Eye infections in guinea pigs are more common than you might think and can be a result of many things.
Self-diagnosing an eye condition in guinea pigs is limited because what appears as a single problem could be only secondary to a much larger primary problem.
If you own a guinea pig it’s important that you get familiar with guinea pig eye infection and how to react appropriately. To understand how an infected eye looks like, you must initially learn how a healthy guinea pig eye looks like.
Normal guinea pig eyes are bright and clear. Both eyes are the same size and they slightly protrude from the eye socket.
Even when sleeping, domestic cavies keep their eyes open and very few individuals close them during resting. They can distinguish colors even though their vision is poor.
Guinea pig eyes come in different colors. The general classification is pink, dark, and dark with a ruby cast.
Furthermore dark eyes can be separated into the blue, brown, and black categories. You can expect a red reflection in healthy guinea pig eyes when they face strong light.
So if the guinea pig has ruby or red-eye color it doesn’t mean there is an underlying eye condition.
Is eye discharge an issue? All healthy guinea pigs have a milky white eye discharge.
Besides for lubrication of the eye, they also use the liquid to clean their faces. Once the corner of the eye fills up with the milky liquid, the guinea pig uses his front paws making self-washing motions (similar to cats and hamsters).
Guinea pigs like to keep their faces clean so they perform this action a few times a day, although there are owners that can’t notice the act.
The milky discharge is perfectly normal and is just an addition to the guinea grooming process.
One or both eyes can get infected if pathogenic bacteria and yeast enter them. The infections can be from mild to serious. However, all cases require professional medical attention.
Guinea Pig Crusty Eyes
One of the symptoms of an infection of the eyes and surrounding structures in guinea pigs is purulent discharge.
However, not every type of discharge that differs from the normal one is an indicator of an eye infection.
Thick or creamy white to yellow eye discharge can turn into a crusty coating that glues the upper and lower eyelid together.
This situation is called crusty eyes.
The affected crusty eye appears as if it is completely sealed by the coating. Guinea pigs have a hard time opening their eyes.
What do crusty eyes mean?
Crusty eyes are one of the symptoms of upper respiratory infection. A guinea pig with a respiratory infection can also be lethargic, have a runny nose, and show reluctance to food.
The first thing to do with crusty eyes is to clean the area so that the animal can re-open his eyes. This should be preferably done by an experienced vet.
The crust can be removed using clean cotton wool soaked in saline. Gently rubbing the affected area frees the two eyelids.
Guinea pigs tolerate this procedure pretty well and feel quite relieved once they get their sight back. If any discharge is still left inside the eye socket the vet will probably flush the eye and start examining it thoroughly.
Guinea Pig Eye Ulcer – Discharge and Cloudy Eyes
As a result of traumatic injury to the eye, some guinea pigs develop corneal ulcers.
The cornea is the outer lens of the eye. A corneal ulcer means that there is an open sore on the cornea. The defect cannot be seen with a naked eye, but few symptoms indicate the condition.
With corneal ulcer, the guinea pig eye appears irritated and red. The injury causes a cloudy look on the surface of the eye.
Unless it’s addressed quickly the ulcer situation can worsen pretty quickly. It’s very painful for the animal too so a prompt reaction is needed.
Unlike eye infections, corneal ulcers are generally affecting only one of the eyes.
Traumatic injuries of the eye can be a result of fighting between the guinea pigs, hay pokes, splinter pokes, grass seed penetration, etc.
Less frequently corneal ulcers are a consequence of overly dry eyes. Never attempt to remove things stuck in your pet’s eye on your own!
How do I know if my guinea pig has an eye infection?
Guinea pig eye infection is bilateral in most cases, meaning both eyes are affected.
The first thing you will most likely notice is bald patches around the infected eye. It’s easily visible and usually, the patches are wet.
Other symptoms include:
- Abnormal tearing and watering of the eyes
- One/both eyes are shut
- One/both eyes are cloudy
- One/both eyes are reddened
- Bulgy eyes
The discharge becomes thick and yellow and the whole eye becomes inflamed and swollen.
