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Digestive Disorders: Diarrhea - Bloat - GI Stasis (No Gut Movement) And Not Eating

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Wiebke

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Severe runny diarrhea, bloat, blockage or a twisted gut, GI stasis and excessive salivating in guinea pigs that are not eating are absolute life and death emergencies that need to be seen ASAP by an out-of-hours vet at any time of the day or night or that should be seen by a vet as soon as you can get an appointment outside the UK.

Important notice: Zantac (ranitidine) has been recalled worldwide in 2019. It is no longer available and there is no replacement medication for it in sight so far.


Not eating (anorexia) and the importance of syringe feeding

If your guinea pig goes off any food or suddenly eats noticeably less, then it is seriously ill and needs to see a vet for a diagnosis and treatment for whatever problem is causing the loss of appetite. In many cases it is either the need to breathe (which comes before the need to drink or the need to eat), the inability to eat or swallow (like problems with the teeth, especially those at the back, a mouth infection or a blockage in the guts) or there is very often a pain issue at the bottom of it that requires a hands-on examination or a scan.
The whole list of what could cause anorexia is listed here: Guinea Lynx :: Anorexia (not eating)

You need to step in with syringe feeding within 24 hours with a guinea pig totally off its food in order to keep your guinea alive until it can be seen by a vet and until any medication can kick in – which may take several days – until the appetite gradually returns.

How much to feed a very ill guinea pig?
When dealing total loss of appetite, aim for as close to 40-60 ml in 24 hours as you can get. Use scales to check the food intake once daily at the same time; don’t rely on your eyes when you see a piggy nibbling on a little food! The overwhelming majority of the daily food intake is hay, and you can’t control that!
We see so many people reporting that ‘my guinea pig has eaten a little bit of lettuce’ – with is about 1% of what it should eat or less and doesn’t mean that said guinea pig is going to survive!

Important advice for syringe feeding
When syringe feeding, please do not just press the contents of a syringe into the mouth as quickly as you can; this can lead to them going in to the lungs if your guinea pig struggles with swallowing and can kill. Ideally you push the syringe gently, little and with many pauses to allow your guinea pig to swallow and to chew as long as it is no actively taking food from your syringe. Give only as much as it has the strength and capacity to swallow. In the very ill and weak, this can be 1/10 to 1/3 of a small 1 ml syringe, and it may take as much 10 minutes to work your way through one syringe full.

Here is our detailed illustrated beginners guide that talks you through every aspect and shows you exactly how, how much and how often as well as how to handle your guinea pig in a range of situations and depending on how cooperative it is.
Complete Syringe Feeding Guide
Probiotics, Recovery Foods And Vitamin C: Overview With Product Links

There have been recently several enquiries from people worried that syringe feeding could cause bloat. In over 10 years of existence and with well over 10.000 enquiries passing through our Health & Illness section during this time, we have not lost a single piggy from syringe feed induced bloat.
Please note: When we talk about syringe feed, this does NOT mean lukewarm water that has no calories or pureed baby food (veg or fruit) that may indeed cause problems. You need to feed hay based fibre as much as possible, as hay is what keeps the guts balanced!
This means mushed up pellets or emeraid (is easily taken but doesn't contain a lot of fibre) in an emergency and powdered recovery formula, like Critical Care fine grind for the longer term (or any mix of these - whatever is accepted best by a guinea pig that is not eating).
Syringe feeding emphatically does NOT cause bloat! NOT syringe feeding on the other hand will most surely result in your guinea pig going eventually into gut stasis and dying if your guinea pig is not eating.
You syringe feed because an illness has caused your guinea pig to lose their appetite and therefore their weight. Bloat can – very occasionally - result from the original illness that is causing the problem in the first place, not proper syringe feeding! Sadly, in this case cause and effect have got confused and may sadly cost lives unnecessarily as a result.

Keeping the guts going and enough food passing through them during an acute illness whether your guts go into overdrive or stop altogether can make the difference between life and death. During the acute crisis, this means regular feeds every 1-2 hours around the clock – how often depends on how much feed your guinea pig can take and process in each session.


Soft poos and runny diarrhea

Please always take any guinea with digestive problems (soft poos, runny diarrhea, bloat) off any fresh veg, forage and grass until ideally 48 hours until the digestive process has normalised and your guinea pig is producing normal poos again.

Then start re-introducing fresh food slowly, starting with fresh herbs and slowly adding more veg with every meal, leaving the watery veg like cucumber, lettuce or celery for last. Stop feeding fresh food the moment you notice the poos getting soft again.

