0208 943 2303   info@alpha-vets.co.uk
24h Emergency Service 0208 783 2850
 

GUINEA PIGS

How to care for your guinea pigs

We’re pleased to say that our veterinary surgery treats and cares for guinea pigs, offering a selection of services. From guinea pig vaccinations and health check ups, to nutritional advice and weight monitoring, we’re on hand to keep your guinea pig healthy. Your guinea pig vet from our expert team will be assigned to your pet to consult, diagnose and treat, as well offer advice.

Consultations

Please call our regular telephone number:  0208 943 2303 (Alpha Teddington); 01372 460107 (Claygate) during office hours and speak to one of our receptionists who will help book you for the correct consultation appointment.

 

Please remember to inform our receptionists how many pets you will be bringing. Each pet will need to be scheduled individually for a consultation to allow the vet time to properly examine each pet and discuss its problems.

 

Please note that our staff who answer the ‘Emergency Call’ number outside of office hours are unable to book regular day time consultations.

 

Here is a guideline to the different types of consultations we normally provide:

  • Regular Consultation: This is our standard 15 minute consultation with the vet for an animal with a new health problem, a problem that has recurred from some time ago, or an ongoing problem.
  • Second Opinion Consultation:  If your pet has been to see another vet for this problem (within the last year) and you would like our opinion on the problem, then we need to read the previous medical record, blood results and x-rays etc. We can then learn what medicines have been used and what the original vet found on examination. We need to do this in order to properly understand your pets; condition and provide you with a good second opinion. As this takes time to arrange the consultation must generally be booked at least one day in advance. As this is a more complex and time consuming procedure, we normally schedule for you to spend 30 minutes with the veterinarian and we charge a higher fee.
  • Walk in Consultation:  If you come in without an appointment booked we will try our best to fit you in; however you may have to wait for an hour or even longer if the vets are busy. Of course if your pet’s life is in danger we will assess their condition and may admit them into the hospital while we make a vet available. The Walk in Consultation is generally scheduled for 15 minutes with the veterinarian but is charged at a higher fee than the Regular Consultation.
  • We strongly advise our clients to try and make an appointment as we are often fully booked or very busy. We do not want your pet to become stressed if they have to wait a long time.
  • Referral Consultation: This is when another vet has asked you to come and consult with us as they feel we have more expertise with guinea pigs or with your guinea pigs specific problem. In these cases the other veterinarian will directly fax us a ‘Referral Letter’ and your guinea pigs medical records. Afterwards we will also inform your original vet of the outcome of the case. This also requires the extended 30 minute consultation.

Once you have made the appointment please make sure that you, or whoever is bringing in the pet, has all the information as follows:

  1. How long your pet has been sick for and what symptoms is it showing.
  2. What food your pet is fed on, including any snacks and supplements.
  3. Any medicines that may have been given to your pet (please bring in the packets or containers).
  4. What is the origin of your pet and what animals has it been in contact with.
  5. What is the urine & faeces (poop) usually like and what are they presently like.
  6. That the owner or a decision maker will be available on the telephone if they cannot come in.

Please note that to sign a consent form (for example for an operation or if you pet needs to be admitted into hospital) legally it must be someone over the age of 18 years old to sign.

We require payment for the services provided immediately after a consultation. If your pet does unfortunately need to be admitted to hospital or for surgery you will be required to pay a deposit. To try and make it more convenient for you we do accept payments by cash, cheque, debit and credit cards.

 

And don’t forget to collect your  ALPHA CARD – our free loyalty card which gives you 1% back on everything you spend with us! You collect points on your card which you can redeem against any of our services or products! The card is free to all clients, and we even give you 500 points (=£5) to get you started! Ask at reception for more details when you come in.

Vaccinations

We do not currently recommend vaccinations for guinea pigs.

Health Checks

We recommend a health check shortly after bringing your new pet home.

Bring in details of all foods and any supplements or medicines you may be using.

Collect samples of urine and faeces from that morning if you can.

Take videos of any behaviour that you are worried about or confused by.

