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You might have had a bit of a scare if you happened to catch your guinea pig breathing uncharacteristically rapidly. Tachypnea, also known as rapid breathing, can occur in a cavy for a variety of reasons. Pay attention when you observe the guinea pig breathing fast, and watch for other signs of distress.
How Fast Is Fast?
Your cavy has a much higher respiration rate than you do. An adult human at rest takes between eight and 16 breaths per minute. A guinea pig's breathing rate is much higher, ranging between 40 and 150 breaths per minute, with an average of 80 breaths per minute. If your little pig is breathing faster than usual, or beyond that range, consider whether he's engaged in a bit of exercise. Physical exertion can cause a guinea pig to breathe fast.
Looking for Clues
Fear and anxiety can make your guinea pig's respiration rate rise. If you sense he's a little wound up, try calming him down by talking to him in a low, soothing voice and gently stroking his head. If he's listless and breathing rapidly, he may have a fever or be suffering from heat exhaustion. Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine notes that guinea pigs can overheat easily. If your cavy is lethargic, raising his head and experiencing shallow, rapid breathing, wrap him in a cool towel and call the vet immediately. As well, if he continues to breathe fast and no obvious reason for the change is evident, visit the vet to ensure he's not experiencing pain.
Working Too Hard for Breath
Dyspnea, or difficulty breathing, is occasionally associated with rapid breathing. Fast or labored breathing can be a signal your guinea pig has an upper respiratory infection, a common ailment among guinea pigs. A clicking or crackling sound from the lungs often accompanies dyspnea, as well as sneezing, wheezing and discharge from the nose and/or eyes. Call your vet immediately if you notice any of these signs in your cavy. An untreated URI is often fatal for guinea pigs.
Eat, Drink, Breathe, Exercise
Your guinea pig's breathing is just one part of his overall health picture. Other things to keep an eye on are weight, appetite and activity level. If he's refusing food or water, or huddled in a corner, he is probably sick and should see a vet. Any breathing irregularities, including rapid or labored breathing that lasts beyond recovering from a little exercise, indicate a visit to the vet. If it gets to the point your guinea pig is breathing through his mouth, his nasal passages are likely blocked; guinea pigs are obligate nose-breathers, and mouth-breathing indicates a serious respiratory condition.
- Guinea Lynx: Emergency Medical Guide
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Guinea Pigs -- Problems
- Australian Cavy Sanctuary: Guinea Pig General Information
- The Merck Veterinary Manual for Veterinary Professionals: Guinea Pigs
- Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine: Care of Guinea Pigs
- Blackwell's Five-Minute Veterinary Consult: Small Mammal, Barbara L. Oglesbee, Editor
- Medline Plus: Rapid Shallow Breathing
- Michael Blann/Digital Vision/Getty Images