Common Causes of Guinea Pig Death (And How to Avoid Them)

Guinea pigs are great long-term pets. They become a part of your family once you get them. So the last thing you need is to see them suddenly pass away.

Fever is not a sickness. It is a response to an underlying sickness. Unless you know the cause, there is no use in trying to treat the sickness. Eliminating the cause eliminates the sickness too.

The same way, in order to prevent death (which is an effect), you should be aware of the reasons (causes of death).

If you are looking to get guinea pigs, or already do have guinea pigs, I’m here to help you know about the common causes of death in them.

What Would Cause a Guinea Pig to Die Suddenly?

Guinea pigs are sensitive and complex in their physiology, but also through their emotions and stress reactions. They are susceptible to death from dietary deficiencies and plenty of other ailments. Allow us to display a long list of why your guinea pig could die suddenly:

  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory illness
  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Shock
  • Social Stress
  • Change in diet
  • GI Stasis (ileus)
  • Diarrhea
  • Anorexia
  • Dental disease (malocclusion)
  • Metabolic bone disease
  • Inappropriate use of antibiotics
  • Vitamin C deficiency
  • Congenital defects
  • Bacterial, viral, fungal, and parasitic infections.
  • Urethral Obstruction (Urinary Problems)
  • Kidney failure
  • Cancer/Neoplasia
  • Bloat

The list is long, but some of these issues can go unnoticed. They may not be seen, felt or understood by us as their human companions. We didn’t get a diagnosis or seek treatment options and suddenly, a guinea pig has died.

If all is well and your veterinarian noticed no physiological issues, but a sudden death occurred, it could have been accidental or due to sudden stress.

Shock is a common killer in sensitive guinea pigs when sudden changes in external stimuli stresses them such as sound, lights, perceived threats, etc.

How Do Guinea Pigs Die Naturally?

The most natural way a guinea pig could leave this world is through old age. Their lifespan in captivity ranges from 4-8 years. Death could come at any time when they have reached maturity.

A female who has given birth may be more susceptible to dying at an earlier age compared to a male boar guinea pig. Dental disease or metabolic bone disease could develop with a lack of calcium absorption.

Some of the illnesses seen below can occur naturally or through the course of time where it is hard to witness any sudden or major changes in our guinea pigs’ health before it’s too late:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • GI Stasis (ileus)
  • Dental disease (malocclusion)
  • Metabolic bone disease
  • Vitamin C deficiency
  • Urethral Obstruction (Urinary Problems)
  • Kidney failure
  • Cancer/Neoplasia

Why Did My Guinea Pig Die So Young?

Your trusted veterinarian can run a test to determine what happened to cause the death of your young guinea pig. The fact is, at a young age, they are prone to developing bacterial, fungal, respiratory or parasitic infections.

Guinea pigs are able to hide their ailments from us so well. They are tricky to understand when they are so young and haven’t yet developed their unique or quirky behavioral traits.

You may not have bonded closely with this little guy yet and he or she may have developed shock, stress or a weakened immune system.

Guinea pigs at young ages aren’t able to regulate their internal core temperature as well as they can when they are older. This leads them susceptible to respiratory problems or possible pneumonia which is a common killer. Their lungs get inflamed and bacterial infections can lead to their early demise.

Common Causes of Guinea Pig Death

  • Infestation of mice
  • Dystocia
  • Abscesses
  • Drop in environmental temperature
  • Salmonellosis
  • Administered antibiotics
  • Ileus
  • Ectoparasites
  • Contaminated water
  • Ketosis
  • Viral or bacterial infections
  • Loneliness
  • Ingested cedar shavings
  • Fumes from motor vehicles
  • Sunstroke 

I am sure you have heard “Prevention is better than cure” at least once in your life. But I am not sure if you have heard “A fool with a tool is still a fool”. So knowing the cause is only one part of your happiness. Knowing the ways to prevent them, completes the picture. The climax? Long happy life for your sweet little guinea pigs!