Isolate from the rest of your animal family at home (that means do not introduce or let them play together) until after the first check up and the vet has assessed the pet as being healthy.

If you do wish to introduce then please ask us how and when this should be done.

At the ‘Health Check’ we will perform a full physical examination and we will be assessing your new pet’s overall condition, the muscle and fat levels, and hydration and checking for anaemia.

We will be paying particular attention for parasites & for signs of any infectious diseases. We will be focusing on gut function and on the diet, whether is it appropriate and the amounts suitable. We may not perform a full dental check on young animals if the incisors look normal.

Once we have examined your pet hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of the pet.   If there is time we will talk to you about handling and training as this is the right age to be teaching your pet!

 

Regular Health checks

Once your new pet is settled in and any health problems have been solved, then we recommend a six-monthly general health check.

Please ensure you know the brands of foods your pet is on, and any supplements or long term medications.

Bring urine and faeces from that morning if you can. We would also like to see a photo of the cage set up.

At this check we will assess body condition, muscle and fat levels, hydration and check for anaemia. We will check the eyes, ears, and perform the very important dental examination. We will feel the lymph nodes, palpate the abdomen for any abnormalities and listen to the heart and lungs.

We will search for parasites, and examine the skin, and look for any pressure sores or ‘sore hocks’ on the feet and also assess the nail length.

Once we have examined your pet hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of the pet.

Geriatric Health Checks

Once your guinea pig is older, or ‘geriatric’ we advise moving to checks every six months as it is safer.

6 months for a guinea pig is roughly equal to 5 years for a human.

We believe this ‘geriatric’ to be over 5 years for a guinea pig although just like humans, animals age at different rates!  If you are worried or would like a check every 3 months, that’s fine with us. We do understand that many of our owners worry very much.

At this check we will assess body condition, muscle and fat levels, hydration and check for anaemia. We will check the eyes, ears, and perform the very important dental examination. We will feel the lymph nodes, palpate the abdomen for any abnormalities and listen to the heart and lungs.

We will search for parasites, and examine the skin, and look for any pressure sores or ‘sore hocks’ on the feet and also assess the nail length.

We will also be paying particular attention to the ‘gait’ or movement of the pet, and the flexibility as mobility problems become more common in the older animal. As they are often too nervous to move freely in here a video of walking and running, and self-grooming can be very helpful.

We will probably suggest taking a blood test every 6-12 months to monitor the liver and kidney function. We usually collect the blood from a vein in the back leg, we use a small needle and collect about 3 drops of blood, and it should be over in a few seconds

Once we have examined your pet hopefully we will have found nothing seriously wrong, and we will then make whatever recommendations we think are necessary for the diet and care of your older guinea pig.

Nutritional Advice

The wild guinea pig lives on a diet of grasses and leaves and has developed a specialised gut which is adapted for this high fibre and coarse diet. The large intestine contains bacteria which break down the grass fibre to make it digestible.  The guinea pig passes the fibre through the gut twice to make sure all the nutrients are absorbed. This means that they produce and eat a special kind of faeces (poop) which many owners do not ever see as their guinea pig eats them directly from their bottom. These faeces are dark, sticky and smelly, and are called caecotrophes.

Because of this specialised gut and the constantly growing teeth the adult needs a high fibre, restricted carbohydrate, restricted protein and virtually no fat diet to stay healthy.

 

Vitamin C

Guinea pigs are unique amongst our small pets, as like us, they cannot make their own vitamin C and must get it in their diet.   We recommend 50 mg per adult guinea pig per day if there are no vegetables in the diet, and 25 mg/day for those receiving good amounts of vegetables.

We recommend oral sources of Vitamin C such as Oxbow “Daily C” tablets.

Adding drops to the water is not recommended for several reasons:

1) It may make the water taste sour, and the guinea pig drink less.

2) The vitamin C will break down in the bottle, in contact with water and light.

3) It is difficult to know how much Vitamin C the guinea pig has had in a day.

