I receive many calls which I think is healthy encouragement by pet owners who want to know a little more about their pet or that their pet has developed either a curious behaviour or sadly something more pressing ? I always recommend that they contact their vet in the first instance if it is a medical issue which could depend on the animal surviving a life-threatening illness or sadly cause death.
What some pet owners do not realise is that within sometimes hours (and do not be mistaken) thinking you can review health issue tomorrow? the animal can become seriously ILL within a few hours and for this reason a visit to the vet is a MUST.
I have collated some hopefully helpful information on this page which may be of valuable help particularly for conditions which can be life threatening for the animal and there are also a few books which I keep on hand for reference which may be of help and easily available on Amazon or Ebay or any good book shop so please mail me with any questions:
Flystrike in Rabbits & Guinea Pigs
Fly strike, or blowfly strike, is a serious condition, mainly affecting rabbits, that occurs during summer months. Fly strike is caused by flies; attracted to damp fur, urine, faeces or the odour of rabbit scent gland, lay their eggs on or around the rabbit's rear end where they hatch within hours into a seething bunch of maggots that eat into the rabbit's flesh, eating it alive and releasing toxins in the process.
Domestic rabbits are vulnerable to fly strike, or 'myiasis', a condition most probably caused by the blowfly Lucilia sericata.
Rabbits with soiled hair and skin are particularly attractive to flies and such soiling can therefore predispose to fly strike. A wide range of factors may be responsible for such soiling and the underlying cause(s) should always be investigated.
An appropriate intensive care programme is required to stabilise the rabbit with fly strike. Fluid therapy, analgesia and antibiotic therapy are all indicated. Sedation or general anaesthesia is often necessary for wound cleaning and debridement. Any visible maggots should be removed. The wounds must be cleaned, debrided and dried; this process needs to be carried out repeatedly and thoroughly until all maggots are removed from the wound.
Use of hydrogel and hydrocolloid dressings will encourage wound healing.
Daily examination of all pet rabbits is necessary if fly strike is to be identified early. Attention to the rabbit's diet, activity levels and grooming, together with the use of a fly repellent, may help prevent recurrence.
Gastrointestinal stasis in Rabbits
Gastrointestinal stasis is a serious and potentially fatal condition that occurs in some rabbits in which gut motility is severely reduced and possibly completely stopped. When untreated or improperly treated, GI stasis can be fatal in as little as 24 hours.
GI stasis is the condition of food not moving through the gut as quickly as normal. The gut contents may dehydrate and compact into a hard, immobile mass (impacted gut), blocking the digestive tract of the rabbit. Food in an immobile gut may also ferment, causing significant gas buildup and resultant gas pain for the rabbit.
The first noticeable symptom of GI stasis may be that the rabbit suddenly stops eating. Treatment frequently includes intravenous or subcutaneous fluid therapy (rehydration through injection of a balanced electrolyte solution), pain control, possible careful massage to promote gas expulsion and comfort, drugs to promote gut motility, and careful monitoring of all inputs and outputs. The rabbit's diet may also be changed as part of treatment, to include force-feeding to ensure adequate nutrition. Surgery to remove the blockage is not generally recommended and comes with a poor prognosis.
Some rabbits are more prone to GI stasis than others. The causes of GI stasis are not completely understood, but common contributing factors are thought to include stress, reduced food intake, low fiber in the diet, dehydration and reduction in exercise. Stress factors can include changes in housing, transportation, or medical procedures under anesthesia. As many of these factors may occur together (poor dental structure leading to decreased food intake, followed by a stressful veterinary dental procedure to correct the dental problem) establishing a root cause may be difficult.
GI stasis is sometimes misdiagnosed as "hair balls" by veterinarians or rabbit keepers not familiar with the condition. While fur is commonly found in the stomach following a fatal case of gi stasis, it is also found in healthy rabbits. Molting and chewing fur can be a predisposing factor in the occurrence of gi stasis, however, the primary cause is the change in motility of the gut.
Anal Impaction in Guinea Pigs
Peter Gurney Journal - A-Z
Guinea pigs are coprophagic, a long word used to describe the reingestion of certain faecal pellets which for some animals is a perfectly normal part of their digestive systems.
These pellets, which are taken from the perineal sac are seldom seen for the simple reason that the animal does not excrete them. You will often see a guinea pig, head down hard between it's back legs, rummaging like mad. What it is doing, nine times out of ten is taking one of these pellets from the sac.
In some boars, I have yet to come across this problem in a sow and know of no other owner who has seem it in one, the sac becomes impacted with these pellets. It maybe because the muscle spasms which enable the pellets to be presented to the boar become weak. Alternatively, it could be because the pellets, which are softer than those that are excreted, get softer still and form into a large ball.
After I first notice this problem I will put the boar on 0.4Feroglobin once a day for a week to keep up the B vitamins, some of which I believe are in the faecal material reingested. I'm sure that after a short while these boars begin to eat more of the dry food and this is where they get most of the B's from, so I don't continue with the supplement.
