One of the worst things a pet owner can experience is the sudden death of their guinea pig. Some will gradually weaken and die within hours or even days of starting an illness. Others suddenly keel over one day. The worse part about sudden death is that it happens without warning, which makes people wonder: Why do guinea pigs die suddenly?
As a whole, guinea pigs die suddenly because they hide their illnesses. So, most owners don’t know something is wrong until the guinea pig dies. Guinea can catch different illnesses that are hard for them to fight off without proper care. Care they won’t receive unless their owners realizes that they’re sick.
But, it can be difficult to know what signs your pet may show if they are at risk for sudden death . This blog post will cover causes and prevention of guinea pig sudden death. It will also cover warning signs to watch out for.
Let’s dive in!
Prevent Sudden Death In Guinea Pigs (What You Need To Know)
Guinea pigs can be susceptible to sudden death due to a few different causes. Before we talk about how to prevent sudden death, you should know three things:
- Your guinea will act like it’s healthy even if he is not. This means that they are going to hide any illnesses until they get really sick and possibly die.
- If your guinea pig can’t eat for a long time, it might die. So be careful of any illness or side effect that takes away your guinea pig’s appetite or slows their digestion.
- To protect your pet, you need to watch for signs that they are sick and take care of them before they get worse.
Let’s dive into these principles a little deeper.
Guinea Pigs Hide…Everything
All guinea pigs owners need to understand that guinea pigs do everything they can to hide signs of illness. Sometimes this happens until they’re at the point where things are too far gone.
It’s a trait of prey animals. With the herd, piggies in the wild don’t want to be seen as being vulnerable.
Any apparent weakness (or illness) allows them to be targeted by predators. Often, they’re kicked of the group and are easy pickings for predators.
Domesticated guinea pigs have kept this survival instinct.
Eat Or Die
Loss of appetite (no matter the reason) is a big culprit of sudden death.
Guinea pigs aren’t like humans – we can sometimes skip a meal.
Guinea pigs have a digestive system that needs to be constantly moving.
When piggies don’t get food for a long time, their gut isn’t moving food through their system. Guess what happens. They die!
It’s super common for an illness or other cause of stress to force the piggies’ stomachs shut down.
And when they don’t eat, it’s even more likely they will die – especially without veterinary care.
Major Warning Signs to Watch Out For
The only way you can know if your guinea pig is at risk for sudden death is by being observing of subtle changes in their behavior and eating habits.
Specifically, there are other signs you should look for, such as:
- lethargy (or sluggishness), social withdrawal
- difficulty breathing, rapid or raspy breathing;
- a change in dropping (diarrheas or little and dry)
- loss or lack of appetite, dehydration
- blood in the urine
- excessive sleeping
- weight loss (HUGE warning sign)
- eye or nose discharge
If you notice that your guinea pig is demonstrating any of these symptoms, take her to the vet as soon as possible.
Let’s begin the Deadly 11 – by looking at the possible reasons why guinea pigs die suddenly.
1. Vitamin C Deficiencies Can Cause Sudden Death in Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs need vitamin C. Their bodies can’t make it. They need foods that are rich in vitamin C, because piggies need 20mg to 30mg each day. For example, bell peppers have vitamin C in them.
Some commercial guinea pig foods contain vitamin C. If they are not used within three months of being made, then they will lose half of their vitamin C content.
Don’t add Vitamin C to your guinea pig’s water. It changes the taste of the water and then your piggie might refuse to drink it. Then you’ll have a whole other pile of problems on your hands.
Signs of scurvy include:
- rough hair and cut
- weight loss
- bruising and bleeding of gums
- loss of appetite
- difficulty moving around
If a guinea pig is low on vitamin C, it also affects the way that other vitamins are taken in. Vitamin C works with vitamin E to help the body take in vitamin D3, D9 and D10.
It is important to remember that vitamin C degrades in heat, light, and moisture, so vitamin C supplies must be refreshed daily.
Vitamin C deficiency (also known as scurvy) can cause diarrhea, dental abnormalities, and skin lesions. The lack of vitamin C can cause guinea pigs to die.
