Guinea Pigs with Diabetes - General Information
Hazel and Ginger were diagnosed with diabetes in March 2000, at the age of 18 months. With a bit of work on the owner's part, and working with a vet who will work with you, diabetes is very treatable in guinea pigs.
I'm not a vet, nor do I have any medical training. The information provided below is intended to reflect my understanding and experiences only, to serve as a starting point for discussions with a vet.
What is diabetes?
From the American Diabetes Association website: "Diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce or properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life."
There are two types of diabetes:
Type 1 diabetes is a disease in which the body does not produce any insulin. It is usually diagnosed in juvenile guinea pigs (under 1 year of age). This type of diabetes always requires insulin to treat.
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder resulting from the body's inability to make enough, or properly use, insulin. It is usually diagnosed in adult guinea pigs (1 year of age or more).
In corresponding with dozens of owners of diabetic piggies, I've learned that many guinea pigs develop Type 2, non-insulin dependent diabetes. Another oddity about diabetes in piggies is that remissions are common. An informal survey I took suggested that, after a period of treatment, as many as 1/3 of diabetic piggies eventually regain the ability to regulate glucose without further support from medication.
Warning symptoms of diabetes in Guinea Pigs
The most common symptoms noticed by guinea pig owners are:
rapid formation of cataracts
chronic wet bottom
frequent urinary tract infections (UTI)
Other symptoms may include:
weight loss in spite of healthy appetite
Note that an individual guinea pig may only display one or two of the warning signs. If you notice any of these symptoms, have the piggie checked by a vet.
Piggies with Type 1, insulin dependent diabetes must be treated with insulin injections. Many owners are able to successfully give their guinea pig insulin shots, and the piggie lives a normal, healthy life as a result.
Guinea pigs with Type 2, non-insulin dependent diabetes may respond to oral medication. In Canada, the drug is called glyburide; in the US, it's called glipizide. These piggies can also be treated with insulin.
Diet restrictions for diabetic Guinea Pigs
Diet changes we made include the following:
no treats with added sugar, though we were allowed to continue providing a small quantity of fresh fruit or unsweetened juice occasionally
no high-fat foods such as seeds and corn
increased fibre in the form of unlimited quantities of hay -- we had to reduce the amount of green food we were offering the piggies to encourage them to eat more hay
Both my diabetic piggies went into remission after a period of treatment. See Hazel and Ginger's story for details of the testing and treatment plan we followed.