Guinea Pig Examination

Cavies and caveats – Your successful Guinea Pig Consult

You hear there’s a Guinea Pig consult coming in, your colleagues flee for the treatment room, or are writing that history that suddenly needs doing.
However you have come prepared, where’s your Cavy at?
Just like your rabbit consultation, the Guinea pig consultation can be divided into sections:

  • History
  • Physical Examination
  • Preventive care
  • Cavy On Case

And just in case you thought this material might get a bit dry, you’d better bring a towel! Whilst not at mobile as rabbits, having a little more control will go a long way to creating a caring cavy consult.


Once again – FEEDING. Top of the consult, “What do you feed your Guinea pig?”
rabbit feed graph

Seems over simplified. Still.
Remember, this is a KEY TAKE HOME POINT FOR YOUR CLIENT – so the easier to remember, the better it is!
However there is another key take home point for Guinea pigs, and that is their great need for vitamin C!
Just like pirates, if left bereft of vitamin C rich greens and feed, you’ll find yourself stranded and left to walk the plank, or in this case, the consult room table. Guinea pigs can’t synthesise their own vitamin C so it’s important that they get food rich in vitamin C. I’ll offer some suggestions below in the greens section.

  • Grass Hay – 80%
    • Keep it simple, the majority of your Guinea pigs feed should be grass hay – oaten hay, timothy hay – Lucerne hay is okay but is higher in energy and proteins

  • Greens – 20%
    • VITAMIN C is CRITICAL HERE, The hay portion of the pie chart even LOOKS like a C!
    • This is a quick guide to sources vitamin C as seen in the melbourne rabbit clinic rabbit emergency manual:

Red Caspiscum
Water Cress
Kiwi fruit
Sweet potato
Bok choy
Coriander (which people seem to hate anyway so that’s good)

  • Pellets / fruits / treats – 0%
    • But you cant feed ZERO PER CENT! Exactly – dont feed pellets and fruits. except in very small quantities
    • One tablespoon per day
    • Do not believe that a pellet diet is all a Guinea pig needs! Pirates at sea lacked Vitamin C! So feed it to your Guinea pig!

Another vital question in the history is if the client has other pet friends for their Guinea pig. Whilst Guinea pigs are social creatures and enjoy the company of other Guinea pigs, they should under no circumstances be housed with rabbits.
Rabbits possess the bacteria, Bordetella bronchiseptica as bacteria in their respiratory tract, however for Guinea pigs this can result  fatal respiratory disease. So keep your rabbits and Guinea pigs separate, mmkay?

Physical Examination
Heart rate – 230-380 bpm
Respiratory rate–  90-150 brpm
Remember that Guinea Pigs are prey species? Everything is fast. Except you, your consult is calm, cool and collected!

Abdominal sounds are VITAL SIGNS in a Guinea Pig, and you must, i repeat, MUST, listen to them each consult. The presence or abscence of gut sounds is the difference between life and death, and gut stasis needs to be treated as an emergency.
Feel that abdomen, has the rabbit been eating ?
  • Eating food?
  • Eating caecotrophs?
  • Defecating?
  • Does the belly feel bloated? or appear bigger to the owner

Why is it important for guinea pigs to eat caecotrophs? To gain all the nutrients they let pass through the first time!

Temperature – 37.2-39.5C
A hot Guinea pig is a stressed sick pig, a cold Guinea pig is a very sick Guinea pig with gut stasis and hypothermia!

Grab that towel for added control. Here’s two non towel based handling techniques:
1.Place your right hand under the hind paws, and your left hand under the fore paws and ventral thorax. Flip the front of your pig with your left hand so that the dorsal thorax is against you, with the hind paws supported by the right hand, with the cavy facing away from you.
2. Scoop the pig up by placing your left hand under the hind paws, with the pigs’ head toward or under your elbow. Hug the pig to you and keep your right hand on the dorsum.

Teeth – Did you know Guinea Pig teeth dont stop growing?
Check the incisors to make sure they are occluding well, not digging into the gingival muscosa. Check the molars by placing an otoscope head between the buccal surface and teeth to view the teeth and look for any sharp edges from malocclusion that may be cutting into the the cheeks and tongue. Ouch! Another common dental abnormality in Guinea pigs is bridging, which occurs when the premolars and molars aren’t exposed to enough fibrous foods to wear them down, so the mandibular cheek teeth grow to touch over the tongue. Ouch!

Ears and skin – check your Guinea pig’s ears for pus and mites  – pus from brewing abscesses and tooth root infections. And mites, might be there. Guinea pigs can get external parasites just like dogs and cats, so It’s useful to know for external parasites which products are safe to use in your Guinea pig, a few favourites are:
  1. Ivermectin 200-400ug/kg
  2. Selamectin (revolution) 6-12 mg/kg
In safe doses these medications can turn a hairless itchy Guinea pig back into your comfortable furry friend!

Preventative Care
Guinea pigs in Australia require no vaccinations or preventative parasitic care, so use this time to repeat the importance of feeding vitamin C and planning a suitable time to desex your Guinea pig! And don’t house Guinea pigs with rabbits!
As mentioned above, it is handy to know which flea/mite products are safe and useful if your Guinea Pig does get infected by mites.

Cavy-on case
What should you put in your cavy case?
Vaccination passport, oxbow critical care,  bag of Guinea pig feed/hay (good quality hay remember!), obstacles and toys.
Make it your own!

So here it is, all you need to know for a successful Guinea Pig Consultation! If you’d like to use the checklist in your consultation, please download the pdf.

Guinea Pig Checklist EV

  1. Meredith, A, Johnson Delaney, C. BSAVA Manual of Exotic Pets. 5th Edn. APA, Cheltenham, 2010.
  2. Melbourne Rabbit Clinic. Rabbit & Guinea Pig Emergency Manual. Melbourne Rabbit Clinic, Ferntree Gully, 2014