Common illnesses in guinea pigs | Know the signs and symptoms

Guinea pigs make great pets because they are considered pocket-size pets with their small furry bodies. 

These little critters are more sensitive to small changes in their environment and diet. These are some of the more common ailments which can be bothering your pet guinea pigs. By knowing what the most common illnesses are, you can be better prepared to monitor for signs and symptoms that your guinea pig may be getting sick.

PEXELS | Scott Webb

signs and symptoms of common diseases in guinea pigs

Infections in pet guinea pigs can present itself in forms such as redness, swelling and abscesses. The best thing you can do is to be observant of any physical changes and if they are eating or pooping well. It is better to bring them for a consult with your vet soon as you notice something amiss.

ileus or gastrointestinal (GI) stasis

Guinea pigs should always be eating and defecating to maintain a healthy bowel function. Ileus is caused when gas builds up in the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestines). Overfeeding pelleted foods, treats and lack of roughage can lead also to ileus. The problem starts when harmful bacteria or parasites proliferate and slow down digestion. They can also produce toxins and gas buildup, causing bloat and significant decrease in gut motility (which means muscular contractions). These contractions are necessary to push digested food down the GI tract and out as waste.

Ileus will occur anytime a guinea pig stops eating, for any reason. Anything that causes your pet to not eat, such a dental disease, stress or pain, will cause Ileus. Stress, lack of exercise or diseases that cause lack of appetite such as liver or kidney malfunction, cancer or toxins all may cause GI stasis.

Symptoms include:

  • Lack of or no appetite
  • Diarrhoea
  • Dehydration
  • Decreased faecal pellets or passing pellets that look small and dry
  • Lethargy


If your guinea pig has hair loss and is itching or scratching a lot, it may have lice or mites. 

Lice and mites can cause more then just itch and discomfort to your guinea pigs. Lice are highly contagious. They live and lay eggs on your guinea pig’s skin and hair.

Mites are also contagious but they are nastier. They tend to infect the genital and front legs area. They can also get under the skin and cause your pet a lot of pain. This condition is also known as Sarcoptic Mange.

Guinea pigs can give these parasites to each other and can also get them from toys and bedding. Be aware before introducing any new guinea pigs if they seem to have any skin conditions. Before introducing food or bedding into the cage, make a habit of freezing it for a day. The extreme cold temperatures will kill off any potential parasites that may have been lurking in the packages.

Symptoms are a response to the horrible itch and include:

  • Frequent scratching
  • Biting (themselves)
  • Thinning coat
  • Fur loss resulting in bald patches

respiratory diseases

Guinea pigs spend much of their time around air that is filled with small particles, and as such they are quite prone to developing infections within their respiratory systems: their noses, throats and lungs. Some of the symptoms of a respiratory infection are similar to those of an allergy, but both will mean that your pet needs veterinary attention, as both can mean that your guinea pig is having serious trouble breathing, which can be fatal. 

Symptoms include:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Puffed up coat
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Nasal and/or Eye Discharge

uroliths or bladder stones

Bladder stones is a condition in which stones form within the urinary system due to a buildup of calcium. The stones may prevent your guinea pig from urinating, which, if a complete prevention, can lead to death in just 24 hours. Symptoms include little to no urination, a distended bladder (the stomach will be quite hard), and you may be able to feel stones within your guinea pig. Your pet also may sound as if it’s in distress whilst it’s urinating.

Calcium build-up in the bladder can lead to bloody urine and infections, so keep an eye out for this in your guinea pigs’ litter. If you do spot some blood, then that guinea pig needs a trip to the vet.

Symptoms include:

  • Reduced or no urination
  • Straining to urinate
  • Blood in urine


Guinea pigs need at least 10-50mg of Vitamin C in their daily diets because they can’t manufacture their own. Vitamin C is important for the skin, joints and gums. It also promotes wound healing and boosts the immune system.

Unfortunately, you can’t give guinea pigs lots of vitamin C on one day and hope that it will be enough to last them several. As guinea pigs can’t store vitamin C, and will just excrete out any extra that you’ve added that exceeds their daily requirement. 

Symptoms include:

  • Rough coat
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lethargy (reluctance to walk)
  • Swollen feet or joints
  • Gum ulcers
  • Skin ulcers

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