Healthy guinea pigs secrete a white fluid from near the eye which they then groom over their faces with their forepaws several times a day. Sometimes an owner will spot this secretion and worry that there is something wrong with the animal, but this is perfectly normal. It is always a good idea to get to know a pet so that any deviation from the norm can be spotted early; this almost always makes treatment easier and the outcome more certain in all but the most severe disease states.
Healthy Guinea Pigs’ Eyes
A healthy guinea pig has large, open eyes which are very bright and moist. Despite their bright appearance, though, guinea pigs have amongst the worst sight in caged pets and rely on movement and smell to make their way around. This is partly the reason for their very vocal personalities; they are relying on the noise to tell other guinea pigs where they are, what they are doing and how they are feeling; it is unlikely they would ever find each other in the wild otherwise! Guinea pigs can go blind for various reasons to do with eye health, but this is not the disaster it would be for many other pets; they can hardly see their paws in front of their faces at the best of times!
Signs of Eye Problems
Because guinea pigs like to forage about and snuffle in their bedding, they sometimes get injuries to the eye. If this happens the eye will develop an opaque covering, which is to protect the eye while it heals. Even if the object which has caused the damage – a small piece of straw for example, or a splinter of wood – is still visible, it is not a good idea to try and remove it. The animal should be taken to the vet. Other signs that there are problems with the eyes are swellings, crustiness or redness or excess tear production. Sometimes the eye will become milky but there will be no redness or apparent pain. In this case, it is likely to be a cataract, which older guinea pigs are rather prone to develop.
No Treatment for Cataract
There is no treatment for this condition and the guinea pig will eventually go blind and probably in both eyes. Because their sight is naturally poor and because the sight will deteriorate slowly, the pig will acclimatise to this and will live happily. Even so, a visit to the vet is called for, because it may be that another cause which is treatable is causing the milky appearance; the opaque layer following an injury is very familiar in appearance. Red or sore eyes, with swellings may be because of everted or blocked tear duct or, in young calves, eyelashes which turn in an scrape the surface of the eye. This is called entropian and some breeds of guinea pigs are more prone to it than others. As a breeder, the owner will probably be aware of this and a gentle manipulation of the eyelid usually puts it right. Ignored, it can cause corneal ulcers, which can become serious. Upper respiratory tract infections often cause red, running or crusty eyes, but will be obvious from the other symptoms.
Treatment of eye problems
Treatment will depend on the cause, from no treatment for cataracts to antibiotic therapy for respiratory tract infections and inflamed conjunctiva from pea eye, as the problems with the tear duct are called. It is important to refer to the vet before giving antibiotic to guinea pigs as they are extremely sensitive to all but a few kinds and giving them without a vet’s prescription can quite literally be fatal. Eye ointments available over the counter are useful to have handy if your guinea pig suffers from pea eye (everted tear duct) or has a foreign body which has been flushed out naturally by tears. An eye problem in a guinea pig is not in itself serious, but may lead to depression and lack of appetite. Guinea pigs can quickly become quite ill with gut problems if they are not eating the correct diet and so it is important to keep them free of other problems so as to prevent this.
Prevention of eye problems
There is no real way of preventing eye problems in guinea pigs as most are caused by congenital problems, such as entropion (in-turned eyelashes), accident or old age. It is important to check with the vet if the pig has trouble with its eyes and it is likely that it will become possible, with a little training, to cope with minor problems such as foreign bodies or inflamed pea eye at home without another visit. This will obviously save not only expense but also stress to the animal. Guinea pigs, whilst very friendly and gregarious, certainly do not like being shipped around to vet surgeries and the fewer stressful occasions they are subjected to, the better they like it.
It is when stressed that they are most susceptible to other problems, so it is sometimes a case that taking them to the vet is the last thing they need. With guinea pigs it is always a matter of weighing up the pros and cons as to whether a visit to the vet will do more harm than good. It is well worth shopping around for a vet who is particularly interested in small cage pets, as they will be more likely to be understanding if you request a home visit for your sickly pig. It may also be the case that a simple change of environment or husbandry practice can be recommended if the professional sees the home habitat and in the end this can save a lot of time and money.