If you notice that your guinea pigs is breathing heavy or quickly, it is best to take them to a vet as soon as possible. A common clinical sign we see during appointments is increased respiratory rate or effort.

There can be several causes for this, the most common of which include respiratory disease and heart disease. In this blog we are going to talk about heart disease.

Heart disease occurs relatively frequently in guinea pigs, it can be due to problems with the heart muscle, the heart valves or the pericardium (fibrous sac that surrounds the heart). Once significant clinical signs are apparent we say that the heart disease has progressed to heart failure.

Signs of heart failure to look out for include:

  • Increased respiratory rate or effort (notable, bellowing movements can be seen)

  • Respiratory noise, crackling, wheezing or hooting

  • Lethargy, reduced movement

  • Cyanotic (blue) mucous membranes (gums).

  • Cold extremities (eg feet, predisposing to bumble foot).

  • Reduced appetite and weight loss, as the guinea pig may have to choose between breathing and eating.

  • Fluid build up under the skin (subcutaneous eodema), sometimes mistaken as a diffuse mass.

  • Fluid build up in the abdomen (ascites), seen as an enlarged abdomen.


Heart disease can be diagnosed by your vet by clinical exam. A vet will:

  • Note the above signs of heart failure

  • Listen to the heart and lungs with a stethoscope (thoracic auscultation). The heart rate in a guinea pig is often very high, this makes it difficult to pick up subtle changes in heart sounds or rhythm, but your vet may be able to hear a murmur or arrhythmia. In addition, there may be crackles over the lung fields.

  • Chest x-rays are useful to determine heart size and external shape, fluid build up (congestion) and lung patterns

  • Ultrasound of the heart (echo) gives information on the structure of the heart as well as the movement of the heart


This lateral x-ray shows reduced air filled lungs, indicating fluid build up in the chest cavity (pleural effusion).

In this dorsoventral x-ray, you should be able to see black/dark air filled lungs. What the x-ray shows is a complete loss of detail in the chest cavity (no dark air filled lungs). This indicates fluid build up in the chest cavity.



Treatment: There are several treatment options for heart failure in guinea pigs, however, ultimately the condition will be life limiting. The treatment aims to alleviate the clinical signs and improve the quality of life but will not cure the condition and will need to be given lifelong after diagnosis.


Treatments can include:

  • Diuretics, these remove fluid from the body to relieve congestion and can include frusemide and spirinolcatone.

  • Pimobendan, a drug that helps the heart to pump more efficiently by increasing heart rate and effort.

  • Benazepril, this drug is known as an ACH inhibitor and helps by reducing vasoconstriction (narrowing of the vessels) which improves the efficiency of the heart.

If you notice signs of possible heart failure in your guinea it is important to see a vet, for diagnosis and possible treatment.


Many owners are unsure of what type of bedding is best for their guinea pigs. This blog doesn't tell you which is the best bedding, it gives an overview of the main options for bedding. There are several options of bedding/cage lining material for guinea pigs. Each has their own pros and cons and it is important to make a choice that works for both you and your guinea pigs. Each owner will have different priorities when it comes to selecting a bedding/cage lining material.

Aspects of bedding material to consider:

Comfort- a good bedding material will be soft on guinea pigs' feet. Abrasive substrates can contribute to pododermatitis (foot lesions).

Absorbency - ideal substrates will be highly absorbent so your guinea pig does not get wet feet or undercarriage (they are potatoes on legs after all). The best materials for cage lining will also wick the moisture away so the layer in contact with your guinea pig remains dry.


Nontoxic - the material needs to have no adverse effects when in contact with guinea pigs. It must also be non-appetising so your guinea pig is not prone to eat it.


Dust Free - to reduce respiratory symptoms and allergies.


Neutralise Odour- this is for everyone's benefit, including your guinea pig. No one likes a lingering aroma!

Insulation - ideal bedding will provide some insulation to keep your guinea pig warm in the winter and cool in the summer.


Cost - understanding your budget when selecting the material. Some options may seem expensive at first, but in the long term they can work out to be more cost-effective.


Eco friendly- environmental impact varies between the options.

The main bedding substrate options for guinea pigs include fleece cage liners, cloth, paper and wood shavings.

Fleece cage liners:

These are fast becoming a very popular option especially for indoor housed guinea pigs. Not all fleece liners are the same. Some will contain fleece on both sides, some have a water repellent base layer, and others will have a central absorbent layer.


Personally, I feel that a good cage liner should have 3 layers. The top layer being soft and allowing urine to pass through it. A middle highly absorbent layer that is good at wicking moisture away from the top layer. Finally, a base layer, this could either be fleece again or a water repellent material.


Fleece liners are the most expensive option in terms of initial cost but are very cost effective in the long-range as they can be washed and used repeatedly.

