Prey animals like guinea pigs hide their illness well, and getting to the vet early can save their lives! This is why it’s so important to know what to watch for at home so you can catch illness when it occurs.
Signs of sickness in guinea pigs include changes in behavior, appetite, or weight. Small, hard, or soft poops are indications of illness as well. Watch for discharge from the eyes or nose, sneezing, bloating, or hunching over in pain.
Above are just a few ways to know your guinea pig is sick. In this article, we’ll go over 21 signs of sickness in guinea pigs and teach you how to perform at-home health checks. You can also download our guinea pig symptom checker printable and keep it on hand for quick reference.
1. Reduced Appetite
A piggy who is usually super excited for veggie time and doesn’t eat one night is very likely not feeling well. This can indicate a variety of health problems including dental problems like overgrown teeth.
Guinea pigs can only go 6-8 hours before eating before they go into GI Stasis. This is when the digestive system slows or stops entirely.
Signs of GI stasis include:
- small poops,
- not pooping at all,
- lowered appetite,
- heavy breathing,
- and teeth grinding.
It’s also important to ensure your guinea pig is eating their caecotrophs (a type of guinea pig poop). Although this is gross to us humans, guinea pigs not eating their caecotrophs is actually a health concern.
2. Weight Loss
It’s possible that your piggy eats their veggies, but not as much hay as they need to stay healthy. This is why weighing your guinea pig regularly is so important, because weight loss is often the first indication that something is wrong.
If your guinea pig loses more than 100 grams, they should see a veterinarian right away. Because they’re small, even tiny changes in weight can make a big difference.
3. Excessive Drinking or Refusal to Drink Water
Changes in the amount your guinea pig drinks can indicate kidney disease, dental problems, and a variety of other health issues.
Please keep in mind that many guinea pigs drink more in the summer and less in the winter, and they might also drink less if they’re being fed lots of veggies with a high water content. Therefore, drinking more or less water doesn’t always mean illness–but can if nothing has changed in their environment to make them less thirsty.
When in doubt, it’s always better to see a veterinarian than to miss an early symptom and regret it later!
4. Abnormal Breathing
If you can hear your guinea pig breathing, that isn’t normal! It’s also not normal to hear wheezing or rasping when you hold them to your ear, or for them to take very shallow or rapid breaths.
It’s also important to ensure you aren’t using dusty hay or bedding, smoking around your guinea pigs, or using scented products like laundry detergent, cleaners, or candles in the same room or on your piggies’ items. These can all contribute to URIs.
5. Eye or Nose Discharge or Sneezing
Runny nose, sneezing, and watery or gunky eyes can all be symptoms of a URI, pneumonia or other serious medical condition.
In humans, we can often ignore these symptoms or dismiss them as a cold, but in guinea pigs they’re very serious.
6. Dull, Rough, or Puffed-up Coat
Guinea pigs can puff up their coat when trying to look bigger, meaning they’re intimidated (likely by their cage mates). They can also puff their coat when they’re cold or sick.
If your guinea pig has their fur puffed and a hunched back, or showing other symptoms like trouble breathing, eating less, or not responding or interacting with you or their cage mates, these can be signs of sickness and intense pain. Please see a veterinarian right away.
7. Hair Loss or Itchiness
Your vet can prescribe medications to treat parasites and fungal infections. There are also shampoos on the market that can be used to treat fungus. Saskia from LA Guinea Pig Rescue often recommends Davis Miconazole Pet Shampoo for this purpose!
It’s also important to see a doctor yourself if you’ve been handling a guinea pig with ringworm or other fungi or parasites that can be transferred to humans, and to wash your hands after applying treatments.
Ovarian cysts are typically treated with a spay surgery, and hair loss caused by cysts tends to be symmetrical and near the lower sides of the body.
8. Dull, Sunken, or Bulging Eyes
Sunken eyes in guinea pigs can mean they’re dehydrated. Severe dehydration can lead to kidney damage.
Bulging eyes can mean your guinea pig has an abscess, tumor, or an infection in the root of their tooth causing swelling behind the eye.
Bloating or a swollen abdomen can indicate a life-threatening health problem known as Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV).
If your guinea pig is bloated or showing other symptoms like damp coat, lethargy, restlessness, and drooling, rush them to an emergency vet clinic right away. GDV can progress in a matter of hours.
10. Poopy Butt or Diarrhea
Poop stuck to your guinea pigs’ butt can mean that their cage isn’t clean, their bedding isn’t absorbent, or their poop is too loose.
Healthy poops shouldn’t mush and get stuck to your piggies’ fur or feet unless they’ve been dampened by pee, which is a serious hygiene problem–sitting in urine can also make piggies sick.
Diarrhea in guinea pigs can mean they’re eating too many veggies or not enough hay. It can also be caused by bad bacteria in the gut, thyroid disease, dental disease, or severe stress.
11. Hard or Small Stools
On the other hand, hard, small poops can indicate dehydration, constipation, or problems in the gut.
Small stools can also be a sign of GI Stasis, especially if there are very few of them.
If your guinea pig isn’t pooping at all, or very little, this is very serious and can be a symptom of GI Stasis.
