As a pet owner, there is no worse feeling that when your pet is sick.
But, can guinea pigs make you sick? Well, the answer is YES, your guinea pig can make you sick, too. This process, known as a zoonosis, is extremely rare. Although it is extremely rare, it is possible for you to catch an illness from your guinea pig. By performing some very simple precautions and basic care maintenance for your cavvie, you can prevent the transfer of these illnesses to you and your family.
What Can I Catch from My Guinea Pig?
Most viruses and parasites affect specific species, so they are not likely to affect humans. However, there are a few viruses that can affect humans and guinea pigs equally, but they will have different outcomes, due to the difference in our genetic makeup.
You are more likely to contract a bacterium or a fungus from your guinea pig, but these cases are also rare. Bacteria and fungi aren’t genetically geared for a particular species, so they can jump from animal to human more easily than viruses and parasites.
Most found in eggs and meat, the Campylobacter bacterium is commonly found in rodents. It is usually asymptomatic, but animals who contract it may have diarrhea. Humans can contract campylobacteriosis through contact with the fecal matter of the infected animal.
If you catch campylobacteriosis from your animal, you may show symptoms like a stomach virus, such as abdominal cramping and diarrhea, about a week after the exposure. Although you should always seek medical attention, campylobacteriosis can cause more complications in the immunosuppressed, children, and the elderly.
Chlamydia caviae (C. caviae)
Most guinea pigs already carry Chlamydia cavaie, the virus that causes pink eye. Cavvie owners encounter the virus every day, just through normal interaction with their pet, but their immune system naturally fights it off. Only those with lower immune systems – such as children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised – should be on the lookout for the potential of this illness.
Guinea pigs aren’t the only pet that can give you the C. caviae virus; it has also been detected in horses, rabbits, and dogs.
If you have a low immune system, you can contract this bacterium, and it has the potential to develop into a severe case of pneumonia if not treated. The most important step you can take to prevent the transmission of this disease is to make sure that your pet receives proper medical attention.
If you notice that your pet has swelling and inflammation on the outer layer of the eye, combined with redness and a puss discharge, you should take them to the veterinarian immediately. Only antibiotics (usually in the form of eye drops, eye ointment, or an oral pill) can cure pink eye in guinea pigs.
If your cavvie has pink eye, practicing good hygiene after handling your pet can prevent you from catching C. caviae. After administering medicine, always wash your hands. Washing your hands before and after handling your guinea pig is always recommended, whether they are ill or not.
When cleaning out your cavvie’s cage, use latex gloves (or nitrile gloves in cases of latex allergies) and a scooper. If you do start feeling ill after handling your sick guinea pig, seek out medical attention right away. Inform your doctor that your guinea pig has been ill. Your physician can administer the right antibiotics to fight off the infection.
Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus (LCMV)
Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus (LCMV) is a virus spread through wild mice, but it can affect humans and guinea pigs. The disease spreads through contact with saliva, urine, and waste from infected mice. Usually, you won’t know if your guinea pig has contracted LCMV because it is mostly asymptomatic.
However, in some rare cases, cavvies will have substantial weight loss, light sensitivity, and mild seizures because of the condition.
Your guinea pig can contract LCMV if:
- an infected mouse has direct contact with your cavvie or cage, or
- if your guinea pig inhales airborne particles that contain the virus.
If you find mice droppings in your home or near your guinea pig cage, always clean with an antibacterial solution and bleach to prevent the spread of the virus. Using a reliable pest control company can take care of any mice infestations that can result in the transfer of LCMV to guinea pigs and humans.
If your cavvie has contracted LCMV, your veterinarian can provide supportive therapy until the virus passes.
LCMV in humans presents symptoms in about two weeks after the initial exposure. You may experience flu-like symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, headaches, fever, and a loss of appetite, for about a week.
The most severe complication in healthy adults is a brain infection. However, the symptoms of LCMV become more problematic in children and pregnant women.
Children have weaker immune systems, so they will have more trouble fighting off the infection. The most at-risk population for LCMV is pregnant women. If you are pregnant, and you contact LCMV, it spreads to your unborn child through the placenta. This can result in a miscarriage, or it can cause long-term neurological conditions, such as microencephaly and hydrocephalus.
