COMMON AILMENTS- Nikki White

These are just some I have had experience of or have had to research for enquirers as I am a librarian not a vet. I cannot recommend highly enough Virginia Richardson's Diseases of Domestic Guinea Pigs. 2nd ed. Oxford, Blackwell Science, 2000. ISBN 0632052090, even if it is a bit expensive. It will help you at the vet's, too, as many local ones, who admit not to knowing much about cavies, appreciate its advice on what antibiotics, etc. not to give cavies and so on. Also highly recommend is The Peter Gurney Guinea Pig Health Guide website.

Mites and Skin Conditions. Karen Nichols, judge and breeder with the NSW Cavy Club, has prepared a useful fact sheet.

Mouth Sores

These may be caused by abrasive food cutting the lips and allowing bacteria to enter, or maybe caused by a fungal or yeast infection (candida albicans is the main suspect). Candida albicans is naturally found in mucous membranes and is usually harmless but under certain circumstances (compromised immune system through stress, antibiotics or digestive problems) it can transform and invade the mucous membranes and skin and thus cause disease. Sometimes a vitamin deficiency is the cause.

There are several treatments but not surefire cures, that is a treatment may not work, or if it does, the problem may recur.

What to look for: Scabs appear around the mouth, especially at the corners, and on the lips, then spread up over the nose.

If they are caused by a vitamin deficiency, it could be lack of B2. One Brewer's yeast tablet or half a B complex pill can be given daily until the problem clears up.

Otherwise, Gentian Violet is a tried and true method. Some chemists no longer stock it but it may be had from stockfeed merchants or perhaps health stores. If there is heavy scabbing, the scabs should be picked off and Gentian Violet dabbed on with a cotton bud daily. Keep doing this for at least a week after the scabbing has stopped. Betadine can also be used in a similar way.

Daktarin oral gel (used for treating thrush in babies) is useful if the cause is a fungal infection. The scabs must be removed before the gel is applied and the full course of treatment must be given even if the scabs appear to have cleared up, that is a minimum of 2 to 3 weeks until the skin has fully healed.

Another effective treatment is colloidal silver as it kills bacteria, viruses, fungus and yeast. It is non-toxic and is available from health food stores. Remove the scabs and dab on with a cotton bud once a day for about 4 weeks.

A product called Imaverol clears up sores in a few days without need to remove the scabs. Yet another treatment which does not require the removal of scabs is neat tea tree oil. This is placed directly on to the scabs and clears them up in a few days and they don't recur.

Another treatment involves cleaning the scabs with an antiseptic solution daily such as a diluted solution of povidone iodine (Povidone Anti-septic Solution), Panalog ointment or cream is then applied twice daily.

In the severe form of mouth scabs, they spread to the gums and the teeth become brittle. Septicaemia and death are common. As this form is incurable, euthanasia is recommended. Both forms are contagious, spread by contaminated food dishes and drinking spouts so it is a good idea to isolate the infected cavy and sterilise the food bowls and water spouts and the wire on the cage doors.

References

Gurney, Peter, Piggy Potions: Natural Remedies for Guinea Pigs. 2nd ed. Havant, T.F.H. Kingdom Books, 2001 ISBN 1852790040

Lybek Ruelokke, Mette, "Mouth scabs". Cavies July 2002. p. 5, plus readers' letters in Sept. 2002 and Oct. 2002 issues.

Richardson, Virginia, Diseases of Domestic Guinea Pigs. 2nd ed. Oxford, Blackwell Science, 2000. ISBN 0632052090

Heat Stroke

Cavies do not do well in temperatures over 28o C. They can suffer if in a closed up shed or cage with poor ventilation, or even if out in the open but in direct sunlight. Pregnant sows are the most vulnerable. They can give birth prematurely and develop pregnancy toxaemia. My own experience is that direct sunlight on the pen or cage is the real killer.

What to look for: Low or rapid breathing, prostration (lying limp), salivating, coma.

Treatment: Cool rapidly in cold but not icy water. An injection of steroids such as betamethasone can help. Or wrap in a towel which has been soaked in cold water but remove when the piggy shows signs of recovery as it can get a chill. As soon as it can stand on all four legs, begin giving small amounts of rehydration fluid (Lectaid) because of electrolyte depletion.

If the cavy is still limp after cooling, try a mixture of whiskey and water or whiskey or milk, or else Rescue Remedy (homeopathic remedy based on Bach Flowers, available from health stores) to help relieve the stress of what has happened to it, the stress being as much of a hindrance to recovery as the heat.

With advanced heat stroke, the prognosis is poor.

References

Gurney, Peter, Piggy Potions: Natural Remedies for Guinea Pigs. 2nd ed. Havant, T.F.H. Kingdom Books, 2001 ISBN 1852790040

Hume, Alexander T., "Heat Stroke". Cavy Capers, Nov./Dec. 2001, p. 8

Richardson, Virginia, Diseases of Domestic Guinea Pigs. 2nd ed. Oxford, Blackwell Science, 2000. ISBN 0632052090

Abscesses

These usually occur around the neck or on the back near the shoulders. They are pus filled cavities (the pus is often white and cheesy). They can occur even in cavies which haven't been in a fight. As they can be contagious, the infected cavy should be separated from the others and put in a 'hospital cage' (a cat cage in a spare room is what I do). This makes it easier to medicate.

There are two schools of thought: whether to lance the abscesses or whether to let them burst on their own.

Abscesses start out as small hard lumps but can rapidly grow to a huge ball, distorting the cavy. A vet will usually lance the abscess and start a course of oral antibiotics (usually Baytril in liquid form) twice daily for 5 days. At the same time, you are required to keep the wound open and flush it several times a day with Betadine solution, squeezing the wound to get out any pus that has formed until no more forms. Once you are sure it is all clear, the hole can be allowed to heal. You will need to make several return trips to the vet so s/he can check on progress.

