Guinea Pig Dragging Back Legs: Causes and Solutions

When a normally active guinea pig suddenly starts dragging its back legs, it is a sure sign that something is wrong. Hind leg paralysis is surprisingly common in pet cavies, and causes can range from dietary deficiencies to serious injuries. Although there is no substitute for proper veterinary attention, understanding the possible causes can help to settle a worried piggy parent’s nerves.

Dragging the back legs can be a sign of Vitamin C deficiency in guinea pigs. Injuries to the spine, legs, or pelvis caused by falls or twisting can also result in hind limb paralysis. Older piggies may develop stiffness from arthritis. It could also be caused by the sporozoan parasite E-cuniculi.

Finding the cause of a cavy’s hind limb lameness involves detailed detective work. All possible contributing factors should be relayed to the pet’s veterinarian so that an accurate treatment plan can begin as soon as possible.

Why Is My Guinea Pig Dragging Its Back Legs?

Cavies are prey animals, so they often hide discomfort and pain until the condition becomes serious. Most owners are amazed to discover that their piggy, which seemed in good health just a few hours before, is suddenly dragging its back legs.

A piggy that cannot move its back legs is always a medical emergency. Many conditions deteriorate quickly, so acting fast to get the correct treatment puts your little pet in the best possible position to make a full recovery.

Limited mobility because of rear leg paralysis is not uncommon in pet guinea pigs. The causes are varied, and some are even preventable.

It is impossible to cover every possible cause of this worrying condition. It is, therefore, essential for animals to be examined by a veterinarian to receive an accurate diagnosis.

Six of the most common reasons why a piggy may be dragging its back legs are as follows:

1. Paralysis Can Result From Vitamin C Deficiency

A vitamin deficiency may not sound serious, but not getting enough daily Vitamin C can be fatal for guinea pigs. Like humans, cavies cannot produce Vitamin C, which is required for the body to produce enough collagen to maintain healthy skin, joints, and blood vessels.

In addition to walking with a limp or dragging their back legs, cavies that are lacking in this essential vitamin may also show the following symptoms:

  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Rough coat

Vitamin C deficiency should be taken seriously as the animal’s condition can deteriorate quickly. A 2003 study showed that the combined effects of Vitamin C and E deficiencies in guinea pigs were always fatal.

2. Limited Mobility May Be From A Spinal Injury

Even minor falls or over-enthusiastic spine twisting while playing can result in an injury. Our portly little furballs may be adorable, but none of them would be good candidates for an Olympic gymnastics event, and back injuries can occur very quickly.

If you suddenly find your normally active piggy dragging its rear limbs, waste no time in taking it to the nearest veterinarian that specializes in small animals. The sooner, the better to avoid further damage to the affected area.

If an injury is suspected, placing the animal in a padded, confined space like a carrier is a good idea. Keeping it still helps to restrict further movement that could aggravate the condition until it can be examined. Remember to include some munchies for the little patient!

An X-ray may be required, and the guinea pig will probably need an anti-inflammatory, painkiller, and rest to help it heal.

3. Guinea Pig Paralysis Can Be Caused By An Infection

A relatively common cause of hind leg paralysis in guinea pigs is a sporozoan parasite called Encephalitozoon cuniculi. Although it is more commonly associated with rabbits, it can also affect other small animal species.

The spores of this parasite are shed in urine, and infection occurs through ingesting contaminated food or water. Infected animals may show a host of symptoms, including:

  • Paralysis of one or both hind legs
  • Circling
  • Seizures
  • Significant head tilt

A guinea pig veterinarian will be able to perform tests to confirm E-cuniculi infection. Successful treatment of the condition requires accurate diagnosis, and the earlier treatment is started, the better the prognosis.

4. Dip In Calcium Can Cause Sudden Paralysis

Providing the ideal amount of calcium for guinea pigs can be tricky. Too much and they can develop bladder stones, but too little, especially for very young, nursing sows or senior piggies, can result in muscle spasms or sudden hind leg paralysis.

Increasing a guinea pig’s calcium intake should never be done ad hoc because too much can do just as much harm as too little. It is a complex condition to diagnose, so owners must always be guided by a veterinarian.

5. Arthritis Can Cause Changes In Mobility

Getting older is not an easy journey for any species, and age-related conditions like arthritis can also affect our precious guinea pigs. Arthritis pain can cause changes in mobility that may seem to come and go.

If you have a senior piggy who occasionally limps, drags its back legs, or hops like a bunny, take it for a check-up to confirm the diagnosis. Many arthritis-related symptoms can be managed. Even small changes like providing softer bedding or adding heat pads on cold days can help older cavies stay comfortable in their senior years.

6. A Stroke Can Cause Paralysis Down One Side Of The Body

An interruption of oxygen reaching the brain can result in a stroke. The most common causes are blood clots or tumors that interrupt normal circulation.

While having a stroke, the animal may convulse or be unresponsive, but you may not witness that part. Post-stroke behavior often includes paralysis of one side of the body, and the weakness of its movements may make you think both back legs are affected.

Can A Guinea Pig Recover From Paralysis?

Many conditions that cause back leg dragging can be successfully treated. Even injuries from falls may respond well to prescribed pain medications and extra TLC.

When a diet-related condition is suspected, increasing the amount of Vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables won’t hurt. While waiting for the next available appointment with the veterinarian, offer the cavy additional veggies like parsley, bell peppers, carrots, and kale.

Offering additional calcium supplements in response to sudden lameness is not recommended unless directed by a veterinarian. A sudden overload can cause dangerous calcium buildups and result in urinary tract stones, which are both painful and potentially lethal.

Like all health conditions, an ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure. Perform regular safety checks of your cavy’s environment to ensure that it remains stimulating but eliminates any high ledges that it could fall from. Cage hygiene also goes a long way in reducing potential parasitic infections.

Age-related mobility loss due to arthritis can be managed as it is often related to pain and stiffness. With the proper treatment, senior piggies can enjoy their lives without severe joint discomfort.

Conclusion

A successful outcome from hind leg paralysis is often closely linked to speedy diagnosis and treatment. There are multiple causes for finding a guinea dragging its back legs. Rather than waiting for symptoms to improve on their own, it is always worthwhile to get a professional medical diagnosis.