I am convinced that when guinea pigs have been ill they do not produce sufficient of these pellets, perhaps they do not even need them when they are not using as much energy. Why I have come to this conclusion is because of the behaviour such animals display when they are beginning to get back onto their feet again. They literally become a pain in the butt to other guinea pig they live with by persistently shoving their snouts between their legs and becoming more frantic when the animal they are pestering defecates. To me this is always a welcome sign for it invariably means that they are 'in business' again, so to speak.
What I think this behaviour indicates is that though they are feeling a bit better their systems have not properly kicked in to produce enough of the reingestible pellets, while all those about them have what they need and they simply take them as best they can. After a few days this behaviour will cease. Presumably by this time animal is able to produce it's own reingestible pellets
It is more common in elderly boars but is by no means unknown in younger ones. I have been told that these animals die after a short time because they are not getting the essential elements needed to sustain the digestive system. If they they do not get some help from their human friends they certainly will do, but those who get a little bit of help from their human friends go on to live out their normal life spans.
The help needed may not be very pleasant for those who give it but it is incumbent upon owners to perform this duty to the animal who has given them the pleasure of its company. It is simply a matter of rolling back the opening of the sac over the lump and expelling it with finger and thumb over the toilet pedestal. It doesn't smell very nice but it takes a couple of seconds to do. How regularly it has to be done varies between animals, some need it daily, other only two or three times a week. I have come across a few cases where after a couple of weeks of 'toilet duty' the problem is resolved by the animal resuming is usual coprophagic behaviour but these have been in the minority.
Rabbit - MYXOMATOSIS In Rabbits
What is myxomatosis?
Myxomatosis is a severe viral disease of rabbits that decimated the wild rabbit population when it arrived in Britain 50 years ago. Domestic rabbits are also susceptible to the disease and deaths in pets are reported every year.
The number and severity of outbreaks varies over time: the myxomatosis virus is notorious for its ability to mutate from year to year and the background immunity in the wild rabbit population also varies. For example, in autumn 2000, southern areas of the UK (the south west, Hampshire, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire) experienced a severe outbreak of myxomatosis, thought to have been caused by a particularly virulent strain of the myxomatosis virus.
Is my rabbit at risk?
Myxomatosis poses a threat to all pet rabbits – but the risk varies depending on whether your rabbit lives inside or outside.
Pet rabbits at greatest risk are those living outside, especially if they may have any contact with wild rabbits or hares. Pet rabbits affected by rabbit fleas are also at very high risk - rabbit owners who also have a dog or cat that hunts wild rabbits (or foxes that visit the garden and nose around rabbit hutches) must be particularly careful, in case rabbit fleas are brought back to the pet bunny.
Houserabbits living permanently indoors are at less risk than outdoor rabbits, but can and do get myxomatosis. They must be vaccinated and protected from possible sources of myxomatosis transmission too.
How is it spread?
Myxi is usually spread by biting insects (fleas, mosquitoes) carrying the Myxoma virus. However, direct rabbit-to-rabbit spread can occur. Previously, this was mainly seen in a French respiratory strain of the disease, but reports from the Autumn 2000 UK outbreak suggest that rabbit-to-rabbit transmission may now occur the UK.
Pet rabbits could contract myxomatosis in a variety of ways:
• Bites from mosquitoes carrying the Myxoma virus.
• Bites from fleas carrying the Myxoma virus (fleas can survive for many months in hay)
• Myxomatosis can also be spread by Cheyletiella fur mites
What happens when a rabbit catches myxomatosis?
The classic form of myxomatosis is seen in rabbits that haven't been vaccinated. It is a dreadful disease that causes immense suffering: affected rabbits can take a fortnight to die and treatment is usually futile, which is why euthanasia is usually recommended.
Classic myxomatosis starts with runny eyes and in the very early stages can be confused with other causes of conjunctivitis. However, myxomatosis differs as the genitals are also swollen. It rapidly progresses to a severe conjunctivitis which causes blindness and is accompanied by lumpy (nodular) swellings on the head, plus lumps on the body. Excessive amounts of thick pus discharges from the nose and swollen eyes (which are often sealed shut). There are also two atypical forms of myxomatosis: one causes pneumonia and a snuffles-like illness; the other ("Nodular myxomatosis") mainly affects skin and carries a better prognosis.
If a vaccinated rabbit develops myxomatosis, the disease is usually much less severe. The exact pattern of disease seen in vaccinated animals is very variable, and impossible to predict: it depends upon how much immunity the rabbit has. Some rabbits develop just a few odd skin lesions and remain otherwise well; others become quite poorly and suffer from swellings and conjunctivitis more like classical myxomatosis. The difference is that vaccination turns a fatal illness into one that is treatable.
What about myxomatosis vaccination?
Domestic rabbits do not have any genetically based immunity against myxomatosis. If an unvaccinated pet rabbit catches myxomatosis, it will almost certainly die. Vaccination is a vital part of a package of measures you can take to protect your rabbit and the RWA urges all rabbit owners to make sure their rabbit is vaccinated with a licensed veterinary product and boosters are kept up to date.
"High risk" areas typically include:
• Anywhere near standing water or a with large mosquito population
• Areas affected by outbreaks of myxomatosis in wild or domestic rabbits.
