Fourteen Signs of Pain in Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs (Cavia porcellus) are very common pets.  The interactions between themselves and people and them being easy to tame means they’re often sought after as pets.

Guinea Pigs are naturally prey animals and to stop themselves being caught by predators they hide signs of pain and illness really well, similar to the rabbit.  When scared, guinea pigs tend to freeze, a process known as tonic immobility, rather than show obvious behaviours of pain or fear.

Pain in guinea pigs often shows as very different to our own people often overlook it and don’t usually realise it’s due to pain.  People naturally associate how humans react to pain and expect painful animals to cry out which often is not the case.  When people don’t recognise the signs of pain in their pet they often misinterpret it, sometimes believing their pet doesn’t feel pain in the same level or some things which are painful to us don’t hurt them. Usually, this is not the case, they experience pain just demonstrate it in a different way. Species such as cats, dogs, and rabbits all experience pain the same but the signs they show are unique to the species (though there are some similarities present).

 

Though Guinea Pigs are common pets, as well as sadly being used as lab animals in potentially painful procedures, the symptoms they show when in pain still haven’t been fully studied and are often unknown.  Throughout this blog I will explore already known or highly suspected the signs of pain in guinea pigs  I’m hoping this will help you identify if your guinea pig is ever in pain.

1.Change in Posture

This is a very consistent sign and shown in various ways depending where the pain in a guinea pig is.

Having the back arched is seen with other species such as the dog.  This is seen if they have belly ache for instance if their guts are not working properly or they’ve had surgery like neutering.  They stand or walk with their bodies very tense and their spines curved over making their back appear rounded rather than flat.

Changes in posture are also seen when lying.  Normally guinea pigs lay with their back legs tucked under them. Pain in guinea pigs from their spine, belly or legs may lead to them holding one or both back legs stretched out behind them or splayed to the side.

Remember healthy guinea pigs sometimes alter their position even when not in pain.  When looking for signs of pain you need see if they are in this position lot or are also showing other signs of pain.

  1. Squeaking/ Screaming (AKA Vocalising)

Sometimes, with sudden pain, guinea pigs may make loud and high-pitched squeaks which sound different and often lasting longer than their normal lower pitched noises.

They don’t always cry out when in pain, but sudden, intense types of pain rather than aching pains can cause this.  One example is if a sore part of their skin is touched or if they hit a sore leg against something.

If you’re only trying to identify pain through them making noises, you’ll miss it most of the time.  Lack of noise doesn’t mean their pain is less severe.  Pains which are grumbling away often don’t lead to them crying out.

  1. Eating less and Weight Loss

When you’re feeling unwell you don’t want to eat as much and, to some extent, that’s the same in Guinea Pigs.  Guinea Pigs enjoy eating and spend much of their day eating.

When in pain, guinea pigs often eat less but may still readily accept treats they like when offered.

Guinea Pigs may still eat treats when in pain

 

Guinea Pigs eating less usually isn’t noticed instantly, usually, it’s only noticed the next time you feed them where you will likely find more leftovers than usual.  Monitoring eating as a sign of pain can be difficult and inaccurate because you’re likely to only realise they’re in pain after several hours have passed by which point they may have improved or have suffered in a lot of pain in the meantime, adversely affecting their welfare.

  1. Drinking Less

Similar to eating, pain in guinea pigs may be seen as them being uninterested in drinking.  This doesn’t necessarily mean they stop drinking altogether, but, they drink less and noticed when you change their water.  Therefore, this sign, like with eating less, may not be that helpful by the time you notice.

Noticing your guinea pig eating or drinking less and possibly losing weight gives you a clue they’re not feeling 100%.  Once you notice this behaviour change it’s worth looking for other signs of pain to help decide if they are in pain or what else is occurring.

  1. Unkempt Coat and Grooming Less

Any animal in pain tends to stop grooming themselves either because they don’t well enough due to the pain or their pain worsens in positions needed to properly groom themselves.  As Guinea Pigs don’t groom consistentlyand may groom themselves when hiding, this sign is difficult to spot.