What To Do:
Leafy green vegetables are excellent sources of vitamin C. They’re also great for your guinea pigs! Offer some every day to keep your guinea pig’s diet balanced.
Some popular choices include spinach, asparagus, broccoli and kale – offer a variety so your piggies won’t get bored with the same old thing everyday.
In a pinch, 1/8 of a bell pepper is a great source of Vitamin C for your guinea pig that can be given daily.
2. A Murky History
Most people are aware of unethical backyard dog and cat breeders. They will investigate the breeders before purchasing a cat or dog – especially if the animal is expensive.
However, some people don’t take the time or effort to find a responsible guinea pig breeder.
They buy from the nearest pet store or just anyone whose guinea pig has had babies.
Unfortunately, guinea pigs are sometimes bred for reptile food and laboratory animals. There isn’t much care that goes into breeding, housing, or feeding of the guinea pigs bred for these purposes. Surplus guinea pigs are sold to pet stores.
Guinea pigs that are unhealthy, stressed, and of unknown age, which is a disastrous recipe for sudden death in a guinea pig.
What To Do:
When you want to give a home to a new guinea pig, it is much better to seek out a reputable guinea pig breeder. A good breeder will likely:
- let you observe (or inspect) the mother and father
- know your guinea pig’s birth date and exact age
- tell you about correct housing and feeding requirements
- let you see how the breeder keeps their guinea pigs (the area should be clean and fresh)
- let you see the physical health of your guinea pig
Breeders that do not follow these guidelines may sell sick or unhealthy animals. Ask around to find a good breeder in your area!
There are many responsible animal organizations and rescues that can provide you with healthy guinea pigs. Many work hard to help guinea pigs find loving homes. They also work to reduce the number of animals euthanized in animal shelters each year.
Sometimes these rescues have more information about guinea pig diseases and care than breeders do!
Although a guinea pig may have come from a less than ideal situation, the rescue should still be able to provide you with answers to many of your guinea pig questions.
After you buy a guinea pig, you should take him to the vet – who specializes in exotic pets. The vet will give your guinea pig a check up and tell you if he is healthy or not. If he has symptoms of illness, the vet will also say what to do for it so that your pet stays healthy. If you want to have new guinea pigs, then you should quarantine them for 2-3 weeks. That way your old guinea pigs won’t catch a disease from your new one.
3. Stress Can Cause Sudden Death
Stress can affect your stomach. People who have stress sometimes get irritable bowel syndrome – this is when the intestines does not work properly.
We see the same thing happen with guinea pigs.
How does stress contribute to sudden death in guinea pigs?
Stress may make a guinea pig stop eating, which upsets the balance of their gut flora. If this happens, there is gut stasis – the whole digestive system stops working.
Stress also decreases motility (movement) in your guinea pig’s gut. This makes things worse by causing food to start decomposing inside their stomach.
Stress in any animal causes epinephrine release (also known as adrenalin), which inhibits peristalsis (the movement of food through your intestines).
Let’s take a look at a few scenarios that will cause stress in a guinea pig:
Guinea pigs are social, herd animals and used to living in families. In the wild, guinea pigs live in families as a means of self-preservation. Family groups guard each other and alert to signs of danger, allowing them to take turns to rest and eat.
Guinea pigs have been observed to be drawn to other guinea pigs and they form social groups. The necessity for companionship is so strong that a solitary guinea pig will become lonely and stressed out.
The right housemate is also essential. If a guinea pig is bullied by his or her companion, they will be stressed and may be kept away from the food and water by the bully.
Guinea pigs sometimes prefer to live alone. This is rare. But, it can happen because they weren’t treated well earlier in their lives or because their personality clashes with other piggies. It’s best to have an experienced rescue or shelter help you match your guinea pigs for the first time. Better yet, buy a pair that’s already been well-matched.
Sudden death in guinea pigs is often caused by the environment. For example, a guinea pig’s cage may not be the right size for their needs or it could have a wire floor that is too hard.
