May 04

Guinea Pigs – Vet Care for Your Cavy

rp_Black-and-White-Guineapig-200x300.jpgGuinea pigs are not the most robust of animals. As such, they can succumb to an illness more quickly than many other species. Veterinary care should be sought more readily than it might be for cats, for example.

But vets see many more cats than guinea pigs. This is a combination of the practice of simply ‘discarding’ a guinea pig and getting a new one, and the fact that cats are simply a much more common pet. But whatever the underlying reasons, the net effect is for vets to tend to have much less experience treating cavies.

That puts the onus on the owner to make efforts to seek out a qualified vet even before obtaining a guinea pig. A small amount of time spent on the phone or in person interviewing potential vets will radically reduce any grief and expenditure later on.

It may be necessary to have more than one vet, one for the cats and dogs, another for the guinea pig. That’s a practice most people will engage in reluctantly. That’s understandable. A vet visit represents an investment of time and effort. Choosing a vet is often as much an emotional decision as a rational one that’s based on expertise.

It’s difficult enough to find one skilled vet whom we feel comfortable entrusting our furry loved ones to. Finding two, in separate offices that may be a distant drive, can be at least an inconvenience. But the well being of your guinea pig requires it.

Guinea pigs are sensitive to a number of medications that may be highly beneficial to other species, including humans. Penicillin-based antibiotics, for example (such as ampicillin or amoxicillin) can easily be fatal to a cavy. Enterotoxemia, a digestive system reaction to antibiotics, can lead to fatal diarrhea. That implies that finding a vet knowledgeable about guinea pigs in particular is essential to the health of your pet.

Beyond medical treatment for illness and injury, a guinea pig owner will look to his or her vet for advice on diet, grooming, housing and other issues. It’s important to be able to trust the advice of the professional you pay to give it.

Even well-meaning vets, which are the overwhelming majority of course, can make statements that sound very authoritative, but are still mistaken. There’s no substitute for real knowledge, and in the more detailed or advanced areas, experience is the best teacher. They’re expected to be current, aware of the latest findings in disease research and pharmacology, when it comes to other animals they treat. No lesser standard should be applied when it comes to a guinea pig.

For example, one vet may recommend pine or cedar wood shavings as bedding. Many guinea pig owners might well do the same. But there’s some evidence to suggest that phenols given off by pine or cedar wood shavings are harmful to the respiratory tract of guinea pigs. The ability to weigh the evidence objectively for or against that view is important in a professional.

Take the time to seek out good veterinary care for your cavy. Both you and your guinea pig will benefit.

Apr 18

Guinea Pigs – Grooming Guidelines For Your Cavy

Guineapig In The HatGuinea pigs are fairly easy to care for. They enjoy a big cage and won’t show signs of stress being confined, unless they’re left alone all day. But they still require some hair and nail grooming in order to remain in top health. Fortunately, taking care of those tasks is simplicity itself.

For short-haired breeds, like the American or Teddy, little in the way of hair care is needed. Long-haired breeds like the Peruvian or Silkie benefit from occasional gentle brushing. Bathing is generally not required unless they’ve gotten into something they shouldn’t. Sometimes, a bath is essential to treat a fungal-caused skin condition, but that falls under the category of medical treatment, not grooming. Texels, with their long, curling ringlets will definitely require regular hair grooming.

Regardless of breed, though, all cavies will do best if they receive a nail clipping from time to time. On average, about once per month will do for your guinea pig. Waiting longer encourages the quick (the blood vessel supplying blood to the area) to grow too long. That will make clipping much more dicey.

Not so easy as dogs, but not so difficult as cats, trimming a guinea pig’s nails still takes a little bit of patience and some practice. The task is made easier if your pig has become accustomed over time to being handled. Guinea pigs enjoy physical contact with their human companions, but like any animal it has to be introduced early and often.

Once you’ve developed a method for keeping your cavy still during the procedure the rest is straightforward. Which method you employ will vary.

Some pigs enjoy being put on their back and cradled like a baby, or in your lap. Others will do better being constrained by a gentle but firm hand from above. That will often require a helper. Another technique is to place the cavy upright with its back against your stomach, holding the pig in place by its stomach. The key is to ensure they don’t jerk a foot at the moment you’re trying to clip a nail.

It’s important to use a nail clipper designed for the purpose. Some guinea pig owners are skilled enough to use a regular human nail clipper, but usually a specialized tool is needed. Dog nail clippers are an option, but can be unwieldy on such small animals. Cat nail clippers will sometimes do the trick, but make sure they’re for smaller cats.

