How to treat respiratory problems in guinea pigs


Guinea pigs are more delicate than many people suspect; their chunky, compact bodies suggest that they are not as susceptible as other more fragile looking animals such as gerbils and mice to common problems such as respiratory tract infections but in fact this is not the case. Guinea pigs are very sensitive to draughts and damp and must be looked after accordingly. They cannot get the common cold, or anything like it; respiratory infections are likely to be bacterial and may be caused by the guinea pig being in general poor health.

Symptoms of Respiratory Problems

To add to the confusion, guinea pigs suffer from allergies as well as infections and sometimes the issue is an environmental one, not disease. If your guinea pig has red, runny eyes and a sore nose, with wet snuffling but no laboured breathing, it may be an allergy. A change of bedding material may in this case make a big difference, or the pig may have an allergy to pollen in the immediate environs of its cage or habitat. If this is the case, there are various remedies, including using a beeswax barrier to the pollen, available from health food shops for human use. The guinea pig may rub its nose a lot if it is running and also its breathing will become laboured. A guinea pig is a very vocal animal, with a variety of sounds which it makes to show how it is feeling; if it is happy it will make a noise which sounds very similar to a cat’s purr. Some owners have mistaken this for a chest problem; as is the case with any pet animal, it pays dividends in relation to your pet’s health to really get to know it and so you will be aware if it becomes unwell.

Prevention of Respiratory Problems

Guinea pigs hate cold and damp; they come from the Andes and their natural habitat is dry, if at times rather cold. If their bedding is allowed to become wet from the seepage from water bottles or, even worse, urine and faeces from unchanged bedding, then they will become susceptible to respiratory infections. If their cage or habitat is in a draught, this will become almost inevitable. If on diagnosis it turns out that the guinea pig has a runny nose because of inhaled dust from the bedding, it is a simple matter to change it. Most of the cheaper guinea pig bedding materials is made of soft wood shavings or poorer quality hay, both of which have a tendency to be dusty. Timothy hay or pellet bedding is better but even good quality bedding such as corn cob bedding is prone to the growth of fungus if it is not kept scrupulously clean. A good test is to take a handful of bedding into the garden and throw it into the air. If it comes down accompanied by a shower of dust, and especially if the dust is the very fine grey of fungus spores, then the bedding should be changed immediately, and the habitat hoovered out thoroughly. If this still makes no difference to the symptoms, or a previously symptom free pig starts to sniffle and wheeze, it is definitely time to visit the vet.

Treatment of Respiratory Problems in Your Guinea Pig

The guinea pig is a tricky animal to treat with medicine as in the wild it is a prey animal and so can be nervous and quite tricky to handle. Hopefully, you will have been making friends with it since it arrived, but even in acclimatised animals giving medication can be very stressful all round. Many small animal medications are available in dropper form and so can be drizzled in the corner of the mouth. If this fails, then it could be placed on a favourite food. Guinea pigs usually have a special favourite which they will always respond to – using that as a ‘trojan horse’ to get the medicine into the animal is a stress free method if it is possible to do so, although granted, it is a little difficult if the food is already very wet, like cucumber but if the pig has a favourite rusk or something absorbent it should work well.

General Good Practice

With an animal like a guinea pig which is small and nervous it is essential to have regular contact with it. It is not sufficient to keep it in a cage or hutch and feed it once or twice a day. There must be constant interaction so that the slightest sign of ill health will be noticed. This is not to say that you and your guinea pig need be at the vet all the time; on the contrary, with careful observation it will often be possible to prevent many visits simply by catching a condition early. If a guinea pig has, for example, an allergic runny nose, left untreated this may well cause other complications such as localised sores which can allow other opportunistic infections to take hold in the raw skin. Also, guinea pigs become depressed very easily and this can lead to lack of appetite, leading in turn to a low vitamin intake which again can seriously undermine the animal’s health. Although not every guinea pig is gregarious and fond of human contact, they are animals which naturally live in colonies and groom each other and have constant contact. If it is not possible to keep more than one it is even more essential to have a lot of interaction with it, stroking and handling it so that it does not pine.

How to treat respiratory problems in guinea pigs

Bordetella Bronchisepta Infection in Guinea Pigs

Respiratory infections are quite common in guinea pigs, and often they are a result of a bacterial infection. One such bacteria is Bordetella bronchisepta, which mainly affects the respiratory tract. It is most commonly transmitted from one guinea pig to another when droplets are sprayed into the air by sneezing or coughing. There is also a genital form of B. bronchisepta, by which the infection is transmitted by sexual contact.