We recommend that the healthy adult guinea pig be given a limited amount of fresh pellets twice a day, each time around 1/2 a soup spoon full.

The pellets may claim to be enriched with vitamin C but as the vitamin C is very fragile it does not last long and therefore the pellets cannot be relied upon to have the correct amount of vitamin C necessary.

We strongly recommend TIMOTHY hay (first cut, or high fibre). Orchard grass, botanical & mountain hay are also good choices as they are high fibre, low protein hays. Alfalfa hay is too rich, too much protein and calcium.

Your guinea pig must have 24 hour access to loose hay (not cubes).

Check the hay is good quality hay. It should have a fresh sweet smell and not smell dusty or mouldy.

Hay varies in colour according to the weather conditions and can be cream, yellow, green or light brown. As long as the hay smells fresh and nice then the colour is not important.

An occasional insect may be found, and this is quite natural, but if it is crawling with insects then please throw the remainder of the hay away.

 

Young (under 6 months), pregnant, sick or old (over 6 years) guinea pigs should be given more pellets. It is best to seek veterinary advice on the exact quantity.

They may also be offered a proportion of alfalfa hay as it is a richer hay, with more protein and calcium.

 

Fresh vegetables  these are an important source of vitamins, and most guinea pigs love them. Most will start squeaking as soon as you open the fridge!

Around 1-2 rice bowls of vegetables should be given every day. It is best to feed at least 3 different vegetables every day and to rotate through the list.  Sticking with one or two vegetables may lead to dietary imbalances or problems, even if these are your guinea pigs favourites.

Choi Sum, pak choi, chinese lettuce, romaine lettuce, bell peppers, broccoli leaves, carrots, parsley, spinach and yau mak choi are all good choices. Make sure they are fresh and wash thoroughly. Like all new foods, introduce them slowly, start with a little and work up.

 

Fruit  A few small pieces are acceptable twice a week – perhaps 1/2 a teaspoonful. Do not give larger amounts in an attempt to supply vitamin C.

 

Guinea pig snacks and sweeties, seeds, nuts and biscuits are very unhealthy and should not be given.

 

Be careful where you buy your guinea pig food. Either buy it from a busy guinea pig pet shop or from our retail shop. You must buy from a supplier that sells a lot of food to ensure the foods will be fresher. We keep all our hay in air conditioning to ensure it is fresh. We recommend the shop you buy from does the same.

Remember any diet changes MUST be slow and gentle. Upsetting the gut causes bacterial imbalances and may kill your guinea pig. Please take up to 1 week to gradually introduce a new vegetable or brand of hay or a new brand of pellets.

Neutering (De-Sexing) Surgeries

Female Guinea Pigs

We do not recommend routine de-sexing of female Guinea Pigs unless the vet has diagnosed a health problem such as cystic ovaries.

 

Male Guinea Pigs

If you want to keep two or more guinea pigs together it is important to castrate any males.

If you have one male and one female it is best to castrate your male to prevent any uncontrolled breeding.

If you have two males then you will not want them to fight.

Male guinea pigs can be castrated at the age of 6 -8 months old, once the descent of the testicles into the scrotal sacs is obvious. (I.e. you can see the testicles bulging)

The surgery is done under general anaesthetic, is fairly quick, has some potential complications like wound infection or bleeding, but is usually safe

We use 3 types of pain relief injections, before, during & after the surgery to keep her as comfortable as possible.

We always give fluids before or during the surgery to reduce the risk of dehydration.

Our nursing staff will also normally give 2 meals of critical care after the surgery to reduce the risk of gut stasis.

Once he goes home your boy will need a couple of days of nursing, support feeding and rest after the surgery.

Preventative Care

Gut Stasis

 

Gut stasis is a very serious disease which can affect rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs.

If your pet has not eaten or pooped for 12 hours then you should be taking them to see a vet as soon as possible, this is an urgent condition and cannot wait for 2 or 3 days.  You may also syringe feed some water carefully before the consultation.

Do not offer them junk food or snacks as this may make things worse.

