We commonly see a variety of rodents in practice and like all exotic species, many of their health problems are due to inappropriate feeding or husbandry. Much of the information provided will be specific information on caring for these animals as well as links for further information. Also included will be a discussion of the common medical problems we see in each species. Further pictures and case information will be available at my gallery.
Pet Quality: Excellent
Guinea Pigs can make excellent pets for both adults and children. They are affectionate and gentle animals and will bond well with their owners when handled often. They can be housed in pairs or small groups but I do recommend neutering the males. The average lifespan is around 4 years of age, but exceptions do occur. Like all exotics there are special concerns that should be addressed such as:
Guinea Pigs are unable to make their own vitamin C and therefore must have a vitamin C supplement provided daily. If adequate vitamin C is not provided, the pigs will develop vitamin C deficiency, also called scurvy, leading to a suppressed immune system. Affected pigs are much more susceptible to disease and respiratory infections are very commonly the first sign of immunosuppression, with arthritis, tooth disease and many others also frequently seen. Early signs of respiratory infection include tearing and crusting around eyes, sneezing, weight loss and nasal discharge. I recommend providing chewable vitamin C tablets or powdered vitamin daily to all guinea pigs throughout their lives. I recommend giving a minimum of 50mg vitamin C daily and this dose should be increased for pregnant guinea pigs and those with deficiency to at least 200mg daily. Additionally, all guinea pigs should be provided with at least 1/2 cup of fresh dark leafy greens daily for a natural source of vitamins and nutrients. Many leafy greens are available and will vary with the seasons, but a couple of good ones are kale and parsley.
Other dietary recommendations:
Guinea pigs should be fed a grass hay based pellet and provided grass hay daily in addition to their greens. Guinea pigs do love to eat but treats high in sugar or grain should be limited to keep their GI tract healthy.
Because of their rotund body shape, pigs are susceptible to foot sores when housed on wire bottom cages. The new plastic bottom cages are a better choice to keep your pig comfortable. Avoid all wood chip bedding, what can cause allergies and other respiratory problems, recycled paper bedding is usually a safer alternative. A hide box should also always be provided to allow a stressed pig to escape. Toys should be provided, including safe chewable wood toys made for guinea pigs. A water bottle and food bowl will also be required.
All of their teeth (incisors & molars) will continue to grow throughout the animals life. All guinea pigs should be examined yearly by a veterinarian and part of their physical exam should include an oral examination. With malocclusion, the molar teeth can grow longer on the inside surface and cause pain when eating. With progression of the disease the teeth can actually form an arch that entraps the tongue and prevents the pig from eating. Signs of dental disease are often limited to weight loss or anorexia, but may also include dropping food when chewing or salivation. The front teeth or incisors can also become over grown and may require trimming by your veterinarian. The incisors should never be clipped with nail trimmers because this can actually result in a break higher up in the tooth. Your veterinarian will use a dental bit or dremel to quickly and safely reduce the tooth length. Molar teeth can be more difficult to trim because of the small oral cavity and will usually require general anesthesia to allow access to the back of the mouth.
Signs of skin disease include, scratching, hair loss with bald spots, skin flaking and skin wounds. Some guinea pigs will be so itchy that they will have what appears to be a seizure to the owners. Skin disease can occur when stressed from new surroundings or due to vitamin C deficiency or both. It is not uncommon for guinea pigs to develop mite infestations, lice (not the human type), and ringworm. The best course of action is to have all itchy pigs examined by a veterinarian. Skin scraping and fungal culture may be needed for a diagnosis. Treatment for ringworm (which is infectious to humans) involves the application of topical antifungal medication. Treatment for mites may vary with the veterinarian. In the past an injection of ivermectin (an anti-parasitic medication) was most often used. Today, many veterinarians use the topical skin product called Revolution. The product is just applied to the skin between the shoulders and will protect the animal’s entire body for up to a month. The product is not approved for exotic animals but is commonly used very safely under the direction of a veterinarian. Your vet will determine the correct dose for your guinea pig. Do not use your dog or cat products on your guinea pigs.
At this time, do not recommend spaying female guinea pigs because it is, in my opinion, a high risk procedure. However, males housed with females should be neutered because female guinea pigs who have not been pregnant prior to roughly 6mo-1yr of age will fuse their pelvis. As a result, later pregnancies are at a higher risk of dystocia or stuck/retained babies. Neutering guinea pigs is a relatively quick and safe procedure with few complications. The most common complication seen is the development of an abscess or infection at the site of the neuter. We attempt to minimize this by performing a sterile surgery and leaving an area for drainage at the scrotum. Owners can also help to minimize the risk by housing the guinea pig alone while recovering and changing the bedding twice daily to keep the environment very clean. If an abscess does occur it is lanced and drained/debrided and the pet is placed on antibiotics.