Owners often ask me about pain relief (analgesia) for guinea pigs. Sometimes pain in guinea pigs can be hard to assess and there is no universal pain scale in use for guinea pigs. Dogs, cats and rabbits have a universal pain scale that allow the veterinary profession to objectively assess the animal’s level of pain based on set criteria with a scoring system (i.e. 1-10, 1-5). This type of scale does not exist for guinea pigs as this is an area of research that needs to be developed.
Because guinea pigs are prey animals, they typically hide signs of pain. An observant owner, with a well-trained eye, can look out for changes in their guinea pigs, as well as the following signs:
· decreased mobility
· decreased appetite
· weight loss
· a hunched-up appearance
· teeth grinding (different from chewing)
· a fluffed-up hair coat
· vocalising (squealing, squeaking)
If you notice these signs, it is important to take your guinea pig to see a vet so they are not in pain. There are several pain relief options for guinea pigs and many of these are affordable. There is now a licensed anti-inflammatory, pain relief medication available for use in guinea pigs. This medication is effective and a good place to start for pain relief when treating guinea pigs who are in pain.
How a vet prescribes pain medication works under what is termed a prescribing cascade. This means that a vet starts with prescribing a drug that is licensed for that use, in that species first. Under the prescribing cascade, if such a drug is not available (or there are reasons for not using it) a vet can prescribe:
- either a medication licensed for that use in another species, or a medication licensed for a different use in the same species
- medicine licensed in the UK for human use
- medicine licensed in another country
It is important to understand that in order to obtain a licence, a drugs company has to satisfy several criteria to show that the medicine is safe and effective for use in that species, at a certain dose. The licensing process can be quite costly and this is potentially why there are very few medicines licensed for guinea pigs. Therefore, most medications for guinea pigs are prescribed under the cascade.
There are many safe options for pain relief in guinea pigs. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are thought to be more effective at higher doses and appear not to have the same possible side effects in guinea pigs, as they do in other species. These are the mainstay of analgesia in guinea pigs. There are several other pain relief medicines available to guinea pigs, including gabapentin, amantadine and tramadol. These can all be given in oral, liquid preparations. In addition, injectable opioids are effective and local nerve blocks can be used in some cases.
After taking your guinea pig to the vet, it is very important to monitor your guinea pig/s closely for continued or new signs of pain during their course of medication. If you feel your guinea pig is still in pain, please speak to your vet about adjusting the dosage or medication. Each patient/case may have a different response to the prescribed medicine and dosage.