Guinea Pig Zoonoses

I am often asked by worried mothers the question, ‘Is there anything my children can catch from a guinea pig?.’ In short very little, certainly a lot less than they could pick up from carnivores such dogs or cats. I then go on to recount an anecdote from one of my trips to Great Ormond Street hospital where I have been taking my guinea pigs a once a week basis for the past nine years.

The scenario was one sick child confined to bed after an operation who had three of my guinea pigs snuggled around her. I sat one side of the bed while her mother was on the other.

One of the doctors who was passing by, paused and took in the scene. “I’ve seen it all now’ he remarked, with a grin. “Don’t you ever worry about the children picking up something from them?” enquired the mother. “She’s more likely to pick up something from you me or Mr Gurney here than she is from those little tykes!’ he reassured her.

He obviously knew his business but that is just what I would expect from a doctor who worked in one of the worlds most brilliant children’s hospitals.

In the main, what guinea pigs get in the way of bugs and ooh nasties, are species specific. In other words the bug that likes them are not particularly interested in humans. However there is one that humans can and do pick up and that is fungal.

There are many strains of this and several of them are common to both human and guinea pigs. Children are particularly susceptible to picking them up and I always emphasise this whenever I am asked for advice if a family guinea pig has some kind of skin problem.

The good news, is that it is more of a minor irritation to a human being than a serious health threat. They are easily treated with creams or powders and if they have become systemic with the Griseofulvin.

Worming Guinea Pigs

Though I use the term worming and the medicine is called a wormer, it is used as an aid to balance the gut flora of a guinea pig.

Like all grazing animals, guinea pigs simply eat off the ground and can ingest all manner of bacteria some of which is not good for the digestion process. It can result in a build up of alien gut flora which feeds upon the food which enters the gut but not processed for the benefit of the animal.

Guinea pigs should be wormed with Panacur sheep wormer at a dose rate of 0.4 repeated seven days later, once every three months.

The most usual symptom that there could be a problem is when an animal eats very well or even more than it used to but is loosing weight.

Swimming Therapy for Guinea Pigs

I decided to use this therapy after reading in a magazine about it’s use for stroke victims in human medicine. I now use it as part of the recovery programme for other conditions which leave the animals with weak of stiff joints.

It can be used for either heart attack or stroke victims when the usual one side paralysis takes longer than four or five days to clear.

Initially it should be done in a large sink filled with warm water. With the guinea pig firmly held on the palm on the hand and resting along the arm, gently lower it into the water at a slight angle with the head and upper torso resting on the arm. Lower the palm and watch the guinea pig’s reaction. Most get a little alarmed at the first lowering of the palm but persevere for they usually get used to it and begin to relax. Only once have I had to abandon the therapy because I was concerned about the stress it was causing the animal.

Just a couple of minutes is enough. Dry the guinea pig thoroughly in a towel but don’t use a hair dryer to dry it completely. The grooming activity which always takes place after a guinea pig has been bathed is all part of the therapy for it makes the animal more active for this activity is usually very vigorous.

Once the guinea pig is fit and confident enough to swim a little give it a bit more room by using a bath. Remember that this must be a gradual process and always be ready to scoop the animal up if it shows undue stress.

Guinea Pigs with Skin Problems

Time and time and time again guinea pigs suffering from the advance stages of sever fungal infections and under a death sentence from the professional vet treating them have been brought to me. All had been misdiagnosed and treated for a parasitic skin infection. Not only had these animals been put through a vast amount of suffering because of this they were about to be killed because it!.

Yes, of course guinea pigs suffer from parasitic skin problems, but they are also very prone to fungal infestation and it is glaringly obvious why they do.

They arrived in this country about two hundred and fifty years ago from South America which has a warm dry climate. England happens to have a very damp, humid and sometimes a cold one in comparison and two hundred and fifty years, in evolutinary terms is no time at all for these animals to adjust to this change. Hence their susceptibility to all forms of fungal attack.

