Upper Respiratory Infection Signs & Symptoms

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We had a very negative experience at a big brand pet store before we got Charlie and Penny, who we adopted from someone on Craigslist who couldn’t care for them anymore. Before Charlie and Penny, we adopted a very young male guinea pig from Petco named Hatch. Because we were new guinea pig owners, we didn’t know the signs and symptoms of a sick guinea pig until it was too late. After having him home for only about five days, we noticed Hatch was lethargic, sneezingnot eating or drinking, and had a white mucus discharge around his eyes.

We took him to the vet, and our vet diagnosed him with an upper respiratory infection (URI), which is fatal in guinea pigs in most cases. She told us he was barely a month old and had been taken from his mother entirely too early. He was severely dehydrated and his body temperature was sub-thermal (dangerously low). She gave him an injection of medicine that would help his body get stronger, and gave us Oxbow Critical Care to force feed him with a syringe. She warned us that he may not live through the night, but to try to keep him warm and give him water and the Critical Care to help him feel better.

Unfortunately, he passed away that night. Had we known what symptoms to look for, we would have been able to treat him sooner. But aside from knowing the symptoms, the key issue was the fact that Petco was selling baby guinea pigs that were not ready to survive on their own. When we got Hatch, he was already very sick, we just didn’t realize it.

It’s hard to put into words the amount of heartbreak, disrespect and lack of compassion this Petco showed us when we got Hatch. We returned to tell them he passed away because of their own lack of knowledge and care. The employee told us we could get a refund if we brought in the body. We were appalled and said we didn’t have the body because we buried him.

“Can you exhume the body?” the employee asked, expressionless.

We didn’t know what to say. The employee didn’t show any compassion or ounce of emotion, and worst of all, asked us to dig up Hatch’s body. We immediately left the store. After we got home we realized we should have asked for the manager, but we were too shocked and disgusted to go back inside.

Now that we know the symptoms of an upper respiratory infection in a young guinea pig due to lack of nutrition from its mother, we have seen many guinea pigs in other Petco and PetSmart stores with the symptoms of a URI. They’re usually laying down inside the hut in their glass enclosure, eyes half-closed and covered in white discharge. They don’t move much and after watching the sick piggie for a while, we see that they don’t get up for food or water like the other pigs with them.

We reported our horrible incident with Hatch to the corporate side of Petco, and they said they would “look into it” and someone would contact us. But no one ever did and we stopped expecting anything.

The best learning lesson from our situation is that it’s best to rescue guinea pigs from shelters, or adopt them from someone who can’t care for them anymore. It’s shocking how many Craigslist posts there are for people surrendering their guinea pigs. Big brand pet stores, while great for supplies, are not a healthy place for a guinea pig. Please consider rescuing a guinea pig before going to a pet store to buy one; there are so many guinea pigs in shelters that need a home.

Guinea pigs are very sensitive animals, so we highly suggest going to the vet as soon as you notice any problem with your guinea pig. However, after we learned about Critical Care from our vet, we’ve given it to our other pigs when they show basic, non-severe symptoms of sickness. For example, when Bea the Cuy was very young, we noticed just a few white flakes around her eyes, similar to the white discharge Hatch had, but much less on Bea. She didn’t have any other symptoms like lethargy or not eating/drinking, so we decided that some Critical Care would help strengthen her. Critical Care is a nutritional supplement that helps strengthen and recover a guinea pig while they are sick. We gave Bea a few days of treatments and she was 100% healthy after a few days.

This is a photo of Button with some of the discharge around her eyes–we treated her with Critical Care as well and she was cured after a few days.

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You can buy Oxbow Critical Care on Amazon, as well as the plastic syringes you need to administer it. It comes as a powder to mix with water. Read about the proper dosage of Critical Care before you give it to your guinea pig. As we mentioned, please bring your guinea pig to a vet if you notice any serious symptoms.

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If you have any questions about URIs, our experience,  vet appointments, or adopting from shelters vs. pet stores, please let us know by emailing us at piggiepen@gmail.com. 

We would love to hear from you. Please share your experience with us so we can make this important information available to everyone.

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