- Guinea pigs are not like cats and dogs. They are much more fragile, prone to illness, and have more difficulty recovering from illnesses.
- Anything different is bad. Guinea pigs are creatures of habit. Have you ever noticed how they seem to sleep at the same time of day, eat only foods they know, and expect treats at the same time every day? Any change in your guinea pig's behavior or eating habits is a red flag to you that something is wrong.
- Guinea pigs need to eat constantly. Unlike cats and dogs, guinea pigs need to continually keep their G.I. tract moving. If they refuse food that they regularly eat, they are ill. If your guinea pig is not eating today, by tomorrow they will be very sick -- and the side effects of the G.I. stasis, where the gut stops moving and causes bloat, may be more life-threatening than the original illness.
- Don't wait to get care. By the time most owners notice their guinea pig sick, they are really sick, possibly dying. If you wait to ask for help, the chances of bringing your guinea pig back are going to be slim. The cost of medical care will increase in direct proportion to the length of time the owner waited to get help.
- Medical care for guinea pigs is expensive. Because they are considered "exotics," guinea pigs should only be treated by an exotics vet who has been trained in their care. If you use a 'dog and cat vet' who claims that they "see" guinea pigs, you will waste more time, money, and your guinea pig's health status will dwindle away while the vet untrained in exotics medicine runs expensive, meaningless tests. Do it the right way the first time, and choose a vet who knows what they are doing.
Here is a link that describes the common mistakes guinea pig owners make when dealing with illnesses:
Even to the trained eye, some illnesses will go unnoticed. This is why you should weigh your guinea pig weekly, using a gram scale, so that you notice any drop in weight that may signify an illness they are hiding. Here is a great place to start reading about basic guinea pig care and how to prevent diseases:
Sometimes, despite the best care, prompt veterinary attention, and diligent home management of illnesses, a guinea pig will not survive. Their extreme fragility when ill belies the popular notion that these are good 'starter pets' (read: 'throwaway pets') for kids. However, sometimes they can remarkably beat the odds and recover. Our rescue has dozens of stories of guinea pigs who came in seriously ill yet recovered. They have tremendous spirit and can overcome illnesses, especially if they see that someone is caring for them and trying to help them not give up. It is very inspiring to watch them rebound from past neglect, abuse, or injury and turn into beautiful animals.