If you hear of a myxi outbreak in your vicinity, it would be wise to ensure your bunny has been vaccinated within the previous 6 months: take him for an early booster if necessary.
Vaccination can start from as young as 10 weeks of age, but only healthy rabbits should be vaccinated and the vaccine can't be administered to pregnant animals.
Even if your rabbit is vaccinated, you must also take steps to prevent biting insects getting to your rabbit.
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) in Rabbits
Rabbit - What is Viral Haemorrhagic Disease?
Viral Haemorrhagic Disease (VHD) is a more recent disease that Myxomatosis, it was first reported in the UK in only 1992. It is spread through direct contact between rabbits and also through contaminated surfaces such as bedding, hutches and clothing. This means both indoor and outdoor rabbits are at risk.
It can survive for 3 months at room temperature. The incubation period is 1-3 days and death usually occurs 12-36 hours after the onset of fever.
Symptoms can include high fever, lethargy, collapse, convulsions, paralysis, breathing difficulties, loss of appetite and bleeding from the nose. In some cases (approx. 1 in 10) there are no visible symptoms. The rapidness of the disease means that the rabbit may die within 24 hours of noticeable symptoms.
Prevention - Vaccination
Vaccination is very successful, it can be done from 12-14 weeks of age. The vaccination is also safe for pregnant rabbits. A booster needs to be given ever 12 months to ensure continued protection.
Vaccination against Myxomatosis must not be done within 2 weeks of vaccination against VHD.
Don't handle rabbits in petshops or other similar environments and wash your hands thoroughly after visiting environments that contain other rabbits. Buy bedding and food from reputable sources. Take precautions to minimise insects coming into contact with your rabbits (see Myxomatosis prevention).
There is no cure and VHD disease is almost always fatal, most rabbits die within days. Surviving rabbits are infectious and can spread the disease.
A new 'killer in the UK'
Click on this link for more information
Pasteurella (snuffles) is a common cause of respiratory disease in rabbits. Most rabbits are exposed to it and harbor the organism that causes it. In can become a chronic problem that is difficult to control.
This disease and GI stasis are some of the more common problems we encounter in rabbits. Please also read our GI Stasis page also for an understanding of this problem and for proper diet for a rabbit.
The bacteria that causes this disease is called Pasteurella multocida. This bacteria has several strains that differ in their ability to cause problems. Most rabbits are exposed to this bacteria at some time in their lives. Some of them will show symptoms only when stressed. These carriers can spread the problem to other rabbits without any symptoms of their own. This can make control difficult.
Pasteurella is spread by mating, through general contact (especially respiratory), or through wounds from fighting.
Symptoms depend on the strength (virulence) of the specific Pasteurella strain involved, which body organ(s) are involved and how long the disease is present. One of the most common symptoms is respiratory, usually manifested as a nasal discharge. When a rabbit wipes its front paws on its nose to remove the discharge the hair on the legs becomes matted. These are the symptoms that lead to the laymen’s name for this disease, snuffles.
Sometimes the nasal discharge is so chronic that the fur is actually missing.
Other respiratory signs of Pasteurella include sneezing, congestion, and conjunctivitis. The tear ducts (lacrimal ducts) can become clogged with dried discharge, causing excess tearing and subsequent scalding of the skin around the eyes and face.
In some cases Pasteurella can localize in the eye and cause complete loss of function. This eye has to be removed, since the rabbit cannot see, and it is painful. The white area in the center of the eye is the infection.
In addition to the respiratory tract, the bacteria can also infect the reproductive tract, the sinuses, the eyes, the ears, and the internal organs. It sometimes causes abscesses under the skin. These abscesses can become chronic and require surgery to correct. Severe cases can cause central nervous system symptoms like oscillations of the eyes (nystagmus), circling to one side, and severe tilting (wry neck or torticollis) of the head.
Disorders and Diseases of Guinea Pigs
Health problems amongst guinea pigs that live alone are usually related to aging, dental disease, reproductive disorders, injury, or improper care. Infectious diseases such as certain viruses and bacteria usually occur only in guinea pigs that live with other guinea pigs. Intestinal parasites are not common. Tumors are rare in young guinea pigs, but are more common in guinea pigs that are more than 5 years old. Treatment of infectious diseases can be complicated by the fact that guinea pigs are more sensitive to antibiotics than other types of pets
Prevention of health problems in guinea pigs is key. A proper diet that does not change from day to day, clean water, bedding materials that are gentle on your pet's skin, frequent cleaning and disinfecting of the cage, a low-stress environment, and sufficient exercise all help to prevent illness.
Sickness causes guinea pigs to be stressed; if your pet is sick, hold it as little as possible. Antibiotics can cause problems in guinea pigs' digestive tracts, so your pet may not tolerate these medications. Most disease treatments should include extra vitamin C. Diarrhea and other illnesses may cause your guinea pig to become dehydrated. Signs of dehydration include dry stools, dark urine, or skin “tenting” (if you pinch the skin it does not settle back to normal immediately but instead remains standing up for a few seconds). If your pet is dehydrated, your veterinarian may provide fluid treatment. Animals that will not eat may require a stomach tube.
