Why Is My Guinea Pig Sick?

Guinea pigs are cute and popular companions, but they also have some illnesses that can be difficult to detect. Some of these illnesses can even be life-threatening, and it is crucial to know the symptoms.

Ear Infections

This condition is rare but can cause severe symptoms if not treated. Symptoms can include scratching, head shaking, discharge, hearing loss, and several nervous system issues. It is best to get guinea pigs with these issues to the vet as soon as possible. Your vet will determine where in the ear the infection is located and make a treatment plan that may include ointment, ear drops, and ear washes.


Guinea pigs can also get a common infection called ringworm caused by a fungus called dermatophytosis. This infection can cause bald patches, itching, inflammation, and crust at the edges of lesions. It can be hard to treat if not caught early. Treatment may include your vet prescribing oral antifungals, topical antifungal shampoo, or clotrimazole lime sulfur dips. Depending on which treatment, it may take up to six weeks for the infection to go away.


Mites can cause intense itching, hair loss, lethargy, and weight loss in your guinea pig. In severe cases, mites can lead to seizures and even death. These parasites can be very hard to spot, so it is best to have a veterinarian diagnose them microscopically. Static mites live in guinea pigs’ hair. Mange mites burrow under the skin. For static mites, your vet will prescribe a spray or shampoo treatment. With mange mites, your vet will prescribe ivermectin or selamectin.

Dental Disease

a guinea pig with healthy teeth

Dental disease is another common problem in guinea pigs that can lead to pain and discomfort. They should always have something to chew on, as this will help them keep their teeth in good shape and prevent them from developing pain and other problems. One of the most common teeth problems is the overgrowth of cheek teeth. Your vet will use a speculum or otoscope to examine their teeth. X-rays, CTs, and exams under general anesthesia are other ways your vet can check for dental problems and see how severe the disease may be. Depending on the severity, treatment can include increasing how much hay they eat to a dental procedure.


If your guinea pig is not eating normally, it could be an underlying illness or stress. You should monitor their food intake. Ileus is when there is little or no movement in the GI tract. You should check your guinea pig’s cage for any signs of diarrhea and abnormal feces. Other symptoms you should look for include decreased appetite, anorexia, pain, and lethargy. Often, a guinea pig will have to eat a special diet if they stop eating. They may need to be fed on a soft diet like Critical Care by syringe. Ileus is very serious, and if your guinea pig doesn’t eat or produce any poops in 24 hours, it’s an emergency and should be taken to the vet immediately.


Diarrhea can cause dehydration and loss of nutrients in guinea pigs and should get treated as soon as possible. Symptoms of diarrhea in guinea pigs include watery, loose stools that may smell, stains on their bottom, and a distended belly. Your vet will ask you questions about what you feed your piggy and how often, if there are new pets in the house, how you clean their cage and when, and of any recent vet trips. Your vet will check for signs of dehydration and an oral exam. Other tests may include listening to their heart and stomach, x-rays, bloodwork, and fecal samples. Treatment will depend on how severe the illness is. In mild cases, fluids and electrolytes get injected under the skin, syringe feeding, and vitamin C supplements. For severe cases, your guinea pig may need to get hospitalized with intravenous or subcutaneous fluid therapy and more frequent syringe feeding.

Bladder Stones

The bladder of a guinea pig is very fragile, and easy for them to develop urinary stones. These can occur anywhere in the urinary tract, most commonly in the bladder and urethra. The most common symptoms include abdominal pain, changes in how often they urinate, pain while urinating (you can often hear them squeal), and blood in the urine. Bladder stones are a buildup of crystals lodged in the urinary tract system. If left untreated, the stone can become so large that it blocks the urethra. The blockage can cause kidney failure, sepsis, and even death. Your vet will most likely do a urinalysis and x-ray to see where the stone is and how to treat it. Treatment may include increasing your guinea pig’s water intake, a low-calcium diet, and medication. In severe cases, surgery is an option to remove the stone.

Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)

Guinea pigs cannot get the common cold or the flu, and URIs are often mistaken for these illnesses. If left untreated, URIs often result in death and are very serious. Bordetella, Streptococcus, and adenovirus are common pathogens that cause URIs. Sometimes there can be no symptoms until it’s too late, depending on the pathogen affecting your guinea pig. The incubation period can be from 1 to 14 days or even as fast as 24 to 72 hours. Symptoms to look out for include refusing to eat or drink, weight loss, lethargy, sneezing more than average, coughing, and mucus from the mouth or nose. Your vet will take blood or saliva samples to test for pathogens in your guinea pig. Treatment may include syringe feeding, fluid therapy, and offering vitamin C and antibiotics to your piggy.

Knowing the signs of these common guinea pig illnesses is a good start in getting them the care they need. Always let your vet know all symptoms your piggy is experiencing because lots of these illnesses share the same symptoms. Remember, a healthy piggy is a happy one!

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