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Senior Pig Moment: How to Care for Your Old Guinea Pig

Published: 10/5/2017 | Author: HappyCavy | Updated: 10/10/2017

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Guinea pig in a crochet bonnet

Just because your guinea pig is old, that doesn’t mean that a health condition is untreatable.

Special thanks to the folks at Portland Guinea Pig Rescue for their help fact-checking this article.


Like humans, old age in guinea pigs comes with its own set of unique challenges and realities. From mellower personalities to changing nutritional needs, the day-to-day care of older guinea pigs is important but isn’t discussed often enough.

Perhaps this is because the average life span of a guinea pig is 5 to 7 years, just the time when most guinea pigs will start to develop these old-age related challenges. Or perhaps it’s simply because we don’t like to discuss the uncomfortable facts of end-of-life.

Whatever the reason, we’re here to help you with some tips on how to care for your old, or gracefully aging, guinea pig.

Did we forget something? Let us know by leaving a comment.

Don’t Forget Vitamin C

Guinea pigs, like humans, are not able to create vitamin C. Guinea pigs need a daily vitamin C supplement, not in the form of a fruit or veggie snack. Find out an easy way to give your guinea pig a daily vitamin C supplement.

Getting Around

As is the case with old lady Feebee, mobility seems to be one of the most common issues experienced by older guinea pigs. As guinea pigs age, their joints are prone to become inflamed and develop arthritis. This means that older guinea pigs don’t explore or exercise as much as their younger counterparts. This means you may have to rearrange your guinea pig’s cage as it gets older.

Avoid putting anything into your guinea pig’s cage that your oldster could get tangled in. Keep toys small and compact. Also, be sure to keep a close eye on your guinea pig to ensure it’s eating and drinking properly. If your guinea pig stops being able to move around, please consult with a veterinarian for further advice.

Eyes

Guinea pig with healthy eyes

Ears should be clear and free of crust or discharge.

Guinea pig with cataract in eye

Eyes that appear cloudy, white, or opaque may signal the beginning of a cataract (source).

Older guinea pigs are more susceptible to forming cataracts on their eyes.

Cataracts can lead to decreased eye sight, but they are generally not painful, and older guinea pigs usually can adjust to decreased eyesight.

How do you know if your guinea pig has developed cataracts?

Look for eyes that appear cloudy, white, or opaque. If your guinea pig’s eyes start to appear swollen or have discharge, see your vet immediately.

Just because your guinea pig is old, that doesn’t mean that a health condition is untreatable. Just the opposite: Because of advanced age, swift vet attention can ensure recovery from health ailments.

Do you suspect your guinea pig may have cataracts?

There’s only one way to know for sure: Call your vet and schedule an appointment.

Check Food and Water Consumption

Danger: Bladder Stones

Older cavies are more prone to developing bladder stones. Bladder stones usually start occurring after age three.

It’s advised that older guinea pigs receive limited pellets; a low protein and low calcium timothy hay pellet is advisable.

The Lots of people may notice their older piggy dropping weight and so they increase the amount of pellets they give, only to have their guinea pig — especially males — wind up with bladder stones. If you insist on giving your guinea pig veggie snacks, make sure they are low calcium veggies. None would be better.

The best indicator of good guinea pig health is how much your cavy eats and drinks. Guinea pigs of any age should have a healthy appetite for food.

Check often to see if your guinea pig is eating pellets and hay and drinking water.

To help you determine how much your guinea pig is eating and drinking, use the “measure and mark” method. To do this, use a measuring cup to measure your guinea pig’s hay and pellets in the morning. At the end of the day, place what’s left back in the same measuring cup to see what remains and determine how much they are eating. For water, mark a line on your guinea pig’s water bottle in the morning, and check how much is gone in the evening. The “measure and mark” method is an easy way to see if your guinea pig is still getting the food and water it needs to stay healthy.

Also, make sure you keep your guinea pig’s water bottle clean. Older guinea pigs are more susceptible to infections due to decreased immune function. Change the water in your cavy’s water daily and disinfect frequently.

Pellets poured into measuring cup Placing mark on guinea pig water bottle

Weigh Your Guinea Pig

Maintaining a healthy weight is a good indicator of proper guinea pig health. Take some time each week to weigh your guinea pig. Guinea pigs that are expereincing a health problem should be weighed more frequently, sometimes every day.

For example, weight loss can be a symptom of kidney disease. Older piggies are more prone to developing age-related kidney disease that can cause protein to be shed in urine. This protein can be detected in a urinalysis and should be followed by blood work to check organ function to make sure there’s no sign of inflammatory response which could indicate kidney infection. Some owners try feeding a guinea pig more pellets when they see weight loss. But doing so doesn’t help a guinea pig with kidney disease because the kidneys just “dump” protein; the more pellets that are fed to a guinea pig with kidney disease, the greater the chance that pig will develop stones.

Feet

Watch your guinea pig’s footpads!

Due to limited mobility, older guinea pigs’ feet can develop sores and are prone to a painful condition called bumblefoot. Just because your guinea pig lives on soft bedding doesn’t mean it can’t get a foot condition!

If you see sores, irritation, or swelling on your guinea pig’s footpads, consult with your veterinarian. Hard callouses can also form on your guinea pig’s front and hind footpads. While these are usually not an issue, ask your vet just to be sure.

