Guinea Pig Health


Abscesses are most commonly found around the jaw, neck and feet. They usually need to be lanced and hence require veterinary treatment. Abscesses are generally the result of fights, so the best method of prevention is to ensure no overcrowding and to segregate boars.

Dietary Diseases Vitamin C Deficiency (Scurvy)

Guinea pigs, unlike other animals. cannot make their own vitamin C. They are rapidly affected by vitamin C deficiencies, and will survive for only twenty-five to thirty days on a diet of pellets alone (vitamin C has a short life in prepared foods). Death is preceded by loss of condition. dermatitis, scouring, slobbering and bone fragility. On other diets low in vitamin C. the same symptoms will develop. but not so rapidly. The problem can be readily cured by the provision of good green food.


Slobbers is a disease of lactating sows, usually when they are having their first or second litter. The first sign. often unobserved, is a loss of condition associated with enlargement of the jaw hones. Overgrowth or malocclusion of the teeth occurs at this stage and is followed by slobbering.
Examination a the animal at the slobbering stage will reveal overgrown incisor or molar teeth. In severe cases the bottom molar teeth may meet over the top of the tongue. Symptoms can occur any time after the sow farrows. There is no treatment. The condition can be prevented b y providing cereal straw or ha y to the sows. This is thought to allow even wear of the teeth. An y guinea pig in poor condition should be checked to ensure there is no malocclusion.
Affected guinea pigs should he destroyed before they starve to death.

Fluoride Slobbers

Slobbers due to excess fluoride in the diet has been observed in several colonies of guinea pigs. This differs from slobbers in lactating sows in that it also affects animals other than lactating sows. The upper incisor teeth tend to he overgrown with a backward curvature and there is often tartar and abnormal wear. There is no treatment and affected guinea pigs should he destroyed before they starve to death.


This is associated with a sudden change in diet when the guinea pig refuses to eat the new food. It can be prevented by always ensuring the animals are given a diet to which they are accustomed when they are moved to a different environment. Any dietary change should be gradual.

Ear Disorders

Otitis (ear infection) is seen occasionally in guinea pigs. It is usually caused b y bacterial infections, rather than mite infestations. Suitable ear drops can be obtained from the veterinary surgeon. It is important to continue treatment of the ear for two to three weeks, as the quick relief afforded by the drops may deceive you into thinking that the infection has cleared.
Ensure that any debris or discharge is cleaned from the ear using a 50 per cent methylated spirits/ water mixture before administering the medication to the ear. Ensure that the drops go into the ear canal and the guinea pig does not shake its head immediately after administration.

Eye Disorders

Guinea pigs can he affected by any of the eve disorders suffered by dogs and cats. However. the most common conditions in guinea pigs are corneal ulcers and keratitis.

Feet Disorders

The most common foot problem in guinea pigs is peeling of the skin and thickening of the hock, with or without ulceration. It seems to be associated with unsuitable bedding and the presence of moisture. Hard damp straw will cause the problem. Mercurochrome or triple dye should be applied to the affected area of the foot three times daily until it clears, and old clean toweling should be placed on the floor during treatment. To prevent the condition recurring, switch to a different type of bedding and change it regularly.


Fighting between boars will occur where there are three or four boars with a group of sows. The boar at the bottom of the social order is savaged and may develop abscesses on its back. The answer here is to remove one or two of the boars. If fighting occurs in a pen of boars, check the sex of these animals again to ensure that there are no sows present. If not, reduce the overcrowding in the pen.


Fractures of the legs most frequently occur in guinea pigs kept in cages with wire bottoms. If the guinea pig’s legs are protruding and the cage is pulled across the lawn rather than being lifted, damage is inevitable.° Minor fractures at the ends of the limbs may be repaired by splinting, but breaks in major bones require major surgery, which is not always an economic possibility.