Just as with dogs or cats, it’s essential to cut the nail without slicing the quick. Nicking it will cause pain and copious blood flow. That’s bad for you and bad for the cavy. On many breeds it’s relatively easy to spot the quick as a light pink cylinder just back from the tip of the nail. In darker nailed breeds, it can be helpful to wet the nail area to help get the vessel to show more clearly.

Proceed cautiously, but clip about 1/8th inch down at a time. Work your way from toe to toe, then foot to foot, until all are done. For those chance slips, be sure to have a little styptic powder, such as Kwik-Stop, handy to daub on the nail. Hold onto the cavy for a moment after applying it to let the blood coagulate and stop flowing. Try again the next day.

Apr 17

Guinea Pigs – Cavy Medications, Good and Bad

Guinea Pig

Guinea Pig

Treating guinea pigs requires specialized knowledge. While they’re similar to rabbits and other mammals (including humans, in important ways), they are a distinctive species. They can’t be given some of the medications that work well with others. They require some that are used chiefly with cavies.

The Bad

Penicillin is one drug that makes the top of the ‘harmful’ list. Some vets, not having treated guinea pigs before, may prescribe Amoxicillin (Clavamox). This penicillin-based drug is toxic to guinea pigs and may be fatal.

In many instances, killing off the normal flora that resides in the gut can do far more harm than good. Digestive bacteria are as necessary as other bacteria can be harmful. Killing off the good organisms can lead to unstoppable diarrhea. Ultimately, the result can be irreversible and even fatal.

Allergic reactions to some medications is common and the first sign of trouble. Ampicillin, cefadroxil or cephalexin, and streptomycin are only some among many that can produce one.

The method of treatment is equally important. Some medications are safe only when given by injection, but not orally. Others are designed to be used only topically. That basic distinction is, of course, known to all vets. But its application in the case of guinea pigs, again, requires specialized knowledge and experience.

The Good

On the other hand, not surprisingly, there are a host of medications that are extremely beneficial for treating different guinea pig conditions.

Stye, a common anti-inflammatory, is a handy thing to have around. Available at any pharmacy, it’s useful for treating a range of common guinea pig eye inflammations, such as various forms of conjunctivitis.

Bactrim is used for both humans and guinea pigs as an antibiotic. It’s effective for treating many types of urinary tract, respiratory or ear infections.

Doxycycline is similar to tetracycline, a broad-spectrum antibiotic. It’s useful for treating forms of staphylococcus, bordetella and others. Sold as Vibramycin, it can be given orally, 5 mg per kilogram of body weight (1 kg = 2.2 lbs).

There are also a number of analgesics or pain relief medications that are safe for guinea pigs.

Ordinary aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid, is safe in the proper dosage. Err on the low side and give no more than 50 mg/kg. Rimadyl, a common NSAID (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug) used for dogs, is also safe for cavies. Give 4 mg/kg, but seek veterinarian guidance as well.

Even prednisone is sometimes prescribed for reducing inflammation, which can reduce pain and alleviate symptoms. But as a steriod it should never be given together with an NSAID. Gastrointestinal problems are sure to result if they’re administered together.

Always consult a professional before giving your guinea pig any kind of medication. Even an anti-fungal shampoo can produce a reaction, though this is rare. A brief telephone consultation, or if necessary a vet visit, can save you grief and money.

Mar 18

Guinea Pigs – The Cavy Diet

rp_Black-and-White-Guineapig-200x300-200x300.jpgGuinea Pigs, known to enthusiasts and professionals as cavies, are herbivores – they eat plant matter. Grassy hay is at the top of the list. Timothy hay is among the best options, though alfalfa can be fed in small quantities. Alfalfa, a legume not a grass, has more protein and carbohydrates, so it’s more commonly fed briefly to young pups and nursing sows.

One popular way to provide what they want and need is in the form of pellets. This is convenient and can provide good nutrition, provided they’re free of dyes and other potentially harmful compounds. Pellets should be timothy or orchard grass, not chiefly alfalfa. It can vary depending on the size and metabolism of your cavy, but 3-4 ounces per day of grass hay pellets is plenty.

Pellets that contain animal fat are not recommended. Similarly, nuts provide excess fat and are generally too rich for all but pups. Corn is not among the plants that form a normal part of the cavy diet. Rice, too, is not one of the grains that should be fed to a guinea pig.

