Exotis ISSN 2398-2985

Guinea Pigs

Vitamin C deficiency

Synonym(s): Scurvy, Scorbutus, Hypovitaminosis C

Contributor(s): Cathy Johnson-Delaney, Anna Meredith

Introduction

  • Cause: lack of vitamin C in the diet.
  • Signs: paresis, paralysis, malocclusion, pain, hemorrhage.
  • Diagnosis: history, physical examination, radiography.
  • Treatment: supplementation with vitamin C, orally or parenterally.
  • Prognosis: guarded depending on severity, age of the animal.
Print off the Owner factsheet on Feeding your guinea pig to give to your clients.

Pathogenesis

Etiology

  • Guinea pigs lack the gene required to produce the hepatic microsomal enzyme L-gulonolactone oxidase:
    • This is one of the enzymes required to convert L-gulonolactone to L-ascorbic acid.
    • Ascorbic acid is required in hydroxylase reactions necessary for formation and cross-linking of hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine in collagen.
    • It is also required in the metabolism of cholesterol to bile acids, amino acids, and carbohydrates.
  • A deficiency leads to fragmentation of collagen and intercellular ground substance.
  • Vitamin C is water-soluble with no internal storage depot so guinea pigs require daily Vitamin C intake. 

Predisposing factors

General

  • Age, sex, diet, pregnancy, lactation, concomitant disease, environmental conditions all affect the duration of onset, severity of signs seen.

Specific

  • Under 6 weeks of age catabolize vitamin C more rapidly than those older than 4 months.
  • Many individual responses to dietary levels.

Pathophysiology

  • Guinea pigs lack the gene required to produce the hepatic microsomal enzyme L-gulonolactone oxidase:
    • This is one of the enzymes required to convert L-gulonolactone to L-ascorbic acid.
    • Ascorbic acid is required in hydroxylase reactions necessary for formation and cross-linking of hydroxyproline and hydroxylysine in collagen.
    • It is also required in the metabolism of cholesterol to bile acids, amino acids, and carbohydrates.

Timecourse

  • Individual variation, but can start showing signs within 2 weeks if no vitamin C is provided at all.
  • Content in feed can be diminished by dampness, light, heat, and prolonged storage:
    • Up to 50% activity in commercial pelleted feed can be lost in 3-6 months. This is in pellets manufactured for guinea pigs.
    • Some manufacturers are now using a stabilized form that has a longer shelf-life.
    • Guinea pig pellets should be dated and stored in dry, cool conditions. Foods marketed for rabbits are not suitable.
    • Guinea pig diets that are seed-based are not sufficient and ill-advised. Fresh hay, herbs, and vegetables such as cabbage, kale and parsley can also be fed to supply vitamin C.
  • Vitamin C added to water will lose potency rapidly and should not be utilized as a primary source.

Epidemiology

  • Absence of sufficient vitamin C in the diet.
  • In pets, this is often seen where rabbit pellets are fed instead of pellets formulated for guinea pigs and where there is insufficient supplementation with fresh foods containing adequate vitamin C.

Diagnosis

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Treatment

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Prevention

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Outcomes

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed papers

Other sources of information

  • Carpenter J W (2013) Exotic Animal Formulary. 4th edn. Elsevier.
  • Quesenberry K & Carpenter J W (2012) Ferrets, Rabbits and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery. 3rd edn. Saunders.
  • Harkness J E, VandeWoude S & Wheler C L (2010) Harkness & Wagner: Biology and Medicine of Rabbits and Rodents. 5th edn. Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Meredith A & Delaney-Johnson C (2010) Eds BSAVA Manual of Exotic Pets: A Foundation Manual. 5th edn. John Wiley & Sons Inc.
  • Keeble E & Meredith A (2009) Eds BSAVA Manual of Rodents and Ferrets. BSAVA, Gloucester, UK.
  • Percy D H & Barthold S W (2001) Pathology of Laboratory. Rodents and Rabbits. 2nd edn. Iowa State University Press, Ames, IA, USA.


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