Guinea Pigs in Old Age

In old age, guinea pig ailments mirror those we humans suffer from. Circulatory problems, kidneys not as good as they were when young, creaking joints, failing eye sight etc. You name it they can suffer from it. The good news is that some of the pain and discomfort can be relieved in the same way as they are in human medicine. Diuretics and plenty of potassium for the circulation, in the shape of herbal diuretic herbs and foods. The use of nettle pills to clean out the system to aid the kidneys, and for the creaking joints there are a brand of pills on the market which work very well.

These are Potters Tabritis tablets. The dose is half tablet per day, crushed and mixed with about a 1.05 ml of water and syringed in to the mouth. Most guinea pigs guzzle them down and pull at the syringe for second helpings and I suspect it is because of the Burdock in them which you can smell and always reminds me of the drink, dandelion and burdock.

These tablets do not cure the disease which is just part of the ageing process, but they certainly relieve the pain and ease the stiffness. The two main symptoms of this condition are bunny hopping and the guinea pig lying on it’s side with it’s body arched more than usual and slightly twisted so that the feet are off the ground. After a week or so on Tabritis, the bunny hopping is less pronounced and the guinea pig is more relaxed when lying down in the majority of cases.

As already stated, Bumblefoot is more common in elderly guinea pigs but this I never treat. A, because the less the elderly digestive system has to cope with, in the shape of drugs, the better, and B, I have yet to see a case which causes much distress. It is just a case of monitoring these animals to watch that the scabbing on the foot stays firm and not open to other infections if the skin gets broken.

As far as the loss of sight in old age is concerned there is nothing that can be done. In cases where the eyelids become covered with gritty debris, flush out regularly with optrex eye wash.

I get very fond of my oldies and they get more of their fair share of lap time and cuddles. Even the most ‘untouchable’ piggies in their youth can mellow with age and I’m sure they appreciate this human contact. It certainly works wonders the other way around for as I am beginning to creak myself I think I can empathise more with them now!

Guinea Pig Oestrus Cycle

The sow comes into season every fifteen to seventeen days and the most outward sign of this is the sight of her trying to mount her companions. However, there is another one which experienced owners and breeders would recognise and that is P.M.T.!

There is no doubt in my mind that many of them suffer from this condition in the same way as their human sisters can. If you see a sow who is being uncharacteristically quarrelsome and feisty with her sister sows, ten to one she will be in season the following day and trying to mate anything that moves. I have also noticed that the ones who suffer the worst are those that are the most sexually active when they do come into season.

The season can last for up to forty-eight hours but the sows are only likely to be successfully impregnated during the actual oestrus which lasts from two to fifteen hours. This proper name for these hours are postpartum but I like to think of it as ‘postapiggy’!

Mouth Infections

Tooth problems can often be triggered by mouth infections and the reverse can be true.

If a guinea pig cannot chew it’s food properly because of infections in the mouth, which usually lead to painful ulcers, then the teeth can overgrow because they are not getting the normal hard wear and tear that they were designed for. Conversely, teeth that overgrow for other reasons can press on the tongue or develop sharp edges through uneven wear, opening up lesions in the mouth which can become infected.

More often than not these infections of the mouth are fungal rather than bacterial and the most effective treatment which beats anything that has been licensed for use upon animals is Daktarin oral gel. This is formulated to treat thrush conditions in human babies.

The use of the Bucal pad separator which I described in the dental section is invaluable when mouth infections are suspected. Many vets do not even know what they are and rely upon the otoscope which can only target small areas of the mouth, and some even anaesthetise the animals to get a proper look!.

By using the bucal pad separators the whole of the interior of the mouth can be viewed at a glance. The animal is not stressed or it’s very life threatened by such inappropriate use of anaesthesia!.

If you see red, raw patches on the tongue and in other parts of the mouth then they are likely to have got there by becoming infected by fungus or bacteria. If, on the other hand, you see lesions down the sides of the tongue, invariably you will instantly see that the teeth were the root cause of the problem. They will either be leaning inwards at too acute an angle, or they have sharp edge on them and both of these conditions can cause the lesions which are, of course open to infections.