In some cases, guinea pigs may just be carriers of B. bronchisepta infection without actually exhibiting any symptoms of the infection, but there are also cases of outbreaks among groups of guinea pigs, during which all of the infected animals will get sick and die before treatment can be applied.

Symptoms and Types

Although some guinea pigs infected with B. bronchisepta may not display any signs of illness, this is not always the case. Signs to look out for include:

  • Fever
  • Dull or depressed appearance
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Respiratory distress (dyspnea)
  • Nasal discharge
  • Infertility (in females)
  • Miscarriages
  • Calcium deficiency (in pregnant and nursing guinea pigs)


Infection can be transmitted from one guinea pig to another through aerosol transmission (airborne) or by sexual contact


Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your guinea pig, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible incidents that might have led to this condition, such as recent breeding, recent illnesses, or the introduction of new guinea pigs into the group. To confirm the diagnosis, however, your veterinarian will probably need to examine blood samples from the animal.


B. bronchisepta infection is often treated with the help of systemic antibiotics. If your guinea pigs is very weak, supportive fluid therapy and supplementation with oral or injectable multivitamins may be required. Your veterinarian will also advise you on the supportive care that is needed to encourage and hasten a full recovery.

Living and Management

Your guinea pig will need plenty of rest in a calm and clean environment during the recovery process. Cleanliness plays an important role in recovery, so you will need to be sure that your guinea pig’s cage is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before reintroducing the guinea pig to it.

Separate the infected guinea pigs from the healthy guinea pigs to prevent spread of the infection. In fact, it may be best to place other guinea pigs into different rooms altogether.


Guinea pigs can be carriers of the B. bronchisepta bacteria without showing symptoms, making this a challenging infection to prevent. If your guinea pig shows symptoms of any type of respiratory ailment, the best preventative is to isolate the animal immediately from the others. Hygiene and cleanliness are helpful in all cases, but because this is spread by air, it is still a danger to uninfected guinea pigs.

Other animals, such as dogs, cats, rabbits, and mice may also be infected with these bacteria without showing any signs of illness. If you have multiple animals in your home, you should practice safe handling. Keeping the animals separate, and washing hands and clothes between handling your animals are some of the best policies you can practice in preventing the spread of infectious diseases. In addition, properly cleaning the cages, regularly removing any feces and urine, and changing soiled bedding material routinely is essential.

A Medical and Care Guide for Guinea Pigs

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Upper Respiratory Infections

URIs are deadly bacterial infections that can result in death if untreated.

Bacterial respiratory infections are a common problem among pet store pigs (a good reason to adopt your pet instead of purchasing one from a pet store). New pet owners are often unaware of how quickly guinea pigs can go downhill and how vital prompt veterinary care is to the health of your new pet.

Untreated URIs are almost always fatal. Guinea pigs do not get cold viruses. Allergies/asthma is very rare, though they may produce similar signs.

  • Refusal to eat or drink (anorexia)
  • No feces (as a result of not eating)
  • Labored breathing, wheezing
  • Sneezing, coughing
  • Crusty eyes, eyes that are almost sealed shut
  • Discharge from eyes or nose (read about normal Eyes)
  • Dull and/or receding eyes
  • Rough or puffed-up coat
  • Lethargy, hunched posture

See a vet immediately if you see any of these signs. Because URIs are so deadly and fast moving, it is imperative that the vet rules out a URI before considering the possibility of an allergy.


  • The vet will check for hydration.
  • A stethoscope can be used to listen to the lungs and heart.
  • An x-ray may be taken to check for fluid in lungs.
  • The vet may culture the bacteria to help determine which antibiotics are most effective.


A vet will prescribe a safe antibiotic like Bactrim or Doxycycline to treat these bacterial infections. Baytril, another frequently prescribed medication, is usually not given to young guinea pigs because it can cause arthropathies (bone abnormalities) although it can be an effective treatment.

Unknowledgeable vets may prescribe medications like Amoxicillin that can be deadly to your pet so be sure to review the Dangerous Medications list before seeing your vet.

And if your guinea pig is not eating, you must hand feed to keep your pet alive while the antibiotic works. Get a scale and follow the guidelines on the hand feeding page.

Be sure to ask your vet how long it will take for the antibiotics to work. Call your vet if you see no improvement in the specified time period (generally a day or two). Read the advice about giving antibiotics.

Recurrent URI’s may be a sign of heart problems. Older guinea pigs are more likely to have heart issues than young ones and they may also develop dental problems.

