Health checks: how to examine your guinea pig

In order to keep your guinea pig in the best possible condition, you will need to handle him daily, check him over for signs of illness and injuries. Because they are a prey species, guinea pigs are very good at hiding signs of pain and illness so it is important to know their usual routines and check them regularly.

Ensure you weigh your guinea pig on a weekly basis – any sudden unexplained loss of weight or constant loss of weight may be a sign of illness; some guinea pigs show no other signs of illness apart from this.

Get used to your pet’s character and personality! Many owners will describe their guinea pig as just not being themselves, so it’s important to get to know them as an individual so you can pick up signs of illness early.

General signs of pain and illness include:

  • teeth grinding
  • hunched appearance
  • squinting eyes
  • drooling
  • weight loss
  • fast breathing
  • reluctance to move
  • squeaking in pain

If you are unsure if your guinea pig needs to see a vet, it’s best to always call for advice.

The following conditions are to be considered extremely serious, and you should seek proper veterinary care immediately, even on an emergency basis if needed:

  • Not eating for more than 12 hours
  • Laboured breathing (which is sometimes noisy)
  • Bleeding from mouth, rectum or genital area
  • Inability to urinate
  • Inability or reluctance to move
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Diarrhoea that is watery and foul-smelling
  • Pregnancy complications: straining during giving birth, drooling, bleeding or lethargy
  • Severe fight wounds
  • Trauma from another pet or fox/wildlife
  • Lameness where they are unable to weight bare on the affected limb
  • Bloated tummy with reluctance to move and signs of pain
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Eye injury
  • A non-retracting penis in the male, which may appear swollen or blue

If you notice any of the following, then you should take your guinea pig to see your vet within the next 24 hours:

  • Reduced activity
  • Sniffles, runny nose or eyes
  • Persistent scratching, to the point it draws blood
  • Crying out when urinating, or blood in urine
  • Reduced ability to eat food, especially if accompanied by excess water intake or drooling
  • Soft droppings that are not formed
  • Minor wounds which are not actively bleeding
  • Lameness which is not improving with rest

For the following, you should take your guinea pig to see a vet soon or at least call a vet for advice:

  • Hair loss or excessive itching
  • Sneezing often
  • Change in appetite
  • Change in water intake (drinking more or less)
  • Weight loss
  • A lump which has appeared
  • Redness of the pad of the feet (can be severe and called Bumble foot)

A healthy guinea pig has bright, alert eyes with no signs of cloudiness or redness, and they should have clean noses and ears.

Coats vary in length and type, but should be shiny and there should be no bald areas apart from the inside of the front feet and behind the ears.

Droppings should be small and well formed in a tear drop shape and they vary from light yellow brown through to very dark brown depending on their diet. They should NOT be soft or stuck together

Urine varies depending on the amount of calcium they have eaten as this is excreted in the urine. The colour can vary from pale straw coloured, to white and also reddish-brown depending on diet

Guinea pigs are social and love food; they should be interactive, especially at dinner times, with their owners once they have settled into their home. They should be seen to be eating much of the day, and they can drink up to 100 ml per kg of bodyweight, especially in warm weather.