If your guinea pig becomes sick there are several things that you can do to help him feel better and to help him get well. The most important things, other than making sure he gets any medication your veterinarian prescribes, are making sure that he’s eating, drinking and warm enough. In some cases you may also want to limit certain activities.
As always follow your veterinarian’s instructions first and foremost.
If your guinea pig becomes dehydrated it will cause him to become weak and will, in a short time, be the cause of death. No living thing can live without water. It doesn’t hurt to offer extra fluids in times of illness. Your veterinarian can inject fluid subcutaneously (under the skin) which will help. At home you can help by making sure your guinea pig has access to fresh, clean drinking water in his bottle and making sure that he can get to it.
You can also offer water via oral syringe (without the needle!), taking care not to cause him to take water into his lungs, which will just cause more problems. Take a 1 cc syringe, which is available from a pharmacist or your veterinary clinic, fill it with water and offer it to your guinea pig. It is safest to put the syringe in the side of his mouth just behind his teeth to reduce the risk of aspiration of fluid into the lungs. He may start drinking from it himself, slowly depress the plunger making sure he has enough time to swallow any fluid, 1 cc syringes will generally allow you to drip water drop by drop.
Another way to re-hydrate is to use a children’s electrolyte solution, such as Pedialyte. Mixing it 50/50 with water works well. You can again syringe this to your guinea pig, or add a second water bottle with the 50/50 mixture. It is not recommended to change his main water bottle to this as some animals will stop drinking if there is a change in taste to their water. Flavoured Pedialyte is OK.
Sometimes guinea pigs will stop eating when they are not feeling well. This can become serious quickly due to their size and fast metabolic rate, guinea pigs that are not eating can go into gut stasis within hours, even with quick treatment this can often prove fatal. Moving his food dish closer to his sleeping area will give him access to his food without having to go too far.
As soon as you notice your guinea pig not eating or eating a lot less you need to start force feeding. Force feeding can be very difficult at first, but once you get the hang of it is fairly easy. To force feed a guinea pig you will need a feeding syringe (a syringe without the needle), “slurry” or critical care, and a towel or two.
Critical care is available through some veterinary clinics. It is made by Oxbow and is formulated to feed the animal as well as build up strength, and keep the gut moving. If you are unable to get critical care you can create a “slurry” for your guinea pig, which also works well, directions to create a “slurry” will follow.
Force feeding is done in the same way as giving fluids. Put the syringe in the side of the mouth behind the front teeth, if you get it in the right place the guinea pig will start grinding his teeth on the syringe. At this point you can slowly depress the plunger; some guinea pigs will fight you a great deal. This is where the towel comes in handy. If you burrito wrap your guinea pig he won’t be able to fight you off as easily and may also find being wrapped to be somewhat calming.
If you put the syringe in the correct place in the mouth, your guinea pig will grind his molars on it. As long as he’s making this chewing motion he should be swallowing. It is also a lot harder for him to spit out the food. Guinea pigs can spit a lot further than you may think!
Using a new coffee grinder (e.g. one that has never been used for coffee), take some of his regular pellets and grind them into a powder.
With the powder mix some water and pedialyte, approximately 50/50, it doesn’t have to be exact.
Combine this mixture with some vegetable baby food, making sure that the baby food has no onion or garlic in it.
You can also add to this some crushed up vitamin C. Approximately 1/8 of a 250 mg chewable tablet works well.
The powder from an acidophilus capsule can also be added, half a capsule is plenty. Acidophilus is the “good” gut bacteria often found in yoghurt, however do not feed your guinea pig yoghurt, the are unable to digest dairy properly.
The combination of ground pellets, baby food, pedialyte, water, vitamin C and acidophilus should be as “solid” as possible as this keeps the gut moving better. However you also want it thin and runny enough that it will pass through the syringe.
Keeping Your Guinea pig Comfortable
If a guinea pig is dehydrated or not eating, they often feel cold. That being said you also don’t want to over heat him as this can cause heatstroke.
Making sure that he has something to curl up in such as a cuddle cup, or an extra blanket is a good idea.
If you have a small hot water bottle you can fill it up and put it under the cage in an area near where he sleeps, this will allow him to move closer to it if he’s cold, but still get away from the heat if he gets too warm. Note: if you are treating for heat related illness such as heat stroke, use an ice pack in place of the hot water bottle in the same way. Place it under a part of the cage so that he can lie near it to cool off, or move away from it if he gets too cool.
If he’s comfortable with it, and not fighting you, then holding him wrapped in a small towel will also warm him. Due to feeling ill many guinea pigs become very lethargic and will simply curl up and sleep on you. Your body heat, plus the warmth from being wrapped in a towel will warm him.
If you have a multi level cage, and are able to, cut it down to a single level to prevent too much activity and also to prevent falls. If the cage does not allow removal of levels make sure that all food and water is brought to the lower level, or whatever level the guinea pig has his nest on. If he uses a litter box make sure to move this also.
This is where the pet store cages can come in handy as they are small enough to use as a hospital cage if need be.
As guinea pigs are social creatures it is often asked “should I separate my sick/injured guinea pig from his cage mate?” This often depends on the situation. If the injury was caused by a fight between the guinea pigs, then you should separate them immediately and they should not be returned to the same cage. In most other circumstances it is better to leave them together unless the one who is ill is being bullied. If the illness is contagious there is a good chance the other guinea pig(s) are already affected and should be treated. Being separated from his cage mate will only stress your guinea pig out more and make him lonely. The other guinea pig(s) will help in keeping the ill one warm, will provide comfort and it has been observed that the others will bring the injured/ill one food and/or bedding. If you feel that the situation may warrant separation, check with your veterinarian for advice.