Eye infections go together with inflammation of the eyelids – a condition called conjunctivitis. The irritation makes the guinea pig scratch his eyes thus worsening the problem.
Most common bacterial eye and eyelid infections in guinea pigs are caused by Chlamydophila caviae, Bordetella, Streptococcus, and Listeria monocytogenes.
Fungal eye infection in guinea pigs is caused by certain dermatophytes which usually affect young pups.
Infectious conjunctivitis shouldn’t be confused with allergic conjunctivitis. The allergic type develops as a form of dust and fumes irritation.
Allergic conjunctivitis can be easily managed with air fresheners and using dust-free bedding and hay for guinea pigs.
All cases of eye problems in guinea pigs should be checked by an exotics veterinarian. The first thing he/she will do is get information about the onset of signs, the bedding, and possible traumatic injuries.
Afterward, the vet will flush the eye and stain its surface.
Using an ophthalmoscope he/she will carefully look for ulcerations and abrasions. If the eyes appear dry, performing a tear test and sending the collected fluid for lab analysis is recommended.
Taking a sample from the eye liquid for cultural testing is indicated when there is a suspicion of bacterial or fungal infection.
This is the preferred method of diagnosing eye infection; discovering which microorganism is causing the problem will tell you what the most effective antimicrobial medication is.
Less frequent eye conditions in guinea pigs are cataracts and entropion.
Cataracts develop with age or can be inherited – diabetes is the main cause.
With entropion, the eyelashes are turned to the inside irritating the eye. This condition is most prevalent among newborn guinea pigs.
Pea eye is a protrusion of the conjunctival sac and is an inherited condition. It requires surgical intervention to remove the sac.
Although the pea eye looks really bad, it’s not that uncomfortable for the guinea and isn’t likely to cause any further damage to the eye.
How to Treat Eye Infections In Guinea Pigs?
Eye infections in guinea pigs are treated with antibiotics and antifungal eye drops or eye ointments.
Additionally, antiseptic washes are used for regular washing of the eyes. After the vet gives the first dose of medication you will need to continue the therapy at home.
When you want to treat your guinea pigs’ infected eyes you will need to restrain them. Wrapping the animal in a towel works well and you can safely administer the medications.
It’s best if you use a clean towel so that you can use it to gently dry the area around the eyes after applying the meds.
Infected eyes can get back to normal very quickly. However, never discontinue the treatment unless your vet tells you to.
Stopping it might not kill all the pathogenic microorganisms and the infection will develop once more. Some treatments can last up to a month.
When the infection has spread to the inner portions of the eye or the bloodstream the vet may prescribe oral antibiotics. Guinea pigs in the critical state will be hospitalized and treated in-clinic until they are stabilized.
Eye infections secondary to respiratory infections in your little fellow require much more attention.
The guinea pigs lose weight pretty quickly because they refuse to eat and are feverish. Severe cases are treated with injectable antibiotics, intravenous fluids, and anti-inflammatory medications.
Growing tumors can irritate the eye, break the integrity of the cornea, and make it vulnerable to bacteria.
Luckily tumors appearing around the eye are usually benign. They should be surgically removed after which the eye is treated with ointment and drops for a few weeks.
Are Human Eye Drops a No-Go for Your Pet?
While some eye-drops intended for humans are safe for pets, others can do more harm than good.
Also, even if some eye-drops won’t do any damage, they might not clear up the infection and let it progress and worsen.
It’s easy for most people to acquire eye drops for humans, but experts highly discourage trying them on your guinea pig without knowing what is wrong with the eye.
Every responsible owner should only use eye-drops prescribed by a certified veterinarian.
The eye is a sensitive organ. Mistreatment of various conditions can ultimately lead to blindness. Veterinarians experienced in exotic animals encounter eye problems very frequently and will give a correct diagnosis very fast upon check-up.