Many first-time guinea pig owners are surprised when they learn just how easily their beloved cavie can become ill. Guinea pigs are very susceptible to many types of illness due to their fragile immune systems but they are especially susceptible to URI's or upper respiratory infections. Upper respiratory infections may appear to have a sudden onset and can be fatal in a matter of hours. Older guinea pigs as well as some younger pigs are the most susceptible to not only developing URIs but succumbing to them as well.
Symptoms of URI
Most pet owners grow to know the behavioral patterns of their pets. Any changes in normal routine behavior of a guinea pig may indicate an illness. Guinea pigs are voracious eaters, eating most of the day. A guinea pig that huddles in the corner of his cage and refuses to eat or drink is definitely ill and may have a URI. A guinea pig that exhibits this behavior should be evaluated by a veterinarian immediately. A guinea pig suffering from a URI may develop wheezing or have crackly sounding lungs. A guinea pig in this condition should be rushed to a veterinarian as this condition may lead into pneumonia.
Other symptoms of an upper respiratory infection include: A runny nose or runny eyes, hair loss, lethargy, and coughing or sneezing. Occasional coughing or sneezing is OK but a guinea pig that is coughing and sneezing continuously should be seen by a veterinarian. Because of a guinea pigs fragile immune system it is always better for a pet owner to err on the side of caution.
Treatment of a URI
Experienced guinea pig owners will know immediately when their pig is developing a URI. Often these owners will treat their cavie on their own with medications prescribed by their veterinarian. However; it is important for a novice owner not to treat any illness on their own before becoming a more experienced cavie owner. Most often guinea pig URIs are treated with certain antibiotics. These veterinary antibiotics include: Bactrim (the most often prescribed antibiotic for cavie URIs), Baytril (used only for adult cavies), and on occasion, Chloramphenicol or Doxycycline.
Note: Guinea pig owners should know never to treat their guinea pigs with human antibiotics. Guinea pigs are allergic to most types of antibiotics and just one dose of a human antibiotic could be fatal.
Sick cavies should be kept away from drafts and isolated from other cavies. They should remain in a stress-free environment and should be provided with a lot of hay for insulation. A heating pad turned on LOW may also be laid at the bottom of a pen to provide additional warmth.
It is important to keep sick guinea pigs well-hydrated, force-feeding water and vitamins if necessary. Guinea pigs need a constant supply of food and water to keep their bowels working properly. Otherwise a secondary infection could develop inside the bowels. Rarely, a guinea pig that is making a good recovery from pneumonia will die from this secondary bacterial infection of the bowel.
As with preventing the spread of human illness the best way to prevent guinea pigs from becoming ill is good hand washing. Keep ill family members away from cavie houses. Dogs and cats that are ill should also be kept away from guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs should be fed a diet of hay, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those high in vitamin C, and they should also be given vitamins containing vitamin C every day. Like humans guinea pigs have almost no natural immune system and they depend on their food to provide them with nutrients and vitamin C to prevent illness.