Guinea pigs are amongst the most popular pets in the United States because they are relatively small and easy to look after. They don’t require your attention 24/7 or long walks in the park and, as long as you feed them some good Oxbow Guinea pig food, they will live a good life. However, they are still prone to ringworm infections that require anti-fungal medication and medical observation during the treatment.
According to official data, there are over 300 million Guinea pigs held as pets in American households, and this comes as no surprise, given their adorable looks and goofy behavior. Depending on the breed, these animals can live up to 5-7 years in captivity, sometimes even more. They enjoy cuddling and grooming sessions and represent great pets for children who need to pick up more responsibilities.
Unfortunately, Guinea pigs are quite vulnerable creatures and, similar to chinchillas, will require regular visits to the vet to make sure they remain healthy and strong. If you want to find out more about these animals, as well as how to look after them and ensure they live a long life, keep on reading.
Also known as cavies, Guinea pigs are popular domestic animals that are low-maintenance. The American Cavy Breeders Association recognizes 13 different species of Guinea pigs, although other breeds exist and are sought after for their rarity.
Originating from the Andes in South America, cavies are gentle animals that love spending time with their owners. Because they are easy to tame and quite small, these rodents make perfect pets for children. However, they are also very social creatures, which means they long after the company of other cavies and should never remain alone.
Unlike other rodents, Guinea pigs are less territorial and individuals of the same gender can spend time together in the same cage. They breed a few times a year so, unless you want to pick up names for around 20 babies per year, we suggest you separate your cavies in different cages.
What are the common health problems of Guinea pigs?
As we previously mentioned, cavies can live a long and healthy life as long as they pay regular visits to the vet to make sure everything is alright. Unfortunately, they can easily develop weight problems due to their sedentary nature, which can also translate into further health problems such as diabetes.
Apart from that, cavies can also suffer from digestive problems, kidney stones, and eye conditions. Poor oral hygiene, as well as an unhealthy diet, can easily lead to oral problems like gingivitis.
What about ringworms?
Ringworm infection is more common than you may have thought. Contrary to its name, the infection is not caused by a parasitic worm but by a Microsporum species of fungus. It is characterized by bald patches around the head that will then spread to other areas of the body, including around the eyes, ears, and nose, and even on the back.
Ringworm infection is usually spread from one individual to another, as well as through contaminated objects such as bedding or toys.
Although this medical condition can resolve on its own as long as you take good care of your Guinea pig, you still have to take the rodent to the vet for proper diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, ringworm infection is highly contagious to other animals and even humans, meaning you need to pay extra care whenever handling your cavy or touching its personal items.
Symptoms and types
As we previously mentioned, the easiest way to tell if your Guinea pig has caught a ringworm infection is to see if its fur starts falling, creating bald patches around the head. Skin irritation, redness, and itching are also common symptoms associated with ringworm infections.
The bald patches will usually have flaky, crusty, red patches within them too that will start spreading toward other parts of the body, generally around the eyes, nose, and ears.
Ringworm infection is caused by a fungus called Trichophyton mentagrophytes, which is highly contagious. It is one of the few infections that can be passed from one species to another, meaning humans and other pets that get in contact with a contaminated Guinea pig can catch it too.
The good news is that this infection is treatable and not considered a life-threatening health problem. Being a fungal infection, ringworm is spread when the spores of the fungus move from one animal to another, meaning it is highly contagious.
If your cavy was previously raised in an unclean environment, it may be infected with this fungus. And, since Guinea pigs prefer living in small communities, the infection will be rapidly spread to other individuals, which will make it harder to contain.
Prevention and treatment
It is always better to prevent than to cure, so you should start with some basic hygiene rules. Although Guinea pigs don’t require any vaccines before being brought to their new home, we still advise you to have them checked by a vet.
Once your pet has been introduced to its new house, make sure it has a constant supply of fresh fruits and pellets, hay, fresh water, and clean bedding. Depending on the number of Guinea pigs you house under the same roof, the bedding should be changed every other day or so. If you only have one cavy living in a cage, it won’t be necessary to change the bedding sooner than 3-4 days.
Basic hygiene rules apply also, meaning you will still have to thoroughly clean the cage even after you replace the bedding. Use non-chemical formulas with natural, unscented ingredients to prevent future allergic reactions and more serious health problems. Don’t forget to also wash your hands before and after you get in contact with your pet or its belongings, including its toys and bedding.
Diet plays an important role in keeping your pet healthy, so you should invest in organic, high-quality pellets. Keep in mind that Guinea pigs have certain dietary needs, so you should only opt for food that was specifically made for them.
Don’t forget about fresh fruits and veggies that are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to boost their immune system and make them stronger. However, you should keep your cavies away from extra watery foods like cucumbers and watermelons as they can cause digestive problems, including diarrhea.
Hay is rich in fibers and should be served daily, alongside pellets and a selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. You can also give your pet vitamins but only after you have consulted a vet.
As for the treatment itself, you must eradicate ringworm completely with the use of medication because the infection can rapidly spread and even affect you and the rest of the pets in the house.
Ringworm medication is systemic and not just topical. This means that your rodent’s doctor will most likely prescribe an antifungal agent that will be taken orally. Topical treatments usually imply washing your pet with anti-fungal shampoos and solutions a few times a week, according to the doctor’s orders.
Don’t forget to also thoroughly clean the piggy’s cage and decontaminate it to prevent the risk of spreading the infection. Washing your hands before and after getting in contact with your rodent and its belongings is also mandatory.
Although there are plenty of special solutions available for decontaminating the pet’s cage and bedding, your vet is likely to suggest a simpler approach in the form of chlorine laundry bleach.
As long as you follow the doctor’s orders and provide the necessary treatment as prescribed, your Guinea pig will fully recover in a few weeks. You may want to keep it under observation for up to eight more weeks to make sure the infection won’t come back.
Last but not least, keep in mind that your pet requires your emotional support to make a full recovery. Grooming its fur represents the perfect opportunity to bond with your pet, so depending on the type of coat your Guinea pig has, perform the ritual a couple of times per week.
Use special combing brushes that will gently massage your rodent’s skin and fur, stimulating hair regeneration and cleaning it at the same time.