How to Perform Weekly Guinea Pig Health Checks
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Guinea pigs are easy to care for! You rarely have to do anything besides clean their cage and make sure they have enough food. Right?
The idea that the smaller the animal, the easier the care, needs to go away, because the truth is much closer to this: Big problems come in small packages.
The HappyCavy email inbox is often filled with messages from concerned guinea pig caretakers in various stages of disbelief. “We took our Peanut to the vet and they found a huge lump on his chin! Do you think he’ll make it? And how can we pay the vet bills?”
The question is: How can someone who loves their guinea pig so much miss such a marked decrease in appetite? How can a lump get so big without being noticed?
The answer is pretty simple: It shouldn’t happen, because you should be performing weekly health checks. No ifs. No ands. And no butts. Weekly health checks are the ONLY way to prevent minor health issues from ballooning into hundreds of dollars worth of vet bills.
10 Minutes per Week = A Happier, Healthier Guinea Pig
By adding a 10-minute health check to your guinea pig’s weekly care routine of nail trimming and ear cleaning, you can get familiar with its body so that abnormal growths, changes in behavior and other potentially fatal health issues are caught – and treated – early.
An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.
The Health Check List
When performing a weekly health check, be gentle! Guinea pigs are naturally skittish and they are especially wary of humans rubbing their hands and fingers over their tender piggy parts. Behind the ears? You’re probably OK. But anywhere else? All bets are off.
To reduce movement when preforming health checks on squirmy guinea pigs, wrap them loosely in a towel or hold them close to you on your lap. Doing so will allow you to adequately focus on the health check areas below.
Also, we recommend that you create a health chart to keep track of your health checks. This can be as simple as a hand-written health journal or as complex as a formulated Excel spreadsheet. Feel an unusual lump under your guinea pig’s chin? Mark it down. Skin behind the ears appear flakey? Write it down. Keeping a detailed health chart for your guinea pig will come in handy the next time you’re headed to the vet.
Eyes should be clear and open fully. You may notice a white, milky substance at the corner of their eyes. This is normal; it’s a product of their grooming process that is wiped away by their front feet.
If you see discolored liquid, clear discharge, or persistent eye “crust”, this can indicate an underlying health problem. Schedule a vet appointment immediately if you notice watery or “crusty” eyes.
Hair and Skin
Skin should be supple, healthy-looking and pink in color; red skin is not healthy and indicates parasitic, bacterial or fungal infection. Fur should be dense and clean, with no bald patches. Look for dry, flaking skin or scratches, sores, or swelling around the entire body. Don’t forget to check often-missed areas like under the chin, under the belly and around the legs. Carefully palpate (“palpate” means to examine by touch) around the entire body to check if they are sensitive to your touch. If the pig squeaks or winces when you touch certain areas, this can indicate skin issues or a parasitic infection like mites.
Longer-haired guinea pigs should not have matted or knotted hair. Their hair should sit just above the ground to avoid getting dirty and matted. Frequent hair trimming – especially along the sides and rump – should be performed weekly or bi-weekly.
If your guinea pig lives with a cage mate, check for bite marks for signs of overt aggression. Guinea pigs that bite or cause other types of harm should be separated.
Ears should be clean and smooth. If you are cleaning your guinea pig’s ears regularly, you should not notice an excess build-up of wax. If you do see an excessive amount of wax build-up after cleaning regularly, consult your vet.
Black dots or other unusual markings can be the signs of fungal or parasitic infection. Consult a vet if you notice these abnormalities. Don’t forget to check behind the ears as well!
Make sure that the nose is clean and free from any liquid or discharge. If you notice discharge of any kind – such as a liquid or a crusty build-up – this may indicate an upper respiratory infection that requires medical attention.
The mouth should be clean from sores or crusty build-up. Take note of teeth growth. Indications of overgrown incisors can indicate that your guinea pig has stopped eating, which can signify an underlying health condition.