Guinea pigs are very sensitive to the effects of many antibiotics. These toxic effects may occur directly as a result of the medication (as in the case of the antibiotics streptomycin and dihydrostreptomycin). The antibiotics may also upset the balance of the bacteria that usually live in your pet's intestines. Many antibiotics, including penicillin, ampicillin, lincomycin, clindamycin, vancomycin, erythromycin, tylosin, tetracycline, and chlortetracycline, can cause this problem. If a guinea pig takes certain antibiotics, it may develop diarrhea, loss of appetite, dehydration, or a drop in body temperature. If treatment continues, it may die in less than a week. Inadequate nutrition and vitamin C deficiency can make your pet more likely to develop these problems. Even guinea pigs that do not show signs of problems with antibiotics may die suddenly. Your veterinarian can diagnose the toxic effects of antibiotics in your pet by examining the animal and testing its faeces.
There is no effective treatment for this condition other than general support and stopping the antibiotics. In general, you should avoid giving your guinea pig any antibiotics unless specifically directed by a veterinarian familiar with these animals. If your guinea pig must take antibiotics, you will need to monitor its health carefully. If your pet develops diarrhea or stops eating during treatment, contact your veterinarian immediately. Antibiotic ointments used on the skin can be toxic if your pet licks or eats them.
Digestive disorders in guinea pigs may be caused by infections or by an improper diet.
Many types of bacteria, viruses, and parasites can upset a guinea pig's digestive system. Some signs that your pet's digestive system is upset are: diarrhea, weight loss, loss of energy, lack of appetite, and dehydration. Guinea pigs affected by these illnesses may die suddenly without seeming sick. Others may have a range of signs such as lack of energy, lack of appetite, rough fur coat, staining of the fur around the genital area with feces, loose stools, hunched posture, lack of energy, dull eyes, dehydration, weight loss, pain when the abdomen is touched or pressed, fever, or a low body temperature.
Treatment for diarrhea is usually the same, no matter what the cause. Roughage (fiber in the diet) should be increased and grains and sugars decreased. One way to do this is to provide hay in addition to commercial guinea pig feed. Feeding your guinea pig plain yogurt with active cultures, or a commercial supplement called a probiotic with live cultures, may help to restore the healthy balance of “good” bacteria in its digestive tract. Check with your veterinarian regarding the use of yogurt. It is important that your pet drink enough water. If your guinea pig will not voluntarily drink sufficient water, your veterinarian may provide additional fluids by injection. Antibiotics should only be used when absolutely necessary because their use can worsen the imbalance of bacteria in the digestive tract. Follow the treatment program prescribed by your veterinarian carefully. Keeping your guinea pig's bedding, water bottle, and housing clean and sanitized and promptly removing uneaten food can help prevent infection by reducing the level of disease-causing organisms.
Guinea pigs drool whenever there is a problem with chewing or swallowing. This condition is sometimes referred to as slobbers. The cause is usually a problem with the alignment of the teeth (called malocclusion). Malocclusion may occur due to heredity, lack of vitamin C, injury, or imbalances of certain minerals in the diet. The teeth of guinea pigs grow continuously throughout the animal's life. If the teeth or jaws do not meet properly, the teeth often become overgrown and chewing food becomes difficult. As a result, your pet may develop weight loss, bleeding from the mouth, or abscesses in the roots of its teeth that may spread infection to the animal's sinuses. These kinds of problems are very common in guinea pigs.
If your pet is slobbering or drooling, your veterinarian will evaluate this problem carefully. The molars in the back of the mouth are often the cause of this problem, even though teeth in the front of the mouth may seem normal. Some teeth may need to be clipped or filed to help your pet's jaw close properly. If the problem continues, monthly dental visits with your veterinarian may be necessary.
Eye and Ear Disorders
Signs of conjunctivitis (pink eye) include fluid oozing or dripping from the eye, inflammation of the lining of the eye, and redness around the edge of the eyelids. These infections are usually caused by bacteria, such as Bordetella or Streptococcus species, that cause general upper respiratory system disease (see Guinea Pigs: Lung and Airway Disorders). Treatment may include antibiotic eye drops and antibiotics that affect your pet's whole body. An easy way to administer eye drops is to wrap the guinea pig securely in a towel first. As always with guinea pigs, watch your pet's reactions to the medication carefully.
Ear infections are rare in guinea pigs. When they do occur, they are usually the result of bacterial infection. They may occur at the same time as pneumonia or other respiratory disease. Signs of infection may include pus or discharge from the ears; however, sometimes there are no signs of infection. In severe cases, the animal may become deaf. If the infection spreads from the middle ear to the inner ear, your pet may show signs of problems with its nervous system, such as imbalance, tilting head, walking in circles, or rolling on the ground. The usual treatment is to help alleviate signs. Treatment for the ear infection itself does not usually work.
The most common nutritional disorder in guinea pigs is a lack of vitamin C. Loss of appetite also occurs and is usually a sign of another problem such as disease or problems with the teeth.
