AJ Cavies

Health

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If kept in clean, warm hutches, and fed a good diet, your Guinea pig will more likely to remain healthy. They do not need any vaccinations but do need nails cut occasionally. Your veterinary nurse will do it if you prefer. Please ensure they are checked regularly and that includes teeth, skin, eyes, bottoms, nails and hair.

It is important to look at their coats often, as skin problems can occur. Any signs of sores, hair loss, mites, wriggly things, bald patches, constant scratching etc. should be treated sooner rather than later. Long coated Guinea’s need regular grooming and regular bathing (using an appropriate shampoo) in the summer months helps to prevent mites from laying eggs and keeps the coat nice and healthy.

Mite prevention products are available from any vet and are an important part of keeping Guinea pigs healthy. They are not too expensive and are simply a spot on that goes onto the back of their necks, these keep the creepy crawlies away.

Weighing your Guinea pig each week and recording it can be beneficial as if they start to lose weight it is a good indicator that something else is wrong. Guinea pigs do sometimes have problems with teeth so any weight loss must be investigated.

As with all animals, They need exercise to stay fit and healthy. Having a big area to explore and bomb around in daily also keeps them stimulated and entertained, which is equally as important.

Giving access to a big and varied environment improves their world in an incredible way. Even a large cage or hutch is quite a restrictive space, which is why daily floor time or sessions in a garden run/exercise pen are so important. Floor time brings the obvious increases in opportunities for mental and physical stimulation but let's not forget there's plenty in it for you too! Use your imagination when it comes to making tunnels, bridges, hidey holes, caves, platforms, climbing…….They will give anything a try, just watch them. Just make sure they are safe when being “environmentally enriched”. On the internet there are some wonderful examples of guinea pig enclosures that are just perfect for them.

You will also need to make provision for your Guinea pig to have a run about even in cold weather, perhaps indoors, if they are really spoilt but the patio or decking is ok as long as the floor is dry. This daily handling helps them to bond with you. However, please do not put them out on damp grass, there is a strong possibility that it will make them poorly. They need the exercise but just want it to be dry.

PHYSIOLOGICAL DATA OF YOUR GUINEA PIG

Body Temperature (by Rectal thermometer) 38.3 – 40°C (100 – 104°F )
Heart Rate 230 – 320/minute
Respiration Rate 90 – 150/minute
Tidal Volume 2 -5ml/kg
Blood Volume 6% of body weight
Life Expectancy up to 8 yrs, usually 4 -5 yrs
Environmental Temperature 20 – 22°C (optimum performance)
  15 – 18°C (acceptable average)

Digestive Intake: 6g per 100g body weight of which 2 – 4g is dry food. They eat 8% of their body weight as dry food.
Water Intake: 85ml/day (average adult). Approximately 8ml /100g body weight.
First eat solid food: 2-4 days

Sexual Maturity: (female) 4 – 6 weeks
Sexual Maturity: (male) 4 – 6 weeks
Female Breeding Age: 4 – 5 months weight 500g
Male Breeding Age: 3 – 5 months weight 550g
Oestrus Cycle: 15 – 17 days
Ovulation: Spontaneous – approximately 10 hrs after onset of oestrus.
Gestation Period: 59 – 72 days (depending upon litter size)
Litter Size: 1 – 6 (average is 3)
Birth Weight: 75g – 100g
Breeding Life of a female: 4 – 5 yrs
Breeding Life of a Male: 5 yrs or longer
Lactation Period: 3 weeks
Weaning Age: 3 weeks

HEALTH & AILMENTS

On the health front there are not too many problems. Toenails grow throughout a guinea pigs life and will need trimming from time to time. Use nail clippers and do not cut too close to the little red vein that is visible in the nail.

If your Guinea Pig develops sore patches on the back or starts shedding fur then he/she may have picked up some bugs these can be caught from the hay. It is essential to get rid of these bugs by visiting your veterinary practice and ask for a treatment called “Seleen” and bath your Guinea Pig in it by ensuring the solution is diluted and massaged well into the skin. Leave for 10-15 minutes before rinsing off thoroughly. Repeat treatment again in 10 days time.

MANGE

Mange is fairly common. It is caused by a burrowing mite and Guinea pigs that are affected itch and break out in open sores, especially around the head and neck area. The most effective treatment is a medication called Ivermectin but as usual it’s best to consult your vet.

