‘Protection from and treatment of, illness and injury.’ Taken from the RSPCA’s 5 freedoms.

In order to monitor the health of your guinea pig it is important to know what ‘normal’ is. By watching your guinea pig’s habits and routines it is quite easy to establish what is usual and to recognise what is not. Some points to observe are:

  • How does my guinea behave at feeding time?

Some guinea pigs will come straight to the front of their pen/cage and wait until they are fed. Others seem to hang back before coming out to take some. Even when they have their food there are different ways of eating, some will take it back to a house to eat while others will eat it there and then. Others will take their food back to the house and come back out for more and take that back and so on. Everyone should get their fair share of a varied diet where there are groups of guinea pigs. Provide multiple bowls with a selection of foodstuff in each.

  • How does my guinea pig lay?

Guinea pigs adopt favourite positions, some seem to prefer stretching right out as much as possible, while other prefer to ‘curl up’ more. A change in how a guinea pig is laying may indicate pain somewhere, such as artritis, or a joint problem such as a sprain.

  • How much water does my guinea pig drink?

This can just be a basic observation of whether your guinea pig drinks a lot, a little or none. That way you will be able to notice if there is a change in habits. Guinea pigs need to drink water daily to flush their systems through and any excess Calcium. If Calcium is not flushed out of the body then stones or gravel may occur. It is a mistake to believe that vegetables or fresh food can provide enough water. Similarly wet vegetables will not increase the fluid intake enough and is certainly not large enough to flush calcium deposits out of the system. If your guinea pig is not drinking enough (particularly if they have recently suffered from bladder stones) then it can be given by syringe (oral).

  • Is my guinea pig normally vocal?

Guinea pigs will often change vocally when they are unwell and not wheek in anticipation of being fed. Get to know who the vocalists are and the sounds they make. A guinea pig may start making a ‘complaining’ squeak when he is picked up, perhaps indicating pain. Others that normally squeak when they are picked up may not squeak at all indicating that something may be out of the ordinary.

  • How does my guinea pig react to hay being put in the cage?

Like feeding, guineas pigs will react differently to a pile of hay being put in the cage, some will play first eat later, while others choose to eat first.

  • What is my guinea pig’s favourite food?

This is useful to know if you are not sure if your guinea pig is unwell or not. Most guinea pig’s favourite food is grass, therefore taking in some grass for your guinea pig to eat after an operation is going to be the one to get him eating again.

  • Is my guinea pig’s skin a healthy pink colour (on white/pale guinea pigs) and is the coat free from ‘dust’ and debris?

Gorgeous Guineas recommend that guineas should be bathed 4-6 weekly when their handmade aromatherapy shampoos are used. Others may dry the skin out and should not be used as often. Gorgeous Guineas have based their advice on Vedra Stanley Spatcher’s findings at The Cambridge Cavy Trust, a charity that specialises in guinea pig care. Vedra did trials to find out how long our domesticated guinea pigs in the United Kingdom could go between baths without any problems occuring. Dust and debris will irritate your guinea pig and make him uncomfortable. If the condition causes him to scratch and it is not treated correctly at once then it may soon become very severe, even fatal. On long haired guinea pigs in particular make an effort to get right down to the roots of the hair and look at the skin, bath time is a good oppotunity for this.

  • Are my guinea pig’s eyes and nose clear?

Older guinea pig’s eyes may not be as clear i.e catacts etc but look for change in the eyes and nose. The nose should never be flaring or twitching, this is the sign of an ill guinea pig and veterinary attention should be sought.

  • What should my guinea pig’s teeth look like?

Guinea pigs teeth and mouths come in assorted ’shapes and sizes’. They may have molars that look like they should be in a horse’s mouth or tiny ones, the important thing is that they are correctly aligned and wearing down evenly. The Incisors can tell a lot about what is happening at the back of the mouth so get to know what they look like usually and take note of any out of the ordinary wear that occurs. Not all guinea pigs have teeth that go straight across at the top, if they are wearing down correctly then this is fine providing it is monitored for any change. Healthy teeth are white in colour, a yellowing tooth indicates there is more going on inside the mouth. Seek the advice of a guinea pig competent vet who can preferably look at teeth using the Buccal seperators provided by the cambridge Cavy Trust, these are safer to use than the ones made by the veterinary profession quite simply because they are easier to remove in an emergency.

There are many other observations of guinea pig behaviour that can be monitored, this and regular weighing are a good way to tell what might be going on with the health of your guinea pig.

See also: Questions to ask your prospective vet.

See also: Routine Health Checks

See also: When to visit your vet.

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