More often than not these animals suffer from parasitic and fungal infestation at the same time and if I am not sure about the diagnosis I always treat for both. There is absolutely no risk to the animal of over medicating by doing this.

I do not waste time and money doing skin scrapings, for like many other owners of these animals we are far more experienced than veterinary surgeons in diagnosing and treating this, probably the most common of all ailments seen in guinea pigs.

Symptoms first. If there is just a thinning of the hair which is sometimes accompanied by some of the hair shafts breaking half way down to the root, then it is likely to parasitic problem in the form of mites. There can sometimes also be goose pimple-like spots on the skin. Sometimes there are lesions in the skin which inexperienced owners can mistake for bite marks but they are caused by the the animal’s scratching(see itching)itself.

There are two other types of parasites which are more visible and they are running and static lice. The former is a kind of black or dark brown, flaky dandruf, the latter are tiny, very light brown wriggerly-worms about a centimetre long which can clearly be seen moving in the hair.

One of the best treatments for this is Neem oil, at a dilution rate of four parts of carrier oil to one part of Neem oil. In Asia this is used as a insecticide against the malaria fly. In case the word insecticide alarms readers let me hasten to add that it is also used to flavour food, hence it’s safety for use upon guinea pigs. To underscore the food flavouring side of things, there is a side effect, your guinea pig will smell like a Chinese takeaway dish when you massage the oil in!.

Massage the oil into the skin and leave on for two days then shampoo off. Leave for five days, repeat oil massage, leave for another two days, then shampoo off. Not only does this effectively kill the parasites, I find that it encourages the hair to grow much more quickly than can be expected in any of the conventional antiparasitic treatments.

The best shampoos to use is either Alphosyl or Selsun, both medicated scalp cleaners and despite any claims made by the veterinary profession that they are not, they are one hundred percent safe to use on guinea pigs!.

If Neem oil is not available, the product Prioderm shampoo, formulated for hair lice in humans, is also perfectly safe to use and very much cheaper than any veterinary product.

Occasionally, very badly infested animals need to be treated with the veterinary product Ivomectin by either skin application or injected subcutaneously.

Guinea pigs suffering fungal skin infestation have different symptoms altogether. The hair has a greasy texture to it, there is a deep layer of gritty scurfing on the surface of the skin and the skin itself has a deep red flush to it. As with the parasitic infestation there can also be lesions caused through scratching. In the more advanced cases this scratching can sometimes lead to fitting and in these cases it may be necessary to treat systemically with the anti fungal drug, griseofulvin. See photographs.

I always use my formula of essential oils to treat this condition which seldom fails to deal with it. The oils are tea tree, lemon grass, patchouli, and lavender at a nine to one ratio with a carrier oil, ie, ten ml of the essential oils to one hundred of carrier oil.

Massage well into the skin and leave for twenty four hours then shampoo off. Wait three days then repeat procedure. After the first shampoo, it is important to tease out as much of the hair as possible. You will find this very easy, for after the twenty four hour saturation the oil not only kills the fungus, it seeps into the roots which have already been damaged by the fungus and loosens them even more.

Sometimes it is necessary to repeat the oil massage ten days later if the gritty scurfing has not completely cleared. I stress gritty scurfing as opposed to the kind of scurfing which usually will be seen after the second shampooing. Careful examination will reveal that it is flaky and this is evidence that the medicine has worked. These flakes are made up of dead skin tissue which will continue to lift off for a week or so as the layers of skin which have been damage slough off. There is a tendency for people to want to shampoo immediately but I always advise them to leave it for at least two weeks by which time all the dead skin will have come through.

Increasingly I am coming to the conclusion that as some of the oil formula is ingested by the action of the animals grooming themselves, they are also treated systemically and I rarely need to resort to the conventional drug Griseofulvin. The does rate when it is necessary is half a 125mg tablet with 0.3 evening primrose oil for three weeks. As this is a P.O.M it will mean a visit to the vet.

