Merck Manual

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Pet Owner Version

Routine Health Care of Guinea Pigs


Katherine E. Quesenberry

, DVM, MPH, DABVP (Avian);

Thomas M. Donnelly

, BVSc, DVP, DACLAM, DABVP(ECM), The Kenneth S Warren Institute

Reviewed/Revised Nov 2019 | Modified Oct 2022
Topic Resources

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 that a guinea pig is sick are 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 may not respond to noises or touch.

The most common health problems for these animals affect the lungs or the digestive system. A sick guinea pig may have diarrhea or discharge from the eyes or nose. 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.


Care Schedule for Your Guinea Pig

  • Provide fresh, clean vegetables and grasses daily

  • Provide fresh water daily

  • Spot clean cage daily

  • Clean cage every week

  • Brush fur every week

  • Trim nails every few weeks

  • Bathe every 3 to 12 months

Guinea pig nails require regular trims (whenever needed by your pet). Starting at a young age, trim the nails using small animal or human nail clippers. Be careful to avoid cutting the quick (where the blood vessels are located), which causes bleeding and pain. Shining a bright light through the nail might make it easier to see the quick in a dark nail. Cut the nail cleanly about an eighth of an inch (0.3 cm) beyond the end of the quick. If you accidentally cut into the quick, control the bleeding with a styptic powder or a styptic pencil. 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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