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Guinea Pigs

Some Basics:

  • Wt. 700-900 g femalesBreeding onset 2-4 months
  • Wt 900-1200 g malesGestation period 59-72 days
  • Temp. 99-103Heart rate 230-380 bpm
  • Lifespan 5-7 yearsRespiratory rate 42-104 bpm

Guinea pigs make wonderful little pets. These rodents orininate from South America and their sweet nature means that they are great for kids, making docile pets that rarely bite. Just like other pets, they do need daily interaction with people and they’re unique in that, just like humans and other primates, they need dietary sources of vitamin C.

Diet:

A good quality, fresh commercial guinea pig pellet should make up a majority of the diet, along with free choice timothy or grass hay. The pellets should have an expiration date as the vitamin C levels decline rapidly in their food. If unsure, vitamin C supplements can also be given. Alfalfa should not be fed, as it contains too much protein and calcium which can cause urinary tract problems. Do not feed guinea pigs rabbit food as it does not contain enough vitamin C and folic acid. Pigs tend to become obese, so vegetables or treats (especially fruit) can cause diarrhea and should be offered to guinea pigs on rare occasions and in very small amounts.

Housing:

Housing needs to be secure, well ventilated and escape proof. Wire floors and rough surfaces are not recommended. Guinea pigs can be kept alone or in groups, but males shouldn’t be housed together unless they are neutered, or fighting will occur. Recycled paper or aspen bedding is fine, but cedar and pine shavings should not be used. Cages with good ventilation, cleaned frequently, will help keep your pet safe and healthy.

Common Problems:

Diarrhea
Diarrhea can stem from stress or changes in their routine, parasites, bacteria or diets that are high in protein or sugar and low in fiber. A pelleted diet and fresh hay is best for your cavie. Never apply over the counter antibiotic ointment to their wounds. If ingested, these products can kill off the beneficial bacterial flora in their intestinal tract and cause severe diarrhea or even death. Do not give them any antibiotic that was prescribed for another pet. Any guinea pig that stops eating for more than 24 hours is at risk for a problem called enterotoxemia, where abnormal bacterial flora in the gastrointestinal tract (gut) can enter the bloodstream and cause infection and sudden death.

Dental disease
Like other rodents, guinea pigs have teeth that constantly grow and are worn down by vegetation as they eat. If alignment is not correct, or over time tooth wear is uneven, dental disease can occur. Incisors may grow so long that they start to grow into the soft tissue structures of the mouth. You may notice drooling, loss of appetite as they lose the ability to eat, or even death. Prevention of dental disease with a proper diet and regular check ups will help prevent problems before they ever start.

Parasites
Guinea pigs can get fleas, usually from a dog or cat in their environment. Lice and mites can also effect guinea pigs, causing hair loss and dandruff (scales). Guinea pigs have their own species of lice that they do not get from or spread to humans. Mites are microscopic, living under the skin for years, and then surfacing when a pig is geriatric or ill from another disease. At times, itching can be so intense that it induces seizures in pigs.

Skin infections (Abscesses)
Mechanical irritation to the foot from the pressure of obesity or from improper housing or constantly wet bedding, can cause a secondary infection called bumblefoot. If cages are not cleaned often enough, urine soaked bedding will cause skin sores that predispose them to this infection. Left untreated, the infection can travel into the bone. This problem is prevented with plenty of thick, soft bedding and frequent cage cleaning. Abscesses can also form from bites from other pigs or household pets. The pus that develops is very thick and can encapsulate into a firm swelling which may need to be lanced, drained or surgically removed.

At Oswego Veterinary Hospital we recommend annual health exams for all guinea pigs and “pocket pets”. It’s a good idea to get a physical exam for a baseline as soon as you get your new pet to start them out on the right track. Yearly check ups will help to keep them happy and healthy.