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Guinea Pig Diseases/General

Malocclusion of Premolar Teeth (Slobbers): A common problem of guinea pigs (especially those over 3 years old) results when the upper and lower premolar teeth (the most forward cheek teeth) meet improperly while chewing. In time, this problem results in abnormal wear of these teeth. This in turn causes entrapment of and continual injury to the tongue. Affected animals try to eat but cannot chew and swallow food. Drooling results in a continually moist mouth and chin. Weight loss is often dramatic. A veterinarian must be consulted as soon as possible if this condition is suspected. The diagnosis is confirmed upon direct visual examination of the mouth. Correction of the problem involves general anesthesia and aggressive trimming or filing of the overgrown teeth. This is a difficult procedure because of the guinea pig's extremely small mouth opening. Forced feedings and antibiotics are usually necessary for a number of days before and after this procedure has been performed. There is no permanent solution or correction for this problem. Periodic trimming or filing is almost always necessary. Guinea pigs with this problem should never be bred so as to prevent passing this most undesirable trait to their offspring.

Vitamin C Deficiency (Scurvy or Scorbutis): Guinea pigs cannot manufacture vitamin C and must receive an adequate supply of it from outside food sources. Vitamin C deficiency results in scurvy, which is characterized by inappetence, swollen, painful joints and ribs, reluctance to move, poor bone and teeth development, and spontaneous bleeding from the gums and into muscle. Adequate levels of vitamin C are always included in the formulation of pelleted diets for guinea pigs. Often, however, handling and improper storage (exposure to light, heat and dampness) of the feed pellets results in loss of vitamin C. Therefore, even guinea pigs fed presumably reliable pelleted diets may develop scurvy if the diet's vitamin C content has been reduced or lost. A veterinarian should be consulted if this disease is suspected so that the diagnosis can be confirmed. The veterinarian will prescribe a program of vitamin C supplementation (via food or water or injection) to reverse the signs.

Hair Loss: Or thinning of the hair is a common problem of female guinea pigs that have been repeatedly bred. These sows tend to lose hair with each successive pregnancy. Hair loss is frequently noted among juvenile guinea pigs ma weakened state at or around the time of weaning. "Barbering" also results in hair loss. This vice (bad habit) occurs when guinea pigs habitually chew on the haircoats of guinea pigs that are lower in the social "pecking order." Younger guinea pigs in particular, can lose substantial amounts of hair as a result of this activity.  Hair can also be lost because of fungal disease and external parasite infestations.

Heat Stress (Heat Stroke): Guinea pigs are especially susceptible to heat stroke, particularly those that are overweight and/or heavily furred. Environmental temperatures above 85 F, high humidity (above 70%), inadequate shade and ventilation, crowding and stress are additional predisposing factors. Signs of heat stroke include panting, slobbering, weakness, refusal to move about, delirium, convulsions and eventually death. Heat stroke is treatable if recognized relatively early. Heat-stressed guinea pigs should be immediately sprayed with or bathed in cool water. Once this first-aid is undertaken, a veterinarian should be contacted immediately. Prevention of heat stroke involves providing adequate shade from the sun (if guinea pigs are housed outdoors) and adequate ventilation (if housed in-doors). A continuous light mist or spray of water and/or a fan operating over a container of ice can be directed at a guinea pig within its enclosure to lower the air temperature, whether the guinea pig is housed indoors or outdoors.

Cancer is a relatively rare problem of guinea pigs. As with most animals, it is most likely to affect older guinea pigs. Most tumors are benign and involve the skin and respiratory tract lining. Cancer may also affect the reproductive tract, mammary glands (breasts) and blood (leukemia).

Cervical Lymphadenitis "Lumps": Abscessation of the lymph nodes immediately beneath the lower jaw, in the upper neck, usually results when coarse foods (such as hay) injure the lining of the mouth or when superficial wounds penetrate the skin over these lymph nodes. Bacterial invasion causes painful, swollen abscesses under the lower jaw. Sometimes these abscesses break open and exude a thick, creamy yellow-white pus. A veterinarian can perform a bacterial culture of :he pus with antibiotic sensitivity testing to determine the appropriate antibiotic to use by injection. If :he abscesses are large, surgical removal and aggressive antibiotic therapy may be recommended.

Pneumonia is one of the most common bacterial diseases of pet guinea pigs. A number of potential disease-causing bacteria may inhabit the respiratory tracts of otherwise normal guinea pigs. Stress, inadequate diet, and improper home care often predispose a pet guinea pig to respiratory infection. Signs of pneumonia may include labored or rapid breathing, discharge from eyes and nostrils, lethargy and inappetence. Some animals show no signs at all before dying suddenly. Middle and inner ear infections occasionally result from respiratory disease in guinea pigs. Additional signs may include incoordination, tilting of the head, circling to one side, and rolling. A veterinarian must be consulted about this serious bacterial infection. Aggressive antibiotic therapy by injection and appropriate supportive care are necessary. Bacterial culture and antibiotic sensitivity testing help the veterinarian select an appropriate antibiotic. Unfortunately, even though the signs of in-fection can be relieved, the causative bacteria cannot be eliminated. Rabbits and rats harbor at least one of the bacteria known to cause pneumonia in guinea pigs. Therefore, it is wise not to house these animals with or near guinea pigs.