Pregnancy Toxemia in Guinea Pigs

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Ketosis in Guinea Pigs

Ketone bodies are water soluble compounds, the product of the breakdown of fatty acids in the body – a normal metabolic process. Under certain conditions the level of ketone bodies produced may exceed the body's capacity to excrete them efficiently, resulting in excess ketone bodies in the blood, clinically referred to as ketosis or pregnancy toxemia. Ketosis usually occurs in the last 2-3 weeks of pregnancy, or in the first week after a guinea pig has given birth.

Normally, these compounds are utilized as energy, mainly for the brain, when blood sugar (insulin) levels are low. The blood sugar may be low because food is not available to maintain blood sugar levels, because the animal is being fed a diet that is lower in sugar levels than it is accustomed to, or because of intentional fasting.

Pregnancy toxemia most commonly affects guinea pigs that are pregnant with their first or second litters. Although it occurs most often in pregnant female guinea pigs, ketosis can also develop in obese guinea pigs, male or female.

Symptoms and Types

The affected guinea pig may die suddenly of ketosis without ever demonstrating signs of illness. In addition, pregnant guinea pigs ketosis may lead to death of the fetuses while still in the uterus. In other cases, a sick guinea pig may display signs such as:

  • Loss of energy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lack of desire to drink
  • Muscle spasms
  • Lack of coordination or clumsiness
  • Coma; death within five days of coma


Ketosis, also known as pregnancy toxemia, often occurs when a guinea pig's body produces too many ketones, an otherwise normal byproduct of metabolism. Underlying factors include:

  • Loss of appetite during the late stages of pregnancy (leading to low blood sugar levels)
  • Lack of exercise near the end of pregnancy (ketone bodies are not used as energy and build-up in the blood)
  • Obesity
  • Large litter size
  • Environmental stress
  • Underdeveloped blood vessels in the uterus (an inherited condition)


Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your guinea pig, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible conditions that might have led to this disorder. Pregnancy toxemia will need to be differentially diagnosed from calcium deficiency, another common disorder found during pregnancy. Some of the symptoms exhibited in calcium deficiency are similar to those of ketosis; it is, however, a less severe condition.

A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a complete blood count and a urinalysis. Your veterinarian will be able to determine a diagnosis of ketosis by the results of the blood tests, which will show the number of ketone bodies that are present in the blood. Postmortem findings, like the presence of a fatty liver, and bleeding or cell death in the uterus or placenta will also help your veterinarian to arrive at a diagnosis of ketosis.

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