That is exactly why I shall elaborate on each of the above causes of death in guinea pigs, in the upcoming sections- including how you can prevent those from happening. So, read along to keep your guinea pigs safe and happy!

common-causes-of-guinea-pig-deathInfestation of Mice

When mice infest the breeding area of guinea pigs, things could go way out of control. A major part of guinea pig death worldwide is caused by mice infestation. Or, more specifically, ignorance of owners towards infestation cases death for guinea pigs.

Infestation is too subtle to notice in the early stages. It might not be noticeable for a common man. But a veterinarian sure would be able to identify even the subtlest of problems. So taking your guinea pigs to the vet at least once in a month is very important.

Symptoms: Tiredness, inactivity, seizure, lack of appetite and stroke

Prevention: Making sure the breeding ground of guinea pigs is free of mice

Cure: Cure for infestation could very well vary based on severity. So you cannot decide on how to cure the infestation. Getting your guinea pigs’ blood tested by a professional veterinarian is the first step. Your vet will give you the solution then.


Pregnant guinea pigs are obviously going through a lot of pain and trouble. So you have to try to make things easier for them. If you fail in taking proper care of your pregnant guinea pig, they could die. The litter of newborn guinea pigs is very active and quite large in size.

Prevention: Dystocia in pregnant guinea pigs cannot be prevented without expert medical advice. Make sure you have your guinea pig checked very often by a veterinarian when it is pregnant. Also, read our post dedicated to guinea pig pregnancy to find out exactly how to care for a pregnant guinea pig.


Life begins from death. Growth is a process that consists of degenerating and newly generating cells in cycles. When disintegration of cells, resulting in a cavity, gets filled with pus, it leads to abscesses. Inflammation would continue indefinitely by the spread of agents like bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

Symptoms: Redness, swelling, loss of appetite, loss of weight, excessive saliva, wet fur and inactivity.

Prevention: When you give them proper hygiene conditions, abscesses are bound not to occur in your piggy. Keeping moisture content low in their surrounding could help in preventing the spread of bacteria and fungi.

Cure: Abscesses could be falsely interpreted to be a temporary effect. Ignorance could lead to death obviously. There are other diseases which are less lethal that resemble abscesses. So you cannot afford to take risks when it comes to the above-mentioned symptoms. Direct medical care is the only way.

Drop in External Temperature

Respiratory infections are caused by a sudden drop in temperatures. Unlike humans, guinea pigs do not have mechanisms to regulate their body temperature to maintain homeostasis(a constant and stable body condition). So keeping them between 18-23 degrees is advised.

Cure: Do I really need to tell what the solution to this problem is? Keep them in the recommended temperature range at all times!


It is caused by infection by bacteria that belong to the Salmonella genus.

Causes: Consumption of contaminated water or food. Direct contact with infected individuals. Indirect transfer through common utilities such as toys or even bedding.

Symptoms: Dehydration, loss of appetite, inflammation in the eyes, enlarged liver, dullness

Cure: Antibacterial creams and antibiotics specific to the condition can be administered by a professional veterinarian.

Warning: Salmonellosis could spread even to humans. So you have to be extra careful when it comes to its symptoms.

Antibiotics Gone Wild

Self-medication is extremely ill-advised when it comes to human medicine. Although guinea pigs can’t choose their own antibiotics, some ignorant owners tend to get medicines from poly-pharmacies by themselves. Guinea pigs have a natural intolerance to several drugs and antibiotics. Without professional medical advice, administering antibiotics to them on your own could prove to be fatal.

Symptoms: Lethargy, loss of appetite, and diarrhea.

Prevention: Always consult a veterinarian before administering medicines.

Cure: If you got into the mess, there may be no way out!


Ileus is a condition where excessive gas is accumulated all along the gastrointestinal tract. Obviously, it is not good for the health of your pal. Ileus is the most ignored cause of death in guinea pigs because of the nature of its symptoms.

