How to Prevent Bladder Stones in Guinea Pigs
Note: I am not a vet, and the following is not a replacement for proper veterinary care and diagnosis. All suggestions are intended for prevention only. If you have a health concern with your guinea pig, please consult a veterinarian that is experienced with small animals.
Bladder stone prevention is a matter that is close to my heart. A few years ago, my six-year-old guinea pig was diagnosed with multiple bladder stones and a possible kidney stone. The prevention recommendations at the time were to “reduce calcium in the diet.” Although this can help in some cases, my boy’s diet was already fairly low in calcium. So I dug a bit deeper to see what else could have caused his stone development.
Can Increased Water Consumption Prevent Bladder Stones in Guinea Pigs?
Many people overlook the importance of water when it comes to bladder stones. Our bodies (and our guinea pigs’ bodies) are largely made up of water. It makes sense that a lack of water intake could lead to all kinds of problems in the body.
No matter what we consume, there’s always going to be some level of calcium and other stuff that needs to be routinely flushed out. If your guinea pig isn’t drinking enough water, these minerals end up sitting in the body for too long, giving them a better chance to bind together and form stones.
My guinea pig had severe bouts of arthritis leading up to his bladder stone diagnosis. Due to his arthritis, he was not moving around as much and, therefore, not drinking as much as he needed. Not long after this, the bleeding and stone diagnosis came along. The two were very closely linked.
Syringing water is the best way I’ve found to increase your guinea pig’s water consumption. The problem is that syringing water to guinea pigs that already have stones is risky. Stones can cause dangerous blockages that prevent the guinea pig from being able to pee. If you’re syringing lots of water and it gets trapped in the body, this is a serious and painful medical emergency.
As such, syringing water is best to flush out bladder sludge or to try to prevent stones from re-forming in a pig that has previously had surgery to remove stones. It can also be effective prevention if you’re noticing dried powdery white calcium urine deposits in your guinea pig’s cage.
Syringing water to your guinea pig doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it’s best if you teach your guinea pig to drink from the syringe willingly to reduce the risk of aspiration. I’ve trained all my guinea pigs to take water from a syringe, and it’s usually quite easy to teach. I made a video of my girl Daisy learning to drink from a syringe below.
Warning Sign of Bladder Stones
Usually, the only warning sign you’ll get for bladder stones is seeing dried, powdery urine stains around your guinea pig’s cage. Don’t ignore this sign! Once the stones fully develop, you’re dealing with bleeding, possible blockages, emergency vet appointments, expensive x-rays to diagnose, and surgery to remove. Prevention is by far the best cure.
To prevent these calcium deposits from becoming stones, avoid high calcium veggies in the diet and syringe water to your piggy. If you find it’s not working, try increasing the number of times you give water.
Spread the times out as evenly as you can throughout the day (i.e., morning and night). I have found that sometimes I’ll need to go up to as many as four times a day in some cases.
Most of the time, reducing calcium and syringing water a couple of times a day does the trick.
I use a little 1ml syringe for this purpose and usually give two full syringes (2ml) at a time. You don’t want to go overboard too much because this could overwhelm their system.
It’s a good idea to syringe water for at least a couple of weeks after the white urine marks go away to ensure that everything is totally flushed out.
Best Practices for Preventing Bladder Sludge
For future prevention, try your best to make water easily accessible for your guinea pigs. Provide multiple water bottles, and place them near the food bowl so they’re easy to use. If you have a senior pig with mobility issues, place a water bottle beside their favorite hidey house or offer water in a syringe.
It also helps to refill water bottles frequently, so the water always tastes nice and fresh to your guinea pigs.
Also, check your water bottles and press the ball tip on the end to see how much water comes out. Some bottles release surprisingly little water! My favorite bottles are the plastic living world brand, as they seem to allow more water flow than most other bottles.
You can also offer more watery veggies like lettuce or cucumber, but don’t go overboard as these foods can cause diarrhea when fed in large quantities.