Talishan finds a well-set-in URI can sometimes be treated using a combination of doxycycline and baytril for up to a month or even longer if it’s being tolerated well. This mix can also be nebulized. Another method is the “pulse” treatment (a few weeks on, a few weeks off). Well-set-in URI’s can take weeks to fully resolve and stopping the antibioitics too soon can result in relapse (“too soon” having no set definition, but longer at least than the standard 2-week course).

By: Chewy Editorial Updated: March 18, 2021

Beware of Guinea Pig Bloat

If you share your life with guinea pigs, you need to be aware of a serious, and sometimes fatal, condition known as guinea pig bloat. Most mammals experience intestinal gas from time to time; it’s a normal byproduct of digestion. For our little cavys, however, this gas causes big concern.

What is Guinea Pig Bloat?

Guinea pig bloat occurs when gas builds up in your pet’s gastrointestinal intestinal tract.

“Guinea pigs are not able to pass gas through their intestines, so the gas just stays in the intestines and produces severe pain,” says Lori Hageman, DVM, owner of Ark Pet Hospital in Antioch, Calif. “Guinea pig bloat can be fatal if untreated because their intestines [have] stopped moving, and they stop eating.”

Signs of Guinea Pig Bloat

If you notice anorexia in your guinea pig or visible swelling around his rib cage, see a veterinarian immediately. The earlier your pet is seen and treated by a professional, the easier the treatment and prognosis for guinea pig bloat.

“Any guinea pig that starts to go off food should be evaluated for bloat,” Dr. Hageman says. “By the time the abdomen looks distended, the bloat is at a more advanced stage.”

Other signs that can be attributed to guinea pig bloat include general weakness, decreased stool production, heavy breathing and restless movement. This condition can be very painful for your guinea pig and can worsen over night, so take action as soon as you observe any signs.

“Any guinea pig that doesn’t eat for more than 36 hours should see a veterinarian,” Dr. Hageman advises. “Even if it isn’t bloat, there is a condition that needs to be treated.”

Treatment of Guinea Pig Bloat

Veterinarians can treat guinea pig bloat with anti-gas medications or antibiotics to get the gastrointestinal tract functioning normally. They also can give the guinea pig pain medication and encourage him to drink lots of water.

If drug therapy proves futile, your vet might perform surgery. Keep in mind that once a guinea pig has bloat, the condition is likely to happen again.

“The prognosis for guinea pigs with bloat is always guarded,” Dr. Hageman says. “There are many theories on the disease, but nothing has been definitely proven.”

These theories include hairball impaction, gut adhesions from past abdominal surgeries, bacteria, parasites, viruses or stress. However, Dr. Hageman says diet is a common culprit.

Preventing Guinea Pig Bloat

According to William Ridgeway, DVM, of Long Beach Animal Hospital in Long Beach, Calif., 10-20 percent of the guinea pigs he sees have bloat. But pet parents can take precautions against the condition, Drs. Ridgeway and Hageman say.

“Certain foods cause gas build-up and should not be fed to guinea pigs,” Dr. Hageman says. “These include all the cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower) and bok choy. Guinea pigs should be fed lots of timothy hay to keep their intestines moving smoothly.”

Veterinarians also recommend making sure that your pet’s water and food dishes are clean and that you monitor your guinea pig’s eating habits to catch anorexia at an early stage.


  • 1 a Department of Pharmacology , Ain Shams University , Egypt.
  • PMID: 26751767
  • DOI: 10.3109/15412555.2015.1046041
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  • 1 a Department of Pharmacology , Ain Shams University , Egypt.
  • PMID: 26751767
  • DOI: 10.3109/15412555.2015.1046041


Airway inflammation in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is refractory to corticosteroids and hence COPD treatment is hindered and insufficient. This study assessed the effects of oral treatment with Montelukast (10 and 30 mg/kg) or dexamethasone (20 mg/kg) for 20 days on COPD model induced by chronic exposure to lipopolysaccharide (LPS). Six groups of male guinea pigs were studied. Group 1: naïve group, group 2: exposed to saline nebulization. Groups 3, 4, 5, and 6: exposed to 9 nebulizations of LPS (30 μg/ml) for 1 hour, 48 hours apart with or without treatment with Montelukast or dexamethasone. Airway hyperreactivity (AHR) to methacholine (MCh), histopathological study and bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) as well as lung tissue analyses were performed 48 hours after the final exposure to LPS (day 20). LPS-induced pulmonary dysfunction was associated with increased neutrophil count, leukotriene (LT) B4, and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α in BALF. Moreover, there was an increase in malondialdehyde (MDA) level and a decrease in histone deacetylases(HDAC) activity in the lung tissue. Both Montelukast (10 or 30 mg /kg) and dexamethasone significantly reduced neutrophil count in BALF and inflammatory cells in lung parenchyma as well as TNF-α, and MDA levels. However, dexamethasone was more effective (p Keywords: COPD; Montelukast; dexamethasone; lipopolysaccharide.


