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(207) 846-6515 H
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(207) 846-6515

GUINEA PIGS: SNEEZING, NASAL DISCHARGE, AND TROUBLE BREATHING

YVCipedia GUINEA PIGS
SNEEZING, NASAL DISCHARGE, TROUBLE BREATHING

Respiratory problems are fairly common illnesses in guinea pigs. The problem is most often upper respiratory (a guinea pig cold), but it can be lower respiratory (guinea pig pneumonia). It can start as a cold and become pneumonia, and it can also start as a cold and pneumonia simultaneously. Respiratory infection is often accompanied by conjunctivitis. 

The symptoms include:
- sneezing
- nasal discharge
- eye discharge
- wheezing, clicking and other evidence of trouble breathing
- decreased appetite
- lethargy, decreased sociability
- drooling

The immediate cause is usually a bacterial infection (Bordatella and/or Streptococcus).
- Most normal guinea pigs are carriers of these bacteria; they have no symptoms but can spread the 
infection to guinea pigs who are not carriers.
- Guinea pigs are easily stressed. Stress decreases the normal activity of their immune systems, which can allow the bacteria they were previously carrying without a problem to cause respiratory illness.
- Common things that stress guinea pigs, in our experience:
    - moving from a pet store or breeder to a new home
    - too much attention from new owners 
    - addition of a new guinea pig to the home with an established guinea pig
    - aggression of one guinea pig towards another in two guinea pigs housed together
    - crowding - too many guinea pigs in a too-small enclosure
    - enclosure not cleaned frequently enough
    - wrong bedding: pine and cedar have volatile oils that can irritate the respiratory
      tract
    - recent neuter, spay or other surgery
    - home air quality problems: tobacco smoke, excessive use of air fresheners
- Guinea pigs require vitamin C in their diets; vitamin C deficiency seriously decreases their immune system functions.
- Dental disease is an occasional cause of respiratory problems, because of the proximity of the roots of the upper cheek teeth to the nasal passages.

Complications can occur:
- skin irritation from nasal and eye discharge
- cold-type infection can become pneumonia
- loss of appetite can lead to severe, even life-threatening digestive tract problems
- loss of appetite can lead to vitamin C deficiency
- inflammatory tissue changes in the respiratory tract, which lead to persistence and/or relapse of
symptoms

Diagnostic options:
- We usually learn what we need to know to begin treatment from the patient's history and physical exam.
- When there is suspicion of dental disease it is important to have skull xrays done - treatment options chosen and prognosis depend on what we learn from this test.
- When there is suspicion of pneumonia it is important to have chest xrays done - again, treatment options and prognosis depend on what we learn from this test.

We create an individual treatment plan for each ill guinea pig. Treatment options include:
- For the very ill patients, hospitalization for oxygen therapy, nebulization, assisted feeding, and/or injectable medications.
- Oral antibiotics
- Vitamin C supplementation
- Syringe feeding
- Once eating well, or if  still eating well: correct the diet
- Correction of bedding problems: Carefresh bedding is an excellent option, available online and at most pet supply stores; newspaper pellets, newspaper, and aspen shavings are also good choices.
- More frequent cleaning of the enclosure
- Relieve overcrowding or bullying
- Dental treatments

The prognosis (on a scale of poor, guarded, fair, good, or excellent) is:
- Good to excellent for cold-type respiratory problems.
- Fair at best, sometimes guarded or poor for pneumonia.

Guinea pig respiratory problems are not transmissable to people, and human respiratory problems are not transmissable to guinea pigs. 

Yarmouth Veterinary Center
2014, updated 2016

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