a guinea pig knowledgeable vet immediately if you witness any of the signs listed below:

    Sow straining for more than 10 minutes and not producing a baby.
    Sow bleeding
    Sow squealing loudly with each contraction
    Sow getting exhausted and just giving up from trying.
    No placenta being produced with the babies
    Sow smelling like nail polish remover, or acetone. This can occur from 2 weeks before until 2 weeks after the birth.

There should be one placenta for each baby. The afterbirth will be a round flat bloody object ranging in size from a nickel to a quarter. If she stops eating or drinking or you feel there is something wrong, get to a vet right away.
    See also: labor and delivery written by Kleenmama.
Diarrhea is especially serious if accompanied by the pig looking ill and sitting with its coat puffed up: get to a vet. A black, foul-smelling watery mess indicates a very serious intestinal problem (bacterial infection, eating spoiled/moldy hay or vegetables). For diarrhea resulting from antibiotic use (killing off intestinal bacteria), consult your vet, who may switch to a different one and prescribe an intestinal bacterial supplement (a probiotic).

Milder forms of diarrhea (too many fresh fruits or vegetables or a change in feed) are also serious, require immediate treatment (generally replacing fresh vegetables with lots of timothy hay), and with no rapid improvement require a trip to the vet. Severe diarrhea can also be caused by E. coli and giardia. Your vet will do a fecal culture to identify the problem and prescribe appropriate medications. Read Seeking Advice On Diarrhea at Guinea Lynx Forums for additional advice. Dr. Nakamura describes treatment of enterotoximia caused by unsafe antibiotics Antibiotic Associated Enterotoxemia in Guinea Pigs.
    See also: Diarrhea
If your guinea pig experiences difficulty walking or holds it's head tilted to one side, see a vet immediately. Prompt treatment is critical for complete recovery. This can indicate a bacterial infection of the inner ear requiring topical and/or oral antibiotics. A vet will also check for parasites and other conditions.
    See also: Ear Mites
Use common sense in evaluating the severity of the injury. Is your guinea pig alert? Can it move normally? If there is a cut, is it superficial or a deep cut which may require stitches and antibiotics? Examine the mucosal lining (mouth) to see if it is a healthy pink indicating good blood circulation or instead pale or bluish. If your guinea pig has been dropped, evaluation by a vet is recommended.
Drooling, weight loss, interest in food but can't or won't seem to eat: get to a vet.The molars could be over grown, which will result in the pig slowly starving to death if the guinea pig does not receive treatment. Can be misdiagnosed as vitamin C deficiency (scurvy).
    See also: Malocclusion
Mite and fungal infections are extremely common. They are characterized by dry, scaly skin, open sores, scratching, and pain when touched. If it is mange mites (a parasitic infection) it can even be fatal and usually requires two or more ivermectin treatments 10 days or so apart. Both fungal and parasitic infections can be present at the same time.
    See also: Mites and Fungus
The signs of poisoning vary widely. The American Veterinary Medical Association's "A Pet Owner's Guide to Common Small Animal Poisons" (which has been removed from their site) had listed dangerous chemicals that may accidentally be ingested by your pet. These included a short list of poisonous plants, human drugs dangerous to pets (such as acetaminophen -- also known as Tylenol), household products and more. If you suspect your pet has been poisoned, contact your veterinarian immediately.
    See also: Poisonous Plant Links
Guinea pigs require vitamin C in their diets daily. They can develop scurvy if they are deficient in this necessary vitamin. Scurvy is characterized by difficulty walking, diarrhea, dehydration, weight loss, listlessness, and/or discharge from eyes and nose. Because the diarrhea is life threatening and can have other causes, never assume diarrhea can be cured by giving vitamin C. See a vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
    See also: Scurvy and Diarrhea
Labored breathing, crackling sound from the lungs, eyes that are almost sealed shut, discharge from the eyes and/or the nose, sneezing, coughing, and wheezing can all be symptomatic of an upper respiratory infection (URI). A vet will prescribe a safe antibiotic to treat these bacterial infections (guinea pigs do not get cold viruses). See a vet immediately if you see any of these signs. Untreated URIs are almost always fatal. Occasionally allergies can produce the same signs - but because URIs are so deadly and fast moving, it is imperative that the vet rules out a URI before considering the possibility of an allergy.
    See also: URI and anorexia
Blood in the pee, squeaking while peeing, a serious and painful condition. A vet should check your pet for a possible urinary tract infection (UTI) or problem with the bladder or kidneys. A sour smell could indicate a cyst, bladder or urinary tract infection, or stones.
    See also: UTI and Bladder Stones
Vitamin or Mineral Deficiency
Some guinea pigs with a vitamin C deficiency may hop rather than walk. A calcium deficiency can also affect the ability to move.
    See also: Scurvy
Guinea pigs very seldom get over an illness without help and can decline EXTREMELY quickly. While it may appear your guinea pig has "just" come down with something, he may have been concealing signs of illness for some time, a behavior which puts additional stress on the immune system. Concealing illness is a survival mechanism in the wild, where a lagging pig would quickly be picked off by a predator.