Foods High in Potassium
Potassium helps regulate fluid in the body. It is said to reduce blood pressure, and it may even reduce the development of kidney stones. As such, it’s a good idea to make sure your guinea pig is eating some foods containing potassium.
High potassium foods include kale, spinach, swiss chard, banana, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, mango, and oranges. Watermelon, strawberries, radicchio, zucchini, and cucumber contain a moderate amount of potassium too.
Don’t go overboard and feed several of these. Too much potassium can cause an irregular heartbeat, abdominal pain, and weakness. All good things are in moderation!
Limit High Calcium Vegetables
High calcium can also be a contributing factor to stone growth. If you feed a lot of leafy greens like spinach, kale, swiss chard, carrot tops, or similar veggies, your guinea pig may have too much calcium in their diet.
Check out this list of 21 high-calcium foods for guinea pigs so you know what to reduce in the diet.
Many high calcium leafy greens and herbs contain many great vitamins, so it’s best not to permanently eliminate them from the diet unless your guinea pig is very stone-prone.
Moderation is key, however. Most guinea pigs benefit from small quantities of greens in their diet but avoid feeding them every day.
Make Sure Your Guinea Pig is Getting Adequate Vitamin C
Vitamin C isn’t a cure or prevention for bladder stones, but it is one of the most essential nutrients for guinea pigs. It’s also largely responsible for keeping the immune system strong.
If your guinea pig is prone to recurring health issues or if they have a current health condition, their Vitamin C needs may be higher than the average guinea pig. Sick piggies often require 3 times as much Vitamin C as a healthy guinea pig would need to maintain good health. Also, if your guinea pig is on a low-calcium diet, they may not be getting as much Vitamin C as they used to from those veggies.
Bell peppers are one of the best low calcium foods that are high in Vitamin C. If your guinea pig isn’t fond of sweet peppers, you may want to try Oxbow’s Vitamin C tabs.
These are little biscuit treats that you can feed your guinea pig daily. They contain 25mg of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) per tablet, which provides a decent boost of this nutrient.
Most guinea pigs go nuts for these tablets, but sometimes they need time to get used to them first. If your piggy won’t eat them as is, try soaking them in water until they are soft, then sprinkle them over their regular food.
Avoid Alfalfa in the Diet
Since guinea pigs eat diets consisting of 80% hay, it’s imperative that their hay is low in calcium. Most people avoid buying alfalfa hay knowingly, but it’s good to double-check if you buy bales of horse hay. Hay bales sometimes have alfalfa mixed in, so be sure to ask the farm where you buy it from if it contains any alfalfa.
The lowest calcium grass hay for guinea pigs is orchard hay, followed closely by timothy. Either of these types of hay is suitable to feed your guinea pig.
Best Vegetables and Fruits for Guinea Pigs Prone to Bladder Stones
The best vegetables for guinea pigs with calcium deposits or bladder stones/sludge are veggies low in calcium, high in water, and ideally high in Vitamin C. I have some of these listed below. You can also check out our list of 21 low-calcium foods for guinea pigs for more ideas.
All colors of sweet bell peppers are low in calcium and high in Vitamin C. They are incredibly healthy for guinea pigs and can be fed daily. Yellow bell peppers are the highest in Vitamin C, while green bell peppers are the lowest in sugar.
Orange and red peppers are a bit higher in sugar, so feed those a little more sparingly.
Cucumbers are low in calcium and high in water content. They can help keep your guinea pig hydrated and flush out their bladder.
It’s best to feed no more than a couple of slices a day, as too many watery vegetables can sometimes cause diarrhea and stomach cramps.
Romaine, green leaf, red leaf, and Boston butter lettuce are all good choices for guinea pigs. Romaine is marginally higher in calcium, so go with the green leaf if you want the lowest calcium alternative.
Lettuce, in general, is low in calcium and high in water content. Guinea pigs can eat a leaf or two a day just fine, but don’t let them go to town on a whole head of lettuce, or you may have issues with diarrhea.