Constipation is serious in guinea pigs and requires an emergency trip to the vet for treatment.
13. Bloody Urine or Changes in Urination
All of the below can be symptoms of illness in guinea pigs:
- Bloody urine
- Cloudy urine
- Crystals in the urine
- Painful or difficult urination
- More or less urine output
If your guinea pig isn’t urinating at all, only a little, or seems to have difficulty or pain urinating, these can all be symptoms of bladder stones. Increased urination can be a sign of kidney disease.
If your guinea pig is more tired than normal, they might be sick or in pain. Sleeping is a way for the body to try to heal itself, and being sick or hurt can make piggies very tired.
Of course, a piggies’ body often can’t heal itself and you need to see a vet if they’re acting sleepy or moving around less than is normal for them.
15. Hunched Posture
Hunching over while sitting in a corner and not interacting with cage mates or humans as normal is a sign of illness or intense pain.
16. Limping, “Bunny Hopping” or Inability to Walk
If your guinea pig is limping or not putting pressure on one foot, they might be injured. “Bunny hopping” or moving both back legs at once can indicate vitamin C deficiency, arthritis, or, more rarely, satin syndrome.
Inability to walk or paralysis can be a symptom of injury, arthritis, stroke, infection, or vitamin C or calcium deficiency.
Drooling in guinea pigs is often a symptom of Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV). This is when a guinea pig bloats and their stomach twists inside of their body, which will quickly cut off their blood circulation.
GDV is a deadly condition and should be treated as an emergency–your guinea pig needs to be seen by a veterinarian right away, because it can progress in just hours.
Stumbling, seeming dizzy, or lack of coordination can indicate neurological problems in guinea pigs. More rarely, it may be a sign of an ear infection.
19. Inflammation Around the Joints
Inflammation around the joints is also known as arthritis. Arthritis is a painful condition that is very typical especially in older guinea pigs.
If arthritis is affecting your piggy’s quality of life, your veterinarian can prescribe pain meds or antiinflammatory medication to keep them more comfortable.
20. Squealing or Flinching When Touched
If your guinea pig usually allows you to pet them and begins to flinch from your hand, this is a sign of pain. The same goes if your piggy squeals when you touch them if they don’t usually.
These can also be a sign of fear in new guinea pigs, but if you have concerns, it’s always best to ask a vet.
21. Behavioral Changes
Behavioral changes like aggression, weakness, tiredness, or changes in appetite are all cause for concern in guinea pigs. Sometimes a sudden change in personality, like your usually-bold guinea pig acting shy or your peacekeeper bullying their cage mates is the only sign of illness a piggy will show.
It’s important to watch for these signs and call your veterinarian if your guinea pig isn’t acting like themselves.
How to Perform Guinea Pig Health Checks
We’ve gone over the symptoms to look for, but you’re only going to spot them if you keep an eye on your guinea pigs and perform routine health checks at home. This should be done at least once a month, though some people choose to do it weekly.
Here’s how to give your guinea pig a health check:
- Weigh your guinea pig. Record their weight in a notebook, on your phone, or using our Guinea Pig Care Planner along with the date you weighed them. For the most accurate results, you’ll want to weigh your piggy at the same time of day, like right before dinner, and in the same place, like on a table.
- Look at your guinea pig’s eyes. They should look clear and bright. There shouldn’t be discharge, redness, or injury in or around the eyes. They shouldn’t appear sunken or bulging.
- Check their nose for discharge.
- Look into their ears and clean them if needed. If there is a lot of discharge or redness, your piggy might have an ear infection. Remember to never stick anything into the ear; only clean the outside.
- Check their mouth and teeth. They shouldn’t be overly long or broken. Both top teeth should be the same length, and there shouldn’t be any redness or swelling in the gums.
- Examine their coat. It should be full, shiny, and clean. Part the fur down to the skin to look for parasites, redness of the skin, or dandruff. If your guinea pig has long fur, you might want to keep it trimmed short so it stays cleaner.
- Look at female guinea pigs’ nipples. Crusty nipples are a sign of ovarian cysts, and you want to catch these as early as possible if they occur.
- Check their genitals. Both sexes can get poop and other debris stuck around their genitals that will need to be cleaned. Males, particularly if they’re older and unneutered, also need regular boar cleanings.
- Look at their feet. The nails should be short and trimmed regularly, and the feet should be clean and lack redness or injuries.
It’s also important to monitor your piggies daily to ensure they’re eating, drinking, and behaving like normal.
As gross as it sounds, looking at your guinea pigs’ poop during cage cleanings can also tell you a lot about their health. Piggy poops should never be runny.
If the poop is sticking to your guinea pigs’ skin or fur, they might be too soft or wetted down by urine (which means the cage needs to be cleaned more often or a more absorbent bedding should be used).
If the poops are dry or have changed in size, this also might be cause for concern.
Guinea Pig Symptom Checker
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Now that we’ve gone over the signs of sickness in guinea pigs and how to give health checks at home, you’re ready to monitor your guinea pig’s health! Remember to see a vet quickly if you’re worried, since illness in piggies can progress fast.