Coffee Slice and Nelson, one year old Guinea Pigs. Coffee Slice suffered a serious illness.

When Tracey saw two Guinea Pigs in a pet shop, she fell in love with them, and soon she had them installed in a large hutch in her home. She created the ideal Guinea Pig environment for them, making sure that they had a good diet, with daily Vitamin C supplementation, a unique requirement of Guinea Pigs due to a quirk of their metabolism.

Tracey was a student on a course in Animal Care at a college in Bray, so she learnt all about health and sickness in animals as part of the curriculum. When Coffee Slice stopped squeaking in his normal chatty way, she thought something might be amiss. When he then stopped eating and developed diarrhoea, she realised that it was time to bring him to the vet.

When I saw him, it was obvious at once to me that there was something seriously wrong. He had always been the same size as his brother, but now he was visibly much smaller. When I felt his body, his bones were protruding, yet his abdomen felt strangely lumpy. He seemed very well in other ways: in particular, he had strong, healthy teeth. Guinea Pigs, like all herbivores, need to grind their fibrous food to a pulp before swallowing it. It’s common for illness to follow dental problems, and sometimes teeth need to be filed down or extracted. I used a special scope to examine Coffee Slice’s teeth, and they were perfect.

It can be difficult to investigate illnesses of small animals like Guinea Pigs, but the principles are the same as when bigger pets like dogs or cats fall ill. When a diagnosis is not obvious, further investigations need to be done, including blood and urine tests, x-rays and ultrasound. I’ve even heard of Guinea Pigs having MRI scans.  These types of work-up can be expensive, and many Guinea Pig owners are not prepared to go so far. A general treatment is often given, but this is not always effective.

We discussed the various options for looking into Coffee Slice’s illness. His lumpy abdomen was the only obvious abnormality, so we decided that ultrasound examination would be a logical priority. I clipped some fur off his side, placed the probe on his skin, and was able to get a three-dimensional view of his abdominal contents.  I could see the cause of his illness at once: he had clusters of grape sized swellings around his liver. In an older Guinea Pig, cancer would have been the likely cause, but in a young adult, a bacterial infection, causing internal abscesses, was much more likely. He was prescribed with a long course of an antibiotic, and Tracey started a three-times daily routine of feeding him liquidized food with a syringe.

Progress was slow at first, but over a few weeks, he gained strength. His droppings returned to normal, and he soon began to nibble normal Guinea Pig food on his own again. When I checked him six weeks after his first visit, Tracey had been able to stop the syringe feeding, and he was fully back to normal. He’d gained weight, so that he was once again almost the same size as his brother.

There are still some questions about his illness: why did he develop the internal abscesses? Will they come back again? Tracey will be watching him carefully, weighing him regularly and making sure that she brings him back to me at the first suggestion of a recurrence of the problem. The main thing is that he’s now back to being a fully healthy Guinea Pig, complete with his usual chatty squeaks for food and attention.

Tips

  • Guinea Pigs can suffer from the same range of illnesses as larger pets
  • When they fall ill, it’s important to make as accurate a diagnosis as possible
  • Intensive nursing is needed to bring sick Guinea Pigs back to full health

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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