Strawberries are full of nutrients. They contain some Vitamin C and potassium. They are also high in water and antioxidants.
Strawberries contain a reasonable amount of sugar, so it’s best to feed them in small amounts once or twice a week.
Watermelon contains potassium and high water content while being low in calcium.
Like strawberries, they have a decent amount of sugar and should be offered in small amounts weekly.
Apples are low in calcium and contain many nutrients. They are not a great source of Vitamin C, however.
As with most fruits, they should be offered in small amounts on a weekly basis. Remove the seeds first, as they contain a small amount of a poisonous compound that releases toxins when chewed.
Tomatoes contain Vitamin C and many other nutrients while being comparatively low in calcium. Tomatoes can be acidic and cause mouth sores if fed in large amounts.
A small cherry tomato or equivalent slice of a regular tomato three times a week is ideal. Never feed leaves, stems, or any greenery on a tomato, as these are all poisonous.
This mini red cabbage-looking vegetable is quite popular with some guinea pigs. Radicchio contains potassium, Vitamin K, and fiber.
It also has a high water level and low calcium to phosphorus ratio, which is ideal for stone-prone guinea pigs. It’s safe to feed this veggie a couple of times a week.
Can Cranberries Prevent Bladder Stones in Guinea Pigs?
Cranberries are safe to feed to guinea pigs in small quantities, and they contain some great nutrients. In addition, they have high levels of antioxidants proanthocyanidins (PACs), which discourage bacteria from sticking around and growing in your guinea pig’s bladder.
This means they may reduce the chances of infections occurring in the bladder. They do not impact stone growth specifically. However, guinea pigs with bladder stones often suffer from reoccurring infections, so cranberries can still be beneficial.
Blueberries for Bladder Problems
Did you know blueberries can be as effective as cranberries for bladder infections? Blueberries are closely related to cranberries, and they also contain PACs that discourage bacteria from sticking to the bladder walls. Similar to cranberries, they should be fed in small quantities and offered as a preventative measure.
Could Your Tap Water be Causing Bladder Stones?
If you still can’t seem to figure out why your guinea pig has calcium pee deposits or bladder stones, consider your water source. If you have hard tap water, it could be a contributing factor. Calcium levels in hard water can be up to 8 times higher than in soft water! It may be worthwhile to filter your water or buy bottled water for your guinea pigs and see if that helps.
Urinary Support Supplements for Bladder Stone Prevention
Supplements are not likely to fix your guinea pig’s bladder infections or cure stones. I’ve used them in the past because, hey, it can’t hurt, right?
But, in my experience, they don’t seem to make much of a difference. They may help marginally and can be good for prevention when combined with other methods.
As long as your expectations are not unrealistic, they can be beneficial. For example, urinary support tablets usually contain cranberries.
If your guinea pig hates cranberries and won’t eat them, the tablets can be a way to get some of that in their system while hiding the flavor.
Oxbow urinary support tabs are one option, and Sherwood also has a urinary supplement. I’ve tried both in the past and noticed similar results, so the choice is down to preference.
Reduce the Amount of Pellet Food
All pellets contain some level of calcium. Reducing pellets to less than 1/8 cup may help reduce the excess calcium and minerals in your guinea pig’s body.
If you do this, make sure your guinea pig is getting an adequate amount of Vitamin C through their veggies or an added Vitamin C supplement.
Also, ensure you’re feeding a high-quality timothy-based pellet, ideally with less than 0.6% calcium content. Avoid pellets containing high amounts of alfalfa. Some good brands are KMS Hayloft Timothy pellets, Small Pet Select, or Oxbow Cavy Cuisine.
Bladder stones are a scary and dangerous condition when they happen to your guinea pig. Whether you’ve been through this with your piggy or you’re proactively learning, I genuinely hope that you found these tips helpful. With adjustments to diet and water consumption, stones can often be prevented.
Syringing water helped to save my boy when he was spiraling downhill, and he went on to live for another two years! I was incredibly grateful to make it out to the other end with him, and I hope this info helps you do the same.