An abscess is a pocket of pus which is formed from dead tissue cells after an injury which becomes infected by germs.
Most of the abscesses that guinea pigs are prone to occur in the neck and jaw area and providing that they are monitored, and at the appropriate time, lanced and drained, they are seldom, if ever, life threatening.
Wounds from bites can cause abscesses but the majority that are seen in guinea pigs are caused from tissue tearing beneath the surface of the skin and becoming infected.
The stage at which an abscess becomes detectable is dependent upon just where it is situated. Those in the neck, well down under the jaw are seldom noticed until they are fully ripe, for they tend to hang down and get lost in the folds of the flesh of the neck. In that position they seldom cause the animal pain, for they are not pushing up against muscle or bone and seldom interfere with the mastication of food.
Most of those that occur just beneath the lower jaw line, right up to just below the ear, usually take a little longer to detect. The first symptom, uneven tooth growth, which obviously shows in the way the animal eats, can appear a long time before there is any detectable inflammation or abscess-like swelling. These abscesses can take anything up to a couple of weeks before they ripen, and then most of them suddenly fill out within thirty six to forty eight hours.
To carry out a proper examination you will need to wrap the guinea pigup in a towel like a babe in swaddling clothes with just it’s head poking out above the edge of the towel. Then lay it on a flat surface, on it’s back. Forget any nonsense you may have heard about guinea pigs having an ‘attack of the vapours’ like some kind of Victorian Miss every time it is laid on it’s back. It can happen but very rarely.
I prefer to work standing with the guinea pig at about table height. However, there is no hard and fast rule when it comes to where these examinations are carried out. Some people find it easier to sit down and have the guinea pig on their laps. So long as the animal is secure either method will suit.
If you have a very observant owner, and most caring owners are, the animal will probably have been brought to you because it has begun to lose weight, or it has been noticed that it has not been chewing it’s food with as much vigour as it used to. One owner told me that it looked as though her guinea pig was trying to chew glass, which is about the best description of this symptom.
First check the incisor teeth. You will probably find that they impinge at an angle when looked at face on. The abscess is invariably sited on the high side of the angle. See illustration.
Check the premolars and molars, see Dental problems, you will usually find that the pattern of wear is reflected in these teeth. What has happened is that the animal has been favouring one side to chew it’s food because the other is painful.
Don’t be surprised if after palpating in the area where you suspect the abscess to be,there is nothing to feel, for most of these things are on the brew a long time before there is anything noticeable. I have come to the conclusion that the pain is more intense before the abscess has developed, this is why you get the wearing down of the teeth one sided.
Other than trimming the teeth back down to aid mastication, it then becomes a waiting game. The use of antibiotics to treat these kind of abscesses seldom succeed and in my opinion are unnecessary. It simply becomes a waiting game until the abscess ripens and then has to be lanced and drained for about three days. This is not a job for those without experience but it also no where near as risky as most veterinary surgeons will tell you it is.
I, and many people whom I have taught how to lance abscesses of their own animals have had a near enough ninety nine percent success record and we never use antibiotics. I use hydrogen peroxide to thoroughly clean the incision after the puss has been expressed and then spray with the anti microbial solution, colloidal silver.