By Karen Rosenthal, DVM, MS
My guinea pig is about 1 year old. She keeps walking weirdly and her eyes have crustiness all around them. She hasn’t been eating or drinking, but her abdomen isn’t bloated and she doesn’t have diarrhea. She doesn’t sleep inside her dome, she randomly lays around the cage. It worries me a lot. What should I do?
I think you have good reason to be worried. A guinea pig that has a strange gait, has crusted eyes, but most importantly, is not eating or drinking, is exhibiting nonspecific signs of an illness that could be a very serious problem.
If guinea pigs do not drink, they quickly can become dehydrated and can die from dehydration within a short period of time. When guinea pigs do not eat, there are metabolic changes in the body that can lead to the liver becoming diseased within 24 hours of not eating. Once the liver becomes diseased, this is called hepatic lipidosis, it can be very difficult to treat and cure this form of liver disease.
When a guinea pig feels unwell for any reason and does not eat, it can become weak, and the first sign of weakness may be an abnormal walking pattern. Once a guinea pig becomes too weak to walk properly, it can also become too weak to balance itself while it tries to groom its face and body. Hence, as an owner you see crusting around the eyes and nose because grooming has stopped. You may also see crusting around the nose and eyes because the disease is causing discharge from those areas.
One of the more common reasons for these signs of illness in young guinea pigs is a lack of an adequate amount of vitamin C. Many owners might not be aware that vitamin C can rapidly denature in drinking water, and the guinea pig does not receive its daily requirement. Also, a guinea pig that is not eating or drinking will never receive enough vitamin C, because the only source of vitamin C for guinea pigs is through food or water.
The best advice I can give you is to find a veterinarian who has expertise in guinea pig medicine.