With pain in Guinea Pigs it’s not always easy to notice a reduction in the time spent doing a relatively sporadic behaviour.

The first way you may notice your guinea pigs aren’t grooming fully is due to their coat looking unkempt.  It may be dirtier than usual, full of dandruff or, if long-haired, there may be more knots in it.  A guinea pig’s coat being unkempt takes a while to develop and become visible with the guinea pig being in pain for some time (usually longer than twelve hours) before their hair gets to the state where it’s noticeable, before then there often won’t be a visible change in the coat at all.

Guinea pigs may be in sore when touched
  1. Moving Less and Lying More

When in pain, any movements can worsen the pain so animals tend to stay still to avoid further pain.  Pain is also tiring leading to your guinea pig lying down and sleeping more.

Along with lying and moving less to avoid pain, your guinea pig will be scared due to the pain.  When guinea pigs are scared they tend to freeze their body.

Pain in guinea pigs are likely to make them quieter if you’re around due to increased fear that you’ll pick them up or touch them and them naturally hiding pain when in front of people.  Therefore, some will act normally if you’re watching them for signs of pain.

Guinea pigs moving less could be for many reasons such as stress from the surgery or due to medication side effects.  For instance, the pain killer, Buprenorphine, causes Guinea Pigs to lay more even when they’re in less pain so this can become confusing. Therefore, guinea pigs being quiet should not be interpreted as them always being in pain.

  1. Writhing/ Abdominal Contractions

Like in Rabbits, the signs of pain in guinea pigs are very subtle.  One of these is them writhing and having abdominal contractions.  Some abdominal contractions, to make it more difficult, can be normal in Guinea Pigs, however, these tend to worsen with pain.  Looking at them carefully and seeing contractions and them stretching their body out at the same time is likely due to pain, especially if they do it often.

  1. Flinching

Most animals flinch when in pain.  This is a sudden involuntary movement where the animal is trying to move away from whatever is causing the pain.  This may be from you if you try to touch them or they could be appearing to just flinch if nothing is near them due to pain within the body rather than just in the skin.  Flinching is more common with sudden and shocking pain rather than a duller constant pain.

Eating less is a sign of pain
When in pain, Guinea pigs often eat less

 

  1. Shaking

Pain in guinea pigs, either due to fear or adrenaline, may cause them to shake.  Shaking may be very difficult to see as it is only very subtle.

As shaking is a very subtle potentially due to not only pain but also medication side effects and stress, it is not the most reliable of signs.  Due to this if you see your guinea pig shaking you should keep an eye on them and monitor them for other problems to try and work out what their problem is.

  1. Paying Attention to a Painful Area

Like ourselves, if a guinea pig has a painful area they will tend to look at it or touch it.  Your guinea pig may groom, lick, scratch or chew at that area more which may be noticed by them having wet hair or it could even lead to the skin or hair being damaged in some cases.

  1. Moving slower

Pain in Guinea Pigs tends to worsen when they move.  Therefore, as a result, they tend to move slower.

Guinea pigs will tend to move slower, potentially an altered posture and moving more stiffly.  However, medications causing sedation such as painkillers or anaesthetics may cause your guinea pigs to move slower even without pain so they should be monitored for other signs of pain.

  1. Limping

Limping is only a sign of pain if the pain is in their legs or sometime in their spine.  Lameness is usually due to pain, especially if it suddenly comes on, however in some cases it could be due to other problems such nerve or muscle problems.

Whichever leg your guinea pig is limping on is likely the one causing the pain. If they’re in pain with several legs, then the one they’re limping on is likely the most painful.

Not all guinea pigs in pain will be limping.  Also, even if they are in pain and are limping they may show no further signs of pain than the limping.

Metacam is tasty!
Carl nibbling on the Metacam  (a painkiller) Syringe

 

  1. Cage Bar- Biting

    Rodents normally chew but this can worsen or change when stressed.

    Most happy, healthy guinea pigs don’t chew their cage bars a lot unless they are stressed or bored.  If they suddenly start cage-biting it’s a sign something isn’t normal.

