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Find information on animal health topics, written for the veterinary professional.

* This is the Veterinary Version. *

Routine Health Care of Guinea Pigs

By Katherine E. Quesenberry, DVM, MPH, DABVP (Avian) ; Kenneth R. Boschert, DVM, DACLAM, Associate Director, Division of Comparative Medicine, Washington University

While guinea pigs do not require any vaccinations, it is recommended that you take your pet to a veterinarian familiar with guinea pigs at least once each year for a routine checkup.

Signs of Illness

Guinea pigs should be handled daily. This allows you a regular special time with your pet. It also provides you with the opportunity to check your pet for possible skin problems, injuries, sudden weight gain or loss, dental problems, and other health problems. Some signs to look for when a guinea pig is sick include loss of appetite, weight loss, hunched posture, an abnormal walk or a limp, a belly that is unusually skinny or abnormally large, a change in the consistency of the hair coat, or difficulty breathing. Sick guinea pigs may have decreased energy or not respond to noises or touch.

The most common health problems for these animals are problems with the lungs or the digestive system, so a sick guinea pig may also have discharge or oozing from the eyes or nose, or diarrhea. Dental problems are also common, so check your pet’s mouth for drooling, overgrown teeth, or swelling. You should also check your pet’s ears for oozing or irritation, and examine its feet for sores or broken nails.

If you notice any of these signs, it is best to take the guinea pig to the veterinarian promptly. These small pets can become sick quickly, and identifying and treating the problem right away can be critical.

Grooming

Guinea pig nails require regular trims (whenever needed by your pet). Starting at a young age, trim the nails using a small animal nail clipper. Use care to note the “quick” and avoid cutting into the living part of the nail. A light shown from behind the nail will help you see the dark colored portion, which includes blood vessels. Cutting into the quick will be painful for your pet. If you accidentally cut into the quick, the bleeding that results can be controlled with a styptic pencil. To avoid injury, cut the nail cleanly about an eighth of an inch (0.3 centimeters) beyond the end of the quick. If you start nail clipping early and do it carefully, your pet will become accustomed to this needed care.

Guinea pigs seldom need baths. If they are required, use a shampoo specially formulated for small animals. Use of shampoos formulated for humans will dry the skin of a guinea pig. Bathe guinea pigs in a shallow bowl of warm water and avoid getting water or shampoo into their ears and eyes. Be sure to rinse thoroughly and dry your pet immediately to prevent chills. Guinea pigs with long hair need occasional brushing and grooming to keep hair clean and prevent matting.

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* This is the Veterinary Version. *