As these infections are more often than not, fungal, the oral gel usually clears them up. If it doesn’t then the use of the antibiotic Tribissen for about a week is recommended.

Where necessary, of course, corrective dental work must also be carried out.

The dose for the oral gel is a dab in the mouth three times daily for a week, reduced to twice daily for another week. Sometimes it may be necessary to continue for one more week at the dose rate of once a day.

The Tribissen dosage is 0.5 for five to seven days.

I always put the guinea pig in an empty box for about five minutes after I have given these medicines. That way the medicine gets a better chance of seeping in rather than being swallowed as the animals eats or drinks.

Guinea Pig Kidney Problems

The kidneys are multi-functional organs, they’re kind of ‘all singing all dancing’ filters which deal with the body’s waste products and water, regulate the blood and electrolytes and keep the acid balance correct in the body.

As I stated in the heart section, the heart and kidney functions are so interrelated that it can sometimes be difficult to correctly diagnose just where the problem lies.

If there is a problem with the heart and it is not pushing the blood through the kidneys at the normal pressure this can seriously reduce their effectiveness. On the other hand, if there is a problem in the kidney which makes the heart work harder to pump the blood through, this is not good news for the heart.

The symptoms for both heart and kidney ailments can be very similar. The one big difference is that blood in the urine is seldom indicative of a heart problem but can often be of one in the kidneys. The blood is more likely to come from the bladder or the urinary tract which has become infected by bacteria. Sometimes this is the result of the kidneys failing to function as well as they should.

The use of diuretic drugs, particularly Frusemide, can be as helpful to deal with kidney problems as they are with heart problems. In many cases they only need to be used for a very short time and can cure the problem by the effect of flushing out the kidneys.

If it is determined that the guinea pig has a chronic problem, it can be controlled with very low doses of Frusmide but it is far better to find a herbal alternative which is less likely to deplete the body’s potassium. Cleavers, couch grass, dandelion and bearberry are the most commonly used. Upping the intake of diuretic foods such as celery and particularly parsley is another way to deal with the problem without using conventional drugs.

Kidney and ureteral stones are as common in guinea pigs as they are in human beings. The prognosis for sows with this problem is far better than it can be for boars. Blood in the urine can also be a symptom of these.

More often than not, when a sow has this problem the stone will travel down the urethral tube when it is very small and be flushed out. However, it can sometimes lodge near the opening where it will grow as more mineral crystals are flushed around it in the urine.

If the sow is seen to strain a little more than she was wont to do, lifting herself high on her back legs as she crouches and sometimes squeaking in pain, when she is passing urine, palpate just above the opening of the urethra. You can sometimes detect a very small stone, and even see part of it, chalky white in the opening. At this early stage, with the help of some K.Y. jelly as a lubricant, it can be gently expressed out.

Once these stones get to about the size of a small pea then surgery may be required. This is a relatively easy procedure, even if the stone has become much larger.

If upon first examination there is no stone, rub your finger around the urethral opening to try and find out if the urine is at all gritty. If it is then this as an early warning that trouble could be brewing and anti lithic drugs or herbs should be considered.

The reason stones are more of a problem for boars is because when they are very small they do not pass down the urethra as easily as those that form in a sow’s bladder. Consequently those that stay and grow in the bladder are much harder to remove surgically.

Sometimes, when the penis is extruded, the whole of the shaft is coated with what appears to be the kind of lime scale that is found on the inside of a kettle.

There are several drugs that can be used to break these stones down but they are not always successful. The success rate of veterinary surgeons who specialise in small animal surgery, in removing these stones is usually very good, but the big problem is how to stop these stones reoccurring.

The only sure way to prevent the stones reoccurring is to get the stone that was removed analysed to find out the main substance it is made of. If it appears that it got there via the diet, then a change in diet may help. However there is a theory that the calcium oxalate ones, and these are what most of those found in guinea pigs are formed of, could actually be caused by a lack of calcium in the diet!. The theory goes that calcium is needed in the filtering process of the kidneys and if there is not enough in the diet it will come from the bones.

What I am trying to say is that preventing reoccurrence of stones is not an easy matter for there are so many factors to be considered, and what will work on one animal will prove negative on another.