Gut stasis can be caused by any problem that causes a lack of appetite, and if not treated quickly can become fatal.

Causes include stress, fast diet change, dehydration, eating too much junk food, too much sugar or carbohydrates, grooming too much fur and not eating enough fibre, as well as dental disease, liver and kidney problems.

We have seen ‘gut stasis’ after such events as owners moving house, changing the pet’s cage, changing from one type of hay or pellet to another, construction work taking place next door, a new pet, the loss of a bonded companion and thunderstorms!

 

To reduce the risk of this common and serious disease you should:

1) Follow our diet advice to give high fibre, hay based diets.

2) Do not give too many pellets, oats, biscuits, or junk food.

3) Always have fresh water available.

4) Groom your pet.

5) Encourage exercise.

6) Keep stress down and reduce change.

7) Make all diet changes smooth and gradual.

 

Parasites

 

Endoparasites (worms):

 As for worms: some rabbits do carry pinworms, which are tiny little white worms that you may see at their bottom or on their faeces.  They are only 2-3 mm long but do wriggle.  They look ugly but are not dangerous.  Treatment is easy and we can provide this for you.

 

Ectoparasites (parasites on the skin or hair):

Skin parasites are much more common. Some, like fleas, can easily be seen running through the fur of a rabbit or guinea pig. Others, like mange are tiny and cannot be seen.

If you think your animal is too itchy, losing too much fur or has some skin disease then please bring them in for a consultation. Catch a parasite with a piece of sticky tape if you can!

Do NOT use any dog or cat flea products on them as these can be too strong for the smaller pets and can even kill them. We can supply you with the correct safe products for ectoparasites.

Dental Services

Dental disease is one of the most common problems we see with our rabbit, chinchilla and guinea pig patients. It is a terrible disease as it hurts when they eat!

These animals are all adapted to feed on tough and fibrous grasses, and these take a lot of chewing. The teeth grow throughout their life and if they are not worn down properly, or if the tooth position changes in the jaw then the teeth can overgrow or develop sharp points or spikes which can cut into the cheek or tongue.

This can be extremely painful as can easily be imagined and some animals will stop eating and starve to death without proper attention.

Symptoms of dental disease usually include eating less, (particularly the foods that need more chewing like hay) salivation and dropping foods.  Some animals may show temper changes, becoming angry, throwing the food bowl around, biting the cage bars, but some want more love and cuddles from the owner.

You may hear ‘tooth grinding’ or clicking as well.

Some animals may only be seen to lose weight or produce smaller faeces.

During the consultation the vet will carefully examine the jaw bone and face, check the incisors, or front teeth, and examine the teeth within the mouth using a speculum. It is difficult to get a good view as the poor animal will usually chew and push the speculum away with the tongue, and there may be too much saliva and pieces of food floating around.

If we suspect there is dental disease we will advise a full and proper examination under anaesthetic.

We use a specialised dental ‘rack’ which holds the mouth open and examine with the endoscope (a kind of miniature medical camera)  and we will usually collect photos for the record and to show you later.

The vet will then use a combination of equipment to take away sharp spikes and reduce the length of any overlong crowns. If there are loose or rotten teeth we will need to remove these.

Owners of course often worry about the risk of anaesthetic, and it is true that there is a risk, especially with these older animals, and those that are not in the best condition.

However to leave your pet in pain, slowly starving, is not fair to them.

We will give you advice on how best to reduce the risk for example, support feeding for a few days, or putting the animal onto an intravenous drip.

Please be assured that we want the same as you, a happy healthy pet, and we will try our best to make this happen.

Hospitalisation

We have a ward dedicated to our rabbit, chinchilla and guinea pig patients, designed by our vets to keep these special animals as relaxed and comfortable as possible during their stay here.

This ward is cooled to 22 degrees to keep them comfortable. The cats and dogs which are potential predators (and therefore very scary) are kept in separate wards out of the sight and smell of these nervous creatures.

We try to keep it calm and quiet in this ward and most animals settle down quickly.

