Why do guinea pigs sneeze? Is it something to worry about, or just a normal part of their behavior?
Guinea pigs almost all sneeze at some point in their lives.
They might sneeze just once or twice ever, or a few times every week.
And the occasional sneeze, or even sneezing fit, is nothing to worry about.
But it’s worth knowing the signs that it might be something more serious.
This is because the sooner you get them checked out by a veterinarian, the better their chances are.
Why do guinea pigs sneeze?
Most of my guinea pigs have sneezed at one point or another. And that’s a fair sample size, as there are currently over 20 sharing my home!
Often it’s nothing to worry about, but sometimes it is. And when this is the case, you need to act fast.
There are three main reasons that guinea pigs sneeze:
- There is something in their nose
Let’s take a look at the nice straight forward reason first, nasal irritation!
Most guinea pigs that sneeze occasionally are doing so because there is something stuck up there!
They might have a sneezing fit for a few minutes, continually sneezing and twitching or doing little jumps.
Or they may just do one big sneeze, and then act like nothing happened.
Occasionally they will do a few single sneezes for a couple of minutes.
If they do this and don’t sneeze again for several hours, then in all likelihood there was just something irritating them.
This is more common when you keep guinea pigs on wood shavings, as tiny dust particles can get up their nose.
Allergies in guinea pigs
Some guinea pigs are more sensitive to their environment than others, and it’s possible for them to have allergic reactions to certain substances.
Just like we do!
Allergies happen when the body reacts inappropriately to a substance in the environment.
We call substances that can cause allergies, allergens.
But most allergens are harmless to most creatures.
So it’s possible to keep a family of guinea pigs, and for just one of them to be allergic to an allergen in their cage, for example.
In an allergic guinea pig, the allergen causes a reaction in their body.
The reaction releases chemicals called ‘histamines’ into their blood.
Histamines can cause:
- Nasal discharge
- Watery eyes
- Which is a bit of an inconvenience and uncomfortable for your poor guinea pig.
Most likely allergens for guinea pigs:
- Aspen bedding
- Pine bedding
- Cleaning detergents
If you think your guinea pig has allergies, it’s important to take them to the veterinarian.
When they’ve confirmed this is the cause of their sneezing, you can try to work to reduce their impact on your pet.
Clear out their cage completely, wipe it down with warm water rather than a detergent and add in a different type of bedding.
After a few days you can try adding back the bedding. If this doesn’t set them off them the allergen was probably the cleaner.
If it does start again, then swap back to another bedding.
The important thing is to add back one potential allergen at a time, so that you know exactly what the cause is.
Even if you think it’s just allergies and can remove the trigger, It’s important to get them checked out by a veterinarian anyway.
Just in case the cause of their sneezing is actually an upper respiratory infection.
Upper respiratory infections in guinea pigs
One of the most common types of illness guinea pigs contend with are upper respiratory infections (URIs).
Respiratory infections are bacterial infections which impact on your pet’s ability to breathe.
If you have kept guinea pigs for a few years, you will almost certainly have dealt with this at some point.
Signs of upper respiratory infection in guinea pigs include:
- Runny nose
- Tears around the eyes
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Treating guinea pig respiratory infections
If your guinea pig is sneezing and has one or more of the signs above, then get them to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
With antibiotics your guinea pig has a fighting chance of making it through this infection.
Without them, pneumonia can quickly develop and it can be fatal.
Of my guinea pigs that have had respiratory infections, all have been taken to the vet as soon as I noticed, and most of them survived.
Those which didn’t were mostly very old or very young, and therefore less well equipped to fight off the infection even with antibiotic help.
But the veterinarian is your pig’s best chance at getting through this.
Even if you just vaguely suspect they might have an URI, it’s worth getting them checked over by a professional.
Why do guinea pigs sneeze
The three main reasons guinea pigs sneeze include nasal irritation, allergies and upper respiratory infections.
If the sneezing episode is short and immediately follows new bedding being put in the cage or some other potential particles that could have caused irritation, then it’s probably nothing to worry about.
However if there are any other signs of illness, or a prolonged period of sneezing, then it’s best to go see your veterinarian as soon as possible.