Guinea pigs are sensitive to noise. Loud noise levels can stress the guinea pig’s neurological system. If a guinea pig is exposed to constant high levels of noise, it could die.
Since guinea pigs are sensitive to sudden temperature changes, it makes sense that too much heat or cold overtime, could also cause sudden death. Keeping the temperature in a guinea pig’s room between 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Guinea pigs are stressed when they don’t have a healthy habitat. In order to keep them in good health, it’s best if you provide the right bedding and housing for their home!
Guinea pig housing needs to be big. More space is ALWAYS better than less. For instance, 7.5 square feet is recommended, but you should REALLY go for something larger.
4. Gut Stasis (Ileus)
Gut stasis is when your guinea pig’s digest system stops working. Piggies will often stop eating and drinking, which can lead to starvation.
The stomach slows down or stops moving food through the digestive system – so piggies starve to death!
How does this happen?
Guinea pigs eat only plants so they are herbivores. And herbivores have very sensitive stomachs that do not react to change well.
There’s bacteria in their stomach which helps break down tough plants. These bacteria become special for the guinea pig’s diet.
If you change your piggie’s diet too quickly , the guinea pig might not have enough of the right bacteria to break down the new food.
This can lead to a problem where the food gets stuck in their intestines and their digestive system stops working properly. This can cause gas, pain, and even sudden death for your little friend.
What To Do:
For the above-described reason, guinea pigs should have a consistent, stable diet with few, if any, treats.
When you get a new guinea pig, it is important to ask (e.g. the breeder, rescue, pet store) what they’ve been feeding your new pet. This way, you can keep feeding them the same thing when you get them home.
Any changes you want to make to what your guinea pig eats should be done slowly. For about a week, feed a tiny amount of the new food with the old diet. Then you can gradually increase the new food so that it does not cause sudden death.
5. Salmonella Can Cause Sudden Death in Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs can be infected with salmonella bacteria through contact with infected guinea pigs, wild mice, rats, or unwashed vegetables.
Symptoms include swollen glands, lethargy, fever, rough coat, eye inflammation, liver and spleen enlargement, and lack of appetite.
Treating bacterial infections in guinea pigs is complicated. Many antibiotics cannot be used as they kill the guinea pig’s intestinal flora. When this happens, guinea pigs aren’t able to eat, which causes other health issues.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that you can get salmonella from guinea pigs. Always wash your hands after touching the guinea pigs and do not keep them too close to your face.
What To Do:
To avoid sudden death in your guinea pig from getting salmonella, do the following:
- When handling your guinea pig, always wash your hands.
- Keep the cage clean and use properly diluted vinegar (or bleach) to wipe it down regularly.
- Avoid contact with other animals that could carry salmonella: wild mice, rats, and unwashed vegetables.
- If you find that your guinea pig is lethargic or not eating, and suspect salmonella (or any other severe illness) contact an experiences veterinarian right away
6. Dental Issues Can Cause Sudden Death in Guinea Pigs
It might seem weird to think about dental problems as being life-threatening for guinea pigs. But they are one of the most common reasons that pet rodents go to the vet.
Studies show that it is often seen in pigs aged 3 years old.
Dental problems can cause pain and discomfort for guinea pigs, which can lead to them avoiding food. Then comes malnutrition. It can also cause severe stomach issues.
Guinea pigs’ teeth grow throughout their lives. They need to have access to suitable materials to gnaw and chew.
Dental abnormalities can include overgrown teeth, abscesses (pus that is caused by an infection), and malocclusions, leading to infections in the sinuses.
These are some of the reasons that can cause dental disease in guinea pigs:
- the lack of hay (hay is good for filed down teeth)
- scurvy (vitamin C deficiency)
- defects in the tooth or mouth from when you were born with
- lack of chew toys
Malocclusions are also known as improper bites. Guinea pigs with malocclusions can chew less and experience more tooth wear than those who don’t have the condition, which leads to dental problems over time. Tooth abscesses are pus-filled pockets of infection (gross right?) that form on the teeth and gums. These infections can lead to sudden death in guinea pigs if not treated.
