Winter 2013

A Very Thirsty Guinea Pig

Could my guinea pig be diabetic? He drinks 32 ounces of water a day!

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Illustration: Ward Schumaker

Jennifer Graham, head of the Cummings School’s zoological companion animal medicine department, responds to a reader’s question about her parched guinea pig.

Q: Could my guinea pig be diabetic? He drinks 32 ounces of water a day and soaks his cage within a few days. If he is, is there any way to treat it?

A: That certainly is an excessive amount of water consumption for a guinea pig and may be an indicator of underlying disease, including kidney problems, dental issues and metabolic disorders such as diabetes.

I urge you to visit a veterinarian familiar with this species to have your pet undergo a thorough physical examination. Your veterinarian will take a blood sample to check your guinea pig’s blood glucose levels and look for signs of infection or organ dysfunction. Further testing, including X-rays, may be needed to rule out urinary tract stones.

Diabetes mellitus is not particularly common in guinea pigs, but it has been reported. The good news is that the disease can be temporary, and insulin therapy is usually not necessary. A low-fat, high-fiber diet is most important in treating—and preventing—diabetes.

Until your guinea pig is seen by a veterinarian, pay close attention to what he is eating. Guinea pigs should always have access to high-quality grass hay, such as timothy, and water. Alfalfa hay and pellets shouldn’t be fed to adult guinea pigs, because they contain excessive amounts of calcium and can predispose these animals to obesity and bladder stones. Unfortunately, many diets commonly sold at pet stores contain alfalfa as well as seeds or dried fruit, which are also not appropriate foods for a guinea pig.

Please email your questions for “Ask the Vet” to Genevieve Rajewski, Editor, Tufts Veterinary Medicine, at genevieve.rajewski@tufts.edu. Because of the volume of inquiries, we cannot respond to every question submitted. For any pet health issue, owners should contact their veterinarian.

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