The conventional topical treatment is Imaverol dip which is diluted in warm water at fifty parts of water to one part of Imaverol. This is a P license medicine, which is the same classification as aspirins in a chemist but it can only be obtained from a vet. For local patches of fungal infestation extract of Grapefruit seed is excellent. Twenty drops into a full egg cup of warm water and paint on daily for a week.

Guinea Pigs with Sinusitis

Some guinea pigs are very susceptible it this condition and one of the main causes for it is bedding them on sawdust and wood shavings. I always bed mine on hay and newspaper but I am very fussy about the quality of the hay I use for old and dusty hay can be as bad as sawdust or shavings.

The symptoms of sinusitis are similar to those of a human being with hay fever, sneezing, a running nose and a wheezing noise which come from the nose and can sometime reach back to the throat.

There is not a lot that can be done other than putting a dab of Vic ointment on the nose, though I have heard that the use of antihistamines can be used I have had no experience of using them. As I am uncertain of any side effects they may have, and the condition is not life threatening I have not even thought of trying them myself.

Obviously, if the bedding is suspect then it has to be removed but sometimes the source of the irritant cannot be traced so it is just a matter of trying to be observant the next time the condition occurs.

Guinea Pig Respiration

Like we humans upper respiratory tract infections are very common and in essence there is no cure for them other than easing symptoms. These symptoms are the same as we get, apart from the coughs and the treatments are the same. A dab of Vic oinment on the nose to clear the nasal passages and Sudafed at the dosage rate of 0.2 daily the ease the flem plus hal a 2mg capsule ofgarlic oil.

There is also an excellent veterinary product called Bisolvon which is a powder. Just a small amount on the back end of a tea spoon three times a day is very effective. Always feed powered medicines in from the side of the mouth then wipe the back of the spoon off the top of the mouth. Lady friends of mine have told me that this is the same way as mothers give their babies powdered medicine.

Viral, bacterial, and fungal infections of the lung can be more serious but respond well to treatment proving they are properly diagnosed.

If a guinea pig is suffering from a systemic fungal problem, see skin problems, and it develops a wheeze in the lungs, then it is likely to be caused by the fungus. The use of the drug Griseofulvin is very effective and if the animal is not already being treated with this is should be put on a course.

The bacterial infections are more likely to occur as a complication from another illness which has weakened the animal and left it open for bacterial attack. Animals that have been off their food for sometime because of dental, digestive or other problems can quite often suffer this complication. There are several antibiotics which are very effective, such as Tribrissen and Baytril. The dose rate for the Tribrissen is 0.5 orally for five to seven day. For the Baytril it is 0.4 by subcutaneous injections for five days.

Guinea Pig Pregnancy

In the main, most sows do not have any problems in pregnancy and are amazingly efficient at producing their young. However there are many signs and symptoms that make it look as though there is something going wrong. Perhaps it is more a matter of anxious owners and this anxiety increasing as D day, ‘delivery day’ approaches.

I think I get more worried callers on the end of the telephone line on this subject than any other kind. As I reassure them and hammer home the message that what the sow is going through is a perfectly natural function I am reminded of a friend of mine and his wife.

He is an airline pilot and she an air stewardess. Any height above my inside leg measurement and I am absolutely petrfied. With this in mind, I once remarked to my friend’s wife, when she was teasing me about my horror of flying, that it was fine for her and her husband as that was their business.

“Hm!” she snorted, “You should see this one as a passenger?” she continued, pointing at her husband.

“She’s right,” confirmed her husband. “I hate being a passenger, I’m nervous as a kitten. The statistics are right and it is much safer to travel by air than by any other method but things can go wrong and if I’m a passenger then I won’t be able to sort them out myself!?” he explained.

It is much the same with me when I have one of my own sows about to litter down, only in reverse. No matter how I reassure owners, telling them to relax and that such a such a symptom is nothing to worry about I am equally jittery when my own sows near their time. I do know what can go wrong and I do want to be in the position to do something about it and want other people to be able to as well, hence this detailed piece about pregnancy.