    Once they start cage-biting it is important for you to find the cause and try to treat it or correctly alter their behaviour whenever possible.

    Though you can buy foul-tasting liquids to spray on cage bars to prevent chewing.  This just acts as a deterrent and is unlikely to stop them chewing in the long term.  Also, chewing is only a sign of another underlying problem in a lot of cases so you need to discover what this is, correct it and then try to resolve their chewing if it continues.

  2.  Grinding Teeth (Bruxism)

 

Guinea Pigs sometimes grind their teeth when their mouths or teeth are sore.  This is usually the case if their teeth are overgrown or not meeting properly so some grow more than others.

If your guinea pig is grinding their teeth you need to see your vet ASAP as issues with their teeth/ mouth stop them eating properly, leading to other health problems.

The summary

The signs of pain in Guinea Pigs are very subtle and still poorly understood.

Unlike rabbits, mice, rats and other species, no long has studied the effects of pain on facial expression to aid with grading pain.  There are some easier signs to detect such as limping or crying out but otherwise you need to focus on subtle signs which, each on their own, could be unrelated to pain by being related to behavioural or medical issues or are a result of medication side effects.

The best way to detect signs of pain in guinea pigs is to look out for all potential signs and, if they show any, then try to identify if others are present, monitor them and look for the cause.

 

If your guinea pig show signs of pain you should take them to your vet.  Your vet can help to work out if they are in pain, where this is and then diagnose and treat them.

 

With Guinea Pigs, just being stressed from pain or them eating less can cause other health problems, some of which may be fatal.  This means trying to resolve pain not only improves your guinea pig’s welfare but, if you don’t they could become very ill.

Finally, the signs of pain fit into a couple of big groups, normal behaviours they have stopped doing (such as being active or eating) and pain behaviours they have started (such as writhing or sleeping).  It must be remembered that Guinea Pigs hide pain when people are around, so it can be very hard to spot; even if you only see a pain behaviour performed a couple of times it may suggest a major problem.

Final Words

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If you have any questions regarding pain, guinea pigs or something else entirely feel free to ask in the comments below or, otherwise, contact me directly via my form.

What is Involved with Spaying your Dog?

Spaying in veterinary surgeries is classed as a routine procedure.  Vet students spay cats and often spay bitches before qualifying.  Spaying your dog is definitely not a simple surgery. You should weigh up the pros and cons to decide the best choice for you and your dog.

I know of experienced vets who are anxious when spaying bitches but why is that the case?

What is Spaying?

Spaying is the name given to neutering female animals.  It involves removing both the ovaries and usually the uterus.  In women, this is known as an Ovariohysterectomy and it’s not a routine procedure.  In fact, in human medicine it’s avoided whenever possible and is usually only performed by Gynaecologists with several years’ experience post-graduation from Med School.

Broken down, Ovariohysterectomy means; “Ovario-” refers to the ovaries whereas “Hysterectomy”, removal of the uterus (or womb) so, put together, it means removal of the uterus and ovaries.

In humans, though they usually just perform a hysterectomy (ie the ovaries are not removed) whereas if vets are spaying your dog the ovaries are almost always removed.  Women without ovaries have low Oestrogen (a female sex hormone) levels.  People’s need Oestrogen for their bones to absorb sufficient Calcium. Without Oestrogen, the bones poorly absorb Calcium.  Naturally post-menopause the levels of Oestrogen in women put them at risk of Osteoporosis (meaning pores, or holes, in the bones) and removal of the ovaries causes this to occur sooner.

In dogs, however, this doesn’t appear to happen.  The relationship between Oestrogen and Calcium is unknown.  This means the removal of the ovaries causes fewer problems in our pets.

Oestrogen does cause issues.  Along with other sex hormones, oestrogen leads to bitches coming into season (“on heat”), makes them fertile and increases the risk of some diseases (eg mammary cancer).  These factors together demonstrate why vets spay bitches.

