How long do guinea pigs live? Well, on average, guinea pigs live about 5-7 years. How long a guinea pig lives can depend on many factors, however, and these numbers are just that – an average. The Guinness Book of World Records (1997) reported that the longest-living guinea pig lived to be 15 years old. There tends to be a slight variation on how long guinea pigs live depending on what breed they are. The hairless breeds tend to live a year or two longer, on average, than a long-haired breed like the Abyssinian guinea pig.
Guinea pigs are masters of hiding an illness in its early stages, so by the time you notice symptoms, it could be that the illness is quite advanced and successful treatment outcomes may not be possible. So one way to ensure a long life is to really pay attention to your guinea pig every day. Noticing an illness or problem early on increases the chance of a successful treatment.
Common illness that can get worse and cause an early death include:
Respiratory infections are common and can progress into pneumonia or even cause death. Watch out for any difficulty in breathing, rapid breathing, sneezing, coughing, runny nose or eyes, or weight loss. A sick guinea pig will likely not be eating normally, so watch his behavior. Other signs are lethargy and listlessness.
Diarrhea is a common illness, and there are several things that can cause it. A parasite called Eimeria caviae can infect a guinea pig and cause diarrhea, weight loss, and dehydration. A Campylobacter bacterial infection can also cause illness and diarrhea. Yersiniosis infection also cause diarrhea and intestinal distress, and it is also caused by a bacteria. Sometimes digestive problems just happen not because of a bacteria, virus, or protozoan, but just because the guinea pig ingested something he shouldn’t have. Watching your guinea pig and getting him immediate medical attention should something go wrong are ways to make sure he lives a long life.
Guinea pigs are susceptible to several skin ailments, but most are not fatal. Guinea pigs can experience hair loss or excessive itching. Hair loss can be due to excessive grooming, a flea infestation, a mite infection, or even lice. Also, stress, loneliness or extreme boredom can cause an animal to pull its own hair out. The skin problem to really watch out for is an open wound anywhere on the skin. If a skin wound lets infected and the infection gets into the bloodstream, it can kill the guinea pig.
Pododermatitis (also called “Bumblefoot”) can happen if a guinea pig is housed in an area with a rough floor surface or a dirty, wire-bottomed cage. The feet get open wounds, and the wounds can get infected. It can get pretty hard to treat, so it’s best to just prevent it. Make sure your guinea pig has a smooth, clean surface to walk on most of the time.
Cancer happens, and guinea pigs are not immune. As in people, the chance of a guinea pig getting cancer increases as he gets older. Benign tumors might be successfully removed with surgery, but malignant tumors often have a bad outcome.
Vitamin C Deficiency (Scurvy)
Guinea pigs are unable to make their own Vitamin C, so they must ingest in through their diet. It’s important that you make sure the food you’re providing is rich in Vitamin C or your guinea pig could develop scurvy. Most people associate Vitamin C with a healthy immune system, but Vitamin C is important for other reasons, too. Vitamin C is necessary for the proper development and maintenance of skin, joints, and mucosal surfaces like gums. Plenty of Vitamin C helps prevent all kinds of illnesses, and it helps recovery happen faster.
Guinea pigs should get a minimum of 50 mg of Vitamin C per day. Check the food you’re giving him to see how much Vitamin C is in a serving. Vitamin C also comes from fresh fruits and vegetables, so be sure to give your piggy fresh greens. You can also crush chewable Vitamin C pills and dissolve them in the guinea pig’s water. Vitamin C gets oxidized quickly, so it’s important to replenish it often. You can’t overdose on Vitamin C because it’s water soluble – any extra will be flushed away by the kidneys.
Urinary illnesses are pretty common in guinea pigs. They are quite prone to getting bladder or kidney stones. These are caused when urine doesn’t empty completely, and it crystallizes, creating a “stone”. If a stone gets lodged in the urethra or ureter, it could become a life-threatening condition. Stones can be painful, and symptoms include blood in the urine, not eating, straining to urinate, or total inability to urinate. Secondary problems can include bladder infections or kidney infections. To diagnose kidney or urinary stones, a vet will have to do blood tests,a urinalysis, and x-rays.
Two common reproductive illnesses are mastitis and ovarian cysts. Mastitis is when the mammary glands get infected, usually with a bacteria. It is quite painful. Without treatment, the infection can spread to the bloodstream and cause death. Ovarian cysts are quite common, as well, and can cause loss of appetite, lethargy, or hair loss. Usually the only way to rectify the problem is to do surgery to remove the ovaries.
As in people, guinea pigs are often killed or maimed with accidents. Injuries, falls, getting injured by another animal like a dog, or getting stepped on by someone in the house are common incidents. Accidents are just that – accidents, but you can take steps to prevent some of them from occurring. When young children are around, monitor your guinea pig closely. Don’t let him walk around the house freely at night when someone might accidentally get up and step on him in the dark. I had an idea once to keep my guinea pig outside during the summer, so I built a fenced-in area with poles and rabbit fence. One night, a raccoon came, tore down the fence, grabbed my guinea pig, and carried him up into a nearby tree. I kept screaming at him and trying to get him to release my guinea pig. Eventually, he did. He dropped my guinea pig from the top of the tree. When I rushed to my guinea pig, I quickly discovered that the raccoon had chewed off one of his legs completely, and he had several deep, pencil-sized holes all down his back. He did live and recover (with his remaining three legs), however.
In a Nutshell…
To ensure your guinea pig lives a long, happy life, take good care of him, get medical attention QUICKLY when something goes wrong, and PAY ATTENTION. Watch his behavior closely so you can find problems early. Monitor his environment to prevent accidents, and make sure he has an excellent diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.