The number one problem is that you can never be sure just how close a sow is to litter down because you can never be sure just when she conceived. This is why there is such a huge variation in the length of the pregnancy terms given in different books on guinea pig care. I say it can go up to seventy five days but I am equally certain that it can be a lot less than that.

The only sure symptom that D day is very near is when you can feel that the pelvic bones have parted. When they have you can generally expect delivery within the next forty eight hours. However, there are quite a few cases where these bones can remain open for a week to ten days and usually there are no problems. However, always keep a very close watch on any sow which does not litter down within the expected forty eight hours.

The way to feel for the bones is to slip the finger between the back legs from behind the sow and palpate just forward of the vulva. The gap, when they are open should be between a quarter and half an inch. If there is any doubt about what you are feeling check the bones of a non pregnant sow.

Symptoms that things are not going well are lost of appetite, listlessness, excessive salivation and shows of blood from the vulva.

Quite a few sows lose their appetite a few hours before they deliver and providing in all other respects she appears to be fine and her young are still active, then she is probably one of these.

If she is listless then she could be heading for trouble and decisions have to be made, and very quickly about whether she should be induced by the use of oxytocin or possibly have the young removed by Caesarean section.

If the listlessness is accompanied by excessive salivation, then the outlook is very bleak and in most cases it mean she has developed pregnancy toxaemia. The use of antibiotics and rehydration by drip can sometimes help but the failure rate is very high.

Shows of blood are not at all uncommon and providing they are small and do not reoccur, seem to have no ill effect. However, they should always be taken seriously and the sow monitored very carefully.

The golden rule is if in doubt, get the sow to a vet or an expert for the promptness of correct diagnosis and treatment in thiese cases is pivotal to her and her young’s survival.

For me and many other owners of these adorable animals, the sight of a mother guinea pig littering down is the most wonderful in the world. I always scold and threaten to withdraw the cucumber ration of those who do it when I am out or asleep, something many of them seem to take delight in doing!.

The proceedings are heralded by a grunt, which once heard you will never forget for it is the only time a sow makes this sound. With back legs splayed and head between her legs it looks just like she is beginning to rummage for one droppings and then the theatre really begins.

The deliveries are either long or short, the short being the more usual with the whole business taking between ten to fifteen minutes. The longer births are those where there is a longer gap between each delivery, with short rest periods between the contractions.

If it is the first time the sow has been pregnant expect two to three young, and subsequent litters can be up six, and on occasion, eight.

The time to get concerned is if the sow keeps having contractions and there is no mini pig as a result. The usual reasons for this area breach presentation, pregnancy inertia or it can sometimes be that the umbilical cord has got wrapped around the baby.

For me, about the most frustrating thing in the world is to have short fingernails when a sow is having trouble bringing her young into the world. If I know a sow is pregnant then trimming my fingers nails is off until she is well delivered. I think I had better explain.

The sow pulls her babies out by their teeth which are the first thing she feels when she puts her head between her legs and the baby’s head appears. Usually, by the action of gripping the baby’s teeth in hers the thin membrane of the sac the baby has been carried in while it has been growing, tears, thus giving it access to air which it is soon going to need as it takes it’s first breath.

The techniques I am about to describe I have learned step by step over the past twelve years so consequently am experience and confident in what I am if ever I had any doubt about what I was doing I always left well alone and went to someone who was experienced and I advise owners to do the same.

It is possible to turn a baby that is breached, I have done it many times, but without sufficient length of finger nail to hook under the it’s incisor teeth it can be very difficult to pull it out.

The same applies in the interita cases where the baby has not become fully engaged in the birth canal.

To carry out an internal examination squirt a one of the water soluble gels, I use the type that doctors use for internal examinations, up into the vagina, however, don’t immediately carry out the examination.

Sometimes the mere act of adding this extra lubrication to the sow’s natural ones can tip the balance and providing it is not a breach presentation the baby will come out naturally. If this doesn’t work, slip one hand under the sow and lift just enough to ease her weight, and insert the third finger of the other hand gently up inside. This action too can sometimes have the desired effect for it can stimulate her to have contractions. Do not advance the finger any further until she has finished, which may result in a baby being delivered!.

