There are many illnesses that can affect guinea pigs, including cancer. Here are three things you need to know about the most common of these cancers, lymphosarcoma.

What is lymphosarcoma?

Lymphosarcoma is also known as cavian leukemia. It is a cancer that affects the blood cells, specifically the lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are white blood cells and are responsible for fighting infection. The lymphocytes become malignant and spread throughout the solid organs of the body, like the lymph nodes and bone marrow.

What are the symptoms of this cancer?

Guinea pigs are very good at hiding their illnesses, so you'll need to pay close attention to notice the signs. You may notice that your pig isn't interested in their pellets, hay, or vegetables, and they may start to lose weight. Your pig may also start acting differently. For example, a previously happy and excitable pig may become quiet and withdrawn due to illness.

If you notice changes in your pig's behavior, take a closer look at them. Pigs with lymphosarcoma may have scruffy hair, and if you pet them, you may feel bumps or masses on their chests. You may also feel swollen areas on their abdomen as lymphosarcoma can make the liver or spleen enlarged. These symptoms are quite serious, so don't delay in taking your pig to the nearest animal hospital.

How do vets treat lymphosarcoma?

If the cancer is found early enough, your vet may be able to treat your pig with radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is a common treatment for human cancer patients, but it's still an experimental treatment for guinea pigs. If your vet thinks that your pig is a good candidate for radiation therapy, radiation will be used to kill the cancer cells, which will then be reabsorbed into your pig's body.

It's also possible for guinea pigs to undergo chemotherapy. If your vet proceeds with this treatment, injections of drugs that slow cancer growth will be given to your pig. If these drugs work, the cancer may go into remission.

Even with treatment, the outlook for this condition is poor, so your vet may not recommend radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Your vet may suggest palliative care to ease your pig's symptoms, such as painkillers or intravenous fluids. Most of the time, guinea pigs who are diagnosed with lymphosarcoma will only survive for a few weeks before succumbing to their illness or needing to be euthanized.

If you think your pig has lymphosarcoma, see a vet right away.