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There is a relatively common condition that can occur in guinea pigs for which we have never found satisfactory explanation. It is a paralysis, which happens overnight in the hindquarters of a guinea pig. It is very distressing to see the animal pulling itself around with its front legs but it will be noted that it pulls with great vigour, still has a very healthy appetite and there is no indication in any other way that there is anything wrong, pulse and respiration being normal.
The cure is heavy doses of liquid calcium, 0.5 night and morning on the first day, slipping back to 0.5 daily until the animal is back on its feet, which usually takes two to three days. Note this only works in these circumstance, and not if the guinea pig is paralysed as the result of being dropped or has a gone down over the course of a few days, with other symptoms such as alterations in heart rate and respiration. These cases always need more investigation and treatment by a guinea pig competent vet.
Calcium is not only important for good health in bones and teeth, it is also vital for the nerve impulses into the muscles, which make them contract. Why this only seems to affect the rear end of the animal is a complete mystery. If this problem is caused by a lack of calcium, which it seems to be, considering the cure which always works, it is either because for some reason the gut flora are not absorbing the calcium and by flooding the gut with it, enough is taken in or it is not getting enough calcium in its diet. The latter is most unlikely for it should get more than enough via its dry feed and in all the cases I have come across there has been absolutely no change in the diet.
This is yet one more proven cure that is dismissed out of hand by most in the veterinary profession. By proven I mean by those who have had more practical experience of keeping these animals than any professional vet. The problem is the same old one of only so-called scientifically set-up tests being considered acceptable, not lifelong practical experience of treating these animals by years and years of hands-on experience.
I tend to refer to my Peruvians as my ‘magnificent ones’. Maybe it is my imagination or my luck but all the Peruvians that have come into my life have had personalities as impressive as their luscious long-haired coats. I love the long hair that sweeps forward over their eyes, through which they can eyeball you as determinedly as any short-haired guinea pig. The whole of the coat is long but like most long-haired varieties, they are not more difficult to keep than short-haired, providing that the rear ends are trimmed back.
It is not at all uncommon for a sow that has been put in with a boar for breeding to have a phantom pregnancy. This is why it is vital that she should be in with him for about two months to ensure that they are together for at least three of her seasons for it is very unlikely that three bite at the apple, so to speak, will not produce results.
In my own, and many other owners’ experience, a sow has started to show the usual symptoms, drinking more, as is to be expected a few weeks into her term, and has even seemed firming up around the trunk after she has been taken out from the boar after one season. However, things do not develop and after a while she is back to her sylph-like figure.
I am only giving the way to counter organic poisoning, which is the type that is caused through eating poisonous vegetation, because all others, such as those caused by chemicals, inhaled or eaten, need urgent veterinary attention.
The symptoms usually begin half an hour to an hour after ingesting the poison. The guinea pig will shiver and tremble and sometimes salivate, the respiration rate goes up, while the pulse rate can go either up or down and the guinea pig has difficulty standing up, but there is no diarrhoea.
As guinea pigs cannot vomit the use of an emetic is out of the question so the poison has got to be flushed through as soon as possible. Crush a charcoal tablet; mix with a small amount of water and syringe to the guinea pig. This soaks up the contents of the stomach. About half an hour should be allowed for this and the good thing about this is that as soon as the charcoal hits the stomach it begins to prevent the poison from being absorbed. Allow half an hour for the charcoal to do the work then administer, via a syringe, 2 ml of liquid paraffin.
I have personally treated three guinea pigs with this method of treatment, two survived and had no long-term side-effects but one died. The one that died was expected to, as I didn’t get to it until half a day after the owner thought that it had ingested the poison. The longer the poison has to get into the system the less chance there is of retrieving the situation.
I use the term that Americans use to describe this delightful behaviour seen in baby guinea pigs. If you have ever seen the way popcorn flies about when it is cooking in hot fat then this is what baby guinea pigs do when they begin to really explore their environment at about two to three weeks of age. I have also described it as like a gnats of Benzedrine, so hyperactive are they. Spring lambs behave in a similar way, leaping about in a crazy kind of way. I swear that it is sheer enthusiasm and joy as discovering their world and the increasing power of their little legs to trot about and jump in the air.
What enhances it all so much in my situation is that as my babies grow up in a pack, their behaviour is infectious. Some of the adult sows will begin to notice these mad youngsters leaping about the place and some will just kind of twitch but many will emulate them. There is an air of ‘I used to do that when I was a wee lass, and hey, I can still boogie on down the line!’
I always allow a pretty large margin when it comes to determining the length of a guinea pig’s pregnancy. I have known it to vary between sixty and seventy days. There are so many things that can lengthen or shorten the term. The time of year, condition of the sow throughout her pregnancy, and difficulty in being one hundred percent certain about which day conception actually occurred.
Three to four weeks after conception, most sows begin to take in more water and firm up around the flanks. However, there are cases where this is not at all noticeable but in these cases I have never found there to be any problems in the eventual birthing and weaning of the young.