Vitamin C Deficiency (Scurvy)
Like people, apes, and monkeys, guinea pigs cannot produce their own vitamin C. If they do not get enough of this vitamin in their diet, their bodies' supply of vitamin C disappears quickly. This can cause problems with blood clotting and with the production of collagen, a protein necessary for healthy skin and joints. Reduced collagen can cause problems walking, swollen joints, and bleeding under the skin, in the muscles, in the membranes around the skull, in the brain, and in the intestines. Guinea pigs with a vitamin C deficiency may be weak, lack energy, and walk gingerly or with a limp. They may have a rough hair coat, lose their appetite, lose weight, have diarrhea, become ill, or die suddenly. Your veterinarian can diagnose vitamin C deficiency by finding out what your pet's diet is like, and by examining your pet, looking especially for bleeding or joint problems.
Some Fruits and Vegetables with High Vitamin C Content
Kale (192 milligrams per cup)
Parsley (140 milligrams per cup)
Green peppers (120 milligrams per cup)
Strawberries (NOT stork)! (100 milligrams per cup)
Broccoli florets (87 milligrams per cup; broc stems contain no vitamin C)
Cabbage (50 milligrams per cup)
Oranges (50 milligrams per cup)
Some guinea pigs may develop a vitamin C deficiency even when they get enough vitamin C in their diets. This can happen if they have other illnesses or problems that prevent them from eating enough or prevent their bodies from absorbing vitamin C properly. Treatment includes giving your pet vitamin C daily, either by mouth (as directed by your veterinarian) or by injection at your veterinarian's office for 1 to 2 weeks. Multivitamins are not recommended because your pet may have problems with some of the other vitamins contained in them. To prevent vitamin C deficiency, guinea pig food should contain at least 10 milligrams of vitamin C daily (30 milligrams for pregnant females).
Loss of appetite can happen for many reasons, including disease, recovery from surgery, exposure to drafts, not having access to enough fresh water, not being able to chew properly because of an underbite or overbite, and a condition called ketosis, in which your pet's body produces too much of one of the byproducts of digestion. Changes in the type of feed or water, or in the bowl or bottle that your pet eats or drinks from, may also trigger loss of appetite. If nothing is done for a guinea pig that is not eating, its condition may worsen very quickly, resulting in liver problems and death. Ketosis, which may be irreversible, can develop even in guinea pigs that begin to eat again. Your veterinarian will determine appropriate treatment, which may include giving your pet special foods such as a commercial hand-feeding formula or regular pelleted chow that has been ground up, vegetable baby foods, and vitamin C. Guinea pigs that refuse to eat may temporarily need to be force-fed by your veterinarian or by you if longer-term care is needed.
The most common metabolic disorders in guinea pigs involve abnormal metabolism of the mineral calcium.
Hardening of the Organs (Metastatic Calcification)
Guinea pigs that suffer from metastatic calcification (a hardening of the internal organs that spreads throughout the body) often die suddenly without any signs of illness. This condition usually occurs in male guinea pigs that are more than 1 year old. If your pet does have signs, they can include weight loss, muscle or joint stiffness, or increased urination (as part of kidney failure). The cause of this condition is uncertain, but is probably related to diets that have too much of the minerals calcium and phosphorus and not enough of the minerals magnesium and potassium. Most high-quality commercial guinea pig feed is formulated to contain the correct amounts of these vitamins and minerals. Check the nutrition information on the package label before buying pellets for your guinea pig, and do not give additional vitamin or mineral supplements.
Pregnancy Toxemia (Ketosis)
Ketosis, also known as pregnancy toxemia, occurs when a guinea pig's body produces too many ketones, which are a normal byproduct of metabolism. There are many causes of pregnancy toxemia in guinea pigs. These include obesity, large litter size, loss of appetite during the late stages of pregnancy, not eating enough, not exercising enough, environmental stress, and underdeveloped blood vessels in the uterus (an inherited condition). This problem usually happens in the last 2 to 3 weeks of pregnancy, or in the first week after a guinea pig gives birth. It most commonly affects guinea pigs that are pregnant with their first or second litters.
Although it occurs most often in pregnant female guinea pigs, ketosis can also happen in obese guinea pigs (male or female). A guinea pig may die suddenly of ketosis without ever demonstrating signs of illness. In other cases, a sick guinea pig has worsening signs that can include loss of energy, lack of appetite, lack of desire to drink, muscle spasms, lack of coordination or clumsiness, coma, and death within 5 days. Ketosis may cause fetal guinea pigs to die in the uterus.
Your veterinarian can diagnose ketosis by a blood test, and may also be able to identify a fatty liver and bleeding or cell death in the uterus or placenta. Treatment does not usually help, but options include giving your pet the medications propylene glycol, calcium glutamate, or steroids. However, once a guinea pig starts showing signs of this illness, the outcome is usually not good. To prevent ketosis, make sure your pet eats a high quality food throughout pregnancy, but limit the amount of food you give your pet in order to prevent obesity. Preventing exposure to stress in the last few weeks of pregnancy may also help.
