Exotic pets, rodents and birds

Abcesses in the Guinea pig

What is an abcess and how did my piggy get this?
by Kirstin Key, Companion Animal Care Services, Copyright 2001

An abcess is a pocket formed under the skin, usually after a trauma injury (bump) or a bite or other wound. The skin is opened and the flesh underneath is exposed to the air and to bacteria. The wound generally closes, and when it hasn't been properly disinfected, germs continue to multiply under the closed scab. The body's immune system sends out white blood cells to kill off the invading bacteria and both cells clot under this scab, creating pus. It continues to build until the pressure forces it out, at it's weakest point. When it bursts, it can either burst out, draining out of the body or it can burst inwards, draining into the body.

Almost all the abcesses found on guinea pigs are around the face and neck (can be caused by sharp bits of hay or scratches or bites), on the rump or shoulder (bites from other pigs or scratching from parasites) or occasionally on the feet (from either hay or caging scratches). As long as it drains well and is kept clean, it's rarely a serious problem.

Most of the time you'll find your piggy goes off of food if the abcess is around it's face or neck. The reason for this is that it becomes very difficult for the piggy to eat, drink or swallow with this pressure around its' mouth and throat. If the abcess is on the body, you'll usually detect it in your daily petting routine. Hopefully, you've noticed the wound prior to the abcess growth, but sometimes the abcesses form fairly quickly.

Place your piggy on a table or counter on a towel. Sometimes towels are necessary for restraining the pig, but I usually find them cumbersome. I keep the towel handy just in case I get a wiggly piggly and he needs to be held in one place. Gently probe the suspected area with your fingers, and compare each side, the left to the right. You should notice a definite swelling and hardening of the area in question. You can often times detect the point of entry (wound location) and tell where the injury occurred.

If you have any squeamishness about treating your piggy at home, it's best to enlist the care of your local exotics vet.

If you can find this point of entry, this is the easiest for treatment. The things you will need for treatment at home include the following:

Warm moistened washcloth
Gauze or paper towels
Sterile saline solution (grocery store, contact lens aisle)
Antibacterial or antimicrobial ointment or cream

Place the piggy so that you can work comfortably with little restraint. It's helpful oftentimes to have a helper hold the piggy. Take your scissors and trim the excess hair from the location, so that the hair doesn't grow into the wound creating more infection. Soak the scab with the wet washcloth, scrubbing lightly. The piggy won't be happy, but remember, she'll be happier once she can eat again!

Once you break the scab open, you'll see the pus draining out. It's often yellow or green, indicating a higher rate of infection than white pus. With luck, the area will also be bleeding lightly. The blood helps to flush the wound, keeping it cleansed.

Aim the piggy away from you and with your fingers or thumbs, begin to work the pus out by pressing against the abcess. You don't want to press the pus inwards, but rather use the built up pressure inside the wound to help expel the pus. Yes, this is pretty gross, and it makes a mess, but it also makes for a much happier healthier piggy!

Once you've gotten as much pus out as you can, wipe the area with the paper towels or the gauze to clean as much bacteria and pus off of it as you can. You then need to rinse out the wound with the sterile saline solution, being careful not to touch the tip of the bottle against the skin. Rinse it until it runs clear.

When you've cleansed it as much as you can, take the antibacterial or antimicrobial ointment or cream and pack as much into the wound as you can. Often you can gently lift the skin away from the body, which will allow you to open that pocket, getting the cream or ointment into the entire pocket. This will help it from getting reinfected.

You may have to re-lance it in a day if you didn't get enough pus out or enough cream or ointment in. These heal very quickly once cleansed, and should be unnoticable in about 3 days.

**I do NOT suggest using hydrogen peroxide on a wound such as this. The reason I shy away from it is because as soon as it touches the open flesh, it immediately forms a scab. If there is bacteria under this scab, the area immediately creates another abcess. While it is a wonderful antibacterial agent, I prefer the creams and ointments which work more slowly yet more efficiently in this capacity.

DISCLAIMER: I am not currently a vet, although I am studying currently to become one. I have successfully treated multiple guinea pig abcesses myself, and have helped others do the same. If you have doubts about your ability to do this at home, I implore you to consult with somebody more experienced than you. Lancing an abcess is very simple to do, but because of this nature, some people may not be able to finish the procedure once they see the pus and blood. For the sake of your guinea pig, please make sure you can go through with this procedure before beginning.

If you have questions, please email me.

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