  • 1 State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology Vector, Research Institute of Molecular Biology Koltsovo, Novosibirsk Region, Russia.
  • PMID: 8973532
  • DOI: 10.1007/BF01718224
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  • 1 State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology Vector, Research Institute of Molecular Biology Koltsovo, Novosibirsk Region, Russia.
  • PMID: 8973532
  • DOI: 10.1007/BF01718224


Marburg virus (MV) reproduction in organs, hematological and pathological changes were studied by virological and clinical methods, light and electron microscopy in guinea pigs respiratory challenged by the virus. Liver and spleen were most affected by MV, as in parenteral infection. The sequential involvement of cells in virus replication was also the same as in parenteral infection, with monocytoid-macrophagal cells infected first, followed by hepatocytes, spongiocytes, endotheliocytes and fibroblasts. Hemopoietic cells showed evidence of severe damage in respiratory infected guinea pigs. A distinguishing feature of the respiratory infection was close contact of leucocytes with MV infected cells. It is suggested that the entrapment and accumulation of MV in the lungs of respiratory infected guinea pigs makes possible the enfoldment leucocyte attack which does not, however, result in destruction of the infected cells.

By: Chewy Editorial Published: September 5, 2015

BeWell > Wellness > Common Guinea Pig Health Issues

Common Guinea Pig Health Issues

Respiratory Problems

A variety of viruses and bacteria can cause respiratory ailments in guinea pigs. A guinea pig suffering from a respiratory problem may experience sneezing, lethargy, discharge from the nose and/or eyes, loss of appetite and difficulty breathing.

You can help prevent respiratory infections in guinea pigs by keeping the cage clean, keeping the cage in a draft-free room, and quarantining any new guinea pigs. If you suspect your guinea pig is suffering from a respiratory problem, contact a veterinarian right away.


Lumps on a guinea pig’s body can be caused by a number of different problems, including an abscess, tumor, cyst or fatty lipomas.

Abscesses are bacterial infections usually resulting from a wound or injury. Abscesses are round and often have a thick discharge. Tumors can be benign or cancerous, and cysts are often sebaceous and located just below the skin. Fatty lipomas are usually benign and consist of fat that has been deposited under the skin.

It’s difficult to prevent a guinea pig from developing any of these types of lumps, although early detection is important to treatment. Examine your guinea pig every day, and take him to a veterinarian immediately for a diagnosis if you find a lump on his body.

Dental Problems

The teeth of guinea pigs grow continuously and must be worn down by gnawing. If the teeth do not wear down normally, because of the way the guinea pig’s mouth has developed, the small animal has a condition called malocclusion. This is usually a genetic problem and occurs because the teeth are not aligned.

Guinea pigs with overly long teeth, repeated infections in the mouth, ulcerations on the lips or tongue, and difficulty eating may be suffering from malocclusion.

You can’t prevent malocclusion, but you can manage it by having your small pet’s teeth trimmed regularly by a veterinarian.

Gastrointestinal Tract Problems

Guinea pigs can become constipated easily if not fed the right diet. They can also develop diarrhea. Both of these conditions are dangerous and can be life-threatening if not treated right away.

Guinea pigs suffering from constipation may strain to defecate. You may also notice a lack of feces in the cage, a distended abdomen or lethargy.

Diarrhea shows up as loose or runny stools, and messiness underneath the tail.

To help prevent constipation, make sure your guinea pig gets fresh green vegetables every day, and provide access to clean, fresh water. To prevent diarrhea, keep his cage clean and introduce new foods gradually. Don’t feed your guinea pig anything containing processed sugar as this can interfere with normal gastrointestinal function. Keep fruit treats to a minimum.

Take your guinea pig to the veterinarian if he shows any signs of constipation or diarrhea. Your vet needs to diagnose and treat these problems right away.

Skin Problems

Many skin problems in guinea pigs are caused by an external fungus. This infection usually starts on the face and spreads to other parts of the body, although it may be present in more than one place at a time. You’ll see missing areas of hair on a guinea pig’s body, sometimes covered with scales or sores. The spots may be itchy, so you’ll see your guinea pig scratching them repeatedly.

