Bordatella in Guinea Pigs
Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common bacterial respiratory infection in guinea pigs or cavies. Symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, loss of appetite, depression, weight loss and in severe cases death. Bordatella bronchiseptica is commonly found in the respiratory tract of rabbits and yet rarely causes respiratory infection. Because of this, rabbits are able to infect guinea pigs with Bordatella even though they are not infected themselves.
In guinea pigs treatment must be started early which is why it is important to consult your vet at the first signs of illness.
In August 2021 I received an important email from guinea pig keeper Marti Masters in Finland, with some important information about her experience with Bordetella Brochiseptica, a severe form of pneumonia in guinea pigs, that led me to revise the outdated information on my site.
Email from guinea pig keeper Marti Masters in Finland
There are 2 antibiotics to treat this disease and those are Enrofloxacin (Baytril) and Doxycycline. The course of treatment is to start with Baytril for 7 days, then add Doxycycline. With Baytril alone, side effects – such as inner ear infection (head tilt) or eye infection – commonly occur. After 3 weeks, the Baytril is stopped and the Doxycycline continues for another 10 days.
If you give Baytril alone for 14 – 21 days, the infection may appear to be resolved. However, it is common for a relapse to occur after 3 – 10 days. The relapse is typically worse than the original infection because Bordetella is not an upper respiratory infection, it is a true pneumonia that is a lower lung infection. Relapse is treated with doxycycline.
It should be noted that when treating with Baytril, the dose should be the maximum plus 25% and the dose for doxycycline is also the maximum. Here are the doses:
Doxycycline: ORAL Dosage 5mg/kg q12h
Enrofloxacin (Baytril): ORAL Dosage 2.5 to 10.0 mg/kg q12h
NOTE: LACTATING FEMALES AND BABY GUINEA PIGS UNDER 5 MONTHS OLD SHOULD RECEIVE DOXYCYCLINE ONLY (Baytril causes bone problems in young guinea pigs).
q12h means the dose is given twice a day, preferably every 12 hours. The first dose of Baytril can be administered as an injection, but afterwards, it should be given orally because the injection causes tissue damage. Doxycycline is always administered orally.
Along with these antibiotics, a guinea pig with Bordetella requires Metacam (Meloxicam), a probiotic, hand-feeding, vitamin C and vitamin B in the drinking water, lots of fresh vegetables and particularly a salad mix of leaf lettuce with radicchio and Chinese cabbage (napa, not bok choi). In addition, individual servings of chopped tomato, cucumber, bell pepper should be offered frequently, so the guinea pig has at least 3 servings of fresh food every day. In addition, it is wise to offer fresh food after hand-feeding.
Supportive medications that help a guinea pig include Benadryl (to help breathing), Lasix (to decrease fluid in the lungs), primperan to stimulate the gut, and simethicone drops to treat bloat. Rarely, Doxycycline causes irritation to the oesophagus: The treatment is a veterinary solution to treat heartburn and I use Antepsin made by Orion (I live in Finland), but your vet will know the equivalent. 1 ml several times a day – at least 30 minutes before feeding – is the treatment. Prognosis is poor for a guinea pig in this condition.
Tests for Bordetella include a nasal swap and a penile sheath swab. However, it is imperative that at the first signs of illness the guinea pig receives antibiotics because even a 12 hour delay in treating symptoms of Bordetella can be fatal.
In addition, the cage must be kept immaculate, and a critically ill guinea pig provided a fresh blanket to lay on (folded or placed on top of a soft guinea pig bed) and the blanket should be changed twice a day. I have also found it useful to get a rectangular box with low sides from the supermarket and fill it with wood shavings about in inch from the top. A sick guinea pig will often lay in the box and use it as a bathroom, which helps to keep the blanket in the sleeping area dry. It is also useful to get cotton make-up pads and wipe the guinea pig’s chin after hand-feeding and serving fresh food. Wipe the nose as well and around the eyes. Make-up pads are round thin cotton pads and the guinea pigs like this better than tissue paper.
A Vick’s nightlight can be purchased, suspended inside the cage, and the eucalyptus tabs 8 hours. Refills are available for purchase. For guinea pigs with severe congestion, the night lite is beneficial. For critical cases, the guinea pig should be taken to a veterinarian, put in an oxygen box, and carefully hand-fed every 2 hours. Lasix should be administered. I have sucked the mucus from baby guinea pig noses, which can be a short session or an hour, depending on the condition of the baby. Sometimes, this will clear up a baby. Some, it only provides temporary relief. But it’s worth a try.
Bordetella causes severe lung damage, and it will damage the other organs if not treated with heavy doses of antibiotics for 21 days. There have been cases where a guinea pig requires prolonged treatment, and this is particularly true after relapse. After the Baytril is phased out, a guinea pig being treated for relapse can take more than a month to cure. Severe weight loss is not necessarily indicative that the guinea pig will die. Keep hand feeding and once the congestion begins to clear, the guinea pig will gain weight. I have a 5-year old Texel, who was a big healthy boy until he contracted Bordetella. He went from 1330 grams to 700 grams over the course of two months. I continued to handfeed after he was cured to encourage weight gain.
