Updated: Nov 30
Bloat or gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) is a common problem in guinea pigs. In this blog, we're going to discuss how bloat affects guinea pigs. Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) is a known acute abdominal emergency in dogs, and also affects small pets like guinea pigs.
The condition is life-threatening and, without corrective surgery, results in death. GDV in guinea pigs has been documented in studies but is not well known to many small animal veterinary practices. This is probably due to Guinea pigs being prone to sudden death from bloat, absence of specific clinical signs, a lack of experience in this species, and a high mortality rate known with this condition in guinea pigs.
Risk Factors for Bloat in Guinea Pigs
The risk factors for GDV are similar to those in dogs and horses, including breed predisposition, sex (females), stressors such as fasting or other gastrointestinal diseases, ingestion of gas-producing feeds, or foods high in sugar content.
Other risk factors may include lack of exercise, previous history of bloat/GDV, obesity, and strenuous exercise. Bloat in guinea pigs is a known acute abdominal emergency. Bloat can quickly kill guinea pigs if not promptly treated. GDV is also known as twisted stomach, torsion of the stomach, or gastric volvulus.
Symptoms of Bloat in Guinea Pigs
Symptoms of bloat in Guinea pigs include an enlarged abdomen, damp hair/coat, and lethargy. If the guinea pig is awake, they may appear restless. As the condition progresses, the guinea pig will begin to drool and eventually become unresponsive.
The symptoms for bloat in guinea pigs tend to progress rapidly over a few hours to just minutes depending on the guinea pig's tolerance to the condition. Prevention is much more effective than treatment in guinea pigs because once started; it progresses very quickly.
How Bloats Affect Guinea Pigs
The GDV occurs when gas accumulates in the stomach and causes expansion of the stomach wall. The increased pressure compresses blood flow through veins draining the stomach. This compression also cuts off the arterial blood supply to the stomach and spleen, which quickly results in tissue death (necrosis).
If not corrected, guinea pigs may die within 30 minutes. Less severe cases (episodic gastric dilatation) might resolve by releasing gas through belching or flatulence, but if this condition becomes chronic, it can result in bloat.
How Is Bloat in Guinea Pigs Treated?
Veterinarians may attempt to decompress the stomach by passing a tube through the mouth and into the stomach, allowing gas or fluid to be removed from the stomach's lumen. In guinea pigs, this has been shown ineffective when performed alone.
Treatment for guinea pigs with bloat is surgery to correct the torsion of the stomach. Surgery involves gastronomy (surgical opening of the stomach). The guinea pig's stomach should be examined for necrosis which will need to be treated by debridement (removal) or possibly amputation if large portions are too damaged.
In guinea pigs, treatment is considered successful if the guinea pig does not re-torsion, and the stomach can rest and heal without perforation.
Prevention of Bloat in Guinea Pigs
Veterinarians suggest that guinea pigs should be separated into male and female groups to decrease stress levels and decrease the chance of bloat. They also add that guinea pigs should be fed guinea pig approved foods and not guinea pig mixes.
Feeding Practices to Prevent Bloat in Guinea Pigs
Feed adult guinea pigs a high fibre guinea pig mix (18-20% crude fibre)
Feed guinea pigs a high-quality guinea pig pellet
Feed guinea pigs hay and fresh vegetables daily
Feed guinea pigs little and often, rather than one or two large feedings; this can decrease the amount of gas produced in the stomach at one time.
Feed guinea pigs slowly; guinea pigs should be able to eat food within 15 minutes of presentation; if guinea pigs begin eating and then vomit the food back up, they are not ready for more food.
Avoid gas-producing feeds such as alfalfa hay or high sugar foods such as carrots.
Ensure guinea pigs have constant access to hay and water at all times
Exercise can help prevent obesity which is a risk factor for bloat.
Signs of Bloat
Bloat causes the guinea pig's stomach to rapidly fill with air or gas, causing the abdomen to swell. Painful spasms may occur on one or both sides of the guinea pig's body. The guinea pig will be off their food and be lethargic.
The first step is to treat your guinea pig for shock by offering them a relaxed place to rest and recover. You can offer your guinea pig some pre-made sugar solution for shock by using an eyedropper or syringe.
The next step is to take your guinea pig to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
Your guinea pig's belly will be hard and swollen when he has bloat. If this is the case, your guinea pig most likely already has GDV and will need to go to a veterinarian.
Guinea pigs with mild cases of bloat do need veterinary care as well. Your vet will most likely treat him with an anti-gas medication or antibiotics to get the gastrointestinal tract functioning properly.
Bloat in guinea pigs is mostly preventable with proper guinea pig care. As always, follow your vet’s advice to determine the best course of action for individual guinea pigs. Maintaining a healthy guinea pig diet will go a long way towards preventing bloat.
Remember that guinea pigs are sensitive to changes in their diet; try mixing guinea pig food with guinea pig mix instead of switching between two options, so your guinea pigs can more easily adjust to the change.
Regular exercise is also essential for maintaining guinea pig health. Ensure guinea pigs have large, clean cages and guinea pig accessories like guinea pig tunnels to help them get enough exercise. Keep in mind that guinea pig bloat can be fatal and that you should seek immediate veterinary care if there is visible swelling, and the abdomen looks distended.
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