Calcium Deficiency (Pregnant Females)
Because pregnancy and nursing require extra nutrients, pregnant guinea pigs may develop a sudden calcium deficiency. This happens most often in obese or stressed guinea pigs, or guinea pigs that have already been pregnant several times. The deficiency usually develops in the 1 to 2 weeks before, or shortly after, giving birth. In much the same way as in guinea pigs with pregnancy toxemia (see Guinea Pigs: Pregnancy Toxemia (Ketosis)), guinea pigs with this condition may die suddenly without signs, or may get sick slowly, with signs such as dehydration, depression, loss of appetite, muscle spasms, and convulsions. Your veterinarian will be able to identify similar problems as in a guinea pig with pregnancy toxemia, except they will likely be more severe. Guinea pigs with calcium deficiency should be treated with the mineral calcium gluconate. To prevent calcium deficiency, feed your pet only high-quality commercial guinea pig feed.
Lung and Airway Disorders
Respiratory diseases in guinea pigs can quickly become serious. If you notice that your guinea pig is having difficulty breathing, see your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Pneumonia, or inflammation of the lungs, is the most frequent cause of death in guinea pigs. Pneumonia in guinea pigs is usually caused by bacterial infection (most often Bordetella bronchiseptica, but other bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae or Streptococcus zooepidemicus may also be the cause). In rare cases, it may be caused by a type of virus known as adenovirus. All of these infectious agents can cause illness without leading to pneumonia (see below).
Signs of pneumonia include oozing or discharge from the nose, sneezing, and difficulty breathing. In addition, guinea pigs with pneumonia often suffer from inflammation of the eyes (commonly called pink eye), fever, weight loss, depression, or loss of appetite. Sudden death can occur when there are outbreaks among groups of guinea pigs. Your veterinarian can diagnose pneumonia from an examination or from special tests performed on the fluid that may be oozing from your pet's eyes or nose. X-rays may also show pneumonia in the lungs.
In general, treatment for a guinea pig with pneumonia is really treatment for the signs of pneumonia instead of the pneumonia itself. This can include administering fluids (to ward off dehydration), forced feeding if necessary, oxygen therapy to help with breathing, and vitamin C. If the pneumonia is caused by bacterial infection, your veterinarian will likely prescribe longterm antibiotics. Although they can be toxic in guinea pigs (see Guinea Pigs: Antibiotics), certain antibiotics are safer than others, and your veterinarian may select one of these if needed. Commonly, the antibiotic is compounded into an oral suspension, which should then be given as directed. Watch any guinea pig receiving antibiotic treatment carefully. If the antibiotics cause diarrhea, the treatment should be stopped immediately and your veterinarian contacted. If you have more than 1 guinea pig, preventing and controlling outbreaks of pneumonia requires keeping your pets and their cages or tanks clean at all times, and removing guinea pigs that are sick from the company of the others.
Bordetella Bronchisepta Infection
Guinea pigs without signs of illness may be infected with these bacteria in their nose or throat. Sometimes there can be an outbreak among groups of guinea pigs, during which all get sick and die quickly. Infection can be transmitted from one guinea pig to another when droplets are sprayed into the air by sneezing or coughing; in its genital form, infection can also be transmitted by sexual contact. Other animals, such as dogs, cats, rabbits, and mice, may be infected with these bacteria without showing any signs of illness, so pet owners should avoid letting their guinea pigs come into contact with other animals.
Guinea pigs may be infected with the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria without seeming sick. The bacteria can cause a sudden illness in previously healthy guinea pigs when they become stressed or stop eating; this can lead to death. One guinea pig can infect another by direct contact or by sneezing or coughing. Signs of streptococcosis include enlarged lymph nodes and difficulty breathing. Your veterinarian can spot other signs of infection with this bacteria, such as inflammation of the inner ear or eardrum (otitis media), inflammation of the joints (arthritis), and inflammation of the lining of the lungs, heart, abdomen, or uterus. He or she can diagnose streptococcosis based on these signs, other examination findings, and laboratory tests. Certain antibiotics can prevent one sick guinea pig from spreading the infection to other guinea pigs, but guinea pigs that do not seem sick may still be infected.
Adeno virus Infection
There is a type of adeno virus that is specific to guinea pigs. It may cause pneumonia (see Guinea Pigs: Pneumonia), but many guinea pigs have this virus without any signs of illness and are called carriers. Carriers can suddenly become sick as a result of stress or anesthesia. This occurs more often in guinea pigs that are young, old, or that have immune systems that are not working properly. Guinea pigs do not usually die from this virus, but those that do die often die suddenly without seeming sick. Signs of illness are similar to those seen in other viral or bacterial infections and include breathing difficulties, discharge from the nose, and weight loss.
Common reproductive problems in guinea pigs may involve the ovaries or breasts. There is also a metabolic disorder associated with improper calcium levels during pregnancy.
Ovarian cysts are very common in female guinea pigs between 18 months and 5 years of age. The cysts usually occur in both ovaries, but occasionally only the right ovary is affected. The cysts can often be felt in the abdomen. Other signs may include loss of appetite, energy, and sometimes hair loss on or around the abdomen. To confirm the diagnosis, your veterinarian may use ultrasonography or x-rays. The only effective treatment is spaying (removing the ovaries and the uterus). If left untreated, the cysts may continue to grow and could potentially burst, placing the guinea pig's life in danger.
