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Guinea Pig Needs Probiotics

November 4, 2012

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A Guinea Pig Will Not Eat

Short-coat guinea pig with half orange/half black face sniffs the exam table.

Is there more food under here?

“Doc, you have to help Sam.  She has not eaten all morning and I read online that is very bad for guinea pigs,” said Sam’s distraught mom.

Sam really did not care.  She sat in her portable guinea pig carry cage and glanced sideways at Doc Truli.  Her nose twitched, but otherwise, she was frozen in uncertain prey position.

“How are her stools?” asked Doc.

“Normal, I think,” said Sam’s mom.  “There are some in the cage if you want to check them.”

Excellent! Fresh stool, a sample of her bedding and food, and a guinea pig to examine.  We were on our way to a diagnosis.  Or at least a plan.

If your guinea pig stops eating, even for a few hours, the fermentation bacteria that live in the prodigious cecum can start to turn sour and die.  Then the guinea pig’s system is overrun by toxic waste and the intestines start slowing and not moving properly.  A guinea pig can die quickly from gastric stasis.

5 Reasons a Guinea Pig Might Not Eat

  1. Stress
  2. Dysbiosis – harmful bacterial overgrowth from contaminated food or sudden food changes (like a new brand of hay)
  3. Fecal parasites – like salmonella, cryptosporidia, coccidia or a host of others
  4. Impaction – a hairball or other hard matt blocking normal function of the gastrointestinal tract
  5. Any other illness – liver disease, kidney stones, urinary tract infection, etc

Basically, you really want your sick guinea pig to see a talented veterinarian. Sam’s fecal parasite check, blood work, x-rays, and physical examination were unremarkable.  Basically, there was no objective reason she should be starving herself.

The Common Problem Causing GP Anorexia

Sleek, shiny black and white guinea pig stares straight at Doc's camera.

Your camera does not impress.

“What do you feed her?” asked Doc Truli.

Sam’s mom looked confident and assured, her answer sounded like a textbook definition of guinea pig delicatessen. “She eats timothy or orchard grass hay, fresh dark leafy greens, and I add 50 mg of fresh Vitamin C to her water every day in case the guinea pig diet pellets do not have enough Vitamin C.”

“Guinea pigs, bats, and humans are the three mammal species on Earth incapable of biosynthesizing endogenous Vitamin C,” says Doc Truli.  Huh?  “We must get Vitamin C from our diet; everybody else, including our dear pet dogs, makes it themselves!”

“What else can you tell me?  Did you buy a new bag of hay recently?” asked Doc.

“Oh yeah, I ran out of hay last week, so I bought this other brand at a different pet store from the usual one.  Hmmm…I just remembered, I think something like this happened the last time I ran out of her regular hay, too,” said Sam’s mom.

So basically, the little pigger’s delicate bacterial balance in her gut was thrown off by the new nutrient profile of the unfamiliar hay.  The hay was perfectly good – but it had a different protein to fiber ratio than Sam’s digestion was adapted to.  Every time her hay was switched suddenly, she got diarrhea and felt sick, her gut did not function like usual, and she did not feel like eating.

The Uncommon Solution to GP Dysbiosis

“Western medicine teaches us to feed her an antibiotic in order to kill harmful bacterial overgrowth and get her intestines back to normal,” said Doc Truli to Sam’s concerned mom.

Her face fell. “I do not like using drugs for my pets or myself,” she said, “is there anything else I can do?”

“Okay,” said Doc Truli, “We need healthy guinea pig bacteria, right?  Well, in farm medicine, if a cow needs new healthy bacteria for her rumen, we reach inside the mouth of another cow who is peacefully chewing her cud and we get some of the cud and feed it to the sick cow.  Guinea Pigs do not really chew cud like cows, but they do eat cecotrophs (pronounced see-ko-trofes).  Cecotrophs are soft, mushy fecal pellets that are the result of food passing through the guinea pig’s digestion for the first time.  Then they eat the cecotrophs, which give them healthy digestive bacteria in order to fully digest their tough, herbaceous diet.”

Sam’s mom said, “I don’t know anybody else with Guinea Pigs.  How about I go to a pet store and get some?”

white guinea pig with a black patch over one eye and a big furry swirly on top of his head looks suspiciously at Doc Truli's camera

What’s with that camera, Doc?

So, Sam’s mom went to the pet store.  She asked for cecotrophs from the healthiest-looking guinea pigs in the place (there was a risk of getting a potentially deadly zoonotic disease from the poop – like salmonella – if the pigs were infected and no one realized.) Her pig loved the poop from one of the store pigs, but never the other one!

The healthy bacteria rebuilt Sam’s gut so her appetite got better and better. Two weeks later, we had a healthy pig with no more problems. And Sam’s mom will never suddenly switch hay again (just in case.)

Please take your Guinea Pig to a veterinarian who sees Guinea Pigs at the first sign of not eating, as this is often your only warning of serious illness. If you skip the vet and just treat at home, you will miss the 20 or so other reasons for a Guinea Pig not eating and your pig will likely die!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2013 4:24 am

    Ah poop soup. There has been many a time when whee have had Mummy whip up a batch when whee look under the weather to perk us up! You can also get probiotic powder which you can add to water and syringe if you haven’t the stomach for poop soup.

    Nibbles, Nutty, Buddy & Basil

  2. Amanda permalink
    November 4, 2012 11:22 pm

    Thank you for this post. You are one of the best, most knowledgeable, veterinarians out there! After Cosmos treatment just like the one you described above, he became a completely different pig – he actually started being loving, outgoing & stubborn after being fearful for years. Almost as if he knew we saved his life & started to trust us after that. Thanks again for all you do!

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