We love our two guinea pigs so very much. Our pets are like family in our home. So when one got sick recently, we were very worried. This past February we were getting ready to go on our vacation for spring break. We were all excited to go until we saw our pet guinea pig, Twix, develop a sudden very hard swollen cheek. It got even bigger the next day. We knew we had a sick guinea pig. We took him to the vet that second day because we were about to go on a ten-day trip. I had lined up a teenager to do pet care while we were gone but we needed him to get better quickly so he wouldn’t be sick while we were gone. We wanted him as healthy as possible before we left town.
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Twix was thoroughly examined by our vet. She determined he most likely had an abscess. This was confirmed when she withdrew pus from the very swollen cheek. The syringe was literally filled with all pus. Yep. Twix had an abscess. Abscesses are quite hard to treat in guinea pigs. The reason for this is the abscess creates a thick wall around the infected area so antibiotics do not penetrate it. This makes direct contact treatment with antibiotics necessary.
Treatments for a Sick Guinea Pig with a Swollen Cheek Abscess
Direct contact antibiotic treatment was really the only treatment plan possible at our vet clinic. Our vet was concerned that the abscess could be from a tooth. This is almost impossible to treat as it’s hard to remove guinea pig teeth. Or she wondered if the abscess could have been from a bite from our other guinea pig or from being poked by something sharp, like a piece of hay. But at that point, it didn’t matter because we had to try something or he’d most likely be septic within a week or so. This would most likely have meant death for him.
We didn’t want that for our little buddy, our snuggly little pig Twix.
We could have tried a specialist too, but her suggestion was to try and treat him at her clinic unless we wanted to visit (and pay) a specialist. I opted for trying treatment in our local vet clinic.
The plan was he would have to stay the day and be sedated for the treatment procedure. The vet would shave his swollen cheek and make an incision to drain out the pus. Next, the plan was she would rinse/clean the inside of his cheek to get the pus out. As a treatment, she would implant a gauze soaked with an antibiotic under his skin. It would stay embedded there for one week, then she would change it out. He would need oral antibiotics too because of the incision.
She examined inside his mouth while he was sedated and she felt the infection was not from a tooth, but something that had poked him from the outside. My son reported the pigs had been together so a bite from our other pig was entirely possible. Bites are a common cause of abscesses.
He endured the procedure very well and even ate some lettuce and hay after. I took him home and planned to get him as healthy as we could before we had to leave. He had pain meds and an oral antibiotic that tasted like cherries. The little piece of gauze was sewn inside his cheek and would be replaced in a week before we left town.
We noticed he wasn’t eating very well and wasn’t pooping much. This can be a huge problem for guinea pigs as their guts need to be constantly moving or they wind up with serious gut issues. I knew he wasn’t eating much because he would only do a few poops a day. Anyone who has a guinea pig knows they are pooping machines and they eat constantly. We tried all his favorite fresh fruits and vegetables but he would only eat a little bit, which made him poop very little.
After a few days of not eating much, he actually felt smaller to us when we held him. We feared he was losing weight. I called the vet and she suggested we come in a day early for weight assessment and the gauze pad replacement.
The vet put him on the little scale and weighed him at our followup visit. He had only lost a little weight but what was more concerning was his not eating and not pooping. We didn’t want his gut to go stagnant because the stasis could cause more problems for him. She sedated him and found that he was healing rather nicely inside his cheek. This meant he didn’t need another antibiotic-soaked gauze pad embedded, but antibiotic gel placed in there would be adequate. However, she found a complication, she found his teeth had grown due to not eating. Even in that short few days, his teeth grew too much from not chewing much. With long teeth, it’s hard for guinea pigs to eat.
This shows how important it is to keep your guinea pig eating and chewing hay all day, within a few days of not eating well, their teeth can start to grow.
This was shocking to me as it had only been a few days of poor eating, but that was enough to prevent the needed continual grinding down of his teeth. This may have actually made it hard for him to eat and may have been part of the reason he was not eating. Obviously the gauze pad embedded or any pain associated could have been affecting his reduction in eating too. Regardless, his teeth had grown and she needed to cut them. This was done while he was sedated for the cheek procedure. So no worries, he did not feel the teeth cutting procedure.
The Next Step in our Sick Guinea Pig Regime
She sent us home with more pain meds, an appetite stimulant, and critical care food powder for syringe feedings. We were to just supplement his eating efforts with once a day syringe feedings or more if it seemed he wasn’t eating much. Our hope was the appetite stimulation, pain meds, and cutting back of his teeth would facilitate his desire to eat.
This was all an experiment as we didn’t know how he’d react. I prepared a plate of Twix’s favorite foods every morning, only giving him a little of his favorites every time. He ate sparingly but took the syringe feedings well. He also took the medications by syringe very well. However, he was not eating well, only a little, but his pooping was increased slightly.
We had to leave for our vacation, but we were very nervous to leave him. The teenager we had arranged to watch our pets was very willing to give him meds and syringe feedings. She wants to be a vet someday, so this was actually an ideal experience for her. She took great care of him and within a few days, he was eating more. Each day he ate more and more until finally, he was eating his normal amount. Even after the meds stopped, he was eating well. We were still on vacation when he began to eat his normal amount again. By the time we got home, he was his normal self. And it was a joy and delight to see indeed.
He is totally back to his normal self now. We are so happy and relieved.
I hope this post helps you if you have this same medical trouble with your own sick guinea pig. I hope you can nurse your sick guinea pig back to health as we did. Guinea pigs make awesome pets.
Fun guinea pig tip: Grow some grass in a pot and keep it organic by not adding any chemicals. Place your guinea pig in the pot and let him enjoy munching on the fresh green grass. He will love it!
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Update on Twix
The abscess unfortunately recurred in Twix. He had been suffering from diarrhea so we were worried about putting him back on antibiotics, but with the abscess back, we had no choice but to try it. This time the vet cut open his cheek under sedation and cleaned it out with two different antibiotic solutions. This time he didn’t embed an antibiotic gauze pad in his cheek but just sewed him back up. He was given antibiotics, pain meds, and an appetite stimulant. The abscess pus was sent in for culture and sensitivity to find out if the bacteria would be susceptible to the antibiotic.
Twix did much better this time around with recovery. He was eating decent and then within a few days he was eating very well. His cheek continued to flatten much to our joy.
The vet got the test results back and it turned out the antibiotic he was already on would kill the E. coli bacteria that had caused his abscess. One day he had a bit of drainage out of the incision, but it turned out that the vet said sometimes that can happen. Now we know what antibiotic to put him on if it recurs again. The E. coli was an opportunistic infection and it was very odd that the bacteria caused this in his cheek. We aren’t sure how that happened.
Anyway, he’s doing very well and eating great. His diarrhea is now gone too. So, while abscesses are hard to treat in guinea pigs, it is possible. We are so happy to see him acting normal, and happy even. We love him!