Pros- soft, dust free, absorbent, eco friendly and cost effective in the long run

Cons- expensive initially, require frequent washing, rare for guinea pigs to chew it

Cloth:

Essentially the cheaper version of the fleece liner. Towels or bed linen can be repurposed to use for guinea pigs. Ideally natural materials like cotton should be used, they tend to be more absorbent than synthetic materials. Cloth materials are not as good as fleece liners at wicking moisture away so will need changing more frequently.


Pros- soft, dust free, cheap, non-toxic

Cons- not good at wicking moisture, can get smelly quickly, need more frequent washing

Paper:

There are several different options when it comes to using paper. I would generally advise against newspaper. The type of ink used for print can vary and newspaper breaks apart when wet. Commercial paper bedding can be found as pellets, confetti or shavings. I would look for options that have no additives and have the least amount of dust. Good paper bedding brands are highly absorbent, can reduce odour and are soft on the feet.


Pros - soft, absorbent, recycled varieties eco friendly

Cons - can contain some dust still, needs changing regularly and therefore can be higher cost over time, some guinea pigs may attempt to eat it

Wood shavings:

If going for the wood option, it is important to have shavings and not sawdust due to the dust levels. It is important to understand what the shavings are made from. Safe woods for guinea pigs can include Aspen, Ash, Kiln Dried Pine.

Pros - initially quite cheap, easily available

cons - can be abrasive on the feet, can be dusty, not as absorbent as other options so can be more expensive in the long run Remember that your choice for bedding/cage lining substrate should be what is best for you and your guinea pigs.


Guinea pigs can suffer from a number of skin parasites or infections. These can cause hair-loss and itchiness (pruritus) and require treatment. It is important to diagnose which parasite or infection is causing your guinea pig's skin lesions in order to treat them appropriately. In this blog I will run through the most common skin lesions in guinea pigs. Ringworm: Ringworm is not a worm but caused by a fungal infection, usually with a fungus called tricophyton mentagrophytes. Young animals are affected more often than older animals. Lesions are usually found around the head area and typical show hair loss, with crusting and scabbing. You will find that the hair falls out very easily at the edges of the lesions. If it is a mild case, it is usually not itchy. If the case is more severe, it can spread to other areas of the body and become itchy. This can result in the lesions becoming infected. The condition is zoonotic, meaning that lesions can spread to humans from the guinea pig. To prevent the transfer to owners, it is important to wash your hands after handling or treating you guinea pigs. If you notice similar lesions on your skin, please consult a pharmacist or doctor.




Ringworm in guinea pigs can be diagnosed by appropriate clinical signs and/or a fungal culture. All guinea pigs living together should be treated if one of their cage-mates has lesions. There are several different types of treatment available including washes, ointments and oral preparations. Treatment should continue for several days beyond the lesions resolving.

Lice: Lice are a type of insect living in the coat and skin surface of affected guinea pigs. The most common louse found on guinea pigs is called gliricola porcelli, another louse called gyropus ovalis can be found in some cases. Both of these lice are termed biting lice (which means they feed on surface skin cells), sucking lice are uncommon in guinea pigs (these feed by sucking blood).

Lice are very itchy, skin lesions occur as a result of this itching and include: hair loss, scabs and thickened skin. You will be able to see the lice in the coat of the guinea pig, usually around the rump or the back of the neck. They are about 1mm long and cream coloured. Diagnosis is by seeing the lice and/or performing a tape strip exam under a microscope. Lice pass from guinea pig to guinea pig easily, if they are in close contact; but do not pass to humans. Treatment is usually with topical insecticides and anti-inflammatories to control the itch and discomfort.

Mites: There are a number of mites affecting guinea pigs, the most common are trixacarus caviae (sarcoptic mange) and Chirodiscoides caviae. Trixacarus caviae is a mite that burrows into the skin, because of this they cause extreme itchiness and pain. The itch can be so severe that the guinea pig may start seizuring. Guinea pigs with this mite will commonly show hair loss n and the skin may become thick, yellow and crusty. Secondary bacterial infections often occur due to breaks in the skin from itching. The guinea pig may show generalised signs of illness due to the pain including lethargy, inappetance and weight loss. Treatment is usually with injectable antiparastic agents alongside pain relief. In addition, bedding will need to be thoroughly cleaned. Although not common, this mite can be transmitted to humans. Wear gloves when handling affected guinea pigs. If you notice lesions on your skin, please consult a pharmacist or doctor. Chirosdiscoides caviae are a non-burrowing mite and therefore produce very mild signs, and sometimes may not be associated with clinical signs at all. Unless they are causing clinical sign, these can remain untreated. If treatment is required, topical or injectable antiparastic agents can be used. Often, owners are concerned about white flecks in their guinea pig's coat. These flecks could be related to dry skin or they could be chirosdiscoides caviae. Neither are a significant cause for concern unless the guinea pig is itchy.