Respiratory problems in guinea pigs


Guinea pigs are more delicate than many people suspect; their chunky, compact bodies suggest that they are not as susceptible as other more fragile looking animals such as gerbils and mice to common problems such as respiratory tract infections but in fact this is not the case. Guinea pigs are very sensitive to draughts and damp and must be looked after accordingly. They cannot get the common cold, or anything like it; respiratory infections are likely to be bacterial and may be caused by the guinea pig being in general poor health.

Symptoms of Respiratory Problems

To add to the confusion, guinea pigs suffer from allergies as well as infections and sometimes the issue is an  environmental one, not disease. If your guinea pig has red, runny eyes and a sore nose, with wet snuffling but no laboured breathing, it may be an allergy. A change of bedding material may in this case make a big difference, or the pig may have an allergy to pollen in the immediate environs of its cage or habitat. If this is the case, there are various remedies, including using a beeswax barrier to the pollen, available from health food shops for human use. The guinea pig may rub its nose a lot if it is running and also its breathing will become laboured. A guinea pig is a very vocal animal, with a variety of sounds which it makes to show how it is feeling; if it is happy it will make a noise which sounds very similar to a cat’s purr. Some owners have mistaken this for a chest problem; as is the case with any pet animal, it pays dividends in relation to your pet’s health to really get to know it and so you will be aware if it becomes unwell.

Prevention of Respiratory Problems

Guinea pigs hate cold and damp; they come from the Andes and their natural habitat is dry, if at times rather cold. If their bedding is allowed to become wet from the seepage from water bottles or, even worse, urine and faeces from unchanged bedding, then they will become susceptible to respiratory infections. If their cage or habitat is in a draught, this will become almost inevitable. If on diagnosis it turns out that the guinea pig has a runny nose because of inhaled dust from the bedding, it is a simple matter to change it. Most of the cheaper guinea pig bedding materials is made of soft wood shavings or poorer quality hay, both of which have a tendency to be dusty. Timothy hay or pellet bedding is better but even good quality bedding such as corn cob bedding is prone to the growth of fungus if it is not kept scrupulously clean. A good test is to take a handful of bedding into the garden and throw it into the air. If it comes down accompanied by a shower of dust, and especially if the dust is the very fine grey of fungus spores, then the bedding should be changed immediately, and the habitat hoovered out thoroughly. If this still makes no difference to the symptoms, or a previously symptom free pig starts to sniffle and wheeze, it is definitely time to visit the vet.

Treatment of Respiratory Problems in Your Guinea Pig

The guinea pig is a tricky animal to treat with medicine as in the wild it is a prey animal and so can be nervous and quite tricky to handle. Hopefully, you will have been making friends with it since it arrived, but even in acclimatised animals giving medication can be very stressful all round. Many small animal medications are available in dropper form and so can be drizzled in the corner of the mouth. If this fails, then it could be placed on a favourite food. Guinea pigs usually have a special favourite   which they will always respond to – using that as a ‘trojan horse’ to get the medicine into the animal is a stress free method if it is possible to do so, although granted, it is a little difficult if the food is already very wet, like cucumber but if the pig has a favourite rusk or something absorbent it should work well.

General Good Practice

With an animal like a guinea pig which is small and nervous it is essential to have regular contact with it. It is not sufficient to keep it in a cage or hutch and feed it once or twice a day. There must be constant interaction so that the slightest sign of ill health will be noticed. This is not to say that you and your guinea pig need be at the vet all the time; on the contrary, with careful observation it will often be possible to prevent many visits simply by catching a condition early. If a guinea pig has, for example, an allergic runny nose, left untreated this may well cause other complications such as localised sores which can allow other opportunistic infections to take hold in the raw skin. Also, guinea pigs become depressed very easily and this can lead to lack of appetite, leading in turn to a low vitamin intake which again can seriously undermine the animal’s health. Although not every guinea pig is gregarious and fond of human contact, they are animals which naturally live in colonies and groom each other and have constant contact. If it is not possible to keep more than one it is even more essential to have a lot of interaction with it, stroking and handling it so that it does not pine.


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