In comparison to the other four-legged pets, too little is known about the digestive mechanisms of guinea pigs.
They are monogastric herbivores, meaning that they have only one stomach; unlike some bigger herbivores that have more than just one.
The stomach continues to the small intestine, appendix, and large intestine. The appendix is the main place of fermentation.
The process produces a lot of gas and diet changes can disrupt it making it generate more content than needed.
Guinea pigs are physiologically hindgut fermenters. The food is broken down after passing the small intestine with the help of different bacteria (the process is called microbial fermentation).
Intestinal gas is a normal digestion byproduct in most mammals. As long as the gas is in normal quantities and can pass safely out of the body it’s no big deal. But what happens when the content is trapped?
Guinea pig bloat is a serious condition that can be fatal if left untreated. Bloat occurs when the gastrointestinal tract produces a lot of gas.
The gas stays in place and cannot be passed through the guinea pigs’ intestines. More gas is produced in the meantime and the situation only gets worse.
Another specific thing about guinea pigs is that everything that goes inside their mouth has to come out on the hind.
There is no other way. Guinea pigs aren’t able to regurgitate content and burp up gas as other animals can.
The onset of guinea pig bloat is sudden and can become life-threatening in less than 12 hours. Gastrointestinal stasis is coming secondary as a result of the bloat and is the real killer.
The guinea pigs’ stomachs are always in motion. With stasis, the digestive movements slow down or stop entirely. That’s when it gets serious.
What Causes Bloating in Guinea Pigs?
Too much negative bacteria growth can result in excess gas and thus bloating. Bacterial infections in the digestive system can be considered as one of the things causing guinea pig bloat.
Additionally, recent antibiotic treatment can disturb the normal microflora of the intestines and create a favorable environment for the negative microorganisms.
Some vegetables can cause a massive gas build-up and should cautiously be given to guinea pigs or avoided completely.
The main problem is that they love all of them so much. Such vegetables include cauliflower, cabbage, brussel sprouts, kale, and broccoli.
Lack of quality hay in the diet can also contribute to decreased gut mobility and gas build-up. One more theory is that obesity and lack of exercise can be taken as contributing factors as well.
Guinea pigs are very sensitive to dietary changes. Any change has to be implemented gradually over a period of a week or two. Sudden shifts make the stomach and guts vulnerable and susceptible to bloating.
Bloating in guinea pigs can occur as a result of intestinal blockage. Guinea pigs chewing on non-digestive material such as plastic can accidentally swallow little pieces that can block the digestive tract.
Other materials that can also contribute to the blockage and subsequently bloat are wood, hairballs, etc.
How Do I Know If My Guinea Pig Has Bloat?
The most obvious sign of guinea pig bloat is a sudden distended and swollen appearance of the abdomen. Accompanying signs of bloating are:
- Decreased appetite or anorexia
- Labored breathing
- No passing of feces
- Restless movements
- Painful abdomen
If you want to make a quick check whether the problem is gas bloat you can do a home test. Take your guinea pig and immobilize him by grasping the shoulders and the neck.
Flick your middle finger on both sides of the abdomen. When the abdomen is filled with gas the flicking will produce different sounds in different areas.
If you suspect your guinea pig has bloat, you must realize that means an emergency. The disease can progress quickly and every second count. Taking a trip to the vet is the only solution to make sure your pet gets the care he deserves.
Firstly your guinea pig will need to be diagnosed with bloat before the treatment begins. The physical examination is what every experienced vet will begin by paying special attention to the abdominal area. Gut sounds with lower intensity can give a pretty good idea of what might be going on.
Although most vets will suggest blood work and urinalysis, bloated guinea pigs can have no changes in the parameters.
X-ray findings are most useful as they can clearly show why the abdomen is distended (gas or fluid) and which part of the digestive tract is affected. Don’t be surprised if the definitive diagnosis is pregnancy.
How Do You Treat a Bloated Guinea Pig?
Veterinarians use anti-gas medication, anti-pain medications, and antibiotics to resolve guinea pig bloat. Gastrointestinal stimulants are especially helpful when you want to make the bowels move again. Guinea pigs that are dehydrated will need to be treated with intravenous fluids.
Placing a stomach tube through the mouth into the stomach is performed to release excess air from the stomach and decompress it.
The same effect can be achieved by puncturing the stomach through the abdominal wall with a fine needle. If conservative therapy isn’t helping, surgery might be the only option.
Can Guinea Pig Bloat Go On Its Own?
In minor cases of gas fill-up bloating can resolve on its own if you withdraw the food that contributed to the problem in the first place.
But there is no chance you can be sure in what direction the situation is going to turn. Seeking professional medical help is always the number one choice.
How To Prevent Guinea Pig Bloat
Keep your guinea pigs’ water and food bowls clean all the time. Avoid changing his diet, or do it slowly if you have to.
Make a list of all the greens the guinea pig can safely consume or not and stick to strict feeding protocols. Unfortunately, some cases of guinea pig bloat can turn chronic no matter how careful you are.
If that is the case learn to recognize the symptoms early and work on an appropriate long-term treatment plan with your vet to make your pet’s life as comfortable as possible.