New research from the RVC highlights most common disorders in UK pet guinea pigs

New research from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has identified the most common conditions in pet guinea pigs in the UK are overgrown nails, ringworm and eye ulcers. Several of these common conditions are linked to sedentary lives in captivity and therefore offer opportunities to reduce their frequency. These findings will not only help veterinary teams to improve clinical care for guinea pigs but also provide owners with evidence-based health information so they can provide more natural living conditions for their pets.

The guinea pig is a hugely popular pet in the UK. They are generally considered docile, lively and easy to care for by prospective owners. However, these beliefs may reflect limited awareness of common disorders due to the lack of research into the health issues affecting the subset of the species kept as pets.

Therefore, the study, led by the RVC’s VetCompass programme, investigated anonymised veterinary clinical records of a random sample of 3,785 guinea pigs from the 51,622 guinea pigs under primary veterinary care in the UK in 2019. Researchers analysed the diagnosis and mortality information to learn more about the most common disorders diagnosed in these guinea pigs and also about how long guinea pigs live overall.

Overgrown nail(s) was the most commonly recorded disorder overall, with a one-year frequency of 26.55%, showing that over a quarter of guinea pigs were affected every year. Other commonly recorded disorders included ringworm (dermatophytosis) at 6.02%; eye ulcer (corneal ulceration) at 4.99%; diagnosis not completed (formal diagnosis not reached) at 4.39%; anorexia (not eating) at 4.04%; and abscess (painful; infected swelling) at 4.02%.

The study also identified substantial health differences between male and female guinea pigs. For example, male guinea pigs had shorter lifespans overall and were predisposed to bite injuries and dental disorders, whilst females were more susceptible to eye disorders.

Other key findings include:
  • The average adult bodyweight for guinea pigs overall was 1.05kg. The average bodyweight of males (1.10kg) was heavier than females (1.00kg).
  • The average age of guinea pigs in the study overall was 2.21 years. The average age of females (2.33 years) was older than males (2.14 years).
  • Female guinea pigs had a higher probability than males of corneal ulceration, ocular/conjunctival foreign body and abdominal mass.
  • Male guinea pigs had a higher probability than females of anorexia, bite injury, overgrown incisor(s), dental disease and wound(s).
  • The overall average age at death was 4.03 years. The average lifespan of females (4.58 years) was statistically higher than males (3.74 years).
  • The most common causes of death were anorexia, collapse and peri-anaesthetic death.
  • Only 2.95% of guinea pigs had a formal breed name recorded.

These results contribute to an improved understanding of the common disorders in pet guinea pigs in the UK. Many of the most common disorders such as overgrown nail(s)and corneal ulceration are related to animal care such as levels of exercise, diet and bedding conditions. Therefore, raising awareness of these risk can help owners to prevent and detect these conditions. Routine veterinary health checks are recommended for guinea pigs to allow early detection of disease and also provide an opportunity to advise owners regarding husbandry and diet.

Dr Dan O’Neill, Associate Professor of Companion Animal Epidemiology at RVC, and lead author of the study, said:

"This study highlights that many of the most common health issues of pet guinea pigs are related to how we keep them as pets in captivity. With this new awareness, owners can better understand the world from the guinea pigs’ perspective and provide exercise, bedding and nail care to ensure these wonderful creatures enjoy healthier lives."

Dr Vicki Baldrey, Lecturer in Exotic Species and Small Mammal Medicine and Surgery at RVC, and co-author of the study, said:

"This research will help us focus our undergraduate teaching and continuing education materials on the most commonly seen conditions in pet guinea pigs, to ensure vets are as well informed as possible, not only to diagnose and treat these much-loved pets, but to advise owners on optimal husbandry practices to prevent problems and enhance welfare."


Dan G. O’Neill, Jacques L. Taffinder, Dave C. Brodbelt, Vicki Baldrey, (2024) Demography, commonly diagnosed disorders and mortality of guinea pigs under primary veterinary care in the UK in 2019 - A VetCompass Study. PLOS ONE

The full paper is available and will go live upon publication:­sone/artic­le’i­d=10.1371/­journal.po­ne.0299464 (DOI:­journal.po­ne.0299464 )
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About the RVC

  • The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is the UK’s largest and longest established independent veterinary school and is a Member Institution of the University of London.
  • It is one of the few veterinary schools in the world that hold accreditations from the RCVS in the UK (with reciprocal recognition from the AVBC for Australasia, the VCI for Ireland and the SAVC for South Africa), the EAEVE in the EU, and the AVMA in the USA and Canada.
  • The RVC is ranked as the top veterinary school in the world in the QS World University Rankings by subject, 2023.
  • The RVC offers undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in veterinary medicine, veterinary nursing and biological sciences.
  • The RVC is a research-led institution, with 88% of its research rated as internationally excellent or world class in the Research Excellence Framework 2021.
  • The RVC provides animal owners and the veterinary profession with access to expert veterinary care and advice through its teaching hospitals and first opinion practices in London and Hertfordshire.

About the VetCompass? Programme

VetCompass? (The Veterinary Companion Animal Surveillance System) is an epidemiological research programme at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) which investigates anonymised clinical records from veterinary practices to generate evidence to support improved animal welfare. VetCompass shares information from more than 1,800 veterinary practices in the UK (over 30% of all’UK practices) covering over 28 million companion and equine animals. To date, VetCompass? has led to over 130 peer-reviewed publications that have supported welfare-focused work across the range of animal stakeholders including the wider general public, owners, breeders, academics, animal charities, universities and government.

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