Guinea pigs can catch colds from people, especially as the cold virus lives on the palms of our hands which we use to stroke our piggies. So colds are always going to happen, even when your piggies don’t seem to have a source of infection you will pass them on. Guinea pigs sneeze as a matter of course anyway, it helps to clear their sinuses. So don’t assume that the first sneeze you hear is a cold. Giveaway signs are a wet, runny nose or soggy sneezes – you can see a mist emerge with the sneeze in fact as piggies don’t use hankies - wheezing breath and odd noises when breathing. Not all piggies make noises but some make very strange bubbly, gulpy or asthmatic noises. This is just because their airways are full of mucus.
To hear a guinea pig’s breathing properly, hold the guinea pig carefully, supporting it properly all the way along it’s tummy, and place it on your shoulder. Then put your ear to it’s side just behind the front leg and listen carefully, waiting for the piggie to stop chuckling (which is really loud). Never let go of the piggie. You will hear tummy rumblings, a good sign, and the heart beating which is much faster than ours. But any asthmatic sounding wheezes or difficulty breathing will be evident. I have found that listening like this to a piggie can tell me of breathing difficulties I can’t hear when they’re in my lap.
Mild colds can be left alone, just as in a human the piggie will recover. Make sure there’s plenty of fresh water available and keep them warm. If your piggie has a sore throat or is an older and more delicate animal then try warm water mixed with a ‘recovery’ food sachet which are available from vets. Mine are called ‘liquid feed for small herbivores’ and all of your piggies will happily guzzle it down. It smells like vegetable soup and contains essential nutrients which help them to get better. They tend not to find it as interesting if you make it with cold water.
Breathing problems can be solved two ways. The less intrusive method - use a few drops of olbas oil on a tissue and hold the piggie in a cuddle with the tissue near their face. Don’t put the oil on the piggie’s nose, it will irritate the skin. Remove it if the piggie gives a really big sneeze, this will have cleared the airways and eased the breathing, which is the best olbas oil can do. I use olbas oil as there is no menthol in it. I know from being a teacher that a lot of people don’t like menthol at all, it irritates them. So I apply that knowledge to other animals too as menthol is very powerful.
A more intrusive method is 0.2 ml of cough medicine - use a non drowsy type with a decongestant in. If you use just 0.1 ml then this dose can be repeated again later if needed. Any small piggies, use 0.05 ml. You have to swaddle the piggie and persuade the medicine in from a syringe, they need to swallow/lick it. I use Robutisson’s chesty cough medicine, and then only for bad colds. I’d rather not medicate if possible.
If the cold is really bad and the guinea pig is distressed with it then go to the vets. It costs, but I prefer the peace of mind. Chest infections can be nasty in any animal.
If you have any further tips to pass on, please comment.