LICE

Lice can be a problem from time to time and can be seen by the naked eye. You can buy a spray that is PYRETHRUM based (Johnsons Anti pest spray for birds is ideal) this can be obtained from all good pet stores. To apply hold the can approx 6” from the Guinea Pig’s rump (above the grease spot, this is where the tail would be if Guinea Pigs had one) and apply. Please ensure you protect your Guinea Pig’s Facial area when using any spray.

MOUTH SORES

Some Guinea Pigs can present mouth sores/scabs this is caused by a bacterial infection, which can be exacerbated by feeding foods that have a high acid content, such as Apple, Tomato & Orange but these can be given as an occasional treat.

This condition is contagious and can be treated by using “Pevidine” as a mouthwash and then by applying “nystatin” (an antibiotic/steroid cream) directly onto the sores. It would be worthwhile to check the hutch for any abrasive surfaces that the Guinea Pig may be chewing. Those Guinea Pigs which chew away at the wire mesh of their cage doors are particularly susceptible to mouth infections.

RESPIRATORY SYSTEM

Guinea Pigs possess a normal mammalian respiratory system with no specific pecularities. The healthy Guinea Pig will only breathe through it's nose and therefore mouth breathing is a sign of respiratory distress.

There are a number of causes which will encourage respiratory diseases, such as achange in environmental temperature, humidity or ventilation. Ammonia produced as a consquence of a build up of dirty bedding will also weaken the resistance of the respiratory tract to infection. Other factors include a sudden diet change, diets low in vitamin C and over-crowding. The young, old and pregnant are most susceptible for devloping respiratory disease.

Sneezing - All Guinea Pigs sneeze occasionally, especially if exposed to dusty food or hay. Guinea Pigs bedded on fine sawdust are also inclined to sneeze frequently. It is their bodies natural defence mechanism for keeping their nasal passages clear. However, if the sneezing becomes more frequent or it is accompanied by any form of discharge it may be a symptom of a more serious disease condition.

Nasal Bleeding - Bleeding from the nose may be a symptom of vitamin K deficiency. This can arise if the diet consists of dry food and poor hay only, as the major source of this vitamin is from green stuffs. Bleeding can also be present after trauma, especially if the Guinea Pig has fallen on it's head.

Nasal Discharge - A mucus discharge is usually a symptom of upper or lower respiratory tract infection. However, this must not be confused with a normal milky fluid which is occasionally exuded from the nose and eyes as part of the natural grooming process.

Coughing - As with sneezing, all Guinea Pigs will cough occasionally, and this need not be related to an infection but is assumed to be part of the body's natural defence mechanism.

Snuffles - Certain types of Guinea Pig, especially those with short noses, may snuffle as they breathe. This problem may be present from birth and will make the pig more susceptible to developing respiratory disease later.

Ruttling - This term describes a rough sounding wheezy type of breathing. It is often a symptom of an infectious disease however the pig may show no other symptoms.

Pneumonia (inflammation of the lungs) - The symptoms of pneumonia are similar regardless of the cause and include heavy/laboured breathing, ruttling, sneezing accompanied by nasal discharge and coughing. The affected Guinea Pig adopts a tucked up appearance, becomes depressed and anorexic and, if left untreated, will die. This condition may be caused by numerous bacterial and viral agents.

EYE PROBLEMS & INFECTIONS

Traumatic eye infections are fairly common, generally as a result of a hay seed or sharp piece of bedding scratching the eye. The whole surface of the eye may turn a cloudy blue overnight. The eye must be bathed to remove any foreign material and an antibiotic eye cream applied 3 – 4 times per day (best to consult your vet).

Other signs that should be examined by a vet are:

Crusty eyes - may indicate conjunctivitis or the presence of a foreign object
Watery eyes - may be the result of a blocked tear duct
Cloudy eyes - eye infections, ulceration or damage may result in a general cloudiness of the entire eye
Protruding eyes - can indicate an abscess, elongated roots, or other problem
Fatty eyes - a permanent protusion of the lower conjuntival sac, caused by excessive retrobulbar fat
Red eyes - similar to above but temporary appears at times of stress or when exposed to eye irritants

Cataracts - This is the clouding of the lens in the eye. This can be age related and appears gradually over time, if however it suddenly appears then this may indicate either "hay-poke" or sometimes diabetes.

