Toward my goal of helping others provide the best care possible for their pigs, I’m going to do a series of articles simply called “Common Health Problems in Guinea Pigs.” I’ll describe specific illnesses that a pig parent should be able to recognize. I’ll tell you about the signs, symptoms and basic treatments. Remember that none of these articles are meant to take the place of veterinary advice. However, I think it’s important that pet owners should know about these problems. Only by knowing can you can recognize a problem and properly treat it. Additionally, by knowing what causes certain diseases, we can learn how to prevent them. That’s the case with our first illness covered–scurvy.
Scurvy is a disease caused by a lack of vitamin-C. Guinea pigs cannot produce their own and, therefore, require about 10 to 30 mg/kg of this essential vitamin every day. Vitamin-C is vital for the production of collagen. Without dietary or oral supplementation, your guinea pig will not be able to produce the collagen needed to maintain proper bone and blood vessel formation. The poor blood vessel formation can lead to hemorrhage (bleeding) in the skin, gums, muscle and organ surfaces. Collagen is also vital to proper wound healing, which can make it even more difficult for your pig to recover from the bleeding that this disease causes them to suffer.
The poor bone development leads to abnormal cartilage and bone formation, which can cause painful swelling, especially in the joints. In addition, these bone issues can cause malocclusion of the teeth, and problems with the bony sockets that the teeth are rooted in. Symptoms of scurvy can appear as soon as 2 weeks after being deficient and can absolutely be deadly if not treated swiftly and effectively.
Signs of Scurvy:
- Lethargy, weakness and a lack of movement
- Hopping instead of normal walking, general lameness
- Joint pain and swelling, especially in the knees, hips and ribs
- Unexplained bruising or bleeding of the gums or skin
- Decreased appetite or difficulty eating
- Rough, dull fur
- Weight loss
Treatment of Scurvy: First and foremost evaluate your pet’s diet and make sure he is getting enough vitamin-C. Our veterinarian recommended 1/8 to 1/4 of a red or yellow bell pepper every day in addition to leafy greens and guinea pig pellets with stabilized vitamin-C added (we use the Timothy Hay Pellets from KMS Hayloft) to provide the daily required vitamin-C.
If severe, hospitalization may be required so your veterinarian can provide daily injections of vitamin-C in addition to fluids, pain meds and nutritional supplementation until your pig’s condition has improved. If only a mild case, scurvy can be treated at home with guidance from your veterinarian. Your vet will may advise you to supplement your pig’s diet with vitamin-C tablets. You can get chewable vitamin-C and divide into the dose recommended. Commonly, 50-100 mg daily is what is needed in cases of mild deficiency. Be certain that these tablets contain only vitamin-C and no other vitamins.
Do not try to supplement with liquid drops added to water, as vitamin-C degrades and becomes ineffective very quickly in water. It’s impossible to accurately measure the dose when supplementing in this form. Also, these liquid drops added to water often make the water unpalatable to your pet, which discourages them from drinking at all and can make an already dire situation worse with dehydration. Do not confuse these supplements with the liquid vitamin-C that is administered directly to the pig via syringe or dropper. These types of supplements are fine and don’t have the same issues as those added directly to water.
In addition to supplementation, guinea pigs with mild scurvy should be monitored to ensure that they continue eating and their activity should be restricted to prevent bruising or other injury. If the guinea pig stops eating, syringe feeding with Critical Care in addition to vitamin-C supplementation will be necessary. It usually takes about 1 week of vitamin-C supplementation for your pig to improve.
Scurvy is a painful problem for a pig to have and is absolutely fatal if not treated. Luckily, it’s easily avoided by providing a proper diet. Make sure your pig gets fed veggies high in vitamin-C and provide a pelleted food with stabilized vitamin-C added, and you probably won’t ever have to worry about scurvy.
Thanks so much for reading! Let me know in the comments below what your pig’s favorite foods are that are high in vitamin-C. Lets all help increase other’s knowledge so we can help more pigs avoid the effects of scurvy!