As prey animals, guinea pigs hide signs of illness. That means by the time your guinea pig, or cavy, shows any signs of disease, he might already be very sick. Unfortunately, sometimes the first hint of illness is a dead cavy in the cage. Since cavies are sensitive to many antibiotics, good supportive care might be the only way to pull your pet through sickness.
Respiratory disease, specifically pneumonia, kills more guinea pigs than any ailment. Bacterial types of pneumonia are the most common, but a guinea pig might come down with the disease caused by an adenovirus. Symptoms include nasal discharge, breathing issues, appetite loss, sneezing, fever and conjunctivitis, or "pinkeye." Take your pet to the vet immediately if he displays any of these symptoms. Treatment can prevent an early respiratory illness from turning into full-blown pneumonia and possibly save your guinea pig's life. Infections that cause pneumonia-like symptoms and can also be deadly include Bordetella bronchisepta and Streptococcus pneumoniae.
Guinea pigs can't throw up, so diarrhea is the primary symptom of any gastrointestinal disorder. Not only will your cavy become dehydrated from fluid loss, he might stop eating and become lethargic. In severe cases, your vet can give your cavy intravenous fluids. Providing plenty of roughage in your pet's diet can prevent diarrhea. Make sure your guinea pig always has grass or timothy hay available, along with fresh, clean water. The hay not only keeps his gut moving, it helps wear down his teeth to prevent dental disease.
Your guinea pig's teeth grow continuously throughout his life. If he doesn't receive adequate fiber in his diet, consisting of hay, his teeth won't wear down properly. This leads to malocclusion, or tooth misalignment. Affected guinea pigs drool and can't chew their food correctly. Lack of vitamin C, which guinea pigs can't manufacture in their bodies, can also lead to dental disease. Your pet can develop abscesses in his tooth roots that spread infection to other parts of his body. Your vet can file the teeth and recommend the right diet for your cavy.
Older guinea pigs often develop tumors, which might or might not be malignant. Trichoepitheliomas develop at the base of the tail and are usually benign. These skin tumors can be removed surgically. If your older cavy starts looking scruffy, or experiences paralysis, he could be suffering from lymphosarcoma, the most common type of tumor in cavies. There's no cure, and affected animals generally die within a few weeks of diagnosis.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.