Exotis ISSN 2398-2985

Guinea Pigs


Synonym(s): Partial paralysis, Paraplegia, Hemiplegia, Quadriplegia, Tetraplegia, Monoplegia

Contributor(s): Cathy Johnson-Delaney


  • Cause: most common cause is trauma/injury. Also, infectious meningitis/encephalitis (bacterial, viral), neoplasia of brain/spinal cord, abscess in central nervous system (CNS), cerebrovascular accident, toxoplasmosis, toxicity: lead, Clostridium botulinum, organophosphate if there is a history of ingestion or exposure.
  • Signs: can be peracute, acute, chronic, static or progressive. Abnormal gait, use of limb(s). Can include falling, dragging a limb(s), leaning to one side, inability to stand or walk.
  • Diagnosis: neurologic examination; CBC/chemistries; specific bloodwork for LCMV testing, blood lead levels, cholinesterase testing; radiography, including skull to evaluate bullae disease. CT or MRI to evaluate brain infiltrate, spinal cord compression, bony lesions. CSF: collect from cisterna magna. Electromyelogram/nerve conduction velocity (EMG/NCV) to compare affected limb to unaffected.
  • Treatment: hospitalize if neurologic signs, non-ambulatory, severe infections, anorexia. Supportive care includes fluid therapy, nutritional support, activity restriction. Analgesics and NSAID. Corticosteroids are controversial in guinea pigs and contraindicated with NSAIDs. Broad-spectrum antibiotics that penetrate the CNS if suspected or confirmed bacterial infection. Surgical repair of spinal fractures or trauma: may be of limited value.
  • Prognosis: depends on etiology. Poor: loss of deep pain perception.
Print off the Owner factsheet on Paralysis to give to your clients.



  • Paresis is the loss of power of voluntary movement. It is also called partial paralysis.
  • Paralysis is the loss of voluntary motor function.
  • Quantifying (paresis or plegia):
    • Mono: one limb affected.
    • Hemi: both limbs on the same side of the body affected.
    • Para: both pelvic limbs affected.
    • Quadri or tetra: all four limbs affected.

Predisposing factors


  • Trauma from improper handling or housing which results in fractures or luxations.


  • Existing skeletal abnormalities such as arthritis, spondylosis which may compromise neuromuscular function.
  • Hypovitaminosis C Vitamin C deficiency.


  • Lesions of the central and/or peripheral nervous system:
    • CNS (brain, spinal cord):
      • Cell bodies and nuclei in the brain are responsible for initiating movement.
      • Axons transmit impulses to various locations in the spinal cord.
    • PNS (sensory, motor neurons innervating various muscle groups):
      • Impulses to the limbs received from the spinal cord through the ventral nerve roots into spinal nerves and then to peripheral nerves.
      • Collections of lower motor neurons (LMN), divergence to the peripheral nerves of the limbs is in the cervical intumescence and the lumbar intumescence.
      • Upper motor neurons (UMN): maintain muscle tone, normal spinal reflexes:
        • Control or inhibit LMNs.
        • When injured, spinal reflexes no longer inhibited:
          • Loss or decrease of voluntary movement.
          • Hyperreflexia.
      • LMN and peripheral nerves maintain muscle tone, control spinal reflexes. When injured: loss or decreased movement; diminished or absent reflexes.
    • Spinal reflexes: peripheral nerve function and local spinal cord segment evaluation. Do not involve conscious awareness of a stimulus.
  • Muscle wasting will occur from disuse in as little as 5-7 days.


  • Depends on etiology.
  • If there is neurologic damage, muscle disuse atrophy and wasting occurs in as little as 5-7 days.
  • Trauma: onset of signs may be immediate.


  • LCMV is rare in guinea pigs but can be due to exposure to wild rodents carrying the virus. Because of the zoonotic risk, affected guinea pigs are usually euthanized.


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Further Reading


Refereed Papers

Other sources of information

  • Brabb T, Newsome D, Burich A et al (2012) Infectious diseases (Guinea pig section III). In: The Laboratory Rabbit, Guinea pig, Hamster and other Rodents. Eds: Suckow M A, Stevens K A & Wilson R P. Academic Press. pp 637-684.
  • Hawkins M G & Bishop C R (2012) Disease Problems of Guinea Pigs. In: Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents: Clinical Medicine and Surgery. 3rd edn. Eds: Quesenberry K E & Carpenter J W. Elsevier. pp 295-310.
  • Antinoff N (2011) Paresis and Paralysis. In: Blackwell's Five-Minute Veterinary Consult: Small Mammal. Ed: Oglesbee B L. Wiley-Blackwell. pp 303-306.
  • Harkness J E, Turner P V, Vandewoude S & Wheler C L (2010) Harkness and Wagner’s Biology and Medicine of Rabbits and Rodents. 5th edn. Wiley-Blackwell. pp 214-216.