Mastitis is inflammation of the mammary glands. It is usually caused by a bacterial infection. This often occurs during the period when a female guinea pig's offspring are suckling. Injury—such as cuts or scrapes in the skin—can make it easier for bacteria in the environment to enter the body and cause infection. Mastitis is a painful and serious condition. The milk glands become painful and enlarged, warm, firm, and bluish in color. Without prompt treatment, the infection may spread to the guinea pig's bloodstream and cause fever, lack of appetite, depression, dehydration, a lack of milk production, neglect of offspring, and death. Milk may be thick or bloody and clotted. Your veterinarian may treat mastitis with appropriate antibiotics. To prevent this condition, make sure your pet is well taken care of, its living quarters are clean and sanitary, and its bedding does not cause irritation.
Bordetella bacteria can infect guinea pig genitals and can be spread by sexual contact. Infection can cause infertility, stillbirth, or sudden death of guinea pig fetuses in the uterus.
Because pregnancy and nursing require extra nutrients, pregnant guinea pigs may develop a sudden calcium deficiency. (For a more detailed discussion of Calcium Deficiency, see Guinea Pigs: Calcium Deficiency (Pregnant Females).)
Dystocia (difficulty giving birth) in female guinea pigs is caused by the normal stiffening of the tough fibrous cartilage which joins the 2 pubic bones. When the cartilage (the symphysis) stiffens, it limits the spread of the pubic bones. If the symphysis has not been stretched by a previous birth, the female will be unable to deliver her offspring normally. Cesarean sections are very risky for guinea pigs and the survival rate for the mother is poor. The safest option is to either breed the female between 4 and 5 months of age or prevent pregnancy altogether by housing male and female guinea pigs separately or by spaying and neutering.
Skin problems in guinea pigs are often first noticed as patches of hair loss. Several underlying problems can lead to hair loss, including infestations of fur mites or lice, ringworm, or fighting between incompatible animals. Another skin problem, pododermatitis, affects the feet.
Severe infestation by fur mites may cause hair loss or itching along the rear end of a guinea pig's body. Some types of mites cause no signs, others cause hair loss but do not seem to affect the skin, and still others burrow into the skin and may cause intense itching, hair loss, and skin inflammation. This latter type of mite usually infects the inner thighs, shoulders, and neck. The skin underneath the affected fur may be dry or oily and thickened or crusty. In severely affected animals, the affected areas may become infected, which can cause the animals to lose weight, have low energy, or run around the cage. Left untreated, convulsions and death may result. Guinea pigs catch fur mites from other guinea pigs or from objects that are contaminated such as bedding. Your veterinarian can diagnose this condition either by examining your pet's fur or by looking at scrapings from your pet's skin under a microscope. To treat fur mites, your veterinarian will probably prescribe a powder or spray to be applied to your pet's skin or give your pet a series of injections. Infestations can be minimized or prevented by making sure that living quarters are clean and sanitary, and minimizing your pet's stress levels.
Guinea pigs that are infested with lice do not usually have signs, but in severe cases lice can cause itching, hair loss, and inflammation of the skin around the neck and ears. You can see the lice by looking at a piece of your pet's hair under a magnifying glass. To treat lice, your veterinarian will probably prescribe a powder or spray to be applied to your pet's skin. To prevent this condition, keep the guinea pig's cage clean and sanitary.
Skin infections in guinea pigs are most often caused by the fungus Trichophyton mentagrophytes, and less often by Microsporum species. The primary sign of ringworm is bald patches, usually starting at the head. The bald patches generally have crusty, flaky, red patches within them. When these patches appear on the face, it is usually around the eyes, nose, and ears. The disease may also spread to the back. A guinea pig can catch ringworm from another guinea pig or from contaminated objects such as bedding.
Your veterinarian can tell if your pet is infected with this condition by looking at the red patches on its skin, by shining a special ultraviolet light on its skin, or by a laboratory test. Ringworm usually goes away on its own if you take good care of your pet and keep its cage or tank clean and sanitary. The red, flaky patches can become infected, which causes them to become inflamed and pus-filled. Treatment is a 5- to 6-week course of an antifungal medicine called griseofulvin given by mouth. If there are only 1 or 2 bald patches or red, flaky areas that have not spread, they can be treated by applying an antifungal ointment recommended by your veterinarian every day for 7 to 10 days.
Ringworm is highly contagious to humans and other animals. If handling an infected guinea pig is necessary, you should wear disposable gloves or wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling.
Guinea pigs may chew or tear their own or each other's hair as a result of conflicts between adult males or between adults and juveniles. This is referred to as barbering. When this happens, the hair loss tends to be in patches, and there may be evidence of bite marks or skin inflammation underneath the fur. Barbering may be prevented by separating affected animals, minimizing stress, weaning baby guinea pigs from their mothers early, and feeding animals long-stemmed hay. Hair loss can also be caused by genetic problems or problems in metabolism, or the body's breakdown of food into energy; this is especially true in female guinea pigs that have been used for breeding. Young guinea pigs that are weaning from their mothers may have hair thinning as their coat changes to coarser adult fur, or if their diet does not have enough protein.
