GUINEA PIGS RESPIRATORY PROBLEMS
Respiratory problems are fairly common illnesses in guinea pigs. The problem is most often upper respiratory (a guinea pig cold), but it can be lower respiratory (guinea pig pneumonia). It can start as a cold and become pneumonia, and it can also start as a cold and pneumonia simultaneously. Respiratory infection is often accompanied by conjunctivitis (inflammation of the soft tissues around the eye).
The symptoms include:
- nasal discharge
- eye discharge
- wheezing, clicking and other evidence of trouble breathing
- decreased appetite
- lethargy, decreased sociability
The immediate cause is usually a bacterial infection (Bordatella and/or Streptococcus).
- Most normal guinea pigs are carriers of these bacteria; they have no symptoms but can spread the infection to guinea pigs who are not carriers. In fact, it is very likely that all, or almost all, pet guinea pigs are carriers of one or more of these bacteria.
- Guinea pigs are easily stressed. Stress decreases the normal activity of their immune systems, which can allow the bacteria they were previously carrying without a problem to cause respiratory illness.
- Common things that stress guinea pigs, in our experience:
- moving from the pet store's distributors to the pet store
- moving from a pet store or breeder to a new home - too much attention from new owners
- addition of a new guinea pig to the home with an established guinea pig
- aggression of one guinea pig towards another in two guinea pigs housed together
- crowding - too many guinea pigs in a too-small enclosure
- enclosure not cleaned frequently enough
- wrong bedding: pine and cedar have volatile oils that can irritate the respiratory tract
- recent neuter, spay or other surgery
- home air quality problems: tobacco smoke, excessive use of air fresheners, dry air from wood stoves, etc
- Guinea pigs require vitamin C in their diets; vitamin C deficiency seriously decreases their immune system functions
.- Dental disease is an occasional cause of respiratory problems, because of the proximity of the roots of the upper cheek teeth (molars) to the nasal passages.
- skin irritation from nasal and eye discharge
- cold-type infection can become pneumonia
- loss of appetite can lead to severe, even life-threatening digestive tract problems
- loss of appetite can lead to vitamin C deficiency
- inflammatory tissue changes in the respiratory tract, which lead to persistence and/or relapse of symptoms
- We usually learn what we need to know to begin treatment from the patient's history and physical exam.
- When there is suspicion of dental disease it is important to have skull xrays done - treatment options chosen and prognosis depend on what we learn from this test.
- When there is suspicion of pneumonia it is important to have chest x-rays done - again, treatment options and prognosis depend on what we learn from this test.
- There are no tests that allow us to predict if upper respiratory symptoms will turn into pneumonia, or if a guinea pig will have persistent or relapsing problems.
We create an individual treatment plan for each ill guinea pig. Treatment options include:
- For the very ill patients, hospitalization for oxygen therapy, nebulization, assisted feeding, and/or injectable medications.
- Oral antibiotics
- Vitamin C supplementation
- Syringe feeding
- If eye problems, eye medication- Gentle wiping with damp cloth or gauze as needed to keep nose and eyes free of discharge
- Once eating well, or if still eating well: correct the diet
- Correction of bedding problems: Carefresh bedding is an excellent option, available online and at most pet supply stores; newspaper pellets, newspaper, and aspen shavings are also good choices.
- More frequent cleaning of the enclosure
- Environmental humidifier
- Relieve overcrowding or bullying
- Dental treatments
The prognosis (on a scale of poor, guarded, fair, good, or excellent) is:
- Good to excellent for cold-type respiratory problems.
- Fair at best, sometimes guarded or poor for pneumonia.
- The most common syndrome that we see at Yarmouth Vet Center is an upper respiratory-type infection in a newly purchased or adopted guinea pig. These patients typically respond well to antibiotics and, while they presumably remain carriers of the bacteria, they do not have any or many relapses.
- We believe it is wise to assume that every guinea pig carries the bacteria that can cause respiratory disease, and manage these pets to minimize the possibility that they will become ill.
- The guinea pig's enclosure should be cleaned often enough that there is no build-up of urine or other moisture. The recycled paper beddings are the best choice, because they have minimal odor, great absorption, and are easy to clean.
- Avoid stressful situations.
- Feed a high-fiber (primarily hay) diet, with adequate vitamin C supplementation.
- Have an annual veterinary exam that includes a careful dental exam.
Guinea pig respiratory problems are not transmissable to people, and human respiratory problems are not transmissable to guinea pigs. It is possible that guinea pigs and dogs can share respiratory infections, and if a guinea pig gets the infection from a dog it is likely to be pneumonia and not upper respiratory infection.
Yarmouth Veterinary Center