With any soft poos (down to cow pads), you can wait and see whether 24 hours off fresh veg normalise the poos again or bring about a marked improvement. See your vet promptly (i.e. within 24 hours) with runny diarrhea or if your piggy is looking very poorly; also if your poos don't normalise in that space of time or if the digestive problem recurs or persists.
With very dark, very smelly, watery diarrhea you need to see a as life or death emergency. Please keep in mind that guinea pigs with runny diarrhea are at high risk of dehydration and may require subcutaneous fluid injections.
If problems persist, then a faecal lab test is the way forward to find the correct medical treatment.


Food supplements and gut medication
When the natural fermentation process in the gut derails and the gut microbiome becomes dominated by bad bacteria (dysbiosis) that can cause diarrhea, bloat and GI stasis (or a mix of all), then your first aim is to ensure that your guinea pig keeps eating by weighing daily and stepping in with offering extra support feed if your guinea pig is still eating or step in with syringe feed if your guinea pig is not eating at all. The scales will help you to judge just how much support your guinea pig will actually need. We talk of weight loss only once it has reached 50g or more.

Your second priority is to help restore the gut microbiome balance, whether that is from overfeeding fresh food, a bad reaction to an antibiotic or from a bug affecting the gut.
-The most effective way to transfer healthy live gut biome to an ill guinea pig is what is called 'poo soup'. This means soaking just dropped, totally fresh poos from a healthy companion in a little water and then syringeing the water to the ill guinea pig. It is somewhat gross, but it mimics natural behaviour and is more effective than any probiotic powder if done correctly.
- You can always add a pinch of probiotic powder to any syringe feed and will have to resort to probiotics in case all your guinea pigs are affected or you are stuck with a single guinea pig. Pet shops usually have some herbivore probiotics in an emergency, but you can also order online for your first aid kit.
- In more severe or chronic cases, especially when an antibiotic has caused total loss of appetite or when milder problems persist, a course or two of fibreplex can often make a real difference. If your guinea pig doesn't like the taste, then give it mixed in a little recovery or mushed up pellet mix.
Product information in this link here: Probiotics, Recovery Foods And Vitamin C: Overview With Product Links

Gut stimulants like zantac/ranitidine and emeprid (both together as they work on different parts of the digestive tract) are also recommended as a gut support in case of diarrhea or persistent digestive problems, not just bloat. Please do not self-medicate and always only do so with prescription or consent of your treating vet.
Cisapride is a rather strong drug but can help in more severe chronic digestive illnesses, like IBS (which can be diagnosed by a noticeable thickening of the lower gut).

How To Pick Up And Weigh Your Guinea Pig Safely
Weight - Monitoring and Management
Long Term Balanced General And Special Needs Guinea Pig Diets
 

Wiebke

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Bloat/blockage/twisted gut

Severe bloat is a killer illness. It can happen out of the blue. If you want to be in with a change of saving your guinea pig, you need to see a vet ASAP as a life and death emergency. In any case, you are up against it!

Severe bloat
Signs of acute bloat, blockage or twisted gut

- Ballooning belly
- The belly feels hard to the touch and sounds hollow when you gently knock against it.
- Acute bloat can affect the guts, part of the guts or – much more rarely and without external signs – the stomach only. The latter can only be diagnosed with a scan.
- A blockage in the gut can present with very similar symptoms, but it doesn’t sound hollow, rather than fluid filled as the saliva that cannot be passed is building up. A scan can bring clarity in whether you are dealing with bloat or a blockage, as well as where it is located and what is causing it.
- A twisted part of the digestive system is extremely painful and in most cases fatal.
It is very often misdiagnosed as severe and very fast developing bloat. Heaving and vomiting badly can indicate a twisted gut; it should be seen as a life or death emergency asap. Because the intestine will swell, the belly will feel like a block of concrete; the sooner you have your piggy relieved from their extreme pain, the better.
- If your guinea pig is in such distress grunting from pain, please have it put to sleep (pts)/euthanised straight away as an emergency!

Please note that acute bloat comes in waves. Your guinea pig may feel better and be a lot brighter in between them. The guts stay tender for several weeks after an acute attack. A new and often devastating attack can happen days or weeks later. Please do not congratulate yourself too early and let down your guard.

What to get from your vet
- please ask for both zantac (ranitidine) and emeprid or strong cisapride. They act on different parts of the digestive system and stimulate the gut muscles. This helps to move and pass the gas through the guts.
Initial kick starting injections at this stage are more effective ; they can then be followed up by oral medication at home.
- please ask for painkiller. Acute bloat is very painful!
- WARNING: Please ask your vet what is in every injection they are giving before they do so. Many vets not familiar with guinea pigs may want to give a steroid injection. In rodents, systemic steroids slow down the organs instead of simulating them!
The Problems With Steroids And Why They Shouldn't Be Used.