The salmonella bacteria can cause heavy losses in guinea pig colonies, usually attacking suckers from five to fifteen days of age. In bad outbreaks losses have also occurred in adult sows and growing stock. Infection is by ingestion of contaminated feed, litter or milk. The disease can be controlled by weaning all animals in the infected pen, including suckers even though they may be only seven to fourteen days old. In the subsequent two to three days, up to 10 per cent of the young in that pen may be lost.
Prevention may be difficult because the cereal and lucerne hays used in most colonies may have been exposed to germ-carrying rodents. Losses in an outbreak in large establishments can be controlled by using a killed vaccine. This vaccine is made during the outbreak from affected guinea pigs and used on healthy ones, particularly pregnant sows. The sucker is able to absorb antibodies in the sow’s colostrum for two to three weeks after birth so that suckers can be protected against the infection.


In large colonies, sows suffering from mastitis (inflammation of the mammary glands) should be culled. In smaller groups, individual treatment with antibiotics can be administered under veterinary supervision.

Lip Disorders

Scabbing and ulceration in the nasal fold are common possibly caused by mechanical damage due to the diet. Try mercurochrome or triple dye in the nasal fold three times daily for four days. If there is no improvement, seek veterinary treatment. It is also helpful to use more hay in the diet and take the guinea pigs off pellets for seven to ten days.

Skin Diseases


Dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin and in guinea pigs can be caused by scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), bacterial infections, parasites or ringworm.

External Parasites

Guinea pigs may be attacked by various external parasites such as fleas, ticks, lice and mites, which feed on their blood or skin products. Guinea pigs can be treated in the same way as are dogs or cats, but it is preferable to try an insecticidal powder first.
The infested animals’ cage and food utensils should be disinfected using an insecticidal wash. Be sure that the utensils and cage are thoroughly rinsed and dry. When the cage is dry, dust the cracks and corners with an insecticidal powder. Leave this for half a day, and then shake out or remove the excess powder. Place clean fresh bedding inside and only then return the guinea pigs to their cage.


The signs of ringworm include loss of hair and scaling of the skin. Usually there is mild to severe itching, often leading to secondary scabbing and bleeding. It may affect only one guinea pig in a group or all of them. The treatment is by bathing the guinea pig all over twice weekly in an iodine-based scrub or solution. The animal can be dunked up to its neck in water and then rinsed in the same manner in fresh water. Most cases improve dramatically within seven to ten days. If there is not sufficient improvement, use griseofulvin tablets, available from your vet.

Stripping (Barbering)

Stripping of hair occurs in some colonies, especially in animals reared on wire. It is thought to be due mainly to boredom and can be prevented by allowing access to hay. It can be self-inflicted or mutually inflicted.

Teeth Disorders

Broken incisors are common. There is no need for treatment, as guinea pigs’ teeth (in common with those of other rodents) keep on growing. Keep roughage and chewing wood available. In young cavies malocclusions due to jaw deformities are quite common. Old cavies have malocclusions due to a failure to wear down the teeth correctly.
Be careful when trimming teeth not to cut back long incisors unless you are sure the molars are not meeting. If you cut the incisors too short, the guinea pig cannot close them to bite and will starve.

Urinary Problems

The most common urinary problem is cystitis, evidenced by pus and blood’ passed when the animal’s bladder is pressed. The guinea pig is slightly lethargic and may be off its food and be drinking more water than usual. (This should not be confused with the slightly thicker urine that is occasionally passed and which is quite normal.) The cystitis does not seem to cause pain and responds well to veterinary treatment


Worms do not seem to cause any problems in guinea pigs and are not health hazards to humans.


Minor cuts and scratches may be treated by applying mercurochrome or triple dye to the affected area. Boils can be treated by cutting away the hair around the infected area and hot-poulticing with a warm cloth three times daily until the abscess is ripe. Wash with a mild antiseptic such as 50 per cent peroxide and water, then lance the boil with a razor blade that has been sterilized in a flame. Use a pad of gauze to pick up the material that oozes out of the infected area when you gently press the sides of the boil. Irrigation with the 50 per cent peroxide solution should continue three times daily for three or four days. Veterinary attention is frequently necessary