Exotis ISSN 2398-2985

Guinea Pigs


Synonym(s): Bacterial pneumonia, Viral pneumonia, Aspiration pneumonia, Lower respiratory system disease

Contributor(s): Cathy Johnson-Delaney, Sarah Pellett


  • Cause: pneumonia is defined as inflammation or infection of the alveoli of the lungs. Caused by bacteria, viruses, or foreign bodies/material.
  • Signs: dyspnea, wheezing/labored breathing, tachypnea, lethargy, anorexia -> changes in gut motility, weight loss, exercise intolerance, coughing, sneezing, nasal and/or ocular discharge, fever.
  • Diagnosis: radiography, bloodwork, microbiology, cytology.
  • Treatment: oxygen therapy, nebulization, fluid therapy, diet to keep gut functioning, antimicrobials, bronchodilators.
  • Prognosis: based on severity and chronicity of the pneumonia when presented. Guarded prognosis in younger animals or geriatric ones. Guarded to grave prognosis in those with chronic or widespread infection or lung pathology including pulmonary abscess.
Print off the Owner factsheet on Pneumonia to give to your clients.





Foreign bodies/material (aspiration)

  • Uncommon as guinea pigs cannot vomit.
  • Can be sequellae to force feeding, administration of oral medication, or incorrectly placed feeding tube.

Predisposing factors


  • Poor husbandry: poor nutrition; overcrowding and social stress; improper environmental temperatures and humidity; irritant chemicals in the environment including bedding with aromatic oils, cleaning chemicals, poor sanitation leading to wet bedding and build-up of ammonia, poor ventilation all of which may contribute to irritation of the respiratory tract.
  • Close contact with other sick guinea pigs.
  • Disease agent factors including bacteria serotype, infectious dose and virulence factors.



  • The development of pneumonia depends on several factors including the pathogen, the number(s) of organism, their virulence, host immune function, and route of inoculation.
  • The most common cause in guinea pigs is due to bacteria. It can enter the respiratory tract via inhalation, aspiration or through the hematogenous route.
  • Bacteria may cause an inflammatory response that leads to leukocytes infiltrating the airways and alveoli. This can lead to lung lobe consolidation, atelectasis, tissue necrosis, tissue ischemia and abscess formation. Pulmonary function is then compromised.
  • Guinea pigs have small thoracic cavities in proportion to their abdomen size. The ability to cough and remove exudate seems inefficient.


  • Difficult to be certain in most cases but considered fairly acute.


  • Streptococcus zooepidemicus, Bordetella bronchiseptica are transmissible to other guinea pigs.
  • Pasteurella multocida may be transmissible to other guinea pigs and rabbits in the household.


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Further Reading


Refereed Papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Hawkins M G, Graham J E (2007) Emergency and critical care of rodents. Vet Clin North Amer Exot Anim Pract 10 (2), 501-531 VetMedResource.

Other sources of information

  • Mayer J (2013) Rodents. In: Exotic Animal Formulary. 4th edn. Eds: Carpenter J W, Marion C J. Elsevier. pp 476-516.
  • 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.
  • Rettenmund C L & Heatley J J (2011) Pneumonia. In: Blackwell's Five-Minute Veterinary Consult: Small Mammal. Ed: Oglesbee B L. Wiley-Blackwell. pp 309-311.
  • Johnson-Delaney C (2010) Guinea pigs, chinchillas, degus and duprasi. In: BSAVA Manual of Exotic Pets. 5th edn. Eds: Meredith A & Johnson-Delaney C. British Small Animal Veterinary Association. pp 28-62.
  • Percy D H & Barthold S W (2007) Guinea Pigs. In: Pathology of Laboratory Rodents and Rabbits. 3rd edn. Eds: Percy D H & Barthold S W. Blackwell Publishing. pp 217-251.