Agled wear on the incisors can be a sign that your guinea pig is favoring one side of the mouth while chewing. This can indicate scurvy, an abscess or another health issue.
Feet should be free from sores; when you touch the pads, your guinea pig should not react in pain. Sores on feet can indicate that your guinea pig’s bedding is wet and needs cleaned more often.
Foot sores should be looked at by your vet. Do not delay or attempt to treat at home!
Do not put ointment on sores as doing so may cause the skin to soften which can lead to the skin opening and become prone to infection. If feet sores are bad enough, oral antibiotics may be prescribed by your vet.
It is vital that you find out the cause of feet sores, as they will persist and may get worse.
Common causes for feet stores include overweight guinea pigs, guinea pigs that sit a lot due to advanced age or arthritis. Scurvy (a lack of Vitamin C) causes weak skin and can contribute to the formation of foot sores. If your guinea pig has sores on its feet, discuss these possible causes with your vet.
Other Causes for Feet Sores
Bumblefoot (ulcerative pododermatitis) is serious infection caused by Staphylococcus. Treatment of bumblefoot requires dedicated, sometimes long-term, treatment. If you notice foot sores, DO NOT delay having it checked out by a veterinarian.
Weigh your guinea pigs weekly! The importance of this cannot be stressed enough.
By keeping a weight chart for each guinea pig, you can track his or her health and easily notice a problem before health issues become health catastrophes.
Chin and Jaw
Abscesses, sores and growths can appear on the jawline and just under the chin. Check these areas very thoroughly and get familiar with what your guinea pig’s chin and jaw feel like. Doing so will help you identify when abnormal growths appear in the future.
Breathing should sound smooth, quiet, consistent and not labored. Labored or irregular breathing can indicate an underlying respiratory condition which requires immediate medical attention.
The genital areas should be clean and free from calcium deposits, sores or discoloration.
Water should be replaced daily and the bottle washed thoroughly – no exceptions! Some guinea pigs “backwash” their water which causes the bottles to become dirty very quickly. Each week, clean the metal nozzle thoroughly to remove any build-up.
Get familiar with how much water your guinea pig(s) consume(s); every guinea pig is different. Expect to see more water consumed during warmer months.
Hay should be refreshed daily (if needed) and should be cheeked to be free from long, hard stems which can get in eyes and noses. For bulk purchases of high-quality hay products, contact a local feed store and learn about how to identify quality hay for guinea pigs.
Droppings should be firm, not runny and pliable (not hard, but not too soft). A guinea pig with runny droppings or one who is not pooping at all should be taken to a vet immediately.
Normal urine may appear clear or cloudy but should not be gritty in texture. Normal urine may appear “milky.” To determine if urine is gritty, wait until it is dried.
Dried urine may leave behind powdery, white calcium compounds. Very young guinea pigs often have an orange or brown tint to their urine. Urine sometimes changes to an orange color as it sits.
Disposition (Happy or Sad? Lethargic or Energetic?)
Check to see if your guinea pig is behaving normally. Is he or she watching for the source of a sound it hears? Does its eyes appear alert and curious? As you palpate your guinea pig to examine its skin and fur, does it respond to the touch by wiggling or trying to get away?
Get to know your guinea pig’s personality. Doing so can help you identify when it is acting out of the ordinary and may need help.
Guinea pigs can’t keep track of their own health. It’s up to you to do so for them.
The more you perform these weekly health checks, the more familiar you will become with what’s “normal” for your guinea pig and what isn’t.
The best part? The next time you visit the vet for your guinea pig’s annual checkup, you’ll be prepared when asked, “Have you noticed anything unusual going on with your guinea pig?”
Your vet (and vet techs!) will love you, your guinea pig will be happier and healthier, and your wallet will stay a lot fuller because critical health issues will be caught early.
Now go forth and get to know your guinea pig’s body!How to Perform Weekly Guinea Pig Health Checks,
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