There are many serious illnesses that affect guinea pigs, so owners always need to be alert for the signs of sickness in their pets. Here are four things you need to know about one of these serious illnesses, yersinia infection, or yersiniosis.

What are the symptoms of yersiniosis?

Yersiniosis can cause a wide variety of symptoms in guinea pigs. Some infected guinea pigs will look perfectly healthy, but they'll still be able to spread the bacteria to other pigs. Other pigs may get diarrhea and lose weight before eventually succumbing to the illness.

In other cases, the bacteria will spread to the guinea pig's blood stream and kill them suddenly, without them ever showing signs of illness. The other possible scenario is that your pig will have swollen lymph nodes around its neck area, but will otherwise seem fine. Since the symptoms vary so widely, vets need to do laboratory tests to diagnose yersiniosis.

Can it be treated?

The main treatment for a yersinia infection is antibiotics. These can be given either orally or intravenously. Your vet may also give your pig supportive treatments to ease their symptoms, such as intravenous fluids or painkillers. The outcome for this treatment is poor, but your pig will have the best chance of survival if you get it to a vet immediately.

Will your other guinea pigs get sick?

Yersiniosis is very contagious, so you need to take steps to protect your other pigs. Keep your recovering guinea pig in quarantine to avoid infecting the others. You also need to thoroughly clean the cage to keep your healthy pigs from getting sick. You'll need to disinfect anything that your sick pig came in contact with, like food bowls, water bowls, pigloos, and toys.

Can you get sick from your pig?

It's possible for the bacteria that causes yersinia infection, Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, to infect humans, so you need to be very careful when you're looking after your guinea pig. Make sure to wash your hands after looking after your sick pig. Immunocompromised people may want to wear gloves and a mask, or better yet, have a non-immunocompromised family member look after the sick pig.

If you do get sick from your pig, the symptoms usually mimic foodborne illnesses, but can be more serious. If you get sick, make sure to tell your doctor that you recently cared for a pig with yersiniosis.

If you think your guinea pig has yersinia infection, take it to an emergency animal clinic right away.