We have a wide range of pellets, hays and vegetables available to tempt the appetite, but if you would like to pack a little lunch box of the home foods you are very welcome.

You may also bring in your pets own water bottle too.

We have wonderful Registered Veterinary Nurses who are very experienced with the care and handling of these nervous creatures.  This is particularly important when they are not eating and need to be support fed, as many of our sick patients do.

Husbandry Advice

Water

24 hour access is essential.  It is good to have a sipper and a bowl as Guinea pigs often suffer from urinary tract problems and taking in more water should reduce the chance of this.  Do not change water abruptly (i.e. to a bottled water) as it may taste different and your Guinea pig may not drink it. We have seen animals dehydrated or in gut stasis for reasons such as the water sipper ball getting stuck, and because the animal did not like the taste of the new water.

 

Size is important.

# of Pigs Minimum PREFERRED in cm
 1 0.7sq m More is better 76 x  91
 2 0.7sq m 1.0sq m  76 x 127
 3 1.0sq m 1.2sq m 76 x 157
 4 1.2sq m More is better 76 x 193

 

The floor of the cage should be solid, not wire, as wire may cause ulceration of their feet.

If you leave a corner of the cage with wire, many guinea pigs will use that corner for the toilet. You may also put a special toilet in.

Of course you must keep the cage clean and dry. Newspaper may be used to cover the base as the inks are soya based and non-toxic. You should then use bedding such as hay or paper bedding like care fresh. We don’t like woodchips here as they can be dusty, irritant and even poisonous.

A hide box in the corner will help keep your guinea pigs feeling safe.

 

Friends

We would like all guinea pigs to have at least one companion as they are a very social species. Bonded pigs will groom each other, talk to each other and play together.

Having a friend will make all those hours in a cage, waiting for you to come home go quicker.

A young guinea pig should take quickly to a companion, but adults often will not and they may fight and cause horrible injuries. Please ask us during a consultation how best to introduce your adult pet to a potential companion.  We do not advise keeping a guinea pig with a rabbit as they may transmit diseases to each other.

We hope that you will adopt a guinea pig friend rather than buying one from a pet shop.

Weight Monitoring

Many of the pets we see become overweight as they mature. They have an easy and comfortable life with food available every day and often not enough exercise.

If you feel that your little darling is overweight (or if the vet tells you this!) you are welcome to make an appointment for a ‘Weight Consultation’ with one of our veterinarians.

The vet may also discuss this and recommend a weight loss diet during a health check or consultation and give you advice on the right combination of foodstuff for weight loss for your pet as well as how to encourage exercise.

The vet will set a target weight and a time span to lose this weight over.

Losing weight too fast is not healthy, and as these animals are much smaller than us, we may plan for them to lose a few grams per week.

Once the diet plan has been set we will then be happy to make free “weight monitoring” checks for you to follow up, usually every month or two months, and these will be with one of our British Vet nurses or our Australian trained Vet Assistants.

It can be very rewarding to see a little chubby guinea pig regaining a slim healthy shape and becoming more active and flexible!

Enrichment Toys

Guinea pigs are quite relaxed little animals and find life less stressful than rabbits and chinchillas. However they will still enjoy having their lives enriched!

They are social animals so a companion is a great idea. If not, please spend lots of time with your guinea pig.

They are very keen on their food so a wide variety of vegetables will keep them happy. Make a foraging tray which you can fill with pieces of cardboard or old hay (hay that the best bits may have already been eaten but is not dirty or mouldy) and hide their vegetables in here so they need to search for them.

They are inquisitive and like exploring so let them out of the cage every day to explore, making sure there are no electrical cables they can chew on. Provide them with a hide box for when they need to sleep.

Always offer them chew toys made out of safe woods so they always have something to nibble on.

Learn more about your pet

You can download our PDF documents for more information.

Cushings Syndrome

Guinea Pig – Feeding

Anaesthesia

Cat – Moving House

Exotic – Critical Care

Cat & Dog – Bereavement

Remember, you can contact us anytime!