Because guinea pigs are common prey for many larger species, they have evolved to hide pain and weakness. Making noise, limping and other signs of distress alert predators to a location. They tell the predator that a particular animal is easy and therefore, safe prey.
That makes it all the more important for guinea pig owners to keep a sharp eye out for any signs of illness.
One common denominator of many ailments is a lack of appetite, a sharp reduction in the intake of food. Anorexia, when it can be detected, is a sure sign that something serious is wrong. Though that may point to digestive problems, the underlying cause may be a respiratory infection. The cause underlying that may well be a bacteria.
But diagnosis of the fundamental reasons are best left to a professional. Seeing a veterinarian is vital to arrive at the best possible treatment. Naturally, before anyone has a reason to endure the time and expense, they’ll want some evidence of disease. Regular checkups for guinea pigs in the absence of any obvious external signs are rare.
One external sign is the absence of any feces. Like rabbits, cavies eat some of their feces, so it can be a little tricky to measure the right amount. But experience will teach an owner what to expect. One sure sign is when no feces at all are found for a couple of days, particularly when coupled with a sharp reduction in food intake.
Reduced urine output is also a sign. Again, this is most commonly coupled with a substantial reduction in intake, in this case of water. Any guinea pig that hasn’t urinated in a day is undergoing some kind of physical stress. The cause may be kidney problems, urethral blockage or other serious problem. Seek medical attention right away.
Rapid weight loss is another way to measure possible medical problems. Weekly weighing of your guinea pig can help provide those early signs that motivate a visit to the vet.
Guinea pigs weigh an average of 1.5-2.5 lbs. Full grown females are generally between 700-1000g. Males are a bit heavier, going up to 1,200g or so. A couple of ounces (a few dozen grams) of variation is not generally a concern. But anything outside that range is cause for a call to the vet. He or she can advise you about whether a visit is appropriate.
A regular close-up skin examination is another must. Guinea pigs will scratch themselves, of course, possibly producing temporary redness. But any lesions should be a concern. Mites, fungi and other organisms can produce skin problems. Whether due to infection or scratching, they need to be treated right away.
Similarly, a home dental exam should be performed at the same time. Occlusions, mouth and throat infections, and other oral issues need to be attended to at once. Look for excess redness, lesions or any condition out of the ordinary. Abscesses in both the teeth and the throat are common guinea pig problems.
With regular care, most guinea pigs can be free of serious illness for years. The variation on the old saying applies here: an ounce of prevention is worth 2.5 lbs of cure.