All in all I prefer to stick to the herbal methods. I choose them because most anti-lithic herbs are also diuretics and as keeping up a good flow of urine is also helpful in dealing with this problem which makes them a kind of double wammy!. Hydrangea, cornsilk, gravel root and parsley piert in varying combinations can prove effective. I do not have a set formula, because there simply isn’t one, such is the variation between individual cases. However, the two herbs I always use in equal amounts are cornsilk and hydrangea.

If the tinctures are used, one ml night and morning for the first couple of weeks is the dose which can then be reduced to a ml a day from then on.

Guinea Pig Itching

Guinea pigs can suffer very acutely from itchy skin. This is mainly caused by either fungal or parasitic skin infestation, Scabs caused whenever the skin is broken can also be troublesome.

If you can get in early before any lesions have been opened up by scratching, then Eurax ointment is excellent. This is formulated for use on humans but is perfectly safe to use on guinea pigs. More often than not the damage has already been done and the only course open is to use the ‘baby bootie’ technique or ‘full body stocking,’ in the shape of Tubigrip bandage.

I have never been successful with the back feet binding technique, which is done by using an initial layer toilet tissue and then binding over with Micropore tape and ends up by looking like a pair of baby’s booties. However, many people have great success with this method, managing to fit them sufficiently tightly to stop their patients kicking them off without interfering with the blood circulation in the foot. Everytime I have tried this method my patients have kicked them off within a couple of minute with Houdini-like expertise!

I always use Tubigrip support bandage which is available from most chemists. Use the large size, designed for the human knee. You simply cut off about six to eight inches, depending on the size of the guinea pig, cut a couple of holes for the front legs to go through, about an inch and a half along the bandage. Expand the bandage with your fingers, slip it over the head and down onto the body, manoeuvring the feet out through the holes.

Be warned, for the first five minutes the patient shakes itself alarmingly as it desperately tries to shake bandage off. However, I have never lost a guinea pig through any kind of cardiac arrest, brought on by the initial stress of using this method.

The bandage usually has to remain in place for about two weeks. When I remove it, I massage in Calendula oil, for the skin is usually very dry and flaky, which I shampoo off the following day.

These techniques are only effective of course, where the itching is around the shoulders and down most of the trunk of the patient, but as ninety nine point nine of the serious itching problems are in this region they usually do the trick.

Heaving Hiccups

I have put heaving hiccups in because though it is nothing more than an defence mechanism guinea pigs have to clear air blocks, or something which, to use the proverbial term, ‘Has gone down the wrong way,’ it is very alarming to see the first time around.

The guinea pig will heave up as though it is about to vomit, only it is far more violent and traumatic than the same kind of thing seen in humans. The whole body rocks forward, and I have even seen a couple fall over sideways with the sheer force of it.

The reason it is so much more of a forceful spasm than that seen in the human kind is because it cannot vomit!. In essence anything that goes down it throat can only come out through the back end, the animal’s digestive system is designed that way.

The guinea pig can have five or six of these spasms and they can get more violent as they progress, then suddenly there is a hiccup, a cough sometimes and that’s it, all over, and it will go back to what it was doing before the heaving started.

By this time, of course, the owner is as likely to be about the throw a wobbly her or himself. I certainly did the first time I saw it. I can only suggest a good stiff Scotch as an excellent restorative, for the owner, that is!

Guinea Pig Heat Stroke

The most likely guinea pigs to suffer from this are those housed in hutches at the bottom of the garden during a hot spell in summer that have no shade. Such hutches quickly turn into ovens with the temperatures soaring.

I have also seen a case and heard of others of people leaving their animals, as some do their dogs, in locked cars to cook in the summer time!.

‘But they come from South America, don’t they?’ I have often heard said, when I tell people that guinea pigs are very prone to heat-stroke. They do indeed and it does probably gets even hotter out there than it does here. However, they are not imprisoned out in the open in a little wooden box!. Like most wild animals their senses are attuned to the weather far more acutely than our own. By the time the sun reaches it’s zenith they will have found a cool spot to shelter from it.

The symptoms of heat-stroke are that the animals will be flat on it’s belly, unable to move, breathing is shallow and the pulse is rapid and very weak.