Pregnant women should try to steer clear of handling rodents, just as a precaution.
Pasteurellosis (Pasteurella multocida)
Pasteurellosis, mostly associated with rodents and small mammals, is one of the rarest conditions you can contract from your pet. It passes to humans through bites from infected animals. If an infected animal bites you, you will notice skin irritation and infection surrounding the wound.
The injury will become extremely painful. If you think that you have contracted pasteurellosis, seek medical attention immediately. If the condition progresses without treatment, it can cause more complications to your nervous system.
Ringworm is probably the most common disease you can catch from an animal. A fungus that affects the skin, nails, and hair in both animals and humans, ringworm is transferred by touch. Guinea pigs who have ringworm will have crusty skin and hair loss in the shape of a circle. If you notice that your guinea pig has ringworm, limit touching your animal. Use gloves to avoid touching the affected area.
If you contract ringworm, it affects humans the same way it affects your pets. It can appear anywhere on your skin, and you will notice hair loss, dry and flaky skin, and a rash in the shape of a ring. In more severe cases, depending on the site of infection, you may lose patches of hair and have weakened fingernails.
If you notice these symptoms, visit your doctor. Your physician will administer an antifungal medication, usually in topical form, to cure the ringworm.
People contract salmonella through contaminated food or water, although we most commonly associate it with consuming undercooked poultry or eggs. The bacteria cause gastrointestinal conditions, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea, in humans, which can last for about a week. In some cases, the infection can dehydrate you to the point you need to go to the hospital.
Guinea pigs contract the salmonella virus most frequently from contaminated fruits and vegetables. Make sure to check any recalls before purchasing fresh snacks for your pet. Since humans and animals alike pass salmonella out of their system through their fecal matter, it is possible that, if your pet has the salmonella virus, you can contract it through exposure to their waste in their cages.
In most cases, guinea pigs will not show signs of salmonella. However, if your guinea pig has diarrhea, this may be a symptom. If the infection is severe in your pet, you may be able to contract it from handling their cage liners or even through their fur.
If your guinea pig has salmonella, always take your cavvie to your local exotic animal veterinarian for a diagnosis through blood and urine samples. The vet will advise the best course of treatment, which usually includes antibiotics and fluids. In the meantime, if you need to handle your guinea pig, always wash your hands with an antibacterial cleanser after replacing the bedding in their cages and after normal hand contact.
Try to avoid contact with your pet that can result in an accidental bite, since your cavvie can still transmit the virus during treatment, even if they stop showing symptoms. Keeping up with these hygienic practices can continue to protect you and your family from contracting the illness.
Strep infection (Streptococcus equi subspecies zooepidemicus)
Contracting the streptococcus equi subspecies zooepidemicus bacteria from your guinea pig is very uncommon, but it can progress to pneumonia if untreated. Most commonly associated with horses and cattle, streptococcus has also been traced to guinea pigs. Animals with this infection, known as Sez, show few symptoms, such as swollen lymph nodes in the neck and throat.
If your guinea pig is infected with Sez, you can contract the infection by accidental inhalation of feces, or fecal particles, from their cage. Use a face mask when cleaning their cage to avoid contracting the disease. If you are exposed, your normal immune system will fight it off before you have a chance of becoming sick.
In rare cases, humans who have low immune systems present with flu-like symptoms with muscle pain and exhaustion. It can be successfully treated with antibiotics.
How Can I Prevent Getting Sick?
Physicians and veterinarians suggest that common sense is a large factor in how people contract illnesses from animals. Practicing good pet (and human) hygiene can prevent our exposure to several types of bacteria, but understanding how these illnesses are contracted can help you prepare for handling your pet properly.
1. Check the Condition of Your Guinea Pig
While there are multitudes of guinea pigs in rescue shelters needing happy homes, most new owners purchase their guinea pigs from pet stores. Regardless of where you choose your new guinea pig, observe the condition of the guinea pig before you adopt them.
If an animal looks sick, then they probably are. When considering whether or not you want to adopt a specific guinea pig, make sure that they have clear eyes and a clean nose (free of pus and discharge).
