Scurvy is a disease you may have heard of before. Usually associated with sailors hundreds of years ago who died on ships at sea when they had no access to fresh fruit or vegetables. So you may be surprised to learn guinea pigs can suffer from this syndrome as well – and yes, it is the same thing!

So what is Scurvy?

Scurvy is a painful and dangerous disease that occurs when the body does not receive enough Vitamin C. It is vital for cell function, and vitamin C has many important roles including holding cells together, boosting the immune system and protecting cells from damage.

When the body doesn’t get enough vitamin C for a prolonged period of time Scurvy can develop.

Why are guinea pigs prone to scurvy?

Unlike most animals, guinea pigs are unable to synthesise their own vitamin C, and rely on
ingesting vitamin C in their diet. If guinea pigs are not provided with a diet high enough in vitamin C then they are at risk of developing Scurvy.

What signs would I see if my guinea pig had scurvy?

The following is a list of signs you may see if your guinea pig has scurvy. It is not an exhaustive list and a lot of the signs may also indicate other illnesses, and not all cases look exactly the same. It is important if your guinea pig is unwell or showing any of the following signs you contact your veterinary surgeon immediately.

  • tiredness/lethargy – unwilling to move around as much as normal and disinterest in surroundings
  • frequent vocalisations due to pain 
  • weight loss and poor condition 
  • problems with their teeth and grinding of the teeth
  • bruising to the body and small red dots on the gums and other areas of skin known as petechiae 
  • pain when moving around due to pain in their joints 
  • swollen joints 
  • diarrhoea and loose faeces 
  • rough coat and changes to their fur 
  • general signs of being unwell 

How is scurvy diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will take a full history from you asking details about your guinea pigs diet and behaviour. They will then perform a number of tests. This may include a blood test, to check for vitamin C levels in the blood and a full health check of your guinea pig. 

How is scurvy treated?

Treatment of Scurvy involves your veterinarian prescribing a vitamin C supplement. As you’d expect, this is increase the vitamin C levels in your guinea pig. The diet fed to your guinea pig will also need to be adjusted to prevent them developing the disease again.

Pain relief medication will often be given to make your guinea pig more comfortable. Some cases of Scurvy are very serious and can result in other damage to the body which needs additional treatment and procedures, and in some cases if not treated soon enough Scurvy can be fatal. 

It is vitally important you take your guinea pig to the vet as soon as you notice they are unwell to ensure the disease does not progress and they get appropriate treatment quickly.

Can scurvy be prevented?

The best way to prevent Scurvy is to ensure you feed your guinea pigs a balanced diet high in vitamin C. Commercial guinea pig pellets contain vitamin C but should only be fed in small amounts. So the rest of your guinea pigs vitamin C needs to come from fresh fruit and vegetables.

Good examples of fruit and vegetables high in vitamin C and suitable for guinea pigs include: 

  • tomatoes (not the leaves)
  • bell peppers
  • broccoli
  • spinach
  • asparagus
  • kale 

Vitamin C supplements are available in most pet shops which can be added to the drinking water, but it is important you consult your vet before using these supplements to ensure you are providing the right amount of vitamin C and your guinea pigs are getting a balanced diet.

In summary

Scurvy is a serious disease which can be fatal in guinea pigs. It is important guinea pigs receive a high quality balanced diet high in vitamin C to prevent Scurvy. Should you have any concerns about your guinea pigs health it is important you contact your veterinary surgeon ASAP so they can be treated as quickly as possible. 

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