Can Guinea Pigs Catch Human Colds?

Rhinovirus vs. Cavia Porcellus

Catching a common cold is a real bummer for all of us. It takes time away from work and family, but it happens. And we in the U.S. are becoming an increasingly germ-conscious culture. So when we’re feeling under the weather, we know it’s best to withdraw from society, sit home, relax under the covers, and drink lots of fluids. Of course, there’s only so much binge-watching a person can do to pass the time. Wouldn’t a little cavy cuddling ease our suffering? But wait, can our need for affection result in infecting our piggies with the common cold? 

Can guinea pigs catch human colds? Generally, it’s believed that humans can pass bacterial infections, but not viral infections to our guinea pigs. However, there’s research that shows it’s possible to pass certain influenza strains (which are viral) to your guinea pig. But the overall likelihood isn’t very high. So, it’s important to know that cavies can contract a bacterial infection from humans, and there is evidence that shows some cavies have been infected with human viruses. Simply put, definitely keep your piggy away when infected with a bacteria, and use your best judgment when it comes to viral infections. Today, let’s arm ourselves with some knowledge about both to set our furry friends up for successful, happy lives.  

The annoying rhinovirus

The common cold is known as a rhinovirus, and it’s a viral infection that affects the upper respiratory tract. The average person will experience three of these annoying infections a year. Or what feels like one per month with my kids.

People are typically contagious with this viral infection for three days. We’re all familiar enough with the symptoms to announce, “Don’t come near me,” when we recognize them in a friend or loved one. 

Influenza is a much more serious viral infection, which has many evolving strains and can even be deadly. 

This being the case, it is a heavily studied by scientists, who unfortunately use cavies as test subjects. These tests have had limited success infecting guinea pigs with the virus, but keep in mind that this was accomplished through many attempts, under varying conditions using direct vaporization techniques. 

There’s plenty of conflicting information out there, and the best attitude to take toward the subject is, although it could happen, it’s not likely you’ll pass your cold on to your piggy. 

The bacterial infection they’re more likely to have

Guinea pigs are very susceptible to respiratory infections, and It’s very important to be on the lookout for the symptoms, because they may quickly become serious. Bacterial infections are the real danger to cavies (as opposed to a cold virus). These infections transmit from piggie to piggie. 

The Bordetella Bronchiseptica Infection is unique to guinea pigs. It is a respiratory infection, which reveals itself through nasal discharge, labored breathing, loss of appetite, lethargic behavior, and a very sleepy little piggy. 

Cavies transmit this infection to one another by two means; aerosol (coughing and sneezing), and sexually. This infection remains dormant in some guinea pigs, who then pass the infection on to their companions, causing an outbreak. If unnoticed, it can become very serious, causing death. 

So although many of these symptoms sound like a common cold, they’re actually a bacterial disease shared among piggy pals. 

What to do if you think your piggy’s sick

If your piggy is under the weather, remember that our furry friends are gentle little animals, and a simple respiratory infection may become serious quickly. 

They are very prone to pneumonia, which is life-threatening. Take their sniffles seriously, and get them to the veterinarian. 

Your vet will most likely prescribe an antibiotic to help fight the infection.

If you’re a new guinea pig owner, keep in mind that veterinarians specialize. They don’t all have experience with cavies, and may actually turn you away. Sadly, this actually happened to me one time during an emergency. So I recommend knowing exactly which vet you will take your guinea pig to, and if that office has twenty-four-hour service. 

Conclusion

Regardless of whether you or one of your piggies are ground zero of an infection, it’s important to be on the lookout, know which symptoms to look for, catch it early, and take action. The easiest symptoms to note in your piggy are loss of appetite, lethargy, a crusty nose, and abdominal instead of chest breathing. Remember, a healthy piggy is a happy piggy, and owning a well cared for cavy is a great experience for your whole family.

References

Mayo Clinic – Common cold

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Influenza Virus Infection in Guinea Pigs Raised as Livestock, Ecuador

GuineaPig Tube – Can Guinea Pigs Catch Human Colds Or Any Other Human Disease?

Pet MD – Respiratory Bacterial Disease in Guinea Pigs

Pets on Mom.com – Do Guinea Pigs Catch Viruses From People?

Arizona Exotic Animal Hospital – Respiratory Infections