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Can Guinea Pigs Throw Up? Vet Approved Facts & FAQ

Cassidy Sutton

By Cassidy Sutton

cute guinea pig eating hay

Vet approved

Dr. Karyn Kanowski Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Karyn Kanowski

BVSc MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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We all get sick from time to time, and we also expect the same of our furry friends, like cats and dogs. However, there seems to be a bit of mystery around the idea of guinea pigs throwing up. The fact is, guinea pigs can’t throw up, and it’s not just a guinea pig thing, either. Rodents everywhere have been tested, and the science shows it’s physically impossible for them to vomit.

This poses a very specific potential threat; if they can’t vomit, they can’t readily expel poisons or toxins. So we need to be particularly careful when it comes to what our cavy friends can put in their mouths.

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Why Can’t Guinea Pigs Throw Up?

Guinea pigs can’t throw up, and it all boils down to how their bodies function and how their brains receive nerve signals.

There are three major groups of rodents: mouse-related, squirrel-related, and Ctenohystrica. Guinea pigs fall into the latter.

Regardless of the group, a study in 2013 found that all rodents partaking in the study couldn’t throw up, even with vomit-inducing medicines1.

The study showed rodents have anatomical features that might explain their lack of vomiting ability:
  • A longer esophagus
  • A differently shaped stomach
  • Reduced belly muscle contraction that assists in purging food

Individually, none of the animal’s physical features truly explained why throwing up would be impossible, but it does strongly suggest why it’s at least difficult.

The other reason is how their brain receives and sends nerve signals. Although the research indicates that rodents are able to experience nausea, it would appear that they do not have the same pattern of nerve activity around the stomach, esophagus and central nervous system as most other mammal species. This means that the brain lacks the ability to send and receive messages that stimulate emesis (vomiting), and the digestive tract does not have the right nerves that would allow the body to actually vomit.

close up of red guinea pig eating
Image Credit: Dev_Maryna, Shutterstock

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What if My Guinea Pig Eats Something Toxic?

That’s the tricky part with rodents. Since they can’t vomit, guinea pigs can find themselves in a scary situation if they eat something poisonous. In fact, this is why rat poison is such an effective way to kill rats.

With dogs and cats, veterinarians can induce vomiting if they eat something they shouldn’t. This helps prevent the toxicity from spreading throughout the body (as long as it’s within a 2-hour time frame), however, not all substances can be purged by inducing emesis, like sharp bones and some chemicals. These can cause more harm if an animal was to throw it up.

In most cases, however,  veterinarians will administer activated charcoal to your pet to help absorb toxins, preventing it from spreading and causing further damage, and this method can be used in guinea pigs. This is given by mouth, and is an effective, albeit messy, way to reduce the effect of toxins.

Common poisoning cases that call for activated charcoal include:
  • Ingestion of human medications
  • Ingestion of rat poisons
  • Chocolate ingestion
  • Marijuana ingestion
  • Xylitol poisoning
  • Lily poisoning in cats

Veterinarians can also use activated charcoal on rodents.

However, activated charcoal doesn’t work with certain poisons, like:
  • Salt toxicity (paintballs, playdough, etc.)
  • Gasoline or petroleum toxicity
  • Chemicals that burn
  • Heavy metals

Activated charcoal must also be given to your guinea pig ideally within the first hour of eating something toxic, but sometimes, waiting up to 4 hours is acceptable, depending on the poison and size of the animal.

Time is always of the essence with poisonous substances, so if you suspect your guinea pig has eaten something it shouldn’t, call your vet right away.

veterinary doctor holding guinea pig on hands
Image Credit: Tatyana Vyc, Shutterstock

What if My Guinea Pig Chokes?

Although guinea pigs can’t vomit, they do have a cough- or gag-reflex. Even so, they can still choke on a food item. A more common scenario, given their diet, is for a long piece of grass or hay to get stuck in the esophagus, anchored in the mouth.

If your guinea pig ever chokes and you need to intervene, immediately examine your guinea pig’s mouth and check for any food or objects to dislodge using these methods:

  • Remove the item either with blunt-ended tweezers, fingers, a plastic syringe, or a baby nasal pump.
  • Fill a plastic syringe with water and gently dribble water into their mouth to help them swallow anything stuck.

If these methods don’t work, phone your vet immediately.

If your guinea pig stops breathing, use one finger to apply pressure on the tongue. This will create an airway for oxygen. Take care with this method; guinea pig teeth are sharp! You can also try mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, placing your mouth over their mouth and nose and blowing  tiny puffs, very gently.

Signs of Airway Blockage

  • Open-mouth breathing or retching
  • Head shaking or tilted back
  • Swollen eyes
  • Blue gums

Preventing Choking

Preventing choking can be tough since guinea pigs like to gnaw on something constantly, so it’s best to avoid certain foods and objects that can pose a threat.

Small veggies like carrot tops and celery can stick inside your guinea pig’s throat, as well as straw. Sometimes feeding your guinea pig smaller portions throughout the day is best since they become excited and chew too quickly. Offering larger chunks of food that your guinea pig must take bites from is actually safer than cutting it into smaller pieces that they can swallow whole.

Other household hazards include houseplants, human food, chemicals, medications, bags, and pets. Be mindful of these things around your guinea pig.

Lastly, always have fresh water available near the food bowl.

close up guinea pig drinking water
Image Credit: Vizanty, Shutterstock

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My Guinea Pig Is Gagging—Why?

Even though guinea pigs can’t vomit, they can still cough, sneeze, and gag. Sometimes, this is from food stuck in their throat, and other times, they have a runny nose or dental disease. Tooth problems are one of the most common reasons a guinea pig will require veterinary care.

Yearly nose-to-tail examinations by your veterinarians can help prevent illnesses rather than prevent them. If you suspect your pig is sick, schedule an appointment with your vet.

My Guinea Pig Is Drooling—Why?

Excessive drooling could be a sign of nausea, or gastric volvulus (twisted stomach), but most commonly, dental disease. In any of these situations, your guinea pig needs to be seen by a vet, but if they are drooling and have a bloated, firm stomach, they need to be seen urgently.

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FAQ

How easily do guinea pigs get sick?

When provided an appropriate diet and enclosure, guinea pigs have a high tolerance to illnesses. Common guinea pig illnesses include respiratory infections, urinary issues, eye trauma, dental disease, scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), tumors, and abscesses.

What are the signs of a guinea pig getting sick?

Signs of illness include inappetence, sudden weight loss or weight gain, drooling, dropping food, hunched posture, abnormal walking or limp, change in hair coat consistency, and difficulty breathing.

How do I keep my guinea pig from getting sick?

Provide a well-balanced diet and species-specific enclosure. Handle your guinea pig daily so you can check your pig for possible skin problems, injuries, weight loss or weight gain, and health concerns.

guinea pig eating pellets from a feeding bowl
Image Credit: Lost_in_the_Midwest, Shutterstock

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Conclusion

Guinea pigs, along with all rodents, are unable to vomit. This means we need to be extra careful that they never have access to foods or other items that could be toxic to them. Checking on your guinea pig and taking necessary precautions will prevent a scary situation. Now, you’ve been armed with knowledge in case the time comes for you to use it, and if you think your cavy may have eaten something they shouldn’t, be sure to call your vet right away.


Featured Image Credit: Thiago Janoni, Shutterstock

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