Communicating in complex series of whistles, guinea pigs make adorable pets. They are easy to care for and entertaining to watch. They are easily trained, they get along well with gentle children and they seldom use their teeth on humans. The toxoplasmosis protozoan, introduced through infected food, water, soil or fecal matter, endangers guinea pigs and humans alike.
Toxoplasmosis transfers to your guinea pig easily through unwashed vegetables that have been in contact with infected soil. Soak your vegetables in a solution of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water, and rinse thoroughly before serving them to your guinea pig. Thoroughly wash a used cage obtained from an outside source and spray with a vinegar solution to sanitize. Clean water and food bowls daily, and remove soiled bedding. Change bedding and scrub the cage down weekly. Pregnant women should avoid cleaning the cage to prevent spreading the protozoan to an unborn child.
Guinea pigs are moderately sensitive to toxoplasmosis. Some affected guineas are asymptomatic, while others develop a flulike illness accompanied by symptoms including lethargy, heavy panting, loss of appetite, diarrhea and runny nose. Old or young guinea pigs, or those with compromised immunity, may die. Female guinea pigs pass the disease to unborn offspring across the placental barrier, the same as humans. The risk of spontaneous abortion of unborn baby guinea pigs rises when toxoplasmosis is present. Infected babies may be stillborn, have vision problems or have learning difficulties.
Treatment for Guinea Pigs
If your guinea pig exhibits flulike symptoms, contact your veterinarian. Your vet will take a blood sample to determine whether his symptoms are caused by toxoplasmosis. If your guinea is infected, your vet will prescribe antibiotics as well as supportive treatments to alleviate uncomfortable symptoms. Quarantine other guinea pigs who have been housed with the sick cavy away from other animals and pregnant women. Thoroughly disinfect anything the sick guinea pig may have touched.
While most household disinfectants such as bleach will kill the toxoplasmosis protozoan, its egg casings are highly resistant. Ammonia, iodine and formulin inactivate the oocyst and make good choices for cleaning cages and hard-surfaced accessories. Soak food and water bowls in a vinegar solution. In freezing weather, placing the cage outside for three days will kill most oocysts. Without disinfection or freezing temperatures, oocysts may survive for more than a year. So be sure to disinfect any used cages you buy, even if they've been empty for extended periods.
- Iowa State University Center for Food Security and Public Health: Toxoplasmosis
- RSPCA Australia Knowledgebase: What Is Toxoplasmosis?
- National Public Radio: What Does It Take to Clean Fresh Food
- Elmhurst College Virtual Chembook: pH Scale
- Journal of Medical Microbiology: Experimental Model of Congenital Toxoplasmosis in Guinea Pigs.
- Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images