If the result is negative, slip the finger in gently, letting it be guided to which ever side the the baby is lying. More often than not they come down from the right, her left, but sometimes it can be the other side.

What your finger should come up against if the presentation is O.K. are the incisor teeth. If, instead, it’s a foot then in most cases it’s breach. On one occasion I found this to be a front foot which I managed to manipulate back up the canal and shortly after there was one massive contraction and the baby came out on it’s own.

By careful manipulation the baby can sometimes be turned around and once the head’s engaged properly in the birth canal, more often than not it will simply follow through with the next contraction and come out without any further human assistance. If it doesn’t then it is relatively easy to hook the nail under the teeth and gently ease it out. However, if there is any marked resistance then stop immediately for further pulling could cause a prolapse.

If the baby cannot be turned it will be necessary to slip two fingers in, and in most cases there is plenty of room to do this, if there isn’t then don’t try!. First you must locate and manipulate it into place so that the two feet are together. I have only once come across one where both feet were presenting. Then, slipping the other finger in to make a pair of ‘finger forceps’ grip the two feet firmly and gently pull. Take your time and work with the sow who usually obliges when she feels the first pull.

This is delicate and time consuming work, something which must never be rushed and is not for the inexpert but it can be done and I urge people to try and learn how to do it. I am afraid my reason for this is once more the failure of many vets to take it on, preferring in most cases to always do a caesarean section which is a far more risky business.

Sometimes the administration of oxytocin is of great assistance. If you can find a vet who will respect your opinions and co-operate this drug can work wonders.

I am of the opinion that many of these animals can be saved unnecessary and hazardous surgery. If the profession can be persuaded to spend the time and effort to do what they will do for cats dogs and other animals, which incidentally, are far more able to survive anaesthesia than guinea pigs, many lives could be saved.

Many books, the majority of vets, most pet shops and the major animal charity in this country advise that guinea pigs and rabbits can be housed together. NO, NO, NO!. This can be hazardous for both species.

I recently read an article by a national newspaper’s tame vet in which he advised just such a practice and jokingly said that there was nothing to worry about if the rabbit got over amorous. Having seen the kind of injuries that can be caused by what this man thought was a ‘Jolly jape’ I seethed with anger at such utter stupidity and thoughtlessness. However, the main danger comes from something far more common in rabbit behaviour,

I always maintain that you can tell a rabbit breeder by the scratches down the inside of his or her arms. They are usually caused by the powerful back legs of rabbits which kick back when they are being lowered down into the quarters. Rabbits can do this kicking back action at anytime when they are moving about their quarters and guinea pigs are a darn sight frailer than human arms.

From the rabbit’s point of view the danger is in the dietary needs of the guinea pig which is high green vegetable matter. Try making the same amount a guinea pig needs, available to a rabbit and you are going to end up with a rabbit with a runny backside. You could of course tell the rabbit that the measly bit of apple or carrot is for him while all that lush green is for the guinea pig but I don’t think it would listen!.

Every breeder, rabbit sanctuary and the major rabbit fancy in this country feels the same way about mixing these species. One day, perhaps, the veterinary profession and most pet shops will listen to those who know these animals and their needs!.

Of course many of these animals have lived together without mishap but there are far more that have ended in disaster, mainly for the guinea pig.


There is only one form of poisoning that that it is possible for the owner to address without veterinary help and that is the organic kind.

The symptoms of muscle tremor and an inability of the guinea pig to hold it’s head up, which tends to keep slipping away to one side.

More often than not it occurs when the guinea pig have been given freedom to roam in the garden for the first time, and it more likely to be seen in younger animals. I think this is because the older animals have ‘wiser’ appetites, so to speak, while the younger ones take the attitude, ‘It’s green so let’s eat it!.’