Symptoms: Loss of appetite, and irregular defecation. Even the subtlest of these two symptoms, as observed in the eating and defecating patterns, should raise an alarm in owners because it could cause sudden death.

Prevention: There is no particular way to prevent ileus. Although, avoiding foods such as beans, potato, etc., which build gas in the digestive system, could help.

Cure: Again, based on the severity, only a veterinarian’s intervention could solve it.


The concept of ectoparasitism still puzzles me. I still don’t get why god even created such a concept. Ectoparasites are insects that take your guinea pigs as host organisms. Mites and lice are common ectoparasites in case of guinea pigs. They suck out the blood of our furry pals to multiply in number and grow in size. Without sufficient blood, not enough oxygen reaches the body parts. Without oxygen, guinea pigs get anemic and cannot function normally. Eventually leading to death.

Ignoring the increasing number of ectoparasites on your guinea pig, in my opinion, is one of the gravest sins one could commit. It is so inhumane to not care about parasites sucking the life out of those cute little guinea pigs. Many owners abandon their guinea pigs just because they get tired of the parasites. Such abandoned guinea pigs need your help. Adopt them from the shelters or organizations that have rescued them.

Symptoms: Itching, dry skin, hair loss, inactivity.

Prevention: Regular grooming is necessary. Proper usage of pesticides (that kill the parasites) in mats and walls. This helps in controlling the increase in their number.

Cure: There are special shampoos (like this) and powders available that could kill the parasites. But they could have side-effects on your piggie too. In different locations, the products are marketed by different brands. Ask your veterinarian on which suits your guinea pigs the best.

Contaminated Water


We all know by the very sound of it, “contaminated” means “bad!”. So I do not have to elaborate on why contaminated water could be bad for any organism. But I know what you are thinking. “I know contaminated water is bad for health. But could it lead to death?” Right? Apparently, it could.

Water, as well all know, is the most essential thing for all living organisms. Unfortunately, guinea pigs, just as much as humans, haven’t yet developed mechanisms to purify contaminated water. You may be able to pick out anchovies from your pizza. But you sure as hell can’t pick out the pollutants that are fused with water.

Symptoms: Irregularity in eating, drinking, and defecating. Tiredness. Nausea.

Prevention: Take the same amount of care you would when you give water to your own babies. There is no way around it.

Cure: What is the solution to a burnt down car? Get a new one that isn’t burnt down! So what is the solution to contaminated water? That’s right, pure water! That is step one. The cure isn’t complete until you do some damage control. And for that, again, you need a veterinarian.


When digestion takes place in levels more than needed, it ain’t good. When digestion occurs certain enzymes, acids, and other byproducts are formed. Their job is to get the food digested. When there is no food to digest, but still the metabolism occurs, it leads to the accumulation of these digestive products. It could harm the protective layers in the gastrointestinal tract.

Ketones, as you probably already know, are chemical substances which are soluble in water. But they are not soluble in fats. When ketones get accumulated in the liver along with liver fat, it leads to obesity. That leads to loss of appetite. Ketosis leads to death of guinea pigs in less than 5 days.

Also, note that this condition is not restricted to pregnant females. Irrespective of gender, ketosis is common in obese individuals. It sure is an oxymoron because it is an obese condition that later leads to weight loss.

How to Identify Ketosis? Take your guinea pig to the veterinarian for a blood test to find out if your guinea pig is suffering from ketosis. In the case of a pregnant guinea pig, the doctor can identify the condition just by observing uterus. If there is any sign of internal bleeding in the uterus, it could be because of ketosis. A fatty liver is also easy to notice.

Cure: There aren’t any ways which could assure the cure of ketosis in case of guinea pigs. Yet, you can try some medications. The medicines available in different locations are marketed in different names for the same contents. So I shall just give you the contents of the medicine. Propylene glycol, steroids, and calcium glutamate are some medications that could help. In the case of ketosis, prevention is sure better than cure because there hasn’t been a definitive cure discovered yet.