Treatment must be immediate for the animal is very close to death. Soak a towel in cold water and wrap the guinea pig in it, or get a bucket of cold water and continuously sponge the animal down. If there is one to hand, an electric fan should be played on it at top power.

If you are not too late already, recovery can be amazingly quick. The guinea pig will shakily try to get onto it’s feet and it should be assisted and supported under the belly once its up. At this juncture, the water treatment should cease for it could swing the other way and chill the animal.

As soon as it is able to, give it rehydration treatment, water if you have no rehydration fluid to hand. The best method of course is something like Ringers solution subcutaneously by hypodermic needle.

Those that pull through the ordeal usually make a full recovery with no bad after effects.

Guinea Pig Heart Problems

This is where we have a hush, and put on a solemn expression for like the word Cancer, we are all expected to think deeply of mortality when these are mentioned. Why the veterinary and medical professions get so up tight about hearts is quite beyond me. Perhaps I am being unjust and it is the media that has hyped them up so much.

The heart is a pump, that can have problems, and yes, if it stops you are in deep trouble for it could be every so slightly terminal!. However there is much that can be done to treat heart conditions, and guinea pigs are particularly amenable to many of the medicines and therapies that are successful on human beings.

The one thing to always bear in mind is the link between heart and kidneys. Much of the workload of the heart is pumping the blood through the kidneys so if there is something amiss in the kidneys it can increase the workload of the heart so the root cause could be a kidney problem rather than heart.

I always say a good healthy heart beat is one that has a ‘full stop’ at the end of it, ‘ThuD, thuD, thuD.’ If it sounds ‘Thu, thu, thu,’ then all is not well. However this doesn’t mean that the animal is about to keel over and die, nor will it if sometimes when it is sounded the beat is uneven, some animals and human beings have this uneven beat but it has no ill effect whatsoever.

Murmurs of the heart are more serious because they could be indicative of heart valve problems. As there is not much that can be done for guinea pigs with this problem the only advice I can give if you are aware of the problem, is to try and keep them in the least stressful environments, preferably paired with one other. The rough and tumble of pack living would not be such a good idea.

If you are aware of anything irregular in the heart a good supplement is Potassium which is very necessary for a normal heart rate is recommended. Metatone, the well known ‘pick you up’ for humans is rich in potassium and 0.4 two or three time a week would be a good idea.

Guinea pigs can suffer heart attacks and strokes, see Strokes, and I think more so than many other animals. This could be diet related, too much protein perhaps, but I think it is more likely to have something to do with their nervous systems which are geared to keep them on high alert to flee from danger rather than fight it.

If you find an guinea pig very weak on it’s legs, or flat out on it’s side giving great heaving breaths which come from deep down in the diaphram accompanied by a weak or slow heart beat it has probably had a heart attack. If it is a light coated animal which means it has pink lips and nostrils, they will be cyanosed. There is sometimes nystagmus of the eyes, this is a flicking movement of the eyeballs, though this is more symptomatic in stroke cases, think heart attack!. Get the animal to a vet as quick as possible for it is in need of perhaps a heart stimulant and, or 0.2 of the diuretic Frusimde injected subcutaneously. Oxygen is also very beneficial in these cases.

The stimulant is not very often needed but the diuretic certainly is. Who ever was responsible for discovering Frusimide I humbly genuflect to for I, and many other owners of guinea pigs have healthy happy animals who’s lives have been saved by the timely administration of this drug.

In more cases than not, one injection does the job and there are no further problems. It takes about half to three-quarters of an hour to take effect and the transformation is usually quite rapid. To see the animal’s laboured gradually subside back to normal, and watch it getting shakily back onto it’s feet is very rewarding.

I have had two animals that had up to three heart attacks, and luckily I was there when it happened and treated it as described. In Sammy’s case I was only just there, arriving home to find him hardly breathing at all and it seemed that I waited for ages to wait for the second heart beat after the first one I had heard. I thought I was just going through the motions when I injected him with frusemide for I was certain I was going to lose him, he was, after all five and a half years old and had had two other heart attacks, one at about three years and one about eighteen months later.

I left him where he was, lying on the bottom of his pen in the kitchen and made myself busy, not wanting to watch him breath his last, there was nothing else I could give him to give him relief.

