Miscellaneous health problems in guinea pigs

Two medical conditions of guinea pigs that demand special mentions are dental disease (teeth malocclusion) and pneumonia, therefore these are covered in separate factsheets. However, there are other medical conditions that affect guinea pigs that are briefly covered here. There are many new emerging diseases seen in guinea pigs so this list is not exhaustive and covers the most commonly seen diseases.

Thinning of the hair is common and can have many causes in guinea pigs including:

  • Barbering – excessive chewing of hair by cage mates
  • Hormonal changes such as guinea pigs suffering from cystic ovarian disease and thyroid problems
  • Parasites can cause excessive itching and chewing leading to hair thinning
  • Ringworm is a skin disease caused by a fungus similar to the one that causes athlete’s foot in people. Those most susceptible to ringworm are guinea pigs who are young or stressed or in overcrowded situations. It is generally characterised by patchy hair loss on the face, nose and ears. The skin in these areas may appear flaky, and areas of hair loss may extend along the top side of the trunk. Ringworm can be diagnosed by your vet and they will prescribe topical and/or oral medication. The medications used will depend on the number of ringworm areas present and their distribution on the body. Ringworm can be transmitted from guinea pigs to people and other household pets such as cats/dogs. It is, therefore, important to limit or restrict handling of infected guinea pigs, especially by young children or those who are pregnant or immunosuppressed, until their disease has been successfully treated. If handling is necessary, the handler should thoroughly wash their hands afterwards or wear gloves for handling.

Yes, guinea pigs can develop abscesses anywhere on their body but most commonly around the mouth/jaw or the skin, abscesses are pockets of infection which have been walled off from the body.

The two main causes of abscesses in guinea pigs are:

  • Bites from companions or trauma causing an infection to break into the skin and develop an abscess
  • Dental disease – in severe cases of dental disease abscesses can develop in the roots of the teeth or surrounding lymph nodes

Diagnosis of abscesses often are by a vet being able to feel the swelling, in some cases such as dental abscesses then an x-ray or in some cases a CT scan may be necessary to identify where the infection has originated from.

Treatment of abscesses is surgical removal of the entire capsule where possible. In cases where the infection is associated with the teeth or jaw then sometimes marsupialization (surgically opening up an abscess and stitching it open) is needed, this requires a long period of time (often weeks) of flushing out the area to remove the infection.

Cysts can form on the ovaries of female guinea pigs as they naturally go through their reproductive cycle, even if they have had a litter than can develop cysts. Many studies show that up to 75% of females after 3 months can develop cystic ovaries, they are often not picked up until later in life as they get bigger in size or cause hormonal problems.

The signs of cystic ovarian disease include hair loss over the flanks (sides), crusting of nipples and sometimes more aggressive behaviour towards companions although some guinea pigs show no clinical signs. Diagnosis of cystic ovaries usually involved your vet scanning (ultrasound imaging) your guinea pigs abdomen to confirm the presence of cysts. Many vets are able to palpate (feel) the cysts in the abdomen if they are large.

Treatment involves spaying your guinea pig and removing the ovaries and uterus. The only prevention of cystic ovarian disease is neutering at an early age, this is not normally a routine procedure for many vets and often only exotic or small mammal specialists will undertake this procedure.

Yes! Bladder stones (uroliths) are relatively common in guinea pigs and tend to affect males more than females but both sexes are effected. The signs of bladder stones include squeaking when urinating, red urine or reduced urine, if you see any of these signs then you should visit your vet.

The stones are small deposits of calcium that is excreted into their urinary tract as a normal bodily function. The stones can be trapped anywhere within the urinary system from the kidneys, ureters (tube connecting kidney to bladder), bladder, or urethra (tube connecting bladder to external genitals). Stones cannot be dissolved by diet change and will often require surgery to remove them.

The exact cause of why some guinea pigs are effected is not truly known, although there may be some link to genetics and diet. To help prevent your guinea pig developing stones it is recommended to wet down any vegetables offered and encouraging drinking, this will dilute the urine down, you can also reduce the amount of high calcium foods offered which include alfalfa hay, kale, spinach, parsley, basil and cabbage.

Guinea pigs are susceptible to heat stroke, particularly those that are overweight and/or long-haired breeds. Environmental temperatures above 29.5°C/85°F, high humidity (above 70%), inadequate shade and ventilation, crowding and stress are additional predisposing factors.

Signs of heat stroke include panting, slobbering, weakness, refusal to move, delirium, collapse, convulsions and eventually death. Heat stroke is treatable if recognised relatively early. Heat-stressed guinea pigs should be immediately sprayed in cold water or bathed in tepid water, do not use cold water to bathe as this may be cause your guinea pig to go into shock. If you think your guinea pig has heat stroke, a vet should be contacted immediately.

Prevention of heat stroke involves providing adequate shade from the sun and adequate ventilation. A continuous light mist or spray of water and/or a fan operating over a container of ice can be directed at a guinea pig within its enclosure to lower the air temperature. Some owners like to use bottles of frozen water within the enclosure to give something cool for them to lay against if they are becoming too hot. Never put ice in your guinea pigs water bottles/bowls as this could cause problems with their stomach.

Cancer is a relatively uncommon problem in guinea pigs, but they can develop it. As with most animals, it is most likely to affect older guinea pigs.

Most tumours are benign, but should ideally be sent away to a laboratory for analysis to confirm this. Cancer in guinea pigs may also affect the reproductive tract, mammary glands (breasts), thyroid, lymph nodes (lymphoma) and blood (leukaemia).