What you should do at home
- Regular massage or vibrating for half an hour every 2-3 hours. This is very important and can make the difference between survival or not.
In an emergency, using the handle of a cheap electric toothbrush from a supermarket that is open all hours is the most easily accessible instrument for vibrating massages to help shift the gas.
A vibrating massage mat or car seat can also be used. If you have a car, the vibrations from driving can also have a similar effect.
More tips on massaging via this Guinea Lynx link: Massage Technique for Guinea Pig with Gas - Guinea Lynx Records

- Syringe feeding and watering. Bloat is very painful, so your guinea pig is losing its appetite. Take your guinea pig off any fresh veg for the time being and only introduce it very gradually 48-72 hours after the end of the acute bloat, adding a small amount of one new veg with each meal. Any veg that is causing problems has to stay off the menu for the rest of your piggy’s life.
Syringe feed and water in small amounts, but frequently, as much as your guinea pig will accept. In an emergency and in the absence of powdered recovery formulas you can mush up pellets in hot water and let them cool until hand warm, but you need to adapt the syringe tip as shown in our detailed syringe feeding guide.
As bloat drags on, your guinea pig will weaken. You have to take this into account and adjust your mouthfuls to that. Always wait and make sure that everything has gone down before you give more. It is not a quick job and it can be quite a wrestling match to get food into an unwilling guinea pig; but you have to stay hard in order to save your piggy's life!

- Keep your guinea pig warm, but not hot. Always give them the option to move way from the source of heat if it wishes to.


Home treatment medications that you may see mentioned
- Herbal gripe water (UK brand) or similar mild herb-based baby colic treatments or anti-bloating herbal teas from the baby section of a pharmacy or a supermarket can be safely taken in addition to the vet medication. They can help to disperse the gas. If in doubt, please ask your vet. However, gripe water on its own will not cut through acute bloat!

Buscopan (butylscopolamine): We do not recommend it for guinea pigs although it is still making the rounds online, especially in self-medicating circles. It is not necessarily effective with acute bloat and cannot replace a vet visit.

Infacol/dentinox colic drops (simethicone, i.e. activated dimethicone): These collect the gas in one big bubble. In my own experience, this can actually make the bloating pain worse. Guinea pigs cannot burp and release the gas this way; it has to come out at the far end. A large gas bubble can be hard to shift.

Diet and treatment after acute bloat
- Please avoid any food groups that can cause problems with the digestion.
See our diet guide for a free-from balanced diet. Shift to grain-free pellets if possible.
Long Term Balanced General And Special Needs Guinea Pig Diet
- You can support the guts rebalancing again with a course of fibreplex. If you cannot get it, probiotics or poo soup (see our syringe feeding guide) can also help.
- Give your guinea pig plenty of exercise to encourage gut movement without forcing it or frightening it.
Make sure that you ask your vet for a small supply of zantac and gut stimulant so that you can step in at the first sign to bridge the gap until you can have it seen by a vet.
- Always a have a supply of recovery formula and probiotics at home so you can step in with syringe feeding support ASAP. First Aid Kit For Guinea Pigs

What are the signs that my guinea pig is dying from bloat?
- Increasing apathy. If you guinea pig becomes more and more lethargic and it is seemingly easier to get syringe feed into it, especially after more than one wave of bloat, it can be a sign that the body is actually closing down (GI stasis or heart failure).
- Blueish lips, ears and feet indicate heart failure.
- Struggling much in excess of the weakened state and refusing point blank to take on any feed. This means that your guinea pig is no longer able to process any food because of blockage or beginning multi-organ-failure.
If your guinea pig is in obvious pain (especially grunting from severe pain), please consider pts/euthanasia asap to save it a slow agonising death.


Mild persistent bloating
Milder forms of bloating are not uncommon, especially in older and frail guinea pigs on lots of medication or with an increasingly tender digestion. It also happens when there is pressure on the gut from one or several large ovarian cysts, an internal tumour or growth or some other swelling. Please see a vet to work out what is causing the bloating and what to best do once you have got a diagnosis.

Always take your guinea pig off any bloating veg like all cabbages and broccoli, any veg rich in sugars and starch like root veg, sweet corn and fruit. Switch to grain-free pellets.
Our diet guide gives you tips on how such a diet can look: Long Term Balanced General And Special Needs Guinea Pig Diet

Some guinea pigs can develop problems with specific foods. In this case, it is a slow process of feeding each fresh food alone and find out this way which one is the trigger.
 

Wiebke

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GI Stasis (no gut movement)

What happens when the gut stops working?
No or very little gut movement means that no energy is produced to keep the body and its vital organs going. For a little while the body can live from its fat reserves, but these are quickly used up. A guinea pig can easily loose a third or even half (if it is somewhat overweight) of its body weight in a matter of a few days until it hits the point where all expendable fat and muscle is gone and it will die.

