If you love piggies, then you’ll know that a healthy specimen is alert and chatty, with bright eyes and a good coat. For these small pets, it’s essential that their human knows exactly how they look and act when they’re in the pink – that way, it’s much easier to spot the subtle changes in behaviour and appetite that reveal something’s not quite right. As with all healthcare issues, prevention is better than cure – and dealing with problems early can make all the difference to your pet enjoying a speedy recovery or becoming very poorly.
To do the very best by your guinea pigs, make regular visits to your vet for routine health checks. This will ensure the early detection of clinical diseases and allow your vet to give more effective treatments.
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As a diligent guinea guardian, here are some common piggy ailments to keep an eye out for.
The whole tooth
Guinea pigs’ teeth grow constantly throughout their lives. Being fed the correct, nugget-based diet along with plenty of things to chew on, such as Gnaw Sticks is really important to ensure that the length of their teeth is kept in check. In addition, guinea pigs need constant access to fibrous materials to chew throughout the day, such as tasty Excel Feeding Hay with Dandelion & Marigold to keep both their digestive system and their gnashers in good condition.
“The importance of feeding a correct diet really can’t be overstated as this simple measure prevents many health complaints in guinea pigs.”
In fact, the importance of feeding a correct diet really can’t be overstated as this simple measure prevents many health complaints in guinea pigs. When cavies are fed the wrong foods, or are not given appropriate things to chew on, they will quickly develop dental problems. As well as causing pain, this will make eating difficult for them, which can lead to further health issues.
Dental problems can include:
- Incisors that do not align, which can become so long that they become embedded in the nose, lips, gums or tongue.
- Overgrown molars that can wear unevenly and develop sharp spurs that can lacerate the tongue and cheeks.
- Malocclusion (where teeth overlap and don’t align properly), which can be inherited and occur at any point while the guinea pig is growing (up to 12-18 months) or develop later in life (between two to three years) due to being fed an inappropriate diet.
While prevention through feeding the correct diet is always better than cure, it’s essential that you regularly check your piggies’ teeth and contact your vet as soon you notice something’s wrong. Some treatments can be carried out without anaesthetic, but an operation to remove badly affected teeth may be required in some cases.
Small and mite-y
Guinea pigs can suffer from fleas and lice and are particularly susceptible to developing mite infestations. Symptoms include itchy skin that your piggies will scratch constantly, which can lead to hair loss and sore patches. Mites can successfully be treated by your vet. It’s important to treat not only the affected guinea pig, but any others that they have come into contact with too. Their accommodation, tunnels, and toys will also need to be cleaned thoroughly and bedding replaced to prevent a further infestation. Constant scratching may break the skin and cause a secondary infection. Your vet can prescribe antibiotics to clear this up.
Some parasites live under the skin of guinea pigs, including a fungal infection called ringworm. Symptoms include hair loss, crusty lesions on the skin and excessive itching. Scabs are most commonly found around the head, face and ears but do spread across the back and legs. Your vet can prescribe a course of anti-fungal medication to get rid of the infection.
Paws for thought
Wild guinea pigs live virtually their entire lives on grass and never have to walk across hard or rough surfaces. However, within a domestic environment, hard surfaces or wire mesh cages that are not suitably covered can result in swollen paws and the development of pressure sores on the soles of their feet, leading to a condition known as ‘bumblefoot’, or pododermatitis, to give it its medical name. As well as being very uncomfortable for your pet, if left untreated, it can spread to the bone tissue of the feet and legs.
You can prevent foot issues by always ensuring that the flooring of your guinea pigs’ accommodation is covered with soft, comfortable Timothy hay. When you take your guinea pigs out to socialise with them, never put them down on hard surfaces. Always opt for grass or something soft and cushioned.
Guinea pig nails grow quickly and need trimming every couple of weeks or so. Ask your vet to show you the correct and safe way to do this.
The scourge of scurvy
Just like us, guinea pigs don’t have the ability to make their own Vitamin C and need a daily dose to prevent all manner of health issues. If your piggies don’t get enough of this vital vitamin in their diet, their body’s supply will quickly run out, leaving them vulnerable to scurvy. This nasty disease interferes with the body’s ability to manufacture collagen, which is important for bone and tissue formation, and can lead to problems in your guinea pig’s joints and skin. It’s also entirely preventable. A daily ration of natural greenery, such as a few dandelion leaves or a small bunch of parsley, which are rich in Vitamin C, is a good idea, although care should be taken not to feed too much or your pets could develop diarrhoea. There’s more advice here >>
Flystrike is a potentially fatal condition which occurs when flies lay their eggs around a guinea pig’s bottom. The eggs then hatch into maggots which mature and eat away at the surrounding flesh. It sounds horrible and it is. In the summer, this whole process can take as little as a few hours, so it’s advisable that guinea pigs are checked at least twice a day.If you think your pet has flystrike, call your vet immediately. They will be able to clip away the fur, remove the maggots, administer antibiotics to help prevent infection and anti-parasitic treatments to kill any remaining maggot offenders.
A common health problem for guineas is colds, often resulting from drafts, dampness or temperature fluctuations. While the cold itself may not be too serious, it can quickly develop into pneumonia, which requires urgent veterinary treatment in the form of antibiotics. Always ensure your guineas are kept in a draft-free space and replace bedding frequently so it doesn’t get damp and chilly. While guinea pigs enjoy time outdoors in the summer, they should never be kept outside during the winter months.
Lousy lumps and bumps
All animals can develop tumours, but guinea pigs seem to be more prone to skin and mammary tumours. All lumps should be checked by a vet. Most are harmless and can be removed in a simple surgical process, but if your vet is concerned, they can carry out further tests.
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Our guide to being a gold-star guinea pig owner >>
Popular pets for generations, today, we are better informed about how to care for these friendly little creatures, so that we can provide them with everything they need to enjoy happy and fulfilling lives…