Top Ten Tips for a Healthy Guinea Pig
I’ve owned guinea pigs for over 20 years. I am knowledgeable in some areas (what to feed, diagnose a possible URI or UTI) but completely void in other issues (anything specific to boars, bloat, elongated roots). It seems that each of my pigs try to teach me about some new illness I haven’t seen before (I am currently learning about guinea pig viruses). I try to tell my girls I don’t really need to have first-hand experience on every guinea pig illness, but they have their own ideas.
While contemplating guinea pig illnesses I’ve dealt with, I came up with a top 10 list of keeping your guinea pig healthy:
2. Know your guinea pig’s personality. Some illnesses are obvious. If there’s blood or snot or your pig is laboring to breath, you know there’s a problem. But many illnesses are subtle. If your guinea pig, who usually runs laps all morning, suddenly stops their daily run, it may be worth looking into. Sulking in corners, sitting puffed up more than normal, suddenly sleeping heavily, picking fights or suddenly getting picked on — any of these can be a sign of illness.
3. Trust your gut. My vet knows, if I’m in the office, even with something vague, something is wrong. I’ve seen a lot of guinea pig forum posts where someone describe that something isn’t right. They can’t put their finger on it. The description sounds innocuous. Forum members often tell the original post to go to the vet (since none of us are a veterinarian). More often than not, the original poster comes back to tell us the pig was ill. You know your pets. If something feels wrong, chances are it is wrong.
4. The earlier, the better. Don’t wait if you think there is something wrong with your guinea pig. I read too many stories of people who wait until a guinea pig really looks sick before bringing them in, and this account often ends badly. By the time you start to see serious symptoms, the guinea pig has probably already been sick for days. If you wait a few more days, the infection (or whatever) will have an even stronger hold on their little body. Treatment can be hard on their systems (like antibiotics) or stressful (xrays and injections). It’s much less of a strain on your guinea pig (and you!) to address an illness early.
5. Food is life. We joke that guinea pigs are bottomless pits; it seems they’re always hungry. They’re built that way. A guinea pig’s digestive system begins to shut down if they haven’t eaten for several hours and starts to damage their liver. Hand feeding is so important if your guinea pig isn’t eating on their own. It can be difficult to do, especially if they’re not interested. You may feel like the bad guy by forcing food down their throat. But your pig has no chance of getting better if they’re not eating. Nothing like a sick, non-eating pig to make you appreciate the piles of poo they normally leave around the cage.
6. Do your research. Knowledge is power. There are some very good resources out there (my favorite is GuineaLynx for anything medical related). The more you learn, the vet speaks less gibberish. The ability to discuss your guinea pig’s health with your vet is invaluable. It helps me make informed decisions on my pig’s treatment. In the end, your pig’s health is your responsibility. You have to deal with the consequences.
7. Shop around for a vet before you need them. I called around to multiple vets in my area before I found one that specialized in exotics (birds, reptiles, guinea pigs and rabbits). Some places wouldn’t see a guinea pig, flat out. So don’t assume you can trot over to your nearest vet and get treatment for your pig. Even if the regular (non-exotics) vet will see your guinea pig, you need to be careful. Many drugs that are perfectly safe for cats and dogs can be fatal to guinea pigs. A vet that doesn’t specialize in guinea pigs may not be as knowledgeable about safe treatments as an exotics vet.
8. Ask questions. The vet is servicing you and your guinea pig. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about what they’re doing, what to expect with treatment and when you should call back. Don’t be afraid to call back. I have often thought of questions once I’ve gotten home or needed clarification once I started treating my pigs. Guinea pig forums can be a great source of answers, but don’t forget you have a professional that has directly observed your guinea pig just a phone call away! Questions them if your guinea pig seems to be getting worse, rather than better. This is something your vet needs to know about.
9. Ask for options and their consequences. When I discovered Willow had a bladder stone, I quizzed the vet. What were Willow’s chances of surviving surgery? Would the stone come back? How much pain was she in? What would happen if I didn’t do the surgery? How much lead-time would I have before she eventually crashed and what would happen then? Knowing what my options were for Willow’s quality of life, potential outcomes and the cost for each gave me enough information so I could make an informed decision that I could live with.
10. Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself when things go wrong. Because they will. It is awful when you do all the right things, go the extra mile, and your pig still keels over. It’s just not fair. The heartache, frustration, what-ifs and guilt can be overwhelming. I’ve lived through it more than once. I try to focus on what I did right, on what I learned from the experience, and what I can do the next time. The pain will lessen and you can focus, eventually, on the joy you had with little (or big) lovable guinea pig. They are such wonderful little creatures.
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