About an hour later I heard a rustling noise from the kitchen. When I went in, there he was, staggering about the pen like a drunk, but up and about!. Within about eight hours he was back to normal. He went on to live to seven and a half years of age!

The point I am trying to make is never give up, it is always worth a try, and incidentally, frusemide is one of the cheapest of all drugs!

Sometimes the recovery from a heart attack takes a little longer and the laboured breathing does not go all the way back to normal. Frusemide can be given orally but not for long because it depletes the very mineral that is important to the heart, potassium. In these cases switch to a herbal diuretic, and feed diuretic foods such as parsley, celery and banana until things stabilise. Dandelions are also an excellent diuretic, and clever old mother nature has made them rich in, guess what, potassium!

Handling Cavies

One of the greatest joys of owning these animals is in handling them. There is something deeply satisfying in cradling those wonderfully warm, cob shaped bodies in your lap or in the palms of your hands. When they respond, as many of them do, with a deliciously low throated purr as you find the particular spot that they like having scratched or stroked, it is a moment of shared satisfaction. To have an animal acknowledge the pleasure that you are giving to it must be, for any animal lover, the very zenith of delight.

However, like all good things, there are certain limitations, or rules to follow if both piggy and person are to keep their relationship on a happy footing. First and foremost, no matter how you may adore a particular guinea pig, if it makes it clear after a few weeks that your feelings are not reciprocated, leave it alone. There is nothing as tiresome as a persistent but unwanted suitor. In time it may have a change of heart but if it doesn’t you will have to resign yourself to admiring it from a distance.

There are some guinea pigs, thankfully few, who simply do not like to be handled at all. Respect their wishes and leave them to their own devices.

Remember the golden rule in guinea pig keeping. ‘The right way, the wrong way and the guinea pig way?’ and it is the latter that must always be obeyed. With this in mind try and wait for the pig to come to you in it’s own good time. So many times I have taken in hutched guinea pigs who’s only experienced of human handling were either a hand occasionally throwing food in or hauling them out for a weekly change of bedding material. The most nervous of all have been those that were owned by small boisterous children who were not properly supervised. I hate to think what they went through!.

Whenever such animals arrive I make a point of putting them into a pen with as many other guinea pigs as possible. In the pack they feel more secure and gradually they will take their cue from their companions. It works along the lines, of ‘Oh they don’t seem to be afraid of that pig human thing, perhaps I needn’t be.’ Don’t ruin it’s increasing confidence by reaching in and picking it up too soon.

Ignore the advice of some large animal welfare organisations about not over handling guinea pig. With vast majority of guinea pig the more you handle them the better it is for both piggies and persons.

Guinea Pig Fractures

The only kind of fractures I would attempt to treat, and I have treated many of them with complete success, are Simple, and Green stick ones in the legs. In both, the skin is not broken.

I never use any kind of splint but bind the leg with paper tissue then put micropre tape around it. I leave it on for a couple of weeks, by which time the bone will have knitted.

Fractures where the bone could be shattered inside the leg or stick out through the skin have be treated by a veterinary surgeon. Unless you are experienced in palpating for the first two fractures and can treat them yourself, you must get a proper diagnosis made by a vet. It may be necessary to X ray the access the full extent of the damage.

If the vet puts on his or her solemn face and chants the familiar mantra, when presented with an injured small animal, ‘Oh it would be kinder to put it down,’ ask him or her if he would do the same in the case of a human being and seek a second opinion.

Though some of these more serious fractures can leave the guinea pig with a crooked leg, after treatment, it always a gets along very well, so it is well worth going to a vet who is willing to do the job.

However, there are cases when the only option is to remove the leg. This is an expensive operation but I have absolutely no quarrel with the veterinary profession about this. It is a difficult operation, high expertise is required, expensive equipment needed and postoperative care is costly. Indeed I have nothing but praise for the veterinary surgeons who take this work on for they are putting as much value upon the guinea pigs life as they would upon any other animal’s. It is a sad fact that many vets are not as professional as this.

I have known quite a few of these amputees and all of them have been wonderful characters, and coped exceedingly well. It’s as though they put that little bit more into life after they have had a second bite of the apple, so to speak.