In guinea pigs, many dental issues can be caused by not having enough vitamins and minerals.
If the guinea pig drools or is slobbering, this can be a sign of dental problems. The hair around the chin and neck might get matted, and the skin might become irritated.
Dental problems can cause major disruptions in how the stomach works. Illnesses that disrupt the digestive system (or appetite )of a guinea pig can cause sudden death.
What To Do:
Dental issues are usually treated by a veterinarian. You can help prevent them from occurring in your guinea pig by offering the following:
- a good diet (tons of hay, proper amounts of vegetables & fruit)
- lots of chew toys (like organic apple twigs)
- hay sticks
- lots of roughage (grass, red leaf lettuce)
Know when to consult a vet. Sometimes dental issues aren’t noticed by owners, because they don’t realize that their little friends aren’t eating – always be observant.
Dental issues may require that the veterinarian files down the problem teeth and lance abscesses. These procedures are usually done under anesthetic.
7. Heart Attacks
Anecdotally, many pet parents reports that the cause of the sudden death of their guinea pigs were caused by heart conditions such as a heart attack, or the unexplained condition where the heart stops and then start again.
Since it is not typical for pet owners to request a necropsy when their guinea pig dies suddenly, it’s hard to know how many have died from these conditions. But it’s safe to assume that it does happen.
A necropsy is the animal equivalent of an autopsy. It is the process in which a veterinarian examines and dissects an animal to determine the cause of death.
A necropsy can help pinpoint any underlying causes for sudden (non-traumatic) death, such as heart problems or diabetes mellitus, that may not be detectable by other means.
What To Do:
To potentially avoid heart attacks in your guinea pigs, give them a comfortable and stress-free home. It’s simple to do. For example, try the following:
- make sure they have plenty of hay to eat and appropriate amounts food
- provide clean home with fresh bedding
- a cage with adequate space: the more room for roaming around, the better
- give them lots of love and attention every day
- get them a compatible friend – no bullying allowed
- keep bigger pets (e.g dogs and cats) away from your guinea pigs because they may might terrify them.
These tips will help your piggies avoid sudden death by stress or heart attack.
8. URIs and Pneumonia
It’s not just humans who can get upper respirator infections (URIs) and pneumonia!
Guinea pigs are also susceptible to those illnesses, and they’re a common cause of sudden death. Bordetella infections and streptococcal bacteria are usually a main cause of pneumonia.
The symptoms of URIs and pneumonia are very similar – with signs of pneumonia being much more intense. If an upper respiratory infection isn’t treated properly, then it can advance into pneumonia.
Guinea pigs may experience symptoms such as:
- lack of appetite
- runny nose or nasal discharge
- sneezing and/or coughing
- wheezing, shallow breathing/fast breathing rate (bradycardia),
- a fever
- conjunctivitis (“pink eye”)
- weight loss
Guinea pigs (even ones not showing symptoms) and other animals can easily transmit upper respiratory infection.
In order to prevent this from happening, you should monitor any new guinea pig that joins the herd for two to three weeks before introducing them fully.
Respiratory disease is a common illness in guinea pigs. It often affects the young and old piggies, but it can happen to any guinea pig who isn’t healthy.
What To Do:
Pneumonia is a disease that can happen if piggies have bacteria in their bodies and a weak immune system. If you want to keep your piggie pneumonia-free, do the following:
- Keep your piggies in a clean and dry environment with proper bedding
- Keep your piggies away from drafts and other sources of dampness, such as open windows
- Feed your guinea pigs an appropriate diet, so that they stay healthy and strong
If your guinea pig has pneumonia, get your piggie to the veterinarian as soon as possible. There she can receive necessary treatment, such as antibiotics and fluids.
9. Old Age
Some owners don’t know that age of their guinea pigs.
Often guinea pigs are bought at pet stores that have no idea how old the animal is. So, it’s difficult to know when the animal is expected to die.
A guinea pig is considered elderly when they reach 4 or 5 years old? According to the Guinness book of World Records, the oldest guinea pig was Snowball. She lived for 14 years and 10.5 months!
