Guinea pigs get the sniffles too - here’s how to help
Guinea pigs make loads of adorable noises don’t they? From excited wheeks - usually when they hear the rustle of an interesting food packet - to contented burbles and chirrups, when they’re ‘chatting’ to each other or to you, our talkative little friends are full of interesting sounds.
But you may have also noticed another little noise coming from the direction of your piggy’s cage.
Yes, guinea pigs really DO sneeze and it sounds pretty much like a human sneeze - just quieter, gentler and much, much cuter!
When you first hear your piggy emit a tiny sneeze, you might be concerned that it’s a sign that they’re poorly. But actually, it’s totally normal for guinea pigs to sneeze between two and four times a day.
WHY DO GUINEA PIGS SNEEZE?
The most common cause of sneezing in guinea pigs is simple - dust. After all, they spend the majority of their time burrowing and foraging through hay, which can be a bit dusty, so it’s no surprise some will get up their nose and need to be sneezed back out.
That said, to minimise the amount of dust your guinea pig is being exposed to, always buy good quality hay that is labelled as ‘dust extracted’. However, bear in mind that no hay will ever be completely dust free.
IS YOUR GUINEA PIG ILL?
If you notice your guinea pig sneezing more often than four times a day, there could be a chance that they’ve developed an illness. Check whether they’re also displaying any of the following symptoms:
- Heavy breathing or struggling to breathe
- Runny nose and eyes
- Half-closed eyes
If this is the case, your piggy may have developed a respiratory infection. This could be an upper respiratory infection (a cold) or a lower respiratory infection (pneumonia) and you should get them checked out by an exotic animals vet as soon as you can in case treatment is required.
Guinea pigs are particularly susceptible to respiratory infections and can develop them if they’re kept in a place that’s too cold. When you’re choosing the spot for your guinea pig’s cage, pick somewhere which isn’t in a draught or close to an open window or door.
It’s also important to know that guinea pigs can catch bordetella bronchiseptica, a bacteria which causes pneumonia, from other animals such as cats, dogs and rabbits so be very wary if you have other animals in your home who seem under the weather.
IS YOUR GUINEA PIG GETTING ENOUGH VITAMIN C?
To help reduce the chance of your guinea pig developing the sniffles, make sure they get enough vitamin C in their diet. Like us humans, guinea pigs can’t produce their own vitamin C supply so they have to get it from other sources ie their food.
This is the reason why your guinea pig needs vitamin C pellets - serve each piggy with ⅛ cup of fresh vitamin C pellets each day. Don’t leave your guinea pig’s pellets in their bowl for too long though. As Vitamin C degrades quickly, you’ll need to replace your guinea pig’s dry food daily, washing and drying the bowl thoroughly between replenishments.
Your guinea pig should also have a continuous supply of Timothy hay along with daily servings of fresh vegetables and fruit. You can find a list of vitamin C-rich vegetables and fruits in our free downloadable guinea pig care sheets.
Leafy greens, in particular, are a great source of Vitamin C. Here are some ideal Vitamin C rich snacks for your piggy:
- Salad peppers
- Citrus fruits
DOES YOUR GUINEA PIG HAVE ALLERGIES?
Just like us humans, guinea pigs can be allergic to certain things which make them sneeze. Some common allergenics include cleaning products used to clean their cage and scented toiletries you may use on your own skin, which are then transferred to your piggy when you hold them.
If you think that your guinea pig is allergic to something, try to cut out potential allergenics one at a time and see if that helps.
Use pet safe cage cleaning products and unscented pet safe washing liquid or powder to wash your guinea pig’s liners, pee pads and sleep sacks. Also avoid using heavily fragranced body care products on yourself before cuddles.
IS YOUR GUINEA PIG ALLERGIC TO THEIR BEDDING?
If your guinea pig keeps sneezing, it may be their bedding that’s causing it. Wood shavings contain dust (even the dust extracted stuff) and some types, such as Pine and Aspen contain nasties including oils that can irritate a guinea pig’s respiratory tract.
Try soft and snuggly guinea pig fleece liners as a bedding option for your guinea pig’s cage instead. Super absorbent fleece liners are hypoallergenic, free from nasties and can easily be changed every two to four days, making them a great choice if you have piggies - or humans - with allergies in your home.
IS YOUR GUINEA PIG STRESSED?
Guinea pigs are naturally nervous little creatures and stress can cause them to sneeze more often than expected. If they are continuously stressed by loud noises, ill treatment or by being placed in a cage with a guinea pig they don’t get along with, their anxiousness can affect their immune system. This then puts them more at risk of ill health including respiratory infections and allergies.
Create a calm, peaceful and loving environment for your guinea pig with a healthy diet, dust extracted hay and hypoallergenic bedding and their sneezes should be few and far between.
They are a variety of things that could cause your guinea pig to sneeze. Do not panic and, as always head to your exotic vet if things get worst or if sneezing is associated with other symptoms of poor health.