Guinea Pig Sneezing – Should You Worry?

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When your guinea pig is sneezing a lot you might wonder whether or not your little friend is sick.

To make sure your cavy gets the best possible health treatment, it’s important to know when your guinea pig’s health could be seriously affected and how you can treat.

Let’s dive in and find out what the sneezing means first.

What does it mean if My Guinea Pig is Sneezing?

What is the body trying to achieve?

If your guinea pig is sneezing it means that his body is trying to get rid of some foreign material from the nose, the throat, or the lower respiratory organs.

Sneezing is an involuntary expulsion of air that happens all of a sudden and quite powerfully. There are a lot of things that can trigger your furry little friend to start sneezing:

  • Allergens
  • Nasal irritants
  • Inhalation of medications
  • Viruses
  • Dirt
  • Debris
  • Bacteria
  • Fungi

In shorter terms, a guinea pig sneezes to clear its airways. The wider picture consists of the exact causative agents that made your guinea pig sneeze.

When people sneeze it’s mostly one of three things: Nothing really (i.e. foreign objects or irritants that cause occasional sneezing), allergies or it’s a virus.

Pretty simple so far but are there other symptoms to decide which condition plagues your guinea pig?

Sneezing in guinea pigs can be only one of the symptoms.

It’s sometimes hard to determine whether the sneezing episodes are just a minor nuisance without any health risks or something a bit more serious.

There are a lot of things to consider when getting to the bottom of the problem. Ask a lot of questions:

  • Have you changed the bedding or the food recently?
  • Are there any other accompanying symptoms?
  • Does your guinea pig eat less than usual?
  • Are all of your pets sneezing (in case you have more than one)?
Guinea pig owner feeding his pet dandelions.

Especially changing eating or behavioral habits can also be helpful information should you decide to visit your vet.

Should I be Worried if my Guinea Pig is Sneezing? 

Can a sneezing guinea pig be in a serious health situation?

Yes, definitely.

Although most of the time an occasional sneeze will mean as much as last year’s snow, recurrent and frequent sneezing can be a sign of a serious health issue.

It’s all about acknowledging your guinea pigs’ change of character and determining whether his behavior changed a lot since the sneezing started.

When not to worry?

The best-case scenarios for a guinea pig sneezing are nose and throat irritants or mild allergic reactions.

In the case of an allergic reaction, a certain protein that isn’t harmful by nature enters the upper respiratory tract and makes the immune system overreact to the substance.

The result is swelling, itchiness, and of course the sneezing as a way to get rid of the substance. The substance can be anything from pollen to dust mite excretion.

There are of course strong allergic reactions or anaphylactic shocks that are rare but do occasionally happen.

Respiratory irritants produce more physical damage to the respiratory organs and some include tobacco smoke, ozone, perfumes, etc.

When to worry? 

In case your guinea pig has been sneezing a few times a day without any appetite loss or change of behavior there is not much to worry about.

However, if the sneezing becomes intense really quickly this could mean that he suffers from a URI (Upper Respiratory Infection).

URI is very common among guinea pigs and the pet should be checked by a vet as soon as possible.

How Do I Know If My Guinea Pig Has a Respiratory Infection? 

There are many causes of respiratory infection in guinea pigs.

In the vast majority of cases, upper and lower respiratory infections in guinea pigs are caused by bacteria such as Bordetella bronchiseptica or Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Less frequently the infection is due to:

  • Viruses
  • Abscesses of tooth-roots
  • Foreign bodies in the nose
  • Cancer
  • Traumatic injury
  • Immune-mediated diseases

What starts as a simple viral infection can develop into a bacterial type, especially in guinea pigs with weak immunity.

Guinea pigs are very sensitive to stressful situations, so change of habitat, fear, inadequate diet, and improper husbandry can all lead to loss of immunity.  

According to the localization of the infection, guinea pigs can suffer from an upper respiratory infection and lower respiratory infection (pneumonia).

What are the types of respiratory infections in guinea pigs?

The upper respiratory tract includes the nose, the throat, and the trachea (windpipe) and in cases of URI one or all organs can be affected.

LRI is a lot more serious and harder to treat, especially in cases with resistant bacteria.

Identify the symptoms of respiratory infections in guinea pigs.