Guinea pigs can also develop skin problems from parasites such as lice and mites. Lice are tiny, wingless insects that live in a guinea pig’s hair. Signs are scratching and loss of hair. Mites can also cause a loss of hair. Some guinea pigs infested with mites will run wildly in circles.

To help prevent skin problems in guinea pigs, keep humidity levels low in the animal’s environment. Keep your guinea pig cage clean, and don’t overcrowd guinea pigs in cages.

If you suspect your guinea pig has a skin problem, contact an exotics veterinarian immediately for a diagnosis and treatment.

Foot Sores

Guinea pigs can develop sore hocks from living on a wire-only cage bottom. Their hind legs become red and swollen on the bottoms, and they lose some of their hair. If the problem is bad enough, the guinea pig may not want to move around because of the pain. If you suspect that your guinea pig is foot sore, take him to the vet right away. The vet may give you antibiotic ointment to put on his legs, and will suggest that you change your cage flooring.

To prevent hock sores, provide your guinea pig with solid flooring. If your small pet lives in an outdoor hutch, make sure at least 1/3 of the cage floor is solid to offer relief from the wire.


Guinea pigs can develop heatstroke easily in hot weather, especially if left in a car or in direct sunlight. Signs of heatstroke include laying in a stretched out posture, panting, rapid breathing and drooling. If your guinea pig is overheated, get him out of the hot environment and put a cold, wet towel around his body. You can also try bathing your guinea pig in cool water (not cold). Take your small pet to a veterinarian immediately.

To prevent heatstroke, keep your guinea pig’s cage out of direct sunlight. Situate the cage away from radiators and other heat sources. Never leave your guinea pig in the car on warm days.

Eye Problems

Guinea pigs sometimes develop eye problems as a result of another condition, such as a respiratory infection, diabetes, teeth problems or dehydration. Eye problems caused by these problems can include signs like crusty or watery discharge, protruding or receding eyes, or cloudy eyes.

Guinea pigs can also develop corneal ulcers as a result of injury to the eye. The eye may appear swollen and watery. The guinea pig may squint or paw at the eye. The eye may also become cloudy.

Guinea pigs can also develop cataracts, either as a result of diabetes, old age or a genetic tendency toward the disease.

Some guinea pigs are born blind, while others can go blind as a result of old age. Blind guinea pigs are usually able to live relatively normal lives.

To help prevent eye problems in your guinea pig, keep his cage clean and provide a quality diet. If you suspect a guinea pig is under the weather, take him to an exotics veterinarian right away. If a small pet’s eyes seem irritated or swollen, don’t wait to take him to a vet.

By: Audrey Pavia

Featured Image: via kosobu/iStock/Thinkstock


Junior Guinea Pig
  • Jun 1, 2020
  • #1
  • Hi all. In the past i have came on this forum looking for ways to help my guinea pig with her breathing problems. I have went to the vet twice now for that issue and have not found a straight answer about it, but considering she was happy, healthy, and eating just fine- we decided it was best to leave it alone unless she was acting ill. Shes had it on and off since then but has handled it well, but with the recent and sudden rise in temperatures has come a new issue. Penny is now having labored breathing on and off almost every day for the past week. Its no longer “hooting”, but sounds like her nasal cavity is almost obstructed (imagine blowing through a tube type sound but harsher). It tends to last 5-10 seconds, disappears for about 10-20 minutes, then returns again. This isnt all day long, but it happens enough to concern me. Her appetite has decreased slightly (she still eats, but not as ravenous especially with her pellets) , along with her weight, and these moments of labored breathing seem to scare her. She lets out a loud, high pitched squeal when they occur and shes never been that frightened even by the hooting. I cant see a vet till june 21st and beyond due to the pandemic. I have starting added sprinkles of crushed oats to her pellets and giving her a 1 1/2 to 2 cups of veggies instead of one for her weight. The only thing that i think could of cause this sudden problem is the fact the window in her room was left open without my knowing.

    If anyone has any tips that can help, i’ll take anything. I plan on getting her to a vet ASAP.


    • Jun 1, 2020
  • #2
  • I think the best thing you can do is get her to a vet as soon as possible. 21 June is a long way away, can you not get there earlier? Perhaps call them and talk to them. Mention the weight loss and the laboured breathing.

    You will have to step in with syringe feeding rather than giving her more veg. The main staple of their diet is hay so if she’s losing then she isn’t eating enough that. Pellets should also be kept to a tablespoon per day and no more. Have a read of the syringe feeding thread below. And also move to weighing her daily at the same time.
    Complete Syringe Feeding Guide

    I’ll also tag in @Wiebke and @VickiA
    Please also add your location so info can be tailored to you.