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This wonderful organisation was set up by Vedra Standley-Spatcher sixteen years ago. It is a state-registered charity that is dedicated to improving the veterinary care of guinea pigs in particular and all rodents in general. It is now a veterinary hospital that treats all animals but it specialises in rodents.
Despite what the authorities and the Royal College of Veterinarians say, the training of vets in small animal medicine is woefully inadequate. The Trust was set up simply because we lacked, and still lack, confidence in the average high street vet to correctly diagnose and treat our animals. Of course, there are brilliant vets out there who do know their business. I happen to have one, but it took me over three years to find him.
The Trust is also a teaching hospital where we train rodentologists. The fact that our qualifications are not recognised by the veterinary authorities does not worry us one little bit for in the main we certainly do not recognise theirs! When we compare our success rate in curing these wonderful animals with that of the majority of the veterinary profession, there simply is no contest. This is mainly because we have minds far more open to all forms of medicine.
Though guinea pigs can suffer from cancer they are not as prone to it as rodents that are carnivores or omnivores. In my sixteen years’ experience I have only had about two cases in my own stock and the first symptoms were lumps around the inquinal lymph node around the back legs. Two other incidents of cancer I have been aware of in correspondents’ guinea pigs also began in this area. This doesn’t mean that cancer can only first manifest itself in this region but in the light of my experience I am always suspicious when I find lumps here. Needless to say, in-depth investigation by a small animal specialist is vital in such cases.
In the main I am against this, preferring to deal with birth control by housing sows and boars separately. Never fall for the old nonsense that castration will have a marked effect in lowering aggression. In a very few cases it will have a marginal effect but in the majority of cases, it will have no effect whatsoever.
There is always a risk in any surgical procedure and as selective housing is a very effective alternative I do not think the risk should be taken. If owners feel they need to have their boars castrated then have it done by a vet with a proven record of success in surgery on small animals.
As I stated in the section about Abyssinians, they are more common in that breed but they can occur in all breeds. There is not a lot that can be done about them but as it is not until these animals are elderly that they lose their sight completely this is not much of a handicap. The sight is definitely reduced, and I have been told that it is like looking through a veil, but the sight is sufficient for these animals to function normally.
This bird song-like sound is more likely to be heard by people who keep a lot of guinea pigs because it is a relatively rare phenomenon. Most people, when they first hear it, think a bird has somehow got into where the guinea pigs are housed. I have yet to hear of an explanation for this song and can only describe what other people have also observed when it occurs.
It is usually to be heard when most of the guineas are at rest so I doubt if it has anything to do with stress. The guinea pig that chirrups is usually standing stock-still with its head slightly raised. The effect on the rest of the stock is very marked, they usually cease whatever they were doing and look in the direction of the chirruping guinea pig. Sometimes there is an ethereal air about it. At other times I get the impression that the guinea pig, centre stage, is kind of preaching to the rest of them and a lectern in front of it would complete the scene.
On more than one occasion I have picked up the piggy concerned, which stopped while it was in my hands but soon resumed its chirrup when I put it back down. It can last for quite a few minutes and after it ceases, usually the guinea pigs in its vicinity will go up and give it a good sniff inspection. The rest of the stock will quickly get back to business as usual after the ‘performance’. This kind of behaviour is, in my experience, restricted to particular individuals in a pack. It seems to be a case of being born a chirruping guinea pig and not being a learned behaviour.
In the wild, long claws are not so much of a problem for they will be kept in trim by the constant rooting around for food. However, domestic guinea pigs can, with their ‘personal servants’ to wait upon them, suffer from over-grown claws. The problem is that they tend to curve, hook-like, and these can get caught in the hay or any crevice as they scurry about. When this happens a pull injury can result which can mean either a broken toe or a strained joint. I usually sit my guinea pig, in an upright position on my lap, facing away from me and trim the claw in the same way as you would when trimming a human baby’s nails. If the claws are transparent you will be able to see the quick, a pink narrow pointed V facing the end of the claw and you should cut back to just before the point. With black claws it is just a matter of judging it as close as you can, but err on the side of caution and cut a little higher up towards the end of the claw. The claws will bleed if the quick is cut but this can easily be stemmed with a piece of ice. Do not panic about this bleeding and think you are a terrible owner, for we all do it now and again, even so called experts like me.
I use the same kind of spring-loaded cutters that are used for trimming human nails for this makes it easier to cut at a slight angle so that the nail remains pointed.
This is a relatively rare condition and must not be confused with the quite common phenomenon of babies that are born with feet that are slightly twisted from the way they were laying in the womb. There is nothing that can be done for the former but the latter can be corrected by regular exercising and sometimes binding lightly to straighten them with Micropore tape. It is easy to differentiate between the two. A club foot is solid and will not move at all while those deformed by the way the baby was carried is very flexible.
The general rule is that you can keep as many sows together as you like but only two boars. Boars can be put together immediately after weaning and do not have to be of the same family. Or it can be done with a youngster up to about ten weeks old being introduced to an adult. It will usually be chased about a bit by the adult who sometimes tries to mate with it, particularly if it is a recently weaned one that has been living with its mother or other sows. Very occasionally, if the adult has a very high sex drive, this chasing can be far too stressful for the young one and it is best to separate them. However, in the main, things settle down after a day or so, so do persevere. Boars are much happier having a companion and are far easier to handle when they are in pairs.