When can GI stasis happen?
Partial or full gut stasis (or more correctly gastrointestinal stasis) can happen as a result of not stepping in with support feeding during a severe illness or in the wake of loss of appetite after an operation. It can be caused by an underlying heart problem (as happened to my Telyn, who died from sudden acute heart failure 7 months later) or as a reaction to a recent illness or some underlying problem that has not yet manifested. It can in some cases seemingly strike out of the blue. Partial or full gut stasis can also be caused by intense pain.

What are the symptoms of GI stasis?
The two symptoms that you usually notice first are severe or total loss of appetite and lethargy. These symptoms can be shared with some other issues like sudden acute heart or multiple organ failure for instance.
But what tells your vet (and you if you know where to listen and what a normally working gut sounds like) that you are dealing with gut stasis is the deadly silence or near silence where there should a be a healthy gurgling in the guts.

In any case, lethargy/apathy always means that you guinea pig has run out of fuel and needs to see a vet NOW, whatever the time of day or night, if you want to give your guinea pig a chance to survive. Make no mistake; this is a full on battle for life and death!

What to ask your vet for
- make sure that your guinea pig gets both zantac (ranitidine) and emeprid or much stronger cisapride (both gut stimulants). They work on different parts of the digestive tract and stimulate the gut muscles into contractions to help get it working again. Ideally, these drugs are injected by the vet in order to kick-start the guts again. You then continue the medication at home with both types of medication.
- Please ask for a painkiller if your guinea pig is any discomfort.
- Spike the syringe feed or water with plenty of probiotics.
- Make absolutely sure that your vet is not injecting any steroids.
The Problems With Steroids And Why They Shouldn't Be Used.

Care during acute GI stasis
Give the drugs again as soon as they run out. I did have Pili Pala on a 10 hours cycle after I noticed her starting to gradually deteriorate after about 9 hours. She would then take another 2-3 hours before becoming perkier again. Because of the gut stasis, orally given medications take that bit longer until they are absorbed. I would also give a bit more syringe feed (trying to give more than 5 ml in one session) during her brighter times. She would nibble on a bit of veg or hay, but not really eat it and go back to sleep very quickly during those times.

It is absolutely vital that you syringe feed little but often from the moment you notice, never more than a mouthful at once (0.1 -0.3 ml, i.e. 1/10 – 1/3 of a small syringe full) and then wait until it has been swallowed. A very lethargic piggy has not much strength to chew or swallow, so you need to be very careful when feeding. You are aiming at 40 ml in 24 hours or as close as you can come to that. If you are experienced, you may get as much as 60 ml into your guinea pig.

Recovery
Depending on the severity of GI stasis and how advanced it is, your guinea pig can bounce back quicker or more slowly. Because the guts have stopped or slowed right up, you are not necessarily going to see any immediate improvement; in fact it can take a goodly while for your guinea pig to just perk up a tiny bit, and it can take several days before the guts start working again. The poo output is going to reflect this large gap in the food intake and processing, so do not panic if you don’t see any poos for days!
As a generally rule, as long as a guinea pig accepts food and water, the way is free for it to eventually come out at the other end. You just have to be patient – VERY patient!

Because the guts are often not going at full tilt straight away again, it can then still take another 2 days from the time the guts start gurgling again for the first tiny and mushy poos from your syringe feeding effort to come through, and more days for you to see a tiny, properly formed poo.
My Pili Pala suffered GI stasis in the night from Friday to Saturday. Her guts started working again on Monday, but I had to wait until Thursday to see the first tiny poos and it took until Saturday for the first normally formed firm poos to appear again.

Until the system is working again, you need to feed round the clock to keep your guinea pig alive, which can be very draining. If you can’t take time off work, have a partner, relative or friend that can step in with syringe feeding or can leave your guinea pig at the vets, you may try to take it to work with you. Please do not split it from its mates unless absolutely necessary.

Keep your guinea pig warm but not hot during colder weather and allow it move away from the heat source.

Here is an account of my own battle with Pili Pala’s GI stasis: Please Send Your Vibes To Pili Pala!

What are the signs that my guinea pig is dying from GI stasis?
- Your guinea pig increasingly struggles and then becomes too weak to swallow.
- Bluish lips, ears and feet indicate heart failure.
- Struggling much in excess of the weakened state and refusing point blank to take on any feed. This means that your guinea pig is no longer able to process any food because of blockage or beginning multi-organ-failure.
If your guinea pig is in obvious pain or discomfort, please consider pts/euthanasia to save it from any unnecessary suffering.
 
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