Senior Guinea Pig
- Nov 4, 2008
- Cambs, UK
Guinea pigs may need medication for almost any kind of ailment. Medications come in three administration methods: injection, topical, and oral. Injections are usually performed by vets, and topical medicines tend to be relatively simple to apply, so I will not describe the administration techniques for these. Oral medication is the most common prescribed for guinea pigs, usually antibiotics and pain relief.
Warning: No medication via water!
The first word of warning here is to never put medication into a guinea pigs water. There are some serious issues with this, and quite why the veterinary profession feels this is a responsible method is beyond me!
1. The dosage will be inaccurate. This just doesn't work - even if the pig drinks an entire bottle full of water fairly quickly and supposedly gets all the meds, there is no guarantee that the water does not drip or get spilt/spat out.
2. Most guinea pigs live with at least one other cagemate. Splitting the pigs up when one is ill is not often necessary. If medication was put into the water, there would be a no way of monitoring how much the ill pig drank, and there would be a distinct likelihood that the healthy piggie would end up drinking some of the medication.
3. Guinea pigs need fresh, clean water. Medication could distort the taste of the water, discouraging the pigs from drinking from it.
Syringe training before the need for medicating
It can be useful to practise syringing with your guinea pigs before you have the need for medicating, so your guinea pigs are used to the procedure for whenever you have to medicate or syringe feed. Use water or the juice from veg (like cucumber) for the practice.
Here is a video from such a practice run, courtesy and with permission of Cavy Corner sanctuary:
It is absolutely vital that you get the whole prescribed dose in, even if you do not succeed at first. Don’t give up and persist!
Please ask your vet for 1ml syringe, as these are the easiest to handle and to control.
Insert the syringe from the side in the gap between front and back teeth (diastema). Push it towards the cheeks past the tongue, so the fluid cannot be spit out. Push gently and steadily; don’t squirt it all in, risking that it goes into the nose or lungs.
Do not give more than a guinea pig can swallow. The amount can vary between 0.1 ml (i.e. ca. one tenth of a small syringe) for new-born babies or very weak guinea pigs to 0.5 ml (half a syringe) for a large adult. Generally, aiming for 0.3 ml (one third of a syringe) works for most guinea pigs. Always wait until a guinea pig has swallowed the previous lot before giving more.
More details for syringe feeding, including how much, how often, how to prepare the mix, where to source recovery foods etc. in our illustrated step-by-step syringe feeding guide: Complete Syringe Feeding Guide
The importance of stepping in with syringe feeding and watering
It is very important and can really make all the difference between life and death that you promptly start syringe feeding and watering an ill guinea pig that is not eating properly/not eating at all. Any medical treatment is moot if the guts have already started to close down and the body is going into failure through lack of food! Guinea pigs rely on a regular input of food and their guts will start slowing down if there hasn't been any within 24 hours.
Always keep an eye on the poos - if they are suddenly much smaller, thinner or dry looking and even covered in mucus, it is a surefire sign that your guinea pig has not been eating enough and in the latter case, is dehydrated. But you have to keep in mind that takes about 1-2 days to process food, so poos only reflect what has happened during that period.
Switch from weighing weekly to weighing daily at the same time in the feeding cycle if your guinea pig is not quite right or not well at all. Any weight loss in a day of over 30g needs to be taken seriously, as well as any slow gradual weight loss over the course of several days or weeks that amounts to a weight loss of over 50g.
If a guinea pig loses 100g from one day to the next, it means that it has not drunk or eaten at all in 24 hours and is in acute danger of GI stasis (i.e. the digestive system has stopped working) and death. Your guinea pig needs to be syringe fed and watered asap and needs to see a vet as an emergency. Please also contact your treating vet promptly if a guinea pig loses its appetite after being put on an antibiotic or post-op.
How to hold a guinea pig for medication
Of course, all this is useful information to know, but when it comes to actually syringing medication into a reluctant piggie, it can all seem very difficult and stressful!
Tips for cooperative guinea pigs
For those who are more confident, and who have much more placid pigs, you can medicate your guinea pig while it is sitting on a wipeable surface like a table.
With your arm along the body of a standing pig, position your hand over the pigs head with your thumb and forefinger at either corner of his mouth. Ease your fingers just inside the mouth slightly to open it up a little, and pop the syringe into the side of the mouth as before. This doesn't hold the lower jaw still, so he will try to open and close his mouth, but with a gentle but firm grip he will not actually be able to fully close his mouth, giving you enough time to administer the medication.
Tips for struggling guinea pigs:
One technique is to wrap the guinea pig. Once he is wrapped, hold the pig upright and support his body by holding his back against your stomach. You can then adjust your hand position slightly to hold his head still while you syringe in the meds. Most guinea pigs are very good at wriggling, so wrapping is often not working, however.
This is a picture that shows you how to pin and control your uncooperative guinea pig with one hand against your upper body to limit mobility, leaving your other hand free for the syringing. Make sure that the front legs can't get any purchase against your fingers and use your thumb and index finger to further control the head. If necessary, lean back a little to not allow the pig's back legs to push off your own legs.
You can mix horrible tasting meds like baytril with the same amount of ribena/fruit juice to help mask the taste and mix or replace recovery foods with more familiar mushed pellets to see whether that can help with the struggling guinea pig.
Picture courtesy of Wiebke's Pili Pala
Establishing your dominance in guinea pig language can also help with an uncooperative guinea pig that is not happy. Please always give a guinea pig on meds lots of praise and fuss after each lot you get in.
How To Understand Guinea Pig Instincts And Speak Piggy Body Language
Please do encourage your vet or a vet nurse to show you if you are at all unsure and don't hesitate to ask any questions you have. A hands-on tutorial is always better than words and pictures, but I do hope this explains some useful techniques when it comes to dealing with potentially difficult tasks.
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