If you decide not to lance the abscess but to let it burst (as some cavy keepers do), you will still give oral antibiotics and bathe the abscess in a mild antiseptic to encourage the skin to thin.

While giving the antibiotic course, be sure the cavy is getting yoghurt to undo the damage to its gut flora caused by the antibiotic.

Teeth

Cavy teeth do not have roots and grow constantly. Thus they must be worn down by the sort of food they chew. Overgrown teeth can lead to a lot of health problems, some of them fatal. Normally the top incisors slightly overlap the lower ones. When gnawing, the lower jaw is moved forward so the two sets of incisors meet. When chewing the jaw is moved backwards so the upper and lower molars meet. Thus the lower jaw is very flexible (so don't let anyone tell you the jaw is dislocated or has something wrong with it). Cavies have 20 teeth (4 incisors, a gap, then the 4 cheek teeth on each side, top and bottom, which include the molars). The cheek teeth are not set straight but are placed an angle, the lower ones converge toward the tongue and the upper ones toward the cheeks. It is not possible to look into a cavy's mouth without an instrument like a speculum to see what's happening with the molars. You need to have a feel around.

One of the first signs something is wrong is the cavy doesn't eat properly, leaves bits of half chewed fruit or vegetable about. This is followed by weight loss. If it goes off its veg, I immediately check the teeth and sure enough, it's often only that the little pest has broken its incisors, usually by chewing on the wire dividers of its carry cage trying to get at the sow next door. This isn't a problem as long as the incisors are filed or trimmed to be even as they grow back quickly. (A dental burr, file or human nail clippers can be used).

Loss of weight is more serious as they can get Vitamin C deficiency which leads to other problems. Most problems start with the cheek teeth. With malocclusion, the lower jaw moves forward but the teeth have nothing to wear against so become very long and grow over the tongue. The incisors develop a v-shaped wear pattern and lose their chisel shape. This is why a vet will check the molars even when it seems just the incisors are out of whack. They are often longer than the lower incisors and break easily. Sometimes sharp spikes develop on the lower cheek teeth and stick into the tongue which causes pain when the cavy eats. Those spikes can be removed and the cavy makes a full recovery.

The first problem of overgrown cheek teeth is less easily fixed. Sometimes the teeth will grow so long that the cavy cannot close its mouth, never mind chew properly and it slobbers, so becomes very underweight and drinks constantly. The prognosis is poor.

This is why it is important to be observant. If the cavy is not eating properly, you can check the molars by wrapping the cavy in a towel and putting the small finger into its mouth and feeling while holding the incisors apart with finger and thumb. The cavy should be lying on a firm surface. There should be a gap between the right and the left premolars of -3/8 of an inch. Compare with other unaffected cavies. Dental work needs to be carried out as soon as possible if the teeth are growing over the tongue. Peter Gurney and others simply trim them back with tools developed by the Cambridge Cavy Trust without need of anaesthetic, and with the use of a dental burr. If left too long, to the point where the teeth have grown so long as to force the mouth open, it is too late as this will have caused changes in the cavy's jaw so that even if the teeth are filed down, it still will not be able to use its mouth properly and not be able to eat.

References

Gurney, Peter, Piggy Potions: Natural Remedies for Guinea Pigs. 2nd ed. Havant, T.F.H. Kingdom Books, 2001 ISBN 1852790040

Lybek Ruelokke, Mette, "Anatomy of cavy teeth". Cavies (May 2002) p. 8

Lybek, Ruelokke, Mette, "Dental problems, symptoms and treatment." Cavies (Nov. 2001) p. 10

General Notes

Antibiotics: No penicillin-based ones as they are fatal. Baytril is best. When giving a course of antibiotics (no more than 5 days at a time) give yoghurt or yakult to repair the gut flora.

Griseofulvin should not be given to pregnant sows.

Malawash or other 'mala-things' should not be used with pregnant sows.

Many anaesthetics are not good for cavies and should be avoided if possible. If used, the cavy should be wrapped up and put on a hot water-bottle in recovery to prevent shock.

Stress should be kept to a minimum as it causes the immune system to weaken, leading to infection and disease. So do not overshow, or overcrowd. Handle your show pigs regularly so it all isn't a shock (there are enough stories about show pigs dying on the show table), don't transport pregnant sows, don't suddenly change diet and keep them clean.

Some herbal/homeopathic remedies

For diarrhoea - agrimony, avers, bramble and rasperry leaves, plantain or yarrow.

For constipation - cleavers, dandelion, groundsel.

For bloat - fennel or garlic

Anti-catarrhals - garlic or yarrow

Labour - raspberry, caulophyllum

Lactation - fennel

Post-partum bleeding - secale, shepherd's purse

Abscesses - hepar sulphuris, silica

Mouth scabs - graphites

Mange - psorinum

Fungal - sepia

Wounds healing - calendula

Shock - aconite

Trauma- arnica

Nerve damage - gelsemium

Immune system stimulants - echinacea, garlic, plantain

Vital statistics

Guinea pig heart rate - 230-320 beats a minute

Breathing rate - 90 to 150 breaths a minute

Temperature - 38.3-400 C

Useful First Aid items

Syringes in various sizes minus needles for feeding by mouth or giving medicines

Cotton buds, cotton wool, gauze

Lectaid (electrolyte replacement for dehydrated cavies, or those not eating or drinking properly)

Calcivet (calcium supplement intended for birds but can be used for cavies, useful for post-partum sows who are mopey or any mopey cavy)

Colloid of silver (anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-yeast)

Rescue Remedy (helps reduce stress, shock, trauma)

Vitamin C (blackcurrant juice, soluble Vitamin C tablets, etc.)