When it comes to sows, usually you can just add a new sow to a pack and they will be accepted without too much fuss. However, sometimes you will get one who will be aggressive, rattling her teeth with her hackles raised and threatening individual members of the pack. I always have a spray bottle handy with scented water and each time she threatens GBH she gets squirted and shouted at. Not only does the scent confuse her, being wet puts her off the business in hand. It only takes a few squirts and yelled threats of GBH from you for most of these aggressive sows to get the picture and they usually settle down.
If you go to your doctor with a common cold there is no way that he or she will prescribe antibiotics for it, as the cold is caused by a virus. However, there are so many vets who automatically prescribe antibiotics when a guinea pig shows cold symptoms. I don’t know if this is because they think that guinea pigs do not get colds and that it is always a more serious chest infection.
The symptoms of the common cold in guinea pigs are identical to those that humans suffer from apart, that is, from the cough. They get runny noses and wheezy chests and throats. The other main feature is that they are as active as usual and their appetite is normal. As in the treatment of humans with colds, there is no cure but the symptoms can be eased by using Vic ointment on the nose and 0.4 Sudafed decongestant medicine.
If these colds last for more than a week, then listen more carefully to the chest and throat and if the wheezing has become a crackle of a noisy rasp, then it could mean that the congestion has weakened the ability of the guinea pig to fight off bacterial attack and in these cases antibiotics can be helpful. In my experience, most of these colds do clear up within a week.
This is the scientific name for animals that need to ingest some of their pellets as part of their digestive process. Guinea pigs and rabbits are two species that need to do this but there are many more. Invariably when you see a guinea pig with its head between its legs, diligently rooting about, it is carrying out this process.
You can usually tell when a guinea pig that has been ill is getting well again when it begins to spend a great deal of time trying to stick its nose up the rear end of one of its companions. This might be because during illness, it lacks the energy to take its own pellets, but it’s more likely that during periods of illness, it cannot manufacture the essential enzymes that these pellets usually contain. It seems to know that its companions’ pellets contain what its own do not. Usually this behaviour only continues for a couple of days, when it will then revert to taking its own pellets in the normal way.
Here I have to declare my prejudice because they are my favourite guinea pigs. I still sigh and get a little tearful whenever my late gorgeous Doddy comes into my mind. He died some six years ago but all who knew him were totally enchanted by him for his good looks were matched by a sweet nature. He was a classic example of a tri-coloured coronet. He had long, luscious locks, which he kept scrupulously groomed. I guess you could call coronets longer-haired cresteds but the crests are far more elaborate, cascading down around the shoulders and filling out the coat on the sides of their faces. As with all my long-coated guinea pigs, the only grooming on my part is to layer cut the coat on the rear end, which can become soiled if not trimmed back.
There are two types of crested guinea pigs, the English and the American. They are smooth coated all over apart from a crest on the head, very similar to the kind of whirls that are seen on Abyssinian guinea pigs. In the English breed, the colour of the crest is the same as the rest of the coat but the Americans have a white interior to the crest, which gives them more of a kind of razzle-dazzle. I am always reminded of those nubile young cheer leaders which sports events have in the States when I see an American crested.
In the main guinea pigs can develop harmless sebaceous cysts which occur when gland openings in the skin become blocked and the contents of which contain fatty sebaceous material. These can be easily lanced and the material expressed out, then the cavity flushed out with hydrogen peroxide. They are more common on the back or around the neck region of a guinea pig but they can occur internally, particularly in the ovaries of sows. Sows can live quite happily with these cysts providing they do not get too large. Needless to say if these do need to be treated then it is a job for a small animal competent vet.
This is more common in sows than in boars but occasionally boars can suffer from this condition. The symptoms are squeaking as urine is passed. Be aware that these symptoms can also be indicative of stones in the bladder, particularly in males, and it is advisable that these be x rayed.
One of the best treatments is any of the over-the-counter formulas for humans that suffer from cystitis and which are based on sodium citrate. One sachet is enough for a three-day treatment for a guinea pig. You divide the contents into three, each portion being mixed with fifty ml of water, about an egg-cupful. Syringe this to the patient during the day, little and often. I usually find that they will take about six ml at a time without any difficulty. Usually, after a couple of days, this will do the trick but it is worth giving the third day’s treatment.
As with humans, sometimes simply using cranberry juice over a few days will cure the problem. Some absolutely love it some hate it.
If these over-the-counter medicines fail then it may be necessary to use the antibiotic TRIBRISSEN or BAYTRIL.
If, after treatment for both parasitic and fungal skin problems a guinea pig still has bouts of chronic itchiness, it is advisable to think about treating it as having a none-specific skin problem similar to the human condition, psoriasis. These conditions can last throughout their lives, which can be shortened sometimes, when their frantic scratching can cause fitting that can lead to cardiac arrest.
Palliative care for these animals used to be a bit of a problem, mainly because the animals caused open lesions by their scratching and most medications to ease itching should not be used on open lesions. However, there is now an excellent product on the market that is available and is not a POM, it is Topazin equine made by Leverton and company. It is not only extremely effective; it can be sprayed onto open lesions. It can be use regularly without any long term toxic effects. Spray onto areas affected and gentle rub into skin.
Not for the first time, a treatment formulated for horses, is safe and effective for use upon guinea pigs. They are both, after all, herbivores.