DEAR PAW’S CORNER: My male guinea pig, “Dale,” was always healthy. He was fat and not losing weight. One day, we cleaned his cage and noticed that he was sticking his head out repeatedly and opening his mouth – like yawning. The vet said to come in right away, and within five minutes of hanging up, Dale was dead. The vet looked at him and said he looked healthy and that maybe he had a heart attack or stroke, but I didn’t see any symptoms. Any help would be great because we have two others. – Julie G., via e-mail
DEAR JULIE: Sadly, it often can be difficult to tell when a guinea pig is getting ill. They’re very good at hiding signs of illness, and often they are acutely ill before their owners can tell what’s wrong. It’s clear that you pay close attention to your guinea pigs, as you were aware of Dale’s weight and normal behavior.
However, guinea pigs can become ill very quickly. You were right to contact the veterinarian immediately after noticing Dale’s strange behavior, which I agree, could have been a sign of a stroke or heart attack.
I’ll refer again to the late Peter Gurney’s brilliant Guinea Pig Health Guide. One suggestion, which you may be able to apply to your surviving guinea pigs, is to have the vet listen to their heartbeat. A heart murmur can indicate valve problems. Another possibility is an undetected fungal or bacterial infection that got into Dale’s system, eventually causing a heart attack. But as you pointed out, he showed no external signs of illness.
For this mystery, I’ll turn to my readers. Any suggestions for Julie on monitoring her two surviving cavies?
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