As guinea pigs cannot vomit the use of an emetic is out of the question. What ever goes down the throat has to come out of the back end and the hastier this is done in the case of anything toxic, the better.

Crush a 100mg charcoal tablet, mix with a small amount of water and syringe into the mouth. In the two cases I dealt with, though the animals were traumatised, both were able to swallow the medicine. This will absorb what is in the gut, including the poison, hopefully.

Wait for half an hour and then give 1.05 liquid parafin by syringe. Keep the animal warm and in the dark by putting it into box with plenty of hay in it. Make sure there is also food and water in there.

Providing you have caught the guinea pig early enough, within twelve hours you will have a whole heap of dropping and a healthy guinea pig. I haven’t lost one yet, but in both cases the symptoms were noticed quickly.

A subcutaneous injection of vitamin B is recommended and plenty of rehydration fluid.

Guinea Pigs with Penis Protruding

There is one particular problem that some boars get which isvery uncomfortable indeed and if it is not dealt with can lead to cystitis and worse. It is when the penis is found to be extruding.

Nine times out of ten this is because he has become sexually excited at some stage, ejaculated and the semen has congealed around the penis and prevented it returning to it’s normal position, sheathed up inside it’s body out of harm’s way!.

I was once asked by a very precocious child at a school why a guinea pig’s penis cannot be seen. He, it had to be a boy of course, was obviously trying to put me in the spot, but not for the first time, his, like many other children’s questions, was one I should have asked myself. The answer came easy enough for I had been talking about the low centre of gravity guinea pig have which makes them so stable when they run at high speeds. If anything dangled it would not only slow it down it would also be in danger of damage, somewhat.

Guinea pig semen sets like super glue and very quickly too and this is why this problem sometime occurs. The most likely scenario is when a boar is suddenly housed close to sows and becomes over excited.

The penis is usually red raw and in cases where the problem has not been detected early, it can have hard scabs on the tip and become pusy. It is usually detected before this if it has indoor accommodation for it will squeak in pain and lift it’s bottom high when it passed urine for the semen can restrict the flow when it is clamped around the shaft.

Wash thoroughly in warm soapy water, then extrude the penis fully. The ring of semen is usually very easy see and has to be broken off for I have never come up with any kind of solvent to break it down!. Needless to say this is a bit of a delicate operation which I am sure the male of any species would appreciate!. It is wise to make this a four handed job, with someone to hold the boar firmly and still while ring of semen is broken with the finger and thumb of both hands. I coat the shaft in calendula oil and it usually slips back in easy enough and with obvious great relief to the boar!.

If the penis has become badly infected then an antibiotic ointment is recommended and it may be advisable for the animal to be put on a course of antibiotic orally.

Guinea Pig Paralysis

There is a kind of paralysis that can occur in guinea pigs which is a great puzzle and no one has ever been able to give me the answer to the question why. It happens very quickly, over night as a rule. You will wake up to find the animal down at the back, pulling itself along by it’s front legs. In all other respects it is alert, lively and as keen to get stuck into it’s breakfast as ever.


By this I mean those that occur after falls, or accompany other illnesses or ones that come on gradually.

The cure, and it invariably works, for the over night paralysis are heavy doses of calcium, in the shape of Osteocare. One ml night and morning for two days, slipping back to one ml daily for the following three days. Usually within twenty four to forty eight hours of beginning this treatment the animal begins to recover mobility.

Calcium is a vital mineral for muscle contractions and the nerve impulses that trigger them. Therefore I must assume that somehow there is a deficiency of this in the animal’s system when it goes down.

Though myself and many other people have asked all the obvious questions when coming across this paralysis such as has there been a change of diet, has the animal been stressed or had a sudden change of environment, invariably the answers are to the negative.

We guess, but we have no scientific proof to back this up with, that there has to be a gut absorption problem which flooding the gut with calcium manages to put right.

The good news is that this phenomenon is a once in a lifetime thing, it certainly is in regards to my own stock, though I have heard of one other animal belonging to a friend where it happen twice to the same animal.