Normal Bitch spay
A normal bitch spay showing the anatomy of the female reproductive tract which is removed via spaying.
Why is Spaying Your Dog a Big Surgery?

Spaying isn’t an easy surgery, especially not with larger breeds or overweight dogs. With these, it’s harder to get to the ovaries and sufficiently cut off their blood supply.

If blood supply isn’t sufficiently cut off it leaves a blood vessel close to the Aorta (the biggest artery in the body, coming straight out of the heart into the tummy) open leading to blood pulsing out which, in severe cases and when not immediately dealt with, can lead to death.

Dogs also have a large amount of fat around the ovaries making them harder to find and cut off the blood supply, risking future bleeding.

This surgery can be incredibly stressful for the veterinary surgeon and whilst most bitches are fine, especially those who are young and a healthy weight, there are occasional complications.  The complication rate is around 17-22% but most of these are related to issues with the wound healing rather than complications in the surgery (6% of spays).

Spaying your dog is usually done by open surgery where a cut is placed down the centre of the tummy and both the ovaries and uterus are removed through that hole.

To have bitch spay
A young female YorkieX puppy who will be spayed in a few months.  Instagram; @TenaciousTilly

Otherwise, some practices do it via keyhole surgery.  Here, several small incisions are made and usually just the ovaries are removed.  Even if the uterus is not removed, with the ovaries gone the bitch can’t get pregnant or get a condition known as a pyometra which is partially caused by female sex hormones.

Spaying requires the vet to close your bitches muscle layers with dissolvable stitches.  These do not need removing. They then close the skin with either the same material or stitches which need to be removed seven to ten days later.

After the op your dog will be sore so will usually go home with several days worth of painkillers.  You should try to keep them quiet for the first few days and prevent them jumping up.

After a week has passed treating them like normal is fine most cases.  However, your dog’s muscles still won’t be fully healed so you should not let them run off the lead for around three weeks.

 