An active guinea pig is also the perfect indicator of a healthy pet since most of the diseases they catch can make them lethargic. Also, observe the condition of the other guinea pigs in the cage or holding area. If they are looking sick, or they aren’t as active, then they may be sick.
Avoid selecting any pet from this place, since your future four-legged companion may be exposed to illnesses of which you may not be aware.
2. Special Attention for the Immunosuppressed
Most importantly, researchers claim that immunosuppressed humans – or humans with low immune systems, in general – are more likely to catch an illness from their animal. These people are more likely to become sick anyway, so where they catch the disease doesn’t matter.
Remember that catching your guinea pig’s illness is less common than catching the flu from your child or another family member, so this should not affect the close relationship you have with your pet.
3. Basic Hygiene
Children can contract illnesses from guinea pigs because they do not understand good hand-washing hygiene. If your new guinea pig is a pet for your child, always monitor their exposure to them and explain solid hand-washing techniques after handling the guinea pig.
Anyone handling a guinea pig should wash their hands with an antibacterial soap for at least thirty seconds under warm water after handling your guinea pig or cleaning their cage.
When emptying the cage, use latex or nitrile gloves to avoid direct contact with urine or fecal matter. Place soiled bedding in a tight trash bag and tie it off, taking it out of the house as possible can stop airborne particles from getting into the air.
Guinea pigs are highly social creatures, and they thrive on love. Guinea pigs welcome cuddles and attention, and you should not be afraid to catch their illness with a normal touch.
However, it is always best to err on the side of caution. If you think your guinea pig has been exposed to a virus, do not cuddle them close to your face. Keep them in your lap or chest area (below your armpits) when spending time with your guinea pig to prevent the spread of infection.
4. Pet Hygiene
It is always best to keep your guinea pig cage as clean as possible. Use an animal-safe sanitizer to wipe out your cage after your dispose of the bedding. Allow it to sit for a few minutes to properly desanitize the area. Even if it is a pet safe product, wipe the cage down with a wet towel to eliminate extra residue.
Once it dries, replace the bedding. If cleaning the cage, this often stresses your pet, offer an incentive for when the cage is clean. Have their favorite fruit or vegetable waiting in the cage for them when after you are finished cleaning. Since guinea pigs love to burrow, try to keep your cage in a well-ventilated space in your home to prevent airborne particles containing diseases from dispersing in the air.
If your guinea pig has cage mates, then all of them are more likely to get sick from an infected sibling. If your guinea pig is sick, then keep them caged separately until treatment subsides. Placing your guinea pig in a cage next to their cagemates will allow them to continue to keep each other company while preventing the spread of the illness.
5. Regular Check-Ups/Veterinarian Visits
Any guinea pig has the potential as a carrier for diseases, meaning that they may not be symptomatic. After your adoption, visit your local exotic animal veterinarian for a check-up, even if you adopted your pet from a shelter.
Guinea pigs that show lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, weight loss, or discharge from the nose, ears, or eyes are probably sick. Keeping up with your annual check-ups can also help prevent your guinea pig from spreading its illnesses to you.
As long as you are kind and sweet with your guinea pig, your pet will not have anything to fear from you. Guinea pigs bite when they feel threatened, so avoid any harsh activity that may result in a bite.
If you have just touched food, then wash your hands before picking up your guinea pig. They may think you have food in your hand and try to take it from you. Although guinea pigs rarely bite people, they have been known to do it on occasion, whether it is intentional or not.
If you have a bite from a sick guinea pig, they can pass their illness to you. Wash the injured area with antibacterial soap and water, and apply pressure to stop the bleeding. If you begin to feel lethargic or sick, then see your primary care physician. Inform them where you received the injury and they can give you a diagnosis and treatment.
There are diseases that you can attract from your guinea pig but to be honest with you it is not that bad as it sounds. There is a higher chance of contracting a disease from your child, partner or coworker.
Cases of guinea pigs infecting humans are really rare, and even if they happen, it can all be solved with some antibiotics. The one thing I would advise is that pregnant woman has no contact with rodents. This is just a precautionary matter so that nothing bad can happen even if the chances are below 1%.
There is nothing to be afraid of just pay close care to your pets hygiene, and everything will be alright.