Guinea pigs are subject to a number of common illnesses, including respiratory infections, skin problems and genetic disorders.
One common source of many skin conditions, for example, are the Trixacarus caviae, or mange mites. These small parasites cause itching, which can lead to excessive scratching and hair loss. Another common source, especially among those who are not alert to skin problems in long-haired breeds, are running lice (Gliricola porcelli). These small white insects move through the hair, feeding on skin cells and laying eggs. The eggs, which may be small speckles of black or white, hatch, starting the cycle all over again.
Hair loss may also be the result of hormonal problems that can result from a wide variety of underlying ailments. Ovarian cysts are relatively common. Genetic predisposition can lead to diabetes, problems with the thyroid and other issues that upset hormonal balance.
Heat stroke is a common problem in high temperature environments, especially among long-haired breeds such as the Peruvian. When summer temperatures linger above 90F(32C), cavies can suffer hyperthermia, particularly when humidity levels are above 70%. High humidity makes it more difficult to release body heat.
Other conditions in the guinea pig’s local environment can be a problem. Straw or hay is often used as bedding. But both stems and straw dust can cause ailments. Stems may lodge in the throat, leading to infection. Dust often finds its way into the cavy’s eyes, where eye infections are the typical result.
A number of genetic disorders are, though not overwhelmingly common, far from unknown in guinea pigs. Congenital eye disorders among Abyssinians are a well known tragedy. Waltzing disease, producing a palsy and deafness, are another. The disease is so-named owing to the cavy’s tendency to run wildly in circles.
Dental abscesses may result from occlusion. Since a guinea pig’s teeth continue to grow throughout his or her lifetime, any malformation of the molars or other teeth can grow into a painful condition. Oral infection is a common result.
Fungal infections are also all too common, as well. Ringworm is typical in climates with high humidity. Spores may be released into the air that hibernate for long periods, sometimes years. When the animal comes into contact with it, a skin lesion may result. The lesions appear as hairless ovoids that may exude serum until they heal.
A simple fungicide, often in the form of a shampoo, may be all that’s needed for treatment. Nizoral or Malaseb are two examples. In some cases it may be necessary to treat with topical creams, such as Miconazole or Clotrimazole. In rare cases, an oral treatment of Lufenuron is called for.
Providing your guinea pig with a good diet and a clean cage is the best first line of defense against disease. As prey animals, they commonly don’t show symptoms when they can avoid it. Alertness to changes in activity level, eating habits and skin condition is required at all times.
A guinea pig lives 4-5 years on average, and sometimes as many as nine or more. A long term commitment to health care is appropriate, as it would be for any other household pet.