Your pet's footpads can become inflamed, develop sores, or become overgrown over the course of many months. Staphylococcus aureus bacteria are often the cause and can enter your pet's feet through tiny cuts or scrapes. Factors that increase the risk of infection include obesity, wire floor caging, poor sanitation, and injury. When pododermatitis lasts for many months, it can lead to serious complications such as swelling of the lymph nodes, arthritis, inflammation of the tendons, and a buildup of a protein called amyloid in the kidney, liver, hormone glands, spleen, and pancreas. Your veterinarian can diagnose this condition by examining your guinea pig and by doing laboratory tests. If it is detected early, the condition may be treated simply by switching your pet's living quarters to ones with a smooth bottom, improving sanitation, and changing the bedding to softer material. Your veterinarian will likely clean any wounds, clip the hair around the affected areas, and trim any overgrown nails. Affected feet should be soaked in an antibiotic solution, and antibiotic ointment should be applied. In severe cases, animals may need antibiotics and pain medications. Guinea pigs that do not respond to therapy may require amputation of the affected area to avoid more serious complications.
Disorders Affecting Multiple Body Systems
Some guinea pig diseases affect more than one body system. These are also known as multisystemic or generalized diseases.
Enlarged Lymph Nodes (“Lumps” or Lymphadenitis)
Lymph nodes are glands that are located throughout the body that help fight infection. The lymph nodes around the neck often become enlarged or inflamed in guinea pigs. The usual cause of this problem is bacteria, most often Streptococcus zooepidemicus. The infected lymph nodes may become swollen and filled with pus (abscesses), sometimes only on one side. The infection can spread and cause an ear infection, inflammation of the eye, pneumonia, and toxins in the blood in younger animals. Other signs that you or your veterinarian might notice depend on which lymph nodes are affected, but may include tilting of the head, inflammation of the sinuses, inflammation of the eye, trouble breathing, skin that is pale or has a blue tint, blood or protein in the urine, fetal death or stillbirth in pregnant guinea pigs, arthritis, or inflammation of certain internal organs or tissues.
Guinea pigs catch this illness from other infected guinea pigs that are sneezing or coughing, by genital contact, or through cuts or scrapes in the skin or in the mouth. Your veterinarian can diagnose this condition by examination and laboratory tests. Antibiotics may or may not eliminate the infection. Abscesses might break open on their own, or they may be surgically opened and drained or removed. However, this may cause the bacteria to enter your pet's bloodstream. To help prevent infection of the lymph nodes, avoid any harsh or irritating bedding or food. Jaws that do not close properly or overgrown teeth should be fixed. Infections of the respiratory tract should be treated. Your pet's living quarters should be kept clean and sanitary, and sick animals should be housed away from other animals to prevent the spread of disease.
Diseases that can be Spread from Guinea Pigs to People
Although occurrences are rare, Salmonella bacteria can infect guinea pigs. Some signs of infection include inflammation of the eye, fever, lack of energy, poor appetite, rough hair coat, enlarged spleen and liver, and swollen lymph nodes around the neck. The bacteria are spread by direct contact with infected guinea pigs or wild mice or rats or by sharing food, water, or bedding with infected animals. Fresh vegetables may also carry Salmonella. Because an animal that is treated may still continue to infect other animals even when it does not seem sick, treatment may not be recommended. Guinea pigs can spread Salmonella infection to humans by direct contact, so appropriate sanitation measures (such as wearing disposable gloves and washing hands thoroughly) should be taken when handling any sick guinea pig.
Guinea pigs occasionally become infected with Yersinia pseudo tuberculosis bacteria through contaminated food, bedding, or water. The bacteria can also enter a guinea pig's body through cuts or scrapes in the skin or through inhalation. If a guinea pig becomes infected, the illness may take several courses: 1) infection may spread to the bloodstream and cause sudden death; 2) infected guinea pigs may lose weight, develop diarrhea, and die over the course of 3 to 4 weeks; 3) swollen lymph nodes develop in the neck or shoulder; or 4) your pet may be infected without seeming sick. Veterinarians diagnose this infection by laboratory tests and examination of the sick guinea pig. All guinea pigs that are infected with these bacteria, or that have lived in close quarters with an infected guinea pig, must be euthanized (put to sleep), and the living quarters must be thoroughly sanitized and disinfected.
Cancers and Tumors
Younger guinea pigs may develop skin tumors or leukemia (a cancer of the blood), but most types of cancer are not common in guinea pigs until they are 4 to 5 years old. After that age, between one-sixth and one-third of guinea pigs will develop a tumor. Tumors are more common in strains of guinea pigs that have been inbred. Treatment, if recommended, will depend on the type and location of the tumor.
Benign skin tumors called trichoepitheliomas often occur in guinea pigs, commonly at the base of the tail. These can be easily removed with a simple surgical procedure.
Lymphosarcoma is the most common tumor in guinea pigs; it causes what is sometimes referred to as cavian leukemia. Signs may include a scruffy hair coat and occasionally masses in the chest area and/or an enlarged liver or spleen. The diagnosis is confirmed by a blood count and examination of fluids from the lymph nodes or chest cavity. The outlook for survival is poor; most guinea pigs only live a few weeks after diagnosis