I palpate very gently around the six week mark and can usually determine whether she is loaded or not. About the seventh week there can been seen quickening, movement of the young inside the sow. When she is very close to the end of her term I check out the pubic bones. This can be done quite easily without even picking her up by simply holding her firm on her back then slipping a finger under and feeling for the bones just forward of her vulva. If they are parted, usually by about the width of a lady’s small finger, she is liable to litter down within forty-eight hours. We have another ‘however’ here for I have known sows to continue for up to ten days before littering down but in the main, the forty-eight hour rule is more likely. Some people seem to have difficulty in finding these bones. I guess I have done it so many times that it is second nature to me and always go straight to them. However, if in doubt just check out another sow and the difference can be quickly determined.
Most sows continue eating as normal right up to when they litter down. Indeed, on more than one occasion I have seen a sow have a good tuck into some food between the individual births of their babies! Occasionally a sow will go off her food shortly before giving birth, and most of these are fine but treat this lack of appetite in the same way as you would with any guinea pig and monitor carefully and if she hasn’t given birth within twenty four hours get her checked out.
Though I long ago lost count of the number of times I have seen guinea pigs littering down the magic remains. They all seem to take this vital business in a very down-to-earth, matter-of-fact way. There is no nest-making and if they are in a small corner when they litter down it is only because they happened to be there when the contractions began, for they are just as likely to do the business in the middle of the pen.
The grunt in response to the contractions is unmistakable and it is only heard at this time. What usually happens is that you hear the grunt, look and see her, high on her haunches with her head between her legs trying to pull her baby out. Normally she pulls them out by locking her incisor teeth on her young’s incisors and by this action the amniotic sac is broken and the baby usually comes out with its sack beginning to roll down over the shoulders. As it is vital that the baby remains in the sac until it comes out, this teeth locking routine is a pretty fair indication that Mother Nature really does think things through!
Once the baby is out it is even more routine as the mother simply sets about the business of cleaning it up. Sometimes when she is in the middle of this, another contraction will herald the arrival of another baby, which is no problem and she will simply repeat the birthing then clean the new arrival and the previous one.
Sometimes, two can come out in quick succession and the problem is that the second one will more than likely be still encapsulated in the sac. Her instinct will tell her to concentrate all her attention on the one that is alive and kicking, so to speak, for if she divided her attention there is the possibility that she would lose both the babies. It is always wise to intervene in these cases. Pick the one that is still in the sac up and usually by just pinching at the sac, near to its mouth, it will quickly break. If it doesn’t immediately begin to breathe, cup it in between your hands, head towards your fingertips, hold your arms out straight and vigorously swing your arms in a one hundred and eighty degree arch for a few times. The centrifugal force this causes is pretty strong and it usually clears the airways very quickly, and the clearing is usually heralded by a distinct cough or splutter. The baby can be put back with its mother immediately and she will simply continue cleaning it as though nothing unusual had happened.
Sometimes, when the mother manages to get the first baby up quickly she will turn her attention to the baby still in the sac and has her own way of dealing with it. It is only at this time that you will see any kind of urgency in her demeanour during the littering down process. She instinctively knows that speed is of the essence and her movements are hastened. If the babe does not respond quickly she will then begin playing football with it! By that I mean she will knock it about with her paws and head it very violently until it coughs or the sides begin to heave as it struggles for breath. I am certain that these actions are equivalent to those of old fashioned midwives who would hold the baby up by its feet and slap its back to clear the airways and shock it into life. As soon as the mother is satisfied that the baby is a going concern she immediately returns to the ‘business as usual’ mode.
Some births are almost completely blood free, others seems to be very bloody. Only if after the birth there is still loss of blood, is it necessary to seek urgent veterinary help. In the main there seem to be no harmful effects from a bloody birth. For me the most amazing phenomenon is the way sows that have bloody births, particularly if they are white or have light coloured coats, manage to appear pristine clean only a few hours after birth and the only cleaning tools they have are their tongues, and paws to groom after the intensive licking.
Placentas are produced with each birth and the mother will eat one or two of these either during the littering down or afterwards. It is believed that this aids the production of milk.
The sight of a mother guinea pig suckling her young is to see an animal content with her lot. They always seem to have a look in their eye of deep concentration as they sit there hunched back with their babies under them. I suspect that it can sometimes be because they are every conscious the fact that sometime babes can nip a bit on her nipples in their enthusiasm to get at the milk. I have seen this happen many times, mother will start suddenly, then kind of rearrange the angle of the baby by either moving it with her nose or herself. Once, a young boar always seemed to come in from right angles and actually pull on the nipple while his sister went in at the more usual alignment to the mother’s body. Mother soon quickly learned to counter the boar’s behaviour. She was quite relaxed when she saw her baby sow approach but as soon as the boy came to her, she tensed a little, then as soon as he was latched on she lifted her back leg and pulled him in close to her side to stop him pulling the nipple and held him there until he finished suckling.
Sometimes it is necessary to aid the mother with the feeding and nursing of smaller guinea pigs (see Runts).
The pulse rate of a health guinea pig is 280 per minute. Because handling a guinea pig will stress it a little bit, allow it to settle down to get a correct reading.