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Guinea Pigs/Guinea pig's walking problems


QUESTION: Hello. Our guinea pig has some problems walking. His back feet seems to be the problem. He can walk but he wobbles, and he doesn't walk unless if he has to. He didn't poop for the last two days, but today he started pooping a bit, when we washed him. He doesn't eat almost at all, so we feed him via syringe. We thought he might have C-vitamin deficiency, so we give him pellet-oat mix with C-vitamin. What is his problem? Can we help him at home?

ANSWER: I'm sorry to hear your little boy is having problems. You don't say how old he is, and that's important. If he's a young boy, under three, we would be looking for something different than if he is an old fellow of 5 or more.

The best indicator of how a guinea pig feels is his appetite. The fact that his appetite is so poor is an ominous sign that he is very ill. Vit C deficiency, aka scurvy, is something that happens over time, not suddenly. It's typically something that has accumulated since they were very young. This goes for humans as well. It affects bone development, brain function and a number of other things. It's unlikely that what you are seeing is a sudden onset of Vit C deficiency.  

Vit C is necessary on a continual basis to prevent scurvy, not cure it. Giving it now will have no impact. But he is not displaying the typical common signs of scurvy. This gait problem, loss of appetite and difficulty walking is a sign of something serious. The wobbly walk could be an indication of an inner ear infection. If that is the case you need to have him seen by a vet.

I'm assuming that he has not had any kind of traumatic fall that may have injured his spine. Whatever is causing this is likely causing him pain. When a pig stops eating that's usually a sign they've given up. If he is an older pig he may be just preparing for the end of his time.

In either case, he is very ill and needs to have professional help. That's unfortunately not something that can be done over the internet. I wish I could give you a more encouraging answer, but I would be doing you an injustice if I did.

Please keep me posted as to his condition as I really am concerned. My best wishes to you and your little fella.

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QUESTION: He is 4 years old. I've heard that inner-ear infection makes a guinea pig's head tilted, but he doesn't have that. Could it still be an ear infection? Is ear infection easy to cure? He hasn't experienced a fall or any damage. We are probably taking him to a vet tomorrow. Hoping they won't put him to sleep, we think he has hope to survive because he is not like depressed or really sad, he is still curious.

My piggie's brother died 2 months ago. Could that have something to do with this?

ANSWER: You're right, an inner ear infection can cause a head tilt. And yes it is possible it could be an ear infection. However, being 4/12 you must prepare yourself for the possibility that he is simply fading of old age. I suspect that is the case.

These little guys just don't stay with us long enough. Their lifespan is relatively short. The average life span is usually 4-5 yrs, although that's variable. Just as with humans our 'old age' is a relative thing. We see people at 65 that are showing signs of being old, and yet we have others at 80 that are still feeling young. Perhaps a bit slower, but still feeling good. And of course we have our centurions that reach 100 and over.

There is no magic number for how long our lives and those of our pets will be. It is documented that the average life of a cat is 12-14 yrs. I had a cat that was 28 yrs old when we finally had him put to rest. He had gradually gone blind and deaf, but still got around for another 4 yrs. We'd had him for 25 yrs. So it is not possible to put an expiration date on any life.

The fact that you lost his brother recently is an indication that his particular lineage may not be much over that. My oldest pig died at 7 1/2, but the majority were between 4 and 5.

The vet may not suggest putting him to sleep, but rather just let nature take its course.  And of course there is a financial consideration. Euthanasia can be expensive. You must make a decision that works for you, and whatever it is it will be the right one.

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QUESTION: I will keep you updated. But one question: If guinea pig has an ear infection, are his ears sensitive for pain? Because when we touch his ears, he doesn't look like it hurts.

They don't typically show evidence of pain as you or I would. An ear infection is usually shown by a slight tilt of the head, or shaking of the head periodically. An inner ear infection affects the ability to stand upright, which is why a pig will actually lean the head to the side affected.

Inside the ear is the drum and behind that is the cochlea, a circular tissue that looks much like a sea shell. There is fluid that is supposed to be there to help us maintain balance and stand upright. Because the earth is constantly spinning we would not be able to stay in a standing position without this ear part doing its job.

If you think about a glass of water half full, then tip it slightly to one side the water will always find level. That's the basis behind a carpenter's level. The job of the cochlea is to do just that. When the inner ear gets infected or permanently damaged we cannot stand up straight. Movement causes dizziness and will cause you to tip over. Same thing happens inside a cavy ear, or any other animal's ear. It would cause us to walk lopsided or stagger.

In your pig's case he is not tipping over or showing signs that he doesn't know which end is up. He is showing generalized weakness, not usually seen in just an ordinary ear infection. If his ear canal were infected he would be scratching at it, or rubbing at it to try to eliminate the itching and pain.

This is one of the reasons I am not convinced that he does have an ear infection. I think this is something systemic, i.e. happening throughout his body.

I would not try to give him any kind of medication because you don't know for sure what you are dealing with. Guinea pigs are sensitive to medication. Even a doctor will not usually give medication for something he is unsure of. The Hypocratic Oath of medicine says: Do No Harm.  

I know I'm not giving you any real answers to fix the problem. Sometimes we are helpless in spite of our good intentions.  

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Pat VanAllen


As is sometimes the case, people in urgent need of information have a higher degree of expectation than those of us as experts are able to give. The experts on this site do their best to give the most accurate and responsible answers possible. We ask that you remember that it is not our intention nor place to criticize the professional advice given by your veterinarian, nor is it appropriate for us to comment on the correctness of a diagnosis made by a licensed physician. Our knowledge is experience based. Although many years of breeding and showing cavies gives me a wealth of experience it cannot change the fact that we as experts are not veterinarians and therefore may occasionally have to reject questions that appear to be asking us to criticize advice given by the licensed professional. Having raised and exhibited cavies for many years I have extensive experience in cavy care and husbandry. I currently have an active breeding program for pedigreed show animals but do not encourage backyard breeding for inexperienced owners. Although I don't encourage breeding for fun I'm always happy to answer any questions from an owner who is in sincere need of help. Pet owners wanting to breed should understand that even experienced breeders have litter losses. The mortality rate is high in cavies. The chance for losing both sow and pups is always present, even with experience. Although this is a site for experts to assist owners, there is no expert in any field who has all the answers. The wisest thing a good expert can know is their limitations. Not having an answer does not diminish one's ability or knowledge. It simply shows that we recognize our limitations and operate within them.


Raised and shown cavies for many years, having aquired my first cavies in the early 1970's as pets. My caviary currently handles 65 + animals in two different breeds and several varieties. Having been in the health care industry as a licensed nurse for 35 years I have hands on experience with care and needs in both humans and cavies. Member of American Rabbit Breeders Association and American Cavy Breeders Association.

Awarded Lifetime Membership in of one of the oldest cavy clubs in the United States, on whose Board I served as Sec/Treas for six years and currently serving as President. Also editor/publisher of the club's quarterly newsletter. We are strong supporters of our youth exhibitors, most of whom are 4H members who are working on cavy projects. Through these projects they become good responsible citizens. We deal with all aspects of showing, breeding, caring for and sharing experiences in the fancy. The cavy fancy is not a new one but in some areas is still relatively unknown. Our goal is to inspire interest in high quality, responsible breeding to improve the species, not just the reproduction of guinea pigs. Our job is to educate owners to help them make the right decisions and choices in the care of their cavies.

Graduate in nursing. Certified in emergency medicine.

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