Entropion - This is a turning in of the eyelashes causing irritation of the eye. The eye may turn milky white and develop a corneal ulcer. If this happens with a new born Guinea Pig in most cases it will outgrow this condition after a few weeks. The irritation can be eased by applying a sterile eye lubricant from your vet and used several times during the day.
 
EARS

The internal structure of the ear is similar to other mammals; however, the cochlea of the Guinea Pig has four coils and they therefore possess very acute hearing.

Wounds - These are usually the result of fighting. Tears and lacerations are common injuries which may be obtained during Guinea Pig disputes. Young Guinea Pigs may receive injuries from their mother if startled whilst she is feeding them and accidentally ctahces their ears with her nails as she moves. If wound is bleeding digital pressure should be applied. The ear should be held between finger and thumb for at least five minutes. Older wounds can be bathed in a dilute salt solutionand dusted with antisceptic powder.

Solar Dermatitis - This condition will affect Guinea Pigs with pink ears and occurs when they are exposed to sun light, the ear will become hot and enflamed. Affected Guinea Pigs should not be exposed to too much direct sunlight. Their ears can be protected by using an infant sun blocking cream.

Middle Ear Disease - Your Guinea Pig will hold its head over to the affected side and may fall over to the same side, due to a disturbance to its sense of balance. Consult your vet immediately.

TEETH

The Guinea Pig has two upper and two lower incisors for gnawing. These teeth only have enamel on their front surfaces and are therefore self sharpening. The canine are absent but in their place is a gap known as the "Diastema". There are four upper and lower cheek teeth, one premolar and three molars on both sides. Guinea Pigs teeth are open rooted and grow continuously and therefore they must be provided with a constant supply of hard food to ensure even wearing of the teeth.

Broken teeth - These commonly occur as a result of falls or fighting, the teeth must be clipped level to provide an even bite surface. It is doubly important that the Guinea Pig is supplied with hard foods at this time to keep the teeth even, as the feeding of soft foods will lead to uncontrolled growth of the other teeth.

Weak teeth - The teeth break very easily, or may drop out if knocked. This can be a sign of vitamin D deficiency. Lack of this vitamin leads to a calcium deficiency and therefore poorly mineralised teeth and bones. The Guinea Pig acquires its vitamin D from two sources - from its diet and from the synthesis of vitamin D via its skin in daylight. It is only when it is deprived of both sources that teeth and bone weakness occur. Excess vitamin D is harmful but in severely affected cases one drop of cod liver oil can be given orally for a week. At the same time the diet must be improved and the sunlight to its accomodation must be increased.

Malocclusion - Molar malocclusion can be an inherited condition or it can develope in any Guinea Pig over one year of age. The molar teeth wear unevenly, and the maxillary cheek teeth develope spurs which grow into and ulcerate the cheeks, whilst the mandibular cheek teeth grow towards the tongue causing buccal ulceration. In advanced cases the lower molars can grow across, and entrap the tongue. Clinical signs are salivation and weight loss, the Guinea Pig may still show interest in food but be unable to chew it. Consult your vet if in doubt.

Root abcesses - The Guinea Pig stops eating and may salivate profusely. Occasionally pus may be seen coming from the back of the mouth. The molars are usually affected by this condition and can be examined by your vet.

Ptyalism (Slobbers) - Slobbering can occur as a result of overgrown teeth, as a symptom of heatstroke and it is also seen in cases of Vitamin C overdose. Salivation may also a sign of diabetes.

DIARRHOEA

Diarrhoea can be caused by a sudden change in diet and it can often happen in the summer when green foods become readily available. In most cases the Guinea Pig remains bright and retains it’s appetite. Green foods and mollased dry foods must be withheld, although plants with astringent properties (Shepherds Purse and Bramble leaves) can be fed at this time. Kaolin based infant diarrhoea preparations are also useful given at a dose of 3 or 4 drops 3 - 4 times per day. Colic pain or bloating can sometimes be relieved by administering 3 – 4 drops of vegetable oil by mouth.

BLADDER & URINARY TRACT

Normal Guinea Pig urine is opaque and creamy yellow in colour. It is alkaline and has a normal pH of 9. The urine occasionally contains crystals of ammonium phosphate and calcium carbonate. This crystaluria accounts for a build up of scale in the hutches which can easily be removed by cleaning with a weak acid solution.