Switch to Smooth, Soft Bedding

In addition to the mobility issues guinea pigs can experience as they get older, it can be difficult for old guinea pigs to get around on loose, paper bedding. If you notice your older guinea pig isn’t moving around much, consider switching to fleece cage bedding, and be sure to limit the number of toys and playthings in your guinea pig’s cage so it can easily move around.

Teeth

As guinea pigs get older, their teeth may become more brittle and more prone to breakage.

Check your guinea pig’s teeth at least once a week to ensure they aren’t overgrown or cracked. If you notice a cracked tooth, call your vet immediately. The broken tooth (or the one beside it) may need to be trimmed or treated.

Male Guinea Pigs: What to Watch

The skin and muscles in a male guinea pig’s hind-end loses elasticity and tone, leaving them more vulnerable to impaction. This is compounded by a diet heavy in veggies or a diet that includes fruit. Veggies and fruit can soften the stool, which then can get trapped in the vent bursa. There are horror stories of male guinea pigs being impacted so badly that the skin can tear. Limiting veggies and eliminating fruit is a must if a male cavy is prone to soft stool. Neutered males are less prone to this.

Regular boar cleanings are an absolute must in male pigs. A fiber-heavy diet (hay) with supplemental acidophilus can help lessen or eliminate soft stool.

Female Guinea Pigs: What to Watch

Female guinea pig with large hind end

A female guinea pig with ovarian cysts. Notice the distinct “light bulb” shape. Source: Queensland Guinea Pig Refuge.

Since most females are still un-spayed, the likelihood that they will develop uterine tumors, cystic ovaries and uterine infections goes up dramatically over the age of three. Any sign of blood or discharge should be investigated.

Widening in the back-end can mean cystic ovaries. The tell-tale “light bulb shape” (small in the front, larger in the back), often accompanied by bilateral hair loss, is usually a sign that hormones are causing problems. If caught in time, cysts and tumors can be removed with a spay by a cavy-savvy vet.

Perform Regular Health Checks

Guide to checking guinea pig health

Regular health checks will help you catch problems before they get out of hand. (source)

You should already be performing weekly health checks, like palpating for tumors or other growths, and cleaning ears and trimming nails. As your guinea pig ages, be sure to perform these health checks more often.

At least once a day, sit with your senior guinea pig and gently feel around its body for growths. Check its eyes, teeth, footpads, and private areas to ensure everything appears normal. For example, a wet or soggy bottom can indicate that your guinea pig isn’t moving around as much as it should. You may also need to start trimming your guinea pig’s bum fuzz to help keep it clean.

If you notice that your guinea pig frequently has a wet bottom, ask your vet what can be done. Some medicines can be prescribed, or your vet may recommend that your guinea pig be examined for a urinary tract infection.

Schedule Your Guinea Pig Check Ups

Older guinea pigs should see the vet about every six months. An aging guinea pig’s health can change quickly, and frequent health checks can ensure that your cavy is staying happy and healthy.

Watch Those Poops!

Older guinea pigs are more prone to gut upset (especially if their diet isn’t ideal and consists of poor seed mix pellets or a heavy veggie or fruit intake). Watching your guinea pig’s stool production and quality is absolutely vital to ensure your guinea pig is staying healthy.

Different types of guinea pig stool

Guinea pig poo identification chart. Source: Cavy Savvy Guinea Pig Community.

Prepare for Emergencies

First aid kit

Keep an guinea pig first aid kit on hand in case of emergencies (source).

Be prepared for when things go sideways. Does your current vet have 24-hour emergency service? If not, ask your family vet where you can take your guinea pig if it needs emergency care after-hours. Knowing who to call and where to go before an emergency happens will save you a lot of time and anxiety when you need to keep your cool.

Also, be sure to always have a supply of Critical Care, probiotic, and plastic syringes on hand in case you need to hand-feed your guinea pig or your guinea pig experiences a gut upset. And learn how to hand-feed and give your cavy probiotics before there’s an emergency.

Love Your Old Pig!

Be proactive and get to know your guinea pig’s everyday activities. Learning how your guinea pig behaves normally will give you a good baseline on which to judge future changes.

Most importantly, if you aren’t doing weekly health checks, start today!

Older guinea pigs may need a little extra help. But – unlike young guinea pigs – senior cavies usually welcome the extra attention. Plus, when your beloved old cavy eventually crosses the rainbow bridge, you’ll know that you did everything you could to give your guinea pig a happy and healthy life.

For more ideas on how to care for your older guinea pig, here’s a few links with additional tips:

Senior Pig Moment: How to Care for Your Old Guinea Pig, 5.0 out of 5 based on 3 ratings
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About HappyCavy

HappyCavy is the Internet's only 4-webcam broadcast inside the lives of a female guinea pig herd from Portland, Oregon.

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  • RileyAnn Kinne

    My 3.5 year old pig Cali has eyes that are blu-ish in the center and a dark brown along the edges. This is only visible if I shine a flashlight on them. Otherwise, they are dark brown/black. Are Cali’s eyes normal?

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HappyCavy has been online since June 2009 with Hammy and Piglet. In October of 2009, a sweet, fuzzy cavy named Bitsy joined the webcam broadcasts.

Feebee and Buttercup were welcomed to the HappyCavy Forever Home as friends and co-conspirators in January 2011. Dot joined us on July 2012, and Winnie and Rosie were the most recent addition on February 8, 2015 and June 6, 2015, respectively. Learn more about the guinea pigs here.

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