It is imperative to recognize the congested guinea pig that cannot swallow. To hand-feed a guinea pig in this condition will result in death. A guinea pig that simply cannot eat and has severe congestion, where Lasix and Benadryl have been administered, may be in the advanced stages of the disease. The guinea pig should be humanely euthanized.
Unusual presentations of the onset of Bordetella include lethargy and the guinea pig will not move. They are limp. Treatment is the immediate administration of 9% salt-based sterile fluids or Ringer’s solution under the skin. The dosage for adults is 30 – 40 ml, with 20 ml per injection site. The dosage is decreased in younger guinea pigs, with babies receiving 5 ml. If you live more than 15 minutes from your veterinarian, then you had better learn how to do this at home. In the event that you don’t have fluids, you need to make a mixture of salt and sugar.
The formula is 1 cup (250 ml) water, add 1/8 tsp table salt and dissolve the salt. Taste the mixture. It should be slightly salty. If you don’t taste any salt, add a pinch more and dissolve. Then add 1/2 tsp sugar and dissolve. SLOWLY give the guinea pig 1/2 ml using a 1 ml syringe and continue this until the guinea pig has consumed at least 5 ml. For babies, 1/2 ml may be enough.
I had a guinea pig in this condition, and it was 2 hours before the pharmacy opened. I had run out of sterile solution, so I gave him the mixture orally and continued to give him supplemental doses every 5 minutes until I could get the sterile solution. He survived.
One guinea pig who received fluids – and all the other treatments described above – laid on her bed for 5 days and the only time she moved was when I hand-fed her. She survived and then relapsed 45 days later. Fluids under the skin saved her life. After a second round of antibiotics (I used Doxycycline and no Baytril in the second round), she made a full recovery.
I have 3 adult females who have lingering side effects, including head tilt and one is blind in one eye. Chloramphenicol drops did not cure the eye infection, so I switched to Maxitrol, but it was too late. The Maxitrol, however cured the infection. Her eye grew smaller and she adapted. Occasionally, she requires meloxicam and another treatment of Maxitrol. In Finland, removing the eye of a guinea pig is a very expensive because few veterinarians can do it. However, in most countries it is not so expensive and there are veterinarians who have a proven track record for this type of surgery.
My girls drank water from a bowl and it was about a month before they were able to use a water bottle. Two years later, they can all walk and play, but they are a bit wobbly. They lived in a large cage for the first year, and eventually I was able to move them to a small free-roaming area. They are doing fine and are all fat & sassy. Over time, the effects of head tilt have diminished.
Bordetella hit my caviary hard. I lost 8 of 11 babies and it is because they were given Trimethylprin sulfa instead of Doxyclycline. I terminated the relationship with my veterinarian of 15 years after that. All the adults were given Baytril and when some of them relapsed, they were given Doxycycline. From that point on, sick guinea pigs were given both antibiotics. The entire caviary was treated for 21 days, guinea pigs who relapsed were treated again, and I disinfected everything – once at the onset of the disease and again at 7 days. EVERYTHING was disinfected – walls, floors, ceilings, cages, all the rooms in the house, cupboards inside and out. It was a tedious and time-consuming process and I ended up putting things I didn’t need into storage.
Bordetella can live on a surface for 48 hours and because it is airborne, the second cleaning was required after the guinea pigs had been on meds for a week. I lost a total of 14 adults out of 60, which is a very low mortality rate for this disease. Several months later, some of the adults passed away. I would usually find them dead in the morning. They were behaving normally the evening before. Then I waited 2 months before I felt safe. A famous breeder in Sweden, who is also a cavy judge, had this happen and he waited 4 months before breeding. This is to allow the guinea pigs time to rebuild their immune system.
Bordetella should not be confused with Pasturella or Mycoplasma pneumonia. Chloramphenicol is the treatment for the latter. It is NOT the treatment for Bordetella.
Antibiotic treatment for Bordetella is 21 days. Any shorter time can result in relapse. It is unusual for a relapse to occur after treatment with a 21-day regime as described above.
I have a complete literature survey of the scientific database for every paper concerning Bordetella in guinea pigs and one paper where it was transmitted to human. My doctor put me on Doxycycline because people can become carriers, although it is very rare.
This email demonstrates the importance of early veterinary intervention and contains information you may want to share with your vet for their independent appraisal.
According to Provet, “Use of pig B.bronchiseptica vaccine and the use of an autogenous vaccine have both been tried in guinea pigs – with success.” Unfortunately vaccinated animals also become carriers of the infection.
Supportive complementary measures such as feeding Annimune Powder and RT Syrup, adding Garlic Juice to the water, syringe feeding with NutriPowder in the case of anorexic animals and Herbal Tincture Blend I (Immune Support) for recovering animals may help.
Herbetom Pulm, made by Spanish company Bioserum, is available mail order and can be fed to guinea pigs with respiratory problems at the rate of 0.25ml – 0.5ml 3 times per day depending on severity.
As with all antibiotic treatment, you should feed a good probiotic/prebiotic to help maintain the beneficial gut flora.