Little guinea pig hearts sure take up a lot of room in ours . They can be delicate creatures. You can do everything right sometimes, and they still get sick. Heart problems in guinea pigs can be an issue.
Especially in older piggies, it’s just one of those things that happens, and it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. Heart problems in guinea pigs are thought to be largely genetic in nature. Unfortunately, they can’t be cured, but you can manage cardiovascular disease with medication.
Signs of Heart Trouble in Guinea Pigs
When a guinea pig is acting “off” and has prolonged vague, unexplained symptoms, it isn’t unreasonable to suspect heart trouble. Early signs of heart conditions vary widely. The symptoms aren’t as well-known by veterinarians as other common ailments in guinea pigs.
Heart problems can mirror the symptoms of a respiratory infection. A URI that keeps coming back, or doesn’t respond to multiple antibiotics may be so stubborn because an uncooperative heart is complicating matters.
Signs to watch for include:
- Labored breathing, wheezing, a “hooting” sound that may go away and later return
- Reduced activity/deep sleeping
- Pale or blueish gums
- Necrotic ear margins (looks black on pink ears and white on black ears)
Tooth issues (malocclusion) are often associated with heart problems. This doesn’t mean that the two conditions are directly related, but overgrown molars can come about because of the tendency to eat less. Guinea pigs with heart trouble may have to “choose” between eating and breathing. The reduced intake of food, especially hay, allows the teeth to overgrow. Bloat and changes in poop (smaller, softer) may also result from not enough high-fiber food moving through.
You Knew This One Was Coming... It's Time for the Vet.
The vet will probably start by listening for a murmur. Some guinea pigs with heart trouble have an audible murmur, but others do not. An X-ray to check for an enlarged heart or fluid usually comes next. Sometimes, especially if a guinea pig is already suffering from pneumonia and may already have fluid in the lungs, even an X-ray won’t tell us for sure if there is trouble with the ticker.
At this point, some vets might opt for an echocardiogram or electrocardiogram. Here’s the downside. There aren’t many published “normal” values for guinea pigs (yet). For this reason, if your vet still suspects a heart problem, they may recommend a short trial of medication to see if the guinea pig’s symptoms improve.
Don’t be concerned if your vet wants to take a little blood to look at the kidney function, too. The heart works hard 24/7 to pump blood through the kidneys. No rest for the wicked. If the kidneys are acting up, it can increase the workload on the heart. Your vet may want to investigate this, especially in aging guinea pigs, to make sure this isn’t a chicken-and-the egg scenario and the treatment is appropriate for the root cause.
Yes, Guinea Pigs Can Take Heart Medicine, too!
Just like us humans, guinea pigs can take a veterinarian-prescribed diuretic (usually furosemide) and/or an ACE inhibitor like Enacard (Enalapril) or Lotensin (Fortekor). Note that a very ill guinea pig may need to be in an oxygen chamber until they stabilize, and the medications have a chance to do their job. Diuretics can get to work in under an hour!
Yeah, that last part sounded a little too good to be true, huh? A diuretic is literally a lifesaver for guinea pigs suffering from congestive heart failure and/or pneumonia. Given regularly over long periods of time though, it can cause problems of its own. Furosemide can deplete guinea pigs of potassium, a mineral that is ironically essential for a healthy heart.
Did you know diuretics can be found in nature? While not a replacement for medications to help a sick guinea pig get better, some foods that can make a regular appearance in a heart pig’s diet include parsley, celery, and dandelion greens. Dandelions are also rich in potassium (#winning).
Once a guinea pig is stable, they may only need to take the prescribed diuretic on “bad” days and the ACE inhibitor every day for long-term management. Ask your vet what the best course of treatment is for your guinea pig’s specific heart condition.