What are the Positives to Spaying
  • Stops your dog going into season.
    • You don’t have to worry about not taking them for a walk or to doggy day-care when in season in case there are any males around.
    • The mess involved with bitches bleeding when in season no longer occurs.
  • Birth control.
    • Pure and simply once they are spayed they cannot breed.
    • The UK dog population exceeds the demand (with rescue centres completely full) puppies are difficult to sell and may end up in a shelter
  • Pyometria = “Pus in Uterus”
    pyometra bitch spay
    The pus-filled uterus of a pyometra being removed in surgery
    • This is a life-theratening condition killing approximate 5% of treated cases meaning 1% of entire female dogs older than 10 years die from it.
    • There are two main treatments for Pyometra’s;
      • Emergency or urgent spaying; main treatment most vets use.
        • This involves the removal of the whole uterus which also removes all the infection.
        • Dog’s will also be put on a drip and needed large amounts of antibiotics to kill the bacteria in their bloodstream.
      • Medical Treatment
        • Giving the bitch with two or three different medications, to open the cervix (sometimes it’s already dilated), expel pus from the uterus and antibiotics to kill the bacteria.
        • This is often successful however in 80% of cases bitches will go on to develop a pyometria after their next season.  Bitches should be spayed once they’ve recovered.
        • Spaying is a big operation and riskier in ill animals. The advantage of this approach spaying your dog when they are healthier to reduce the risk of surgery.
        • I have seen this method not be fully effective leading to the bitch needing to be spayed urgently when unwell.
        • Though Prometra’s most commonly occur when bitches are over 10yrs old, 2% of bitches get this within any year when they are younger.
  • Mammary cancers (breast cancer in dogs)
      • The risk of dogs getting mammary cancer if they are spayed before their first season is virtually nothing, 0.5% meaning 1 in 200 bitches will get it.  However, the risk rises with each successive season they have, being at 8% if spayed after their first season and 26% after their second.
      • Mammary Tumours are grouped into two main types, benign ones which spread (malignant) with chances being 50:50.
      • If it’s benign it can usually be removed by surgery and if all of it has been removed there should be no further problems.
      • In malignant cases, tumours are likely to spread throughout the other mammary glands and elsewhere; most commonly to the lungs.
        • These are harder to treat and once they’ve spread to the lungs further treatment may only extend/ improve your dog’s life rather than cure them.
      • Studies have shown spaying a bitch once she has mammary cancer will not improve their survival times.
  • Ovary and Uterine Cancers
    • These are less common and can mostly only affect animals who haven’t been spayed.
      • Uterine cancers are seen in only approximately 0.3-0.4% tumours in dogs whereas Ovarian cancers are seen in 0.5-6% of dogs.
      • If they’ve only had their ovaries removed they can still get uterine cancer though the chance is low.
    • These are often diagnosed quite late and are difficult to treat.
What Are the Cons?
  • Urinary incontinence when older associated with a loss of hormones they would’ve had if they weren’t spayed.
    • Most cases caused by spaying the bitch would have incontinence to some degree prior to their first season.
      • With these bitches if you still want them to be spayed it is recommended that you wait until after their first season as often the hormones leading to this help stop the incontinence from continuing.
    • Generally even if they had no issues when young, being spayed after their first season reduces the risks and severity of spay-associated urinary incontinence when older, however, it still occurs in approximately 20% of spayed bitches.
  • Obesity
    • Neutered animals need approximately 30% fewer calories than entire ones so it is easy for them to quickly gain weight once spayed.
    • It is recommended you put them on a lite/ low calorie or “neutered dog” diet post-spaying. These have all the nutrients in normal diets but fewer calories.  As opposed to feeding them less of a normal diet where they’ll also receive fewer vitamins/ minerals/ proteins that they need.
  • Hypothyroidism
    • A disorder where the metabolism is slowed.
    • It can also cause hair loss, lack of energy, mood changes, aggression, obesity and make the dogs feel cold much of the time
    • It needs lifelong medication, usually in the form of tablets, to improve your dog’s symptoms
  • Vaginal Dermatitis
    • Swelling, pain and infection of the vagina, vulva and some of the areas around them.
    • Signs of this are hair loss and thickening of/ discharge from the skin around the vagina and vulva. She will often be licking the area a lot and making it really sore and reddened.
    • This usually starts before a bitch hits puberty and is due to a lack of sex hormones
    • The first surge of hormones prior to their first season usually resolves this
    • If affected dogs are spayed prior to their first season this will worsen rather than resolve and may affect them for life and can be very uncomfortable.
  • Osteosarcoma
    Xray showing Osteosarcoma; a bitch spay risk
    Xray with arrows showing suspected osteosarcome. See the increased bone an the “fuzziness” in it indicating some of the bone has been eaten away.
    • This is a really nasty bone cancer
    • It tends to affect big breeds of dog, especially Rottweilers
    • It causes huge swellings most commonly around the elbow which are excruciatingly painful and solid.
    • They are very quick to come up and this cancer causes much of the bone to be eaten away often leading to the bone fracturing. It also spreads to the lungs very quickly can affecting your dog’s breathing.
    • Most cases will be diagnosed with XRays. A vet will not only xray the leg but also the chest to look for spread.
    • The biggest chance of survival is to amputate the leg or at least remove all of the affected part and replace it with bone grafts (bits of bone taken from dead animals) or metal plates.
      • With Rottweilers being such heavy dogs, along with other breeds prone to this, these interventions often aren’t very successful
    • In the majority of cases there’s already spread to the lungs before amputation is performed, thus the chances of them surviving longer than a year or two even with intensive treatment are very small. If chemotherapy or radiotherapy is not attempted in these cases the dog often has weeks to live, if that,
      • To avoid this it is often worthwhile delaying neutering Rottweilers and other large breeds until at least after their first season.

 

In Summary

Spaying your dog has several positives and negatives.  Firstly it prevents them getting pregnant as well as reduce the risk of mammary cancers and prevent ovarian and uterine cancers and Pyometras.  These can all be fatal.

