Q: I have two female guinea pigs. I have had one for two years and the second I got in December 2009. I recently noticed that my 2-year-old cavy’s feet are blistered, red and swollen. I did research and believe that she has pododermatitis. This is very likely as I live, due to work, in Sri Lanka. Pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and hamsters are not common here, so it is very difficult to find suitable bedding. I kept my piggies on a bedding of wood shavings. I took her to the veterinarian, but the problem is, seeing as there are very few cavies here, he has no experience in them. He gave me some tetracycline to apply to her feet. Is this safe? I thought I better confirm before I do anything. Also is there any other medication available? I am quite happy to import it from abroad if it is not available here. Please help me. My pets are much loved, and I hate to think of the pain she must be going through!
A: It is very difficult to get your sick pet back to good health when you live in an area where the local veterinarians have little expertise of certain species. You are very much on your own sometimes in these areas.
It does sound as though your guinea pig has pododermatitis. This may or may not be due to the bedding. Wood shavings by themselves do not have to cause pododermatitis. If the wood shavings are soiled from urine, feces or drinking water spillage, this could irritate the guinea pig’s feet enough to cause an infection.
Also, we sometimes think that pododermatitis is secondary to other diseases. If a guinea pig becomes sedentary, lethargic or unable to move due to another disease process, this can cause pressure sores on the feet, which eventually causes an inflammation of the pads on the feet that results in pododermatitis.
In severe cases, the tissue becomes not just inflamed but also infected, and the infection can penetrate to the bones of the feet. This is a very serious, difficult to treat condition.
In your guinea pig’s case, the primary cause of pododermatitis has yet to be found. Maybe it is the substrate, maybe it is something else. We typically recommend blood work tests to be certain no other disease process is present.
So, what to do with your guinea pig? Tetracycline has the potential to cause some damage to the delicate balance of the gastrointestinal flora, and I would be reluctant to use this medication if your guinea pig has a tendency to lick off this ointment. Gentle hydrotherapy and daily soaking of the feet can help a lot. Keeping the substrate clean and dry is also key to treatment. You can use paper towels as a substrate as they are nonpainful to a guinea pig and less likely to cause further problems in a guinea pig with pododermatitis.