For these reasons, if you suspect your pig is ill, it is always best to take it to a vet. If you have more than one pig, you might take along a healthy one so the vet can compare them (unless it has already been separated from the sick one to avoid passing on an illness to your other guinea pigs).

EMERGENCY VET CARE, a short summary translation by Evangéline at the bottom of this posting further explains the importance of getting timely medical care for your pet and gives emergency care advice. Tex Green also has a useful emergency guide at his site.

Often the first sign of illness is weight loss. The most important tool you have to monitor your pig's health is to weigh it once a week. Keep a chart! This will enable you to spot gradual weight loss and get medical help before it's too late, perhaps buying you valuable time for early treatment. Weight loss may be one of the first signs of malocclusion.
    One ounce weight fluctuation is OK.
    Two ounces - Go on alert.
    Three ounces - Extreme red alert.
    Four ounces - Get the pig to a vet.

Other general signs of illness are: rough or puffed up coat, dull and/or receding eyes, lethargy, hunched posture, refusal to eat or drink. Be an observant owner! Behavior unusual for your guinea pig (which may include sitting with it's face in a corner, lowered responsiveness) could also indicate the need to seek medical assistance or at the very least, the need to monitor the pig closely.

You can find advice concerning finding a vet at this site and an explanation of what to expect from a competent vet. Rural pet owners may want to read advice on preparing for an emergency. Read a list of DANGEROUS MEDICATIONS to help you avoid serious problems which might be caused by unknowledgeable vets.

Evangéline writes:

This information is from "Le cochon d'Inde", by Dr Michèle Pilotte, an exotic vet and director of the "Hôpital vétérinaire pour oiseaux et animaux exotiques Rive-Sud", near Montréal, Canada. It is a very good book, one of the few I have read and that tell about the importance of hay, vitamin C, free time and vet care. I'll try translating a paragraph from the chapter concerning Emergency vet care.

"Fortunately, guinea pigs are not often sick, but when they are, it is almost always severe. In fact, guinea pigs that get sick go downhill very fast and most die within a few days, or a few hours, if they have stopped eating, which happens when they have health problems.

For that reason, it is VERY important that a sick pig who has stopped eating sees an exotic vet, experienced with guinea pigs, ON THAT VERY DAY. Don't wait "until tomorrow" to see if he gets better. He won't!

A healthy pig eats most of the time. You have probably noticed they munch almost constantly. It is essential that your guinea pig never has an empty stomach because after as little as 16 to 20 hours of anorexia, a dangerous phenomenon is happening. Destruction of liver cells start and from then on, your pig will only get worse.

First Aid

    Learn to recognize the first signs of sickness: changes in your pigs attitude, eating habits, level of activity, weight, etc.
    See a vet ASAP. Even the best vet won't be able to diagnose your pig by phone, let alone treat it!
    Isolate the sick pig from other animals, particularly other pigs. He might be contagious.
    Keep the sick pig in a warm (not overheated) room.
    As always, give him as much hay and pellets as he wants, but also his favorite fruit or veggies.
    If he is not eating by himself, you ABSOLUTLEY have to force feed him 3 to 4 times a day. See the hand feeding article for tips.
    Never give your pig medication that has not been prescribed by a knowledgeable vet that has examined the animal.
    Don't change the bedding. That way, the vet can see feces and urine.
    Often, the only sign is that the pig refuses to eat or eats less than usual. This alone, remember, is enough to understand that there is an emergency. Only a vet can diagnose, don't try to do it yourself."


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