What's Normal? What's Not?
New guinea pig owners may wonder if their guinea pig is healthy! Here are some tips to help you know what to look for. Be sure to check out the Emergency Guide for more information.
- Fur & Skin
- Boar Glue
- Water Consumption
- Life Expectancy
Nose should be clean.
- Snotty noses and frequent sneezing can be a sign of a bacterial infection.
- Fungal infections often start on the face.
- Cheilitis is an inflammation of the lips that sometimes spreads toward the nose.
See Swannie's healthy guinea pig above.
Eyes should be clear and symmetrical. White secretions of a milky white fluid are normal. The fluid is used to clean their faces.
- Crusty eyes (a sign of a bacterial infection)
- Bulging eyes (infection, injury, or tooth root problem)
- Sunken eyes (may be a sign of dehydration)
- Cloudy eyes (treat eye injuries promptly to prevent eye loss)
NOTE: Some guinea pigs develop a condition called "pea eye" in which the white conjunctiva is visible. Seek treatment if there is tearing, crustiness or redness (inflammation).
- See also: Eyes
Ears should be relatively clean.
Dirty or inflamed ears; head tilt (ear infection), crust on edges of ears (parasite infestation, fungal or bacterial infection).
- See also: Fungus
Feet should have a clean, soft footpad. Nails should be a proper length.
Scabs, crusts, or swelling of the foot. Long nails (be sure to clip nails regularly).
FUR & SKIN
Healthy looking fur and skin. A modest amount of shedding is normal.
- Dandruff, excess shedding
- Hair loss, either in patches or general hair loss
Parasites like mites are extremely common and very painful. Treatment is easy. If you suspect your guinea pig has mites, be sure to treat them as soon as possible!
Droppings should be uniform and oval, medium to dark brown. Aromatic greenish droppings may be caecal pellets, which the guinea pig re-ingests (necessary for good nutrition).
- Clumped droppings: may indicate impaction (males).
- Smaller droppings and/or teardrop shaped droppings: may indicate dehydration and/or eating less food.
- Pitted soft droppings may be caused by an overgrowth of yeast in the intestinal tract: a vet can diagnose this and treat with oral Nystatin.
- Diarrhea: can be life threatening. If the droppings are merely soft, temporarily withholding vegetables may help.
See a vet immediately for severe diarrhea, which may indicate a serious parasitic or bacterial infection.
Tip: Did you know guinea pigs eat special droppings called cecal feces? This is known as coprophagy. Cecal feces contain many important nutrients. Read more about digestion on the impaction page.
- See also: Impaction
Urine may be clear to cloudy in color. Calcium compounds in the urine cause this cloudiness. Normal urine is not gritty in texture. Dried urine may leave powdery white calcium compounds. Very young guinea pigs often have an orange or brown tint to their urine. Urine sometimes changes to an orange color on standing (this may be the oxidation of porphyrins in the urine).
- Gritty compounds: may indicate sludge in the bladder. Strong smelling urine may be a sign of dehydration or infection. The gritty deposits are sometimes called sludge, which feels coarse and sandy. Powdery deposits are normal. Rub the deposits between your fingers to determine if they are powdery or gritty.
- Blood in urine is not normal and may be due to a urinary tract infection, bladder stones, or (in females) reproductive problems like pyometra (an infection of the lining of the uterus).
- Incontinence is not normal. Your guinea pig should be relatively dry. If its fur is constantly wet and/or there is an odor, be sure to have your pet checked out for a urinary tract infection or other problem.
TIP: To check for sludge, line the cage with dark colored towels. To check for blood, use light colored towels.
See Tracis photo of thick powdery deposits at right.
See also Tracis photo of light chalky urine deposits: Click to view
Yes, male guinea pig ejaculate is normal! Ejaculate is generally white in color and appears rubbery. It is sometimes referred to as "boar glue" due to its tendency to stick to just about everything, and the supreme difficulty of removal. It may appear as a blob or more worm-like.
What isn't normal is hardening of boar glue within the penis. Be sure to check out your guinea pig if he is in discomfort or has difficulty urinating. More in the Records Forum.
Weight loss is an early sign of many illnesses. To help monitor health, weigh your guinea pig weekly! Use the weight/health record pages provided in GL's handy Cavy Health Record Book, a loose-leaf notebook, or a calendar, but be sure to record your guinea pig's weight on a regular basis. While weight will fluctuate slightly during the day, a two or three ounce loss may indicate the onset of a problem. If your guinea pig has lost four or more ounces, see a vet immediately.
- See also: Weigh Weekly
Water consumption is different for each guinea pig. Consumption is dependent on temperature, taste of water, activity, and preference. A guinea pig provided ample vegetable matter (rinsed and still wet) might appear to drink very little during the day. If you are concerned, check for signs of dehydration.
Possible causes of excess water consumption:
Ill animals (especially those with molar problems) may be unable to eat but will drink excessive amounts of water. Make sure your guinea pig is not just playing with the water bottle (or that the water bottle is not leaking) if you suspect your pet is drinking too much.
Become familiar with your guinea pigs' behavior; how much they move around, what they like to eat, how responsive they are to you and to sounds around them.
Changes in behavior are red flags. If your guinea pig is not eating favorite foods or is hiding it its house, something is wrong. Your pet is depending on you to know when it is ill. See a vet promptly if you suspect your guinea pig is sick.
Mounting: A female guinea pig that is suddenly constantly chasing and mounting her cage mate may have a hormonal problem.
- See also: Ovarian Cysts
The average life expectancy of a guinea pig is 5 to 7 years. So if you decide to adopt, make sure you are there for the long haul! While rare, some guinea pigs have even lived over 10 years. Others have genetic predispositions or illnesses that shorten their lives.
Feed the right foods and learn all you can about proper care. See a vet promptly if you suspect your guinea pig is sick.
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