Inflammation of the Lungs in Guinea Pigs

PetMD Editorial
Jul 22, 2010
4 min read
Image: Photo Grapher / via Image Bank

Pneumonia in Guinea Pigs

Pneumonia, the clinical name given to inflammation of the lungs, is the most frequent cause of death in guinea pigs. It is also a contagious condition in groups of guinea pigs.

The most common bacteria that has been found to cause pneumonia in guinea pigs are the species Bordetella bronchiseptica, and to a lesser extent, Streptococcus pneumoniae and Streptococcus zooepidemicus. In rare cases, pneumonia may be caused by the adenovirus, a viral infection that infects many types of mammal species, including guinea pigs.

All of these infectious agents can cause illness without leading to pneumonia; meaning, an affected guinea pig may just be a carrier of the infection, and may be contagious to other guinea pigs, but not suffer the complication of pneumonia.

Symptoms and Types

  • Dull and depressed appearance
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss in body weight
  • Respiratory distress (dyspnea)
  • Discharge from nose and eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Imflammed eye lining (conjunctivitis) or reddening
  • Fever
  • Dehydration

Causes

Bordetella bronchisepta, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Streptococcus zooepidemicus are three well known bacterial causes. Adenovirus infection is a less common cause of pneumonia. Transmission of the infection is often through the droplets, which are sprayed into the air by sneezing or coughing. Infection with Bordetella bronchisepta can also be transmitted via sexual contact.

Diagnosis

You will need to give a thorough history of your guinea pig's health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have led to this condition, such as recent illnesses of other guinea pigs in the home, or recent sexual contact. Your veterinarian can make an initial diagnosis of pneumonia from a physical examination of the guinea pig. Additional laboratory tests will confirm or rule out a case of pneumonia. Samples will be taken of the fluid that is oozing from your pet's eyes or nose, or from blood samples, so that they can be analyzed for the specific bacterial organism that is causing the infection. X-rays or ultrasound images may also be used to examine the lungs for signs of pneumonia. If pneumonia is present, the images will show inflammation and excessive congestion or fluid buildup.

Treatment

In general, treatment for guinea pigs will consist of alleviating the symptoms rather than for the pneumonia itself. The main goal is to support the body so that it can recover form the diseased condition. Supportive therapy with fluids may be necessary in cases of dehydration due to appetite loss, oxygen therapy may be needed to help with respiratory distress, and administration of vitamin C may be needed to help improve your guinea pig's immune system and ward off opportunistic infections. If the pneumonia is due to a bacterial infection, your veterinarian may find it necessary to prescribe long-term antibiotics to treat it.

Living and Management

You will need to provide a calm and quiet area for your guinea pig to recover from this illness, as it will need plenty of rest.  Make sure that your pet guinea pig’s cage is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before reintroducing the guinea pig in it, and separate any infected guinea pigs from the uninfected guinea pigs to prevent spread of the infection.

If oral antibiotics need to be administered, have your veterinarian go over the proper administration and storage of the medicines. Also, monitor your guinea pig closely during the time that it is receiving antibiotics, as sudden allergic reactions are possible. If the antibiotics cause diarrhea, the treatment should be stopped immediately and your veterinarian contacted for an alternative treatment plan. This is important as diarrhea can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death. If you have any questions, consult your veterinarian further about any supportive care that needs to be given to your pet during the recovery period, such as changes in diet.

Prevention

Properly cleaning the cages, changing soiled bedding material, and regularly removing feces and urine and routinely is essential for the prevention of pneumonia, and for keeping infections under control when they do occur. If you have more than one guinea pig, preventing and controlling outbreaks of pneumonia requires keeping your pets and their cages or tanks clean at all times, and removing guinea pigs that are sick from the company of the others immediately upon noticing symptoms.

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