Pet guinea pigs have been popular for more than 400 years. Native to South America, the guinea pigs' gentle nature led to its domestication throughout the world. As with any pet, parents may be concerned about their child picking up a disease from their child's furry friend. Luckily, guinea pigs are fairly disease-free and rarely bite or scratch. A few simple precautions will help keep your child healthy and able to enjoy his pocket pet for many years.
Salmonella is a bacteria that causes illness in humans and pets. The germ is spread via feces and may cause diarrhea in guinea pigs. Although rare, infection can sometimes lead to serious illness in children and adults. While diarrhea is a common sign of salmonella in humans, if your child shows any sign of illness, contact your pediatrician for medical advice.
Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus
Although extremely rare, Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus, or LCMV, is spread via droppings and bodily fluids of rodents, primarily wild mice. Guinea pigs can become infected with LCMV if an infected wild mouse comes in contact with the guinea pig or its cage. Guinea pigs may show no signs of infection or may exhibit a variety of symptoms. Signs of infection in humans may range from none to flu-like symptoms. Consult your pediatrician if your child shows any signs of illness.
Assessing the Health of a Guinea Pig
When selecting a guinea pig at a pet store, choose one that is active and has a clean nose and eyes. If the guinea pig shares its cage with other animals that appear lethargic or have any kind of eye discharge or a runny nose, avoid purchasing any animal, as all the animals may become ill from the sick guinea pig.
Unfortunately, not all infected pets will show signs that they are sick. However, if your guinea pig shows any sign of illness (diarrhea, lack of appetite, not active, etc.), take him to your veterinarian for an exam. In the meantime, have an adult care for the pet to ensure proper hygiene is practiced during the guinea pig's illness.
Preventing Disease Transmission
Kids can pick up these diseases if they don't wash their hands after handling an infected guinea pig or its cage. They can also become infected by holding the guinea pig close to their faces or kissing it. Proper hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent disease. Encourage your child to scrub his hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after handling the guinea pig or its cage materials. Dry hands with a paper towel and turn off the faucet with the paper towel to decrease the spread of germs. Although kids love to cuddle with their pets, they should hold pets in their laps rather than snuggling close to the guinea pig's face. To prevent exposure of your guinea pig to LCMV, keep his cage and unused bedding and food where wild rodents cannot access it.
Although rare, a guinea pig may bite or scratch. If your child is injured by his guinea pig, wash the area with soap and water for 15 minutes. Cover the area with a clean bandage and use direct pressure if necessary to stop the bleeding. Call your pediatrician or an emergency room right away for additional medical advice. Many people are allergic to guinea pigs. If your child shows any signs of an allergy -- difficulty breathing, hives, itchiness -- separate your child from the guinea pig and consult your pediatrician or an emergency room immediately.