Cystitus can be common. The clinical signs are discomfort during urination and the urine may contain blood. The underside of the Guinea Pig may become very wet, this needs to be treated with antibiotics from your vet “Borgal” or “Tribrissen” provides the best response.

EASY CHECKS FOR A HEALTHY GUINEA PIG

Thankfully, guinea pigs are very hardy creatures, and if kept clean and fed well they rarely become sick. There are, however, some daily checks you should make, to ensure that your guinea pig stays well, it also helps you to notice any change very quickly, and visit your vet at the first sign of illness.

EYES

There should be no sign of cloudiness or discharge. An eye that suddenly goes cloudy may mean that the guinea pig has got an ulcer as a result of a piece of hay in its eye. Any eye problems require urgent veterinary attention. Guinea pigs do normally secrete a milky discharge from their eyes, which precedes grooming, as they use it on their paws to groom themselves, if you see this you do not need to worry about it.

NOSE

The nose should be clean, and as with the eyes, shouldn't be runny. Any discharge or sneezing may suggest that your guinea pig has a cold.

THE COAT

The fur should be dense and clean. Any patches of hair loss or areas where the skin is red and sore may suggest that your guinea pig has mites. Watch him closely, is he scratching more than usual? Mites burrow under the skin and cause a distressing condition called mange, and the sooner you spot any problem, the sooner you can get it treated, something your guinea pig will certainly thank you for. Sometimes you may see little tiny nits walking on your guinea pigs fur, these are hay mites, which are harmless and a simple shampoo will get rid of them for you.

THE FEET

Check the nails, and never let them get too long. Guinea pigs have no fur on the bottom of their feet, so check the bottom of their feet regularly for any sign of soreness. If their feet are sore their bedding wants to be as soft as possible, wood shavings and soft meadow hay is best.

THE BOTTOM

Yes, this bit needs checking too... The whole area should be clean and dry. If the guinea pig is wet and smelly between its legs it may have a urine infection. Old boys may also get a problem where their poo gets stuck (see below), and they are no longer able to eat the sticky caecotrophs as they should. Your vet will be able to show you how to help them daily to make sure they have clean bottoms.

CLEANING THE PENIS

With Boars it is helpful to examine the penis and clean any debris you find. The whitish material is called smegma and may be odorous. After cleaning gently with warm water, you can lubricate the penis with mineral oil. If you find any raw skin or sores, apply a thin film of antibiotic ointment. To extend the penis, press down gently.

CARING FOR BOARS: CLEANING OUT THE PERINEAL SAC

Guinea pigs are coprophagic, a word used to describe the re ingestion of certain faecal pellets which for some animals is a perfectly normal behaviour on their part and helps to repopulate their gut fauna as well reabsorb the nutrients that it contains.
 
These pellets, which are taken from the perineal sac, are seldom seen because the Guinea Pig does not excrete them. You will often see a guinea pig, with its head down between its back legs, as if energetically searching. Most often he is taking one of these pellets from the perineal sac.

In some boars, the sac becomes impacted with these pellets. It maybe because the muscle spasms which enable the pellets to be presented to the boar have become weak. 0r it could be because the pellets, which are softer than those that are excreted, get softer still and form into a large ball. It is more common in elderly boars but is by no means unknown in younger boars.

The owner’s intervention is very important. The help needed may not be very pleasant for the owner but it is a small price to pay considering the pleasure the animal has given.

It is simply a matter of rolling back the opening of the sac and exposing it with finger and thumb. Using wipes and cotton buds remove the matter which has collected in the sac (it is a combination of hair, bedding, grease etc and can smell unpleasant), once done you can apply using a cotton wool bud some mineral oil (obtainable from your pharmacy) to the area.

How regularly it has to be done varies, some need it daily, others only two or three times a week.

GREASE GLANDS

Grease glands are not exclusive to boars, but they are more active in boars. Regular degreasing should be part of your boar’s routine. Swarfega is an excellent product to use. Made for removing grease from Human hands it does the job well on guinea’s grease glands too. Wet the Guinea all over, apply Swarfega to grease gland area (base of what would be where the tail is), over the next three minutes or so you will feel the grease breaking down as you massage the Swarfega into guinea’s coat that surrounds the gland. After approx.4 minutes rinse the coat and surrounding areas well. This is an important stage of bathing because a dirty grease gland will attract mites and mites mean irritation.

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