Besides sneezing, other symptoms of respiratory infections in guinea pigs include:

  • Nose discharge
  • Staining on the front paws
  • Deformed facial appearance
  • Head tilt
  • Loss of balance

The nose discharge is clear at the beginning and turns to white and thick as time passes, sometimes containing blood. One-sided discharge indicates tumors or foreign bodies, while discharge from both nostrils is connected with bacterial infections.

How Do I Stop My Guinea Pig From Sneezing?  

No matter what the root of your guinea pig’s sneezing problem, you probably want to get rid of it asap.

What can you do to ease your guinea pig’s irritated nose and perhaps even underlying condition?

There is only one important thing to initially do as a responsible guinea pig owner – take your pet to the vet.

Preferably to a vet specialized in exotic animals – one that has previous experience with guinea pigs. Trying to determine the cause for the sneezing by yourself takes time and trying out different medications can seriously put your guinea pigs’ life at risk so never take any actions on your own.

You can still provide a lot of help by giving enough information to the vet about the history of the symptoms, the environment your pet lives in, the food regimen, and much more. Be brave, be patient, trust your vet, and always hope for the best.

How do veterinarians treat a sneezing guinea pig?

After the physical exam and the acknowledgment of the patient’s history, veterinarians will opt for x-rays in most cases of a guinea pig sneezing.

Even when the problem is a dental one, x-rays can still help locate the problem, give a prognosis, and choose the best treatment option. Bloodwork is sometimes performed as well.

Even for an experienced vet, it’s hard to predict whether infection of the upper respiratory tract can turn into pneumonia or if the problem will relapse once being fully treated.

Is there a treatment for respiratory infection?

Vet holds and feeds a guinea pig through a syringe.

Guinea pigs that are in critical condition will need to be hospitalized. During their stay at the hospital, they will receive injectable medications and oxygen therapy.

NSAID’s (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can help when the animal has fever.

In the rest of the cases, it’s up to the owner to control the therapeutic regiment for guinea pigs discharged from the hospital. Usually, the vets prescribe oral antibiotics, vitamin c, eye or nose medication, feeding with a syringe.

Even if the guinea pig completely recovers you will still need to correct some of the bedding problems, the overcrowding, and clean more frequently. Environmental humidifiers can work miracles!

Do Guinea Pigs Get Colds?

Can guinea pigs get colds like we humans do? Yes, guinea pigs get colds too.

But how and what can you do to avoid that?

If you or any other family member is sick, it’s wise to keep a safe distance from your guinea pig as to not put him at risk of catching a cold.

Of course, it all depends on the type of human virus. For example, if the reason for your coughing and sneezing is the influenza virus, you can pass it to your pet. But if the reason is Rhinovirus, your guinea pig won’t be at risk.

Besides humans, guinea pigs catch colds from one another. This happens when they are in close contact or during mating.

Whether a guinea pig will develop symptoms of a cold or not highly depends on his immunity.

The symptoms of a guinea pig cold can develop pretty quickly.

Be vigilant about monitoring your pet’s health regularly. In case the furball has one or more of the symptoms, take him to the vet as soon as possible.

Common symptoms of a cold in guinea pigs include:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Crusty eyes
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Most likely the animal will be reluctant to move, eat, or drink
  • Sometimes the coat becomes dry and patches of hair fall appear

The biggest issue is the refusal of water and food intake. Dehydration and anorexia can easily lead to other more serious issues.

Your guinea pig has a cold, but you can’t make it to the vet?

If for any reason you can’t take your guinea pig to the vet when suspecting a cold, there are a few things you can do in the meantime. Keep him warm at all times and provide plenty of fresh water.

Encourage drinking and eating as much as possible.

You can try feeding him with a syringe, but don’t put too much pressure on him. The sick guinea pig should be placed in a safe area away from other guinea pigs.

Keep his eyes and nose clean until you can finally take him to the vet.

The treatment of your guinea pig’s cold can vary a lot, depending on the specific cause.

The biggest question is what to treat for as the infection can be viral, bacterial, or mixed. There are no specific antiviral medications.

Veterinarians regularly prescribe antibiotics even with a viral infection assuming there could always be a secondary bacterial infection.

Vitamins and other supplements are given as well. The problem with viral colds is that the guinea pig can carry the viral components for a lifetime.

Now and then, due to different factors, the virus can become active again making the respiratory signs flare up once more.

At the end of the day, a simple cause for your guinea pig’s sneezing is most desirable but that’s not always the case and it’s good to have everything checked to make sure your little cavy is healthy and active.

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