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Why Is My Guinea Pig Sneezing? Is It Normal? (Vet Answer)

Red Abyssinian Guinea Pig on green grass

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Dr. Lindsay Bisset

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Just like people, guinea pigs sneeze to clear their nasal passages of irritants and foreign particles. Guinea pig sneezes even sound like human sneezes, although they are much softer, given their relative size. It is perfectly normal for guinea pigs to sneeze occasionally and the odd sneeze is usually nothing to worry about. Sneezing is often triggered by an irritant to the nose such as dust. However, if your guinea pig’s sneezing becomes more frequent or is accompanied by other signs of illness, it may be a symptom that something more serious is going on.

Excessive sneezing or sneezing accompanied by other symptoms may be a sign of a respiratory tract infection or that there is a problem with your guinea pig’s bedding and living conditions. Let’s dig in to learn more.

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Respiratory Tract Infections

guinea pig eating
Credit: Julia Mols, Shutterstock

Guinea pigs are susceptible to developing respiratory tract infections. Upper respiratory tract infections may lead to pneumonia if left untreated. Pneumonia is one of the most significant diseases of guinea pigs and is a frequent cause of death. For this reason, pet guinea pigs that sneeze excessively or show other signs of illness along with sneezing should be checked by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

The most common cause of pneumonia in guinea pigs is the bacteria Bordetella bronchiseptica, but other types of bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae or Streptococcus zooepidemicus are sometimes involved. Guinea pigs may be infected with Bordetella bronchiseptica by asymptomatic carriers such as dogs and rabbits, so it’s best to keep guinea pigs separate from these animals. A type of adenovirus specific to guinea pigs can also cause pneumonia.

In addition to sneezing, other signs of a respiratory tract infection include:

  • Discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A tucked up appearance
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Depression

If your guinea pig is suffering from a respiratory tract infection, in addition to a clinical exam, your veterinarian may want to x-ray your guinea pig’s chest to check for pneumonia, and to take samples of the discharge from your guinea pig’s eyes and nose to identify the causative organism so that the correct antibiotic can be used.

Treatment for respiratory tract infections includes antibiotics in the case of a bacterial infection, fluids for dehydration, oxygen therapy, and syringe feeding if necessary. Sick animals may need to be hospitalized for supportive care.

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Who Is Most At Risk

Guinea pig
Image Credit: Miroslav Hlavko, Shutterstock

Young, old, and pregnant guinea pigs are most susceptible to developing respiratory tract infections. Stress from overcrowding, a change in temperature, humidity, and ventilation, and a sudden diet change, increase the chance of a respiratory tract infection developing. Guinea pigs fed a diet low in Vitamin C are also at risk of developing respiratory disease.

Just like people, guinea pigs can’t manufacture their own vitamin C and therefore need to get it from their diets. According to VCA Hospitals, guinea pigs need 10-50 mg of vitamin C per day depending on their condition (young, old, sick, pregnant, etc). To prevent vitamin C deficiency, give your guinea pig a vitamin C supplement daily and provide leafy greens such as spinach. It’s important to note that vitamin C is relatively unstable and breaks down easily, so it’s best not to put it in the drinking water and to keep an eye on the product’s expiry date.

Bedding Issues  

Guinea pigs kept in cages with sawdust or wood shavings containing lots of dust will constantly inhale these particles and, as a result, sneeze frequently. The dust in these materials can cause irritation and infection of the respiratory tract, therefore, sawdust and wood shavings should not be used as bedding for your guinea pig. 

Pine and cedar wood shavings are also problematic as the aromatic oils that naturally occur in the wood can cause upper respiratory issues in guinea pigs. Pine shavings have also been linked to liver disease in guinea pigs.

Products that grow mold when wet, such as corn cob bedding, can also lead to respiratory infections and should therefore be avoided.

If you want to use wood shavings as bedding for your guinea pig, opt for shavings made from aspen. Aspen is a non-aromatic hardwood, and its shavings are safe to use as bedding for guinea pigs as long as they have been dust extracted.

Other suitable options for bedding include fleece bedding placed over an absorbent material made of 100% cotton such as a bath towel or mattress pad, or non-toxic, recycled paper. Use bedding specifically made for guinea pigs from a reputable pet shop or online store.

Cleaning The Cage

Change the bedding regularly and ensure that your guinea pig’s enclosure has good ventilation (without being drafty) to avoid the build-up of ammonia. Ammonia produced from a growing amount of dirty litter will weaken a guinea pig’s respiratory tract and lead to respiratory infections. Cages should be spot cleaned at least every second day by removing any wet hay, bedding, and feces. A thorough cage cleaning should be performed weekly using hot water and a pet-safe disinfectant.

Harsh cleaning products and disinfectants can also irritate a guinea pig’s respiratory tract and cause it to sneeze. Use pet-safe disinfectants to clean the cage and unscented laundry detergent to wash cage liners and fleece bedding.

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Conclusion

Guinea pigs will sneeze from time to time and the occasional ah-choo is usually nothing to worry about. Excessive sneezing or sneezing accompanied by other symptoms may be a sign of a more serious issue. In these cases, it’s best to get your guinea pig checked by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Respiratory issues and health problems in general in guinea pigs can be prevented with the correct diet which is high enough in vitamin C, access to plenty of fresh water, frequent cleaning and disinfecting of the cage, and a low-stress environment. The ambient temperature and humidity should be kept constant to prevent disease. Bedding should be dust free and non-irritating.


Featured Image Credit: Tettania, Shutterstock

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