What are Common Health Issues in Guinea Pigs?

Guinea pigs deserve only the best care, and understanding what common health issues to look out for is part of that.

Dec 16, 2023By Maya Keith
common health issues guinea pigs

Guinea pigs are one of the longest-living and most sociable small animals commonly kept as pets, but they are just as at risk of developing health issues as humans are. Providing a proper diet, enclosure, and care does plenty to minimize the risk, but some things are unavoidable.

In this article, we explore the most common health issues in guinea pigs, how to recognize them, and how you should respond.

Respiratory and Inner Ear Infections

tricolor guinea pig in gray blanket
Image Credit: Gustavo Zambelli

The soft areas of a guinea pig’s respiratory system and their inner ear system are at high risk of infections. Guinea pigs may naturally harbor bacteria such as staphylococcus or Bordetella without showing any symptoms.

These opportunistic pathogens usually wait for a more susceptible host to strike, usually those young, old, stressed, or already ill. Some signs, like lethargy or poor eating habits, are a red flag across the board.

Symptoms for pneumonia and inner ear infections often overlap. Guinea pigs with either issue may sneeze incessantly, expel discharge from their eyes or nose, or have trouble breathing. Those with inner ear infections may tilt or shake their heads.

Treatment usually starts with a proper diagnosis. Your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics and possibly anti-inflammatory medication. With proper treatment, infections usually resolve in a few weeks.

Gut Stasis and Diarrhea

two guinea pigs share blade of grass
Image Credit: Pete F

Guinea pigs have sensitive stomachs that easily succumb to a number of gastrointestinal diseases and illnesses. Some, like diarrhea, are easily recognized and can be treated at home. Unfortunately, these can also be a symptom of a much bigger issue.

When the gut flora of a guinea pig falls out of balance, it can lead to an issue called Gut Stasis. When this happens, the digestive system stops working as it should and fails to digest any more food.

Keeping an eye on your guinea pig’s eating habits as well as handling them daily and weighing them weekly make it easier to pick up on G.I. issues. If your cavy stops eating and/or drinking, grows lethargic or starts grinding their teeth, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Treatment depends on the severity of the issue, but response time often means life or death. The goal is to stimulate gut movement and rebalance the gut flora.

Providing a balanced diet, endless hay, and ensuring teeth are not overgrowing are the most effective ways to prevent gut stasis.


gold guinea pig in white blanket
Image Credit: Arif L

Scurvy refers specifically to a vitamin C deficiency. Like human, guinea pigs do not make their own vitamin C and depend on the food they eat to provide enough for proper development and maintenance (especially of their skin, musculoskeletal, and immune systems).

If a guinea pig does not get enough vitamin C, you’ll notice issues in these areas. Their coat often dulls, joints swell, and they don’t move around as much. More severe cases develop bleeding ulcers.

Your vet can do a blood test to check the vitamin C levels of your guinea pig. Depending on how bad things are, they may recommend dietary changes or prescribe a vitamin C supplement.

Adding vitamin C-rich foods, such as bell pepper or broccoli, to their daily salad is a great way to combat and ward off scurvy.

Abscesses and Tumors

white and orange guinea pig pet
Image Credit: Matthew Halmshaw

No one likes finding bumps on their furry friends, but understanding what they can be helps you respond appropriately.

Abscesses refer to swollen infected areas. Humans usually reabsorb this infection within a few days, but guinea pigs form a thicker pus that’s harder to drain or reabsorb. In many cases, the abscess must be lanced, and the infection removed surgically.

Afterward, veterinarians prescribe an antibiotic to address the underlying infection.

Tumors are masses of cells, not infections. Skin tumors and mammary tumors are the most common types found in guinea pigs. While most skin tumors are benign (non-cancerous), most mammary tumors are malignant (cancerous). Fortunately, these are usually curable when surgically removed.


baby guinea pig 1336912
Image Credit: Krappweis

Ringworms are a common issue in guinea pigs, but usually non-fatal. The patches usually show up as round balding spots around the head or ears, but they may settle anywhere on the body. Most veterinarians prescribe a topical cream and/or an antifungal shampoo to combat the infection.

Stressed guinea pigs, especially those recently relocated or meeting new companions, are most likely to get a ringworm. Because the fungal infection can transfer to humans and other animals, it’s important to wear gloves when applying a topical treatment or bathing your guinea pigs.

Fleas, Lice, and Mites

two guinea pigs under shelf
Image Credit: Bonnie Kittle

If you have any other animals, you’re probably familiar with fleas, lice, and mites. These tiny parasites are pretty easy to recognize, and you can usually treat them without a trip to the vet. Keep in mind that you usually need to treat the area as well as your pets to prevent re-infestation.

Fleas are the largest of the three and leave plenty of “dirt” behind for you to clean up. A quick warm bath followed by a flea comb works best to remove the bulk of the fleas. Flea infestations are more common in households with other animals, so make sure you’re treating all of your pets as well as your home and yard.

Lice are much smaller and more difficult to diagnose. Changes in guinea pig behavior may indicate the stress associated with infestation before any infestation is apparent. Lice will lay eggs on the hair shaft, and they can be removed with a flea comb.

Guinea pigs with mites often scratch incessantly to combat the pests, often until their skin is broken and raw. Your veterinarian can help identify the mite and prescribe an appropriate anti-parasite to get rid of them. They may also prescribe antibiotics for any secondary infection from the scratching.

In all cases, make sure you clean their enclosure thoroughly. Wash all bedding (ideally with hot water), and clean deep in any crevices to get every last pest.

Maya Keith
By Maya Keith

Maya is a lifelong animal lover. While she switched from studying veterinary medicine to English, she continues to help by fostering animals in her community. Her permanent residents include 3 dogs, 2 cats, 5 quail, 19 chickens, and a small colony of Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches.