Your guinea pigs' health: what to look out for

Make sure you health check your guinea pigs weekly and look out for any changes in their behaviour every day – guinea pigs can be very good at hiding any health issues until they are really suffering.

Sometimes even the smallest thing, such as their poo looking a little smaller than normal or not rushing out to receive fresh food straight away, can be a clue to a poorly piggy. If you have any concerns, act quickly and contact your vet.

Your guinea pig’s life expectancy

Guinea pigs tend to live to between 4 and 8 years of age.

How to health check your guinea pig

Ideally bring your guinea pigs indoors and sit them on a towel so they are comfy.

  • Use some small scales, like kitchen scales, to check their weight – usually adult males weigh between 800-1200g, females 800-1000g
  • Check their nail length and clip, if needed
  • Feel over their body for any lumps and bumps. These often appear under their chin, along their back or in their armpit area
  • Check their skin and hair for any signs of fungal or parasitic problems
  • Check their eyes for grass seeds or other abnormalities
  • Check their nose for any discharge or sounds of noisy breathing
  • Your guinea pigs should appear bright, alert and inquisitive with a healthy looking coat

Neutering: what you need to know

Neutering guinea pigs, especially females, can come with many complications. There are very few vets willing to do it unless it’s a treatment for another illness. Males can be castrated if they will not pair with a male and need to be paired with females.

Neutering a male guinea pig will not affect their behaviour like it can with some species, so it’s not a solution to a fighting pair of males. If you do have to neuter your guinea pigs, choose a vet who specialises in small mammals to maximise their chance of a smooth recovery.

How to clip your guinea pigs’ nails

Once your guinea pigs are around a year old, they will need their nails clipping every 4-6 weeks. Try to learn how to do this at home to avoid the unnecessary stress of going to the vet. If you’re relatively new to nail clipping, you’ll need one person to carefully hold your guinea pig and another to clip their nails. Ask us if you would like more support and a mini lesson.

Skin conditions

One of the biggest problems guinea pigs face is skin issues like fur mites, running lice, burrowing mites, fungal infections and ringworm.

Skin issues can be extremely uncomfortable for guinea pigs and can even go on to be life threatening – contact your vet if you spot any of these symptoms:

  • Fur loss
  • Red or flaky skin and dandruff
  • Itching or suddenly biting you
  • Unexplained open wounds
  • Unable to gain weight
  • Scabby patches around face and ears
  • V-like shape of chewed fur down back
  • Dull, dry-looking coat – your piggy may appear puffed up

Housing your guinea pigs in suitable accommodation that’s kept dry and clean with correct bedding will reduce their risk of skin conditions. Also bathe your guinea pigs twice a year in piggy safe products to protect their skin.

Pet shop treatments such as powders and drops rarely work. One product to keep in your piggy first aid box is Ivermectin 1% for small pets. This is for treating fur mites and lice.

Looking after boys’ bits

Most male piggy owners don’t realise they need a little extra care and observation. Males over a year old need to have their penis extracted by gently pushing down above the exposed skin and cleaned every few months, similar to a horse. This area is prone to a build-up of cheese-like discharge, which can eventually prevent your guinea pig from weeing normally. When cleaning the area, use damp cotton wool to wipe it away.

Large dominant males can also be prone to ‘impaction’ when they are around 3-4 years. This is a rather a smelly situation but can be fatal if not spotted and managed correctly. Impaction causes the anus to bulge, and a large ball of faeces will appear to be blocking him – despite a few normal poos in the cage. Speak to your guinea pig friendly vet if you spot this.

Urinary health

Both males and females are prone to cystitis and stones. Keep an eye out for your guinea pig regularly being wet and smelly around their back end, small amounts of blood in the urine or a single painful squeak when toileting. A piggy-friendly vet will happily give you advice and support with both issues.

Dental health

Some guinea pigs can be prone to dental problems, although it’s not as common as with rabbits. When giving your guinea pigs’ their weekly health check, look at the front teeth or incisors. You’ll see two teeth at the top and two at the bottom – they should be white and smooth and clearly wearing against each other.

If your piggy is missing a tooth, one or more are a lot longer or they’re wearing them down at an angle, contact your vet. Feeding your guinea pigs a healthy diet of good quality hay, fresh forage including apple and willow twigs, and opportunities to graze on grass will help keep their teeth in good shape.

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