Viral or Bacterial Infections

The two words “viral” and “bacterial” are never sweet to hear. Whenever there is an infection by bacterial or viral colonies on an animal body, they use the biological and chemical mechanisms of the animal to expand their colonies leading to several complications.

Since they suck out all the nutrients we intake for our needs, we get not enough nutrients for normal functioning. Our systems fail to function, and hence we cannot expect that the digestive system would work.

Cure: Do not consider infections to be simple. Always be alarmed about them, and get your guinea pigs to the doctor as early as possible. Medications are essential for the cure of viral and bacterial infections.



I guess it never gets said enough that guinea pigs are social animals! It is very important to remember that fact because everything else in their up-bringing revolves around this fact.

Loneliness could be caused either by the death of a cagemate, or even if you do not spend enough time with them. Loneliness could even lead to the death of your guinea pig. They never eat when they are lonely, they even enter dangerous levels of depression.

Cure: If your guinea pig is lonely because its partner-in-crime just died, then consider getting it a new guinea pig as a friend. If they do have a partner and still show signs of loneliness, it could be probably because they do not get enough time outdoors. If they do have a partner and also enough time outdoors, then their loneliness could be because of two reasons. One, could be because you do not spend enough time with them. The solution to that is pretty obvious- spend more time with them! Two, they could be sick. The solution to this is also obvious- take your pal to the doctor!

Ingested Cedar Shavings

Most guinea pig owners ignorantly get wood shavings for the bedding of their pets. While making the bedding out of wood shavings ain’t a bad thing to do, choosing the right wood from the right tree is important. Wood shavings from cedar trees could very well be too coarse. Coarse enough to even make your guinea pigs bleed. Then imagine what would happen to the soft inner lining of the gastrointestinal tract when they ingest such cedar shavings. It could surely prove to be fatal.

Symptoms: The symptoms that say your guinea pigs have ingested cedar shavings, could be very subtle. That is why taking care of a pet is no piece of cake. Well, in this case, it is a piece of cedar. Lethargy, refusal to go outdoors, weird noises are some signs you can look out for. But each guinea pig could react differently to the ingestion of cedar shavings. Some might not even have the time to react, they could die in a matter of minutes.

Prevention: Obviously, to prevent the effect, you gotta avoid the cause. If you do not want your piggies to be killed by cedar shavings, then you can prevent that from happening by not having cedar shavings in their reach and absolutely not as bedding. Check out this post to find a safe bedding for your guinea pig.

Cure: The only cure could be found by a veterinarian.

Fumes From Motor Vehicles

I do not want to go round and round about this cause of death in guinea pigs. It is a head-on, straightforward statement. Any place where there are motor vehicles parked, are strictly off limits for you to place your guinea pigs or their cages at. The fumes that come out of the vehicles are pure poison for your piggies.

Prevention: Prevent your guinea pigs from being in the vicinity of a motor vehicle. Simple, right?

Cure: There is no guaranteed cure once they are exposed to the fumes long enough.



Woah! A sunstroke sounds pretty violent, doesn’t it? Even though it sounds to be direct in meaning, it is not the sun that gets the stroke. It is you who get a stroke from our sun. Oh, wait, not you! Your guinea pig! I must say though, I care about you too. I don’t just care about your pets. I need to make sure you are okay in order to make sure your pets are too. So, never take them to direct sunlight when the sun is scorching. Light rays are essential for the well-being of any organism. So do take them outdoors when the intensity of light is low.

Prevention: You know what I would write under prevention. For those of you who skipped the entire article, you may not, so here, let me help you. The way to prevent a sunstroke is to prevent the sun from getting a chance to get you a stroke! Read our post about whether you can keep your guinea pigs outside here.

Cure: You probably already know what I will write under cure. Again, in case you don’t know, let me help you. The way to cure your guinea pig from a sunstroke should be decided on analysis by a veterinarian!


My name is Anna and I work full time in my local pet shop where we sell many animals that I write about on this site. I love all animals and love writing about them.