The downsides, however, are the increased risks of obesity, incontinence, Hypothyroidism, Vaginal dermatitis and Osteosarcoma’s, especially in Rottweilers.

Most of the positives are aided by early neutering before bitches have their first season and having puppies does not reduce the risk of problems; in fact there’s the risk of her having health issues during the pregnancy, birth or afterwards.  However, the opposite can be said for the cons; these may be reduced with later spaying.

Whether you choose to spay your dog early, later on, or not at all is up to you but you should definitely have a think about it and discuss it with your veterinary surgeon.

 

If you found this useful then please subscribe by placing your email in the box in the right sidebar.  Also, if you want to discuss anything raised here please feel free to comment below or contact me directly.

Welcome!

Who Am I?

My name is Kim.  I qualified as a Veterinary Surgeon in 2011 after studying at the Royal Veterinary College in London.  I then worked as a small animal vet for five years.

In August I completed my Masters Degree in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare at Newcastle University.

Bam; Leopard Gecko
What do my Qualifications Mean?

I know (most of) your animals from inside out, both what’s going on in their organs and what makes them tick.  I also know their welfare needs based on their species and situation.

I can predict how an animal will react something they need is lacking and give suggestions (which can be as down-to-earth or as wacky as you want) on how to solve any deficits in their welfare to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

Darwin as a juvenile; Leopard Gecko
Can I Understand things From an Owners Point of View?

I am also a pet owner and am not restricted to the conventional species.

My more “conventional” pet is Carl, a guinea pig I adopted after performing a couple of operations on him, most notably removing his right eye due to severe damage and infection which couldn’t be treated any other way.

Leo; Leopard Gecko

The pets that tend to pique others interests more are my three lizards.  Firstly I own Leo, a geriatric Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularis) I rehomed from my cousin around six years ago.

Second up is Darwin.  Darwin is also a Leopard Gecko and is coming up three.  She is a lot smaller than Leo, about half the size in fact partly because Leo is huge.  She also has completely different markings to him due to her breeding; she is Hypomelanistic which means she has fewer spots than a “wild-type” like Leo.

Last but not least, I own a  Crested Gecko (Correlophus ciliatus) called Dallas (AKA Dal) who is around four and is the guy in the banner on this site.

Dallas; Crested Gecko
Have I Had any other Pets?

I have owned several rescue dogs and sometimes look after my parent’s Jack Russell Cross, Rocky, who is around twelve.  As a teen and throughout most of my twenties I owned a dog called Tess who was my best friend.

Rocky

 

When I was younger I also owned hamsters (both Russian Dwarf and Syrian (AKA Golden) and gerbils.  Sadly, I haven’t owned any cats though really like their personalities and independent nature.  I do have experience with them from the places that I’ve worked and had a farm cat who was obsessed with me.

Tess

 

Finally, though I haven’t owned any, I worked at a riding school throughout my teenage years caring for up to fifteen horses at a time and knowing each one’s quirks as well as learning to ride and teaching others to both ride and care for horses.

Peter

 

What Are My Passions?

I am very passionate about aiding the care and welfare of animals, both from a physical and psychological viewpoint.  To improve the standards of animal welfare as much as possible I want to educate others about the welfare needs of a wide-range of species, both domesticated and not.

 

I am also passionate about reducing the abuse, either intentional or not, caused by humans towards animals.  I hope to do this through explaining to people both the positive and negative issues facing animals today and allowing people to explore those further and pass their knowledge on to others.

Carl; Guinea Pig

 

What is the Purpose of this Blog?

My aim is for the ordinary pet owner to find this blog both educational and entertaining.  I will discuss the care of different species, current affairs in the animal world and give light of what I’m doing and some of the adventures I have and the animals I meet along the way.  This is here as a resource but also as a conversation starter which will hopefully get you inspired to read on or spread the word.

Darwin; Leopard Gecko
Final Words

I hope I’ve introduced this blog well.  As I progress over the coming weeks if there are any animal related subjects/ items you want me to explore then feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email (kim@animalwelfarematters.co.uk) and I’ll look into the topic further.