Though guinea pigs rarely pass illnesses onto their owners, their feces provide a potential opportunity for transmitting viruses and bacteria. In addition to the bacteria naturally present in all feces, guinea pigs with conditions such as salmonella or lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) can pass those conditions onto humans through direct contact with feces or even through the air.
Salmonellosis is a condition caused by salmonella bacteria, which infect and live in your intestines, causing symptoms like stomach pain and fever. When a guinea pig is infected with this bacteria, he can pass it on to his owner through direct contact with feces, cage lining or even his fur. While salmonellosis causes symptoms in humans that may take a week or so to pass, your guinea pig may not show any symptoms at all. Even if he appears healthy, you should wash your hands thoroughly after any contact you make with him or his feces.
Though LCMV is most common in house mice, if your guinea pig contacts one such rodent in a pet store, breeding center or even your home, he can contract it and pass it on to you. LCMV is a viral infection that is passed on through either direct contact with feces, inhaling the air near a dirty cage, or holding your guinea pig too close to your face. It causes symptoms such as fever, headache and nausea, and is particularly dangerous to pregnant women and their unborn, causing fetal injury or death. Although LCMV is rare, pregnant women in particular should avoid spending time with or even near pet guinea pigs.
To avoid salmonella and LCMV, guinea pig owners should exercise precautions when handling their pets. You should clean and sanitize the cage on a regular basis, and anytime you clean the cage or handle your pet, wash your hands with soap and water immediately after. Avoiding holding your guinea pig close to your face or kissing him, as this type of close contact makes it easier for him to transmit an infection. The room in which you keep the cage should be well-ventilated to minimize the risk of inhaling contaminants the can make you sick.
Cleaning the Cage
Guinea pigs produce a significant amount of feces, so you should clean the cage on a regular basis. Once a day, dump and replace the cage's bedding, so that waste doesn't accumulate. Once a week, use a mixture of 1 quart hot water and 1 ounce bleach to scrub the cage, then thoroughly rinse and dry it before replacing the lining. Keeping the cage clean and sanitary this way helps minimize the chances of contracting an illness from feces and lingering bacteria.
Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.