It’s difficult to tell how old a guinea pig is- as they have very few visible signs telling us how old they are.
But, as their age advances, they might start to experience health problems and sudden death becomes a possibility.
A common symptom of aging is that a guinea pig will gradually lose its energy. For example, a younger animal may run to you quickly in response to the scent of food, while an older one might take longer.
Guinea pigs suffer from many of the same issues as humans as they age, including achy joints and a weak immune system.
The point is what seems “sudden” is just an unfortunate event that happens to guinea pigs (and every living thing) who reach the end of their lives.
But, it can come as a shock to pet parents who don’t realize how old their little friends are.
What To Do:
There’s no way to prevent your guinea pigs from aging. But, there are some things you can do to increase the odds they will live the longest, happy life possible.
Spoil your older guinea pig (a little) and make her as happy and comfortable as possible . Make the most of your time together.
Monitor your elderly pig carefully. Know what’s “normal” for her as an aging piggie and what might be cause for concern – or time for a visit to the vet.
10. Watch Out For Diarrhea & Dehydration
Diarrhea is a common symptom in sick guinea pigs and can be caused by viruses, fungi, bacteria, or dietary imbalances.
Diarrhea quickly results in dehydration which can kill any animal rapidly and suddenly.
How can you tell if your piggie is dehydrated?
Try this simple test.
If you suspect your guinea pig is dehydrated, pinch the skin.
If the skin fails to go back to its normal position in a second or two, your guinea pig is dehydrated. This is known as a skin-tenting test.
Here are some more signs that your guinea pig might be dehydrated: dark-colored urine, thick sticky saliva, crusty eyes, a lack of appetite for food or water. If you notice any of these symptoms then it’s important to make sure they’re not going without fluids!
What To Do:
- always provide your guinea pigs with fresh, clean water.
- if you use water bottles, inspect them every day and make sure that they work
- track the water levels of your guinea pigs bowls and bottles
- don’t put Vitamin C drops (or anything else that might change the taste of the water) into your piggie’s water
- if your guinea pig dehydrates, take him to the vet.
11. Bad Reactions To Antibiotics
Antibiotics may hurt your guinea pig. This can happen if the antibiotic makes the sensitive bacteria in your pet’s stomach grow too much or if it causes a dangerous imbalance.
(See what I mean about your piggie’s digestive system? Anything that messes with it – even a medicine to treat a different illness, can be a problem for your fur baby)
And this includes antibiotics for the skin!
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
What To Do:
If your guinea pigs need antibiotics, it’s even more important to look after them. If they get diarrhea or stop eating food, tell the vet right away – and stop the antibiotics.
As a rule, you should not give your guinea pig any antibiotics unless a veterinarian says it’s okay. Otherwise, it can make your guinea pig very sick and cause sudden death.
Final Thoughts About Guinea Pigs, Sudden Death, Causes and Preventions
In conclusion, sudden death in guinea pigs is a serious issue that has potential causes and preventive measures.
While some causes of sudden death in guinea pigs are not preventable, changes you make to your pet’s environment and care can help avoid the possibility.
It’s important to know the signs of sudden death because some causes can be prevented if caught early enough.
Understanding these factors will arm you with information on what to do to prevent sudden death in your guinea pigs and how to spot warning signs.
Guinea pigs will frequently hide their illnesses until there is no hope of recovery.
Although, it’s hard to offer them care when they don’t let you know that something is wrong, it doesn’t have to be death sentence for your little friend.
True, there are a few different illnesses that might put your guinea pig’s life in danger if not given proper care and attention…
But now you know the most common ones, their symptoms, and prevention methods.
The good news?
Most of the prevention methods involve best practices of guinea pig care: like providing a good diet, home, exercise.
Or just watching your piggies to make sure that they’re not behaving abnormally. Stuff you do anyway as a good pet parent.
Use that knowledge to protect and care for your piggies.
Your fur babies are lucky to have you!
Because you’ve got this in the bag.