Guinea Pig Health – Can they get colds? Upper Respiratory Infections URI

Guinea pigs are lovely pets, but being prey animals, they can hide when they are unwell and they can go downhill very quickly.

Poorly Barry with a crusty nose

One of the most common illnesses with guinea pigs is a URI (Upper Respiratory Infection) which is a deadly bacterial infection that can cause death in guinea pigs. It is also the cause of two of our guinea pigs deaths and that is with vet visits.

Untreated URI’s are always fatal and sometimes even treated URI’s can be as well. A URI might be mistaken for a cold, but it’s worth remembering that guinea pigs do not get colds and if you think your piggie has a cold, the chances are it has a URI and needs urgent medical attention.

Symptoms

Signs your piggie is suffering from a URI are;

  • Refusal to eat or drink
  • No faeces because of not eating
  • Laboured breathing or wheezing
  • Sneezing or coughing
  • Crusty eyes or eyes that are almost sealed shut
  • Discharge from eyes or nose
  • Crusty nostrils
  • Dull and/or receding eyes
  • Rough or puffed-up coat
  • Lethargy and a hunched posture.

If you spot any of these signs in your piggie you must get them to the vet as soon as you can as URI’s are deadly and quick acting.

Treatment

What the vet may do depends on the vet, When we took our piggie Barry last Monday as we suspected he had a URI (which he did) the vet listened to his chest and felt his body. She agreed that he had a URI and prescribed an antibiotic to treat him. I also picked up some more vitamin c powder which contained a probiotic to help him. This was also safe to give to our other piggie Ozzy to help keep him healthy. As they live in separate cages because of fighting, there is less chance of Ozzy coming down with a URI although we are keeping a close eye on him. If your piggies live together then there is a chance of the URI spreading so keep a close eye on them.

Hopefully, your vet is knowledgeable about guinea pigs. Exotic vets are the best ones for dealing with guinea pigs, but sometimes there isn’t one nearby. This is why you need to make sure you know what’s best for your guinea pig and what will help or make them worse.

Don’t be afraid to challenge your vet if you feel they’re not taking you seriously or are prescribing an antibiotic you don’t feel is safe. A good vet will listen to you and double check whether the antibiotic is safe.

The safest antibiotics for guinea pigs with a URI are Bactrim or  DoxycyclineBaytril is another frequently prescribed medication but shouldn’t be given to young guinea pigs as it can cause bone abnormalities. Unknowledgeable vets may prescribe medications like Amoxicillin but this isn’t safe. For a list of dangerous medications to give a guinea pig, check out the list by Guinea Lynx.

Remember to ask your vet how long it will take for the antibiotics to work and call your vet if you see no improvement.

Weighing your pig daily whilst on antibiotics can help alert you to any problems. Some piggies might not respond to the medication they were given and may be intolerant to it or the infection is resistant to it.  Ask your vet how soon you should see results, in general, once the piggie is on medication you should be able to see an improvement within 2 or 3 days. If your piggie is not responding, have the vet try another medication. Don’t take no for an answer. In treating piggies, time is of the essence and often the vet will have to take an educated guess at which drug to prescribe and just as often the infection can turn out to be resistant to the drug selected.

Our Guinea Pig Barry

A few days after our vet visit, I noticed that even though Barry was on antibiotics he still wasn’t eating or drinking or pooping. I tempted him with all his favourite fruit and veggies, especially some orange which contains vitamin c, but he would only nibble a small amount and his water bottle wasn’t going down. This is when I knew that Barry was seriously ill and he needed more help. I got some critical care food from the vet’s and began syringe feeding him critical care and water to get some food and fluids into him.

Cuddles with Barry after feeding him critical care food

Looking back, I should have also asked for a different antibiotic as it was clear that this one wasn’t working, but sadly I just thought it was just because he wasn’t eating. It didn’t occur to me that his eating could be caused by the antibiotic not working. Sadly Barry passed away yesterday morning. He died in my arms. I was about to give him his medicine and feed him, but before that I had to clean his bum as he had impacted poo (hard black poop that was stuck in his bum because he hadn’t been pooping much and needed a gentle massage to get it out whilst holding him carefully) and whilst I was cleaning his impacted poop, he died in my arms.

Looking back now it is possible that Barry was intolerant to the medication he was given or that it wasn’t strong enough to deal with his URI. The loss of appetite and lethargy was a clue and whilst I did speak to the vet about his not eating, I was given tips to try and get him to eat, like having him in a steamy room to clear his nose, like you would do for your children during a cold. Sadly, neither the vet nor I realised how poorly he was and that it was possible he needed a different antibiotic. I would have taken him back to the vet on Monday as it would have been a week, but he didn’t last that long and I wish I had taken him on Thursday when I spoke to the vet about his not eating.

As you can imagine, we’re all heartbroken to lose Barry. We’ve had him over a year and he’s about 2 years old so it was a shock as he was young and we really thought he would pull through.

our three guinea pigs

Our late guinea pigs. Barry, Bubble and Squeak

Yesterday afternoon we had a funeral for Barry and laid him to rest with our other piggies, Bubble and Squeak, who we lost last year.

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