Pneumonia or any upper respiratory infection in a guinea pig (cavy) should warrant an immediate phone call to the vet. Guinea pigs don’t tolerate these infections well at all, due to their small size. Death can come in a matter of a couple of days unless they are immediately put on antibiotics and have their environment checked and improved upon. If caught early enough, a full recovery is possible and you can have a happy, healthy piggy again.
Guinea pigs with pneumonia will look different, sound different and act different than they usually do. As a general rule, any strange deviation of behavior warrants a closer look and a vet visit, but if your guinea pig exhibits these symptoms, consider it a medical emergency.
Crusting, dripping or goop exuding from the nose or eyes; eyes sunk in or looking very dull; sitting in a hunched position; not bothering to groom himself or herself, resulting in dirty fur or wet patches around the chin and chest; sneezing far more often than usual; refusing to eat and making strange noises when breathing like wheezing, rattling or even crackling.
You can hear the noises by either sticking your ear down on the very top of the guinea pig’s cage or by picking the pet up or placing the nose to your ear.
Unfortunately, pneumonia is very contagious to other guinea pigs, but not contagious to humans. You should wash your hands thoroughly when working with the sick guinea pig before you touch a healthy one. If you have more than one guinea pig, you need to separate them in order to keep the others from getting sick.
Upper respiratory infections generally come from the guinea pig staying too long in damp conditions. The quarantine cage, big plastic tote with the lid off or cardboard box (if all else fails) needs to be in a warm, dry environment. Make sure the sick guinea pig has dry bedding, food and water.
The usual medications given to guinea pigs with pneumonia are a round of antibiotics, which usually can be administered by a dropper. Keep in mind that all guinea pigs are allergic to penicillin, amoxicillin and any antibiotic in the penicillin family. Be sure your vet knows that. Not all vets are aware of this.
Safe antibiotics include doxycycline and Bactrim (a combination of sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim). Depending on how bad your guinea pig is, the vet may want to give an injection and then give you the medicine. It is important to give all of the medicine, or the infection can come back.
It’s vitally important to get the guinea pig eating. If the guinea pig hasn’t eaten in two days, she can risk death due to liver shock. Your vet may need to administer fluids. Human baby food is a good treat for sick guinea pigs.
“The Proper Care of Guinea Pigs.” Peter Gurney. TFH Publications; 1999
“Guinea Pigs.” Audrey Pavia, et al. Bow Tie Press; 2005.
Guinea Lynx. “Medications.” http://www.guinealynx.info/medications.html