If your guinea pig is scratching at their ears or is constantly shaking their head there might be a possibility they have an ear infection.
It’s tricky to detect an ear infection and you should take your pet to a licensed veterinarian for a true diagnosis. However, if you keep a close eye on what they are doing you might notice some signs of ear infection.
Ear infections alone are not common in guinea pigs. Many ear infections happen because of other illnesses your guinea pig may have, such as pneumonia.
Causes of Ear Infections in Guinea Pigs
An ear infection in your guinea pig can come from a wide variety of things but typically will be tied to some sort of infection.
The cause of an ear infection can be from:
- Bacterial Infections
- Fungal Infections
- Foreign Bodies
The most common reason your guinea pig will have an ear infection is from bacteria. There are many types of bacteria your guinea pig may be exposed to that can cause this infection.
To avoid bacterial infections causing ear problems you will want to properly wash and groom your guinea pig weekly.
If your guinea pig is itching at their ears you’ll want to take a closer look and spot any redness or dryness. In some severe cases you may find pus forming in or around the ear.
The bacteria that causes ear infections is: streptococcus pneumoniae, streptococcus zooepidemicus, staphylococcus aureus, and bordetella bronchiseptica.
Just like with bacteria, a fungal infection is also known to cause ear infections in guinea pigs. A fungal infection will occur due to high humidity in your guinea pig’s enclosure or cage.
The best way to avoid fungal infections is to keep your guinea pig in an appropriate environment and case. You’ll want to select the best spot in your house to balance all of their needs.
The fungus you may hear your veterinarian discuss in relation to the ear infection is Candida spp and Malassezia spp.
Neoplasia is the uncontrollable and abnormal growth of cells or tissue in your guinea pig’s body.
Neoplasia does not always mean cancer as most are benign and do not spread to other parts of the body. However, if you notice bumps or other growth in or around your guinea pig’s ears you will want to consult your veterinarian immediately.
This disease is very painful for guinea pigs and can cause more than just an ear infection. It can lead to other issues such as hearing loss or even death if untreated.
Trauma to the ears or around the ears can lead to inflammation and pain. If untreated this can lead to other issues, such as an ear infection. If your guinea pig falls and hits their ear or something happens to their ear you’ll want to thoroughly inspect it.
The term “foreign body” means anything that isn’t normally supposed to be there. In this case if your guinea pig has dirt or other debris stuck in the ear it can lead to infection or other issues.
As you work through your daily care routine you will want to make sure you’re checking your pets ears for any foreign bodies.
A mite is a small insect parasite that can cause serious skin problems with your guinea pig. The two most common ones are Trixacarus caviae and Chirodiscoides caviae.
Typically your guinea pig will get these mites from other infested guinea pigs or from contaminated bedding.
Mites in your guinea pig’s ear can cause serious trauma and lead to more serious infections. The affected area will get thick and sometimes crusty and look yellow. You may also see hair loss around the ears.
Even though it’s rare, food allergies or allergies from pollen, dust, and bedding material can cause ear infections in guinea pigs.
How do most Guinea Pigs get Ear Infections?
These are the most common predisposing factors leading to ear infections in your furry friend.
If you house male guinea pigs together they may fight for dominance, especially if a female guinea pig is near. The males can scratch and bite at each other’s ears causing them to bleed or lead to other infections.
A female guinea pig can also exhibit this behavior but usually only does while they are in heat. You should house males separately from each other to avoid unnecessary trauma they may bring on each other.
Upper respiratory infections
Most upper respiratory infections can travel to the ears via the eustachian tubes in guinea pigs causing ear infections.
Compromised immunity due to recurrent diseases, medications (steroids), and stress will favor bacterial growth resulting in ear infections.
Vitamin C deficiency
Guinea pigs can not make their own vitamin c. It’s best to give vitamin c to your guinea pig daily to ensure they won’t get sick and they can fight off most illnesses.
A vitamin C deficiency, also called scurvy, can compromise your guinea pig’s immune system making them very likely to get sick.
Poor living conditions
Unsanitary living conditions and high humidity contributes to bacterial and fungal growth and induces stress on guinea pigs predisposing them to infections and diseases, such as an ear infection.
Signs and Symptoms of an Ear Infection in Your Guinea Pig
The exact symptoms depend on the cause, duration and severity of the trauma or illness. No ear infection will start exactly the same.
You’ll want to observe your guinea pig and thoroughly check their ears during your care routine.
The most common signs of an ear infection:
- Head shaking
- Head tilting (torticollis)
- Ear scratching
- Ear rubbing with cage and other surfaces
- Discharge from ears
- Incoordination and wobbly gate
- Fever (may or may not be present)
- Deafness (In severe cases)
- Swelling near the ears
Can Guinea Pigs Die From Ear Infections?
It is highly unlikely that your guinea pig will die from just an ear infection. If left untreated the ear infection can move to other areas of the body, such as the nervous system.
There are three types of ear infections: external, middle ear and inner ear.
An external ear infection can go away with good washing and routine care. The middle and inner ear infection will need medical attention from your veterinarian to ensure they are getting the proper antibiotics to make them healthy.
Your guinea pig will only die from an ear infection if you leave it untreated. As soon as you’re seeing signs of an infection, talk to your vet immediately.
How to Diagnose an Ear Infection
An ear infection is diagnosed based on some of the common clinical signs shown during observation.
To confirm an ear infection, a vet might perform an otic examination. An otic examination is a basic ear examination where a vet will use a scope to look inside the ear canal.
If the vet is unable to diagnose an ear infection based on common signs and an otic exam they may attempt flushing the ear or other tests like a CT or MRI.
Treatment for Ear Infection
Treatment depends upon the severity of the case. Generally, symptomatic treatment is given to the patient which includes:
- Painkillers to relieve excruciating ear pain
- Antibiotics for 10 to 14 days for clearing out the infection
- Appetite stimulants to increase the metabolism if a guinea pig is not eating
- Ointments for external use on the infected ear
- In case of seizures, surgery might be performed
Home Remedies for a Guinea Pig Ear Infection
There are no home remedies for curing ear infections and you should avoid using them. A home remedy may increase the suffering of your pet and without proper care can lead to other issues, such as loss of hearing.
To prevent ear infections you should regularly clean the ears with a soft cloth. You should never use soap or water to soak their ears.
Keep their enclosure clean and tidy to prevent any bacterial or fungal growth. Most guinea pigs who are infected get it from others or from poor living conditions.
Article Sources & Research
- Meggitt, J. (2020, November 19). How Fast Does a Guinea Pig’s Heart Beat? Pets on Mom.Com. Retrieved July 23, 2022, from https://animals.mom.com/fast-guinea-pigs-heart-beat-9912.html
- Otitis externa/media/interna from Vetlexicon | Definitive Veterinary Intelligence. (n.d.). Vetlexicon. Retrieved July 23, 2022, from https://www.vetlexicon.com/treat/exotis/guinea-pigs/diseases/otitis-externa-media-interna
- PetMD Editorial. (2016, March 21). Ear Infections in Guinea Pigs. PetMD. Retrieved July 23, 2022, from https://www.petmd.com/exotic/conditions/ears/c_ex_gp_ear_infections
- Quesenberry, K. E., & Donnelly, T. M. (2022, July 7). Disorders and Diseases of Guinea Pigs. Merck Veterinary Manual. Retrieved July 23, 2022, from https://www.merckvetmanual.com/all-other-pets/guinea-pigs/disorders-and-diseases-of-guinea-pigs