It’s sometimes safe to allow your guinea pig to forage outside for food. But there are often plants or flowers in the area that can be harmful. Buttercup, hemlock, foxglove, tulips, onions and many more are poisonous to cavies. Unless you are familiar with what they are and can keep your pet away from them, it’s safer to control their diet.

One alternative is to grow a small patch of wheat grass or other beneficial plant and allow them to enjoy eating outside. Ensure the plants are not contaminated with dog feces, mold or anything else that can be harmful to your cavy.

Like humans, cavies don’t manufacture their own vitamin C and so must get it from their diet. They need between 10-30 mg/kg of body weight daily. When for whatever reason they don’t get enough from their food, supplements can be used, if given carefully.

It’s best not to add vitamin C to their water supply. They drink in irregular intervals so dosage is difficult to calculate that way. Also, it changes the taste of the water and the cavy may consume less water than it needs. In addition, ascorbic acid degrades rapidly in water, so the vitamin will lose potency soon after being offered.

Cavies do drink water, though, and a plain drink with lots of minerals is just fine. A drip feeder allows them to self-regulate the amount they want without the risk of them dumping over a bowl. An occasional, small amount of unsweetened cranberry juice can provide vitamin C and cavies like it.

Vegetables, fed in limited quantities, are a nice addition to their diet. Romaine lettuce is a good choice. Small pieces of carrot are fine, but don’t expect them to consume very much. Corn husks and spinach are two more possibilities. Cabbage, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables may give them gas and should be avoided.

Certain fruits are appreciated, like cantaloupe, but no more than a few chunks per day. Apple, blueberries, strawberries and several others are safe and tasty.

Nov 16

Guinea Pigs – Accessories For Your Cavy

guinea pig 3Guinea Pigs are docile, but not completely sedentary. They enjoy burrowing, exploring and interacting with animals and other elements in their environment. Giving them lots of variety will keep them mentally active for those hours you’re away. That helps keep them stimulated, a vital component of an overall health program. Animals with nothing to do all day, even ones as relatively simple as cavies, become lethargic.

Small plastic or wood houses with several entrances and exits are a favorite among many cavy owners. They’re healthy for the pig and amusing for the owner as the animal winds its way in and out of the enclosure. Many have multiple levels with small, low-sloping ramps to give the pig still more to explore and a way to get healthy exercise.

A maze that provides a place to explore can easily be built from plasticized cardboard, such as Colorplast. These flat, corrugated panels come in a variety of sizes and colors and can be used to make cage dividers, rectangular tunnels and much more. Many pre-made wooden tunnels in a variety of shapes and sizes are available, too.

Cavies also enjoy burrowing. There are a number of bedding materials that can do double duty, allowing the pig to make its own tunnel. Megazorb, EcoFresh, CareFresh and other paper-based or wood-based materials offer substantial support for small burrows. Allow any such material to air thoroughly before use and keep an eye on possible excess dust that can harm their eyes and respiratory system.

A walking wheel isn’t usually appropriate for guinea pigs. They’re less active than other rodents and the wire is generally harmful for their feet. But they enjoy walking about and a structure with ramps can be perfect for that purpose. Different manufacturers offer plastic pieces that snap together into a variety of shapes.

Toys of a thousand types are available with a few mouse clicks. Balls they can roll around, small rubberized-plastic chew toys and others can keep them healthy and amused. Since a guinea pig’s teeth will continue to grow throughout their lifetime, it’s always a good idea to have plenty of chew toys for them to choose from. That reduces the odds they’ll chew on bedding, the cage walls and any cavy house inside that you have set up.

Beyond toys and other sources of amusement there are a few things every cavy owner will want to have.

You’ll need to transport your guinea pig to the vet at some point. Having a handy carrier makes the task a lot easier. That can be nothing more than a small cage, or it could be a rounded mailbox-style enclosure that is perfect for carrying your cavy.

Guinea pigs are prone to overheating when the temperatures hover above 90F (32C), especially when the humidity levels rise above 70%. Those conditions are common in some areas during the summer. A small, low-power fan can keep them cooled and safe.

Any small household fan could do, but most of them are too high powered to be placed very close by. A specialized, small cage fan provides just the right amount of air for a guinea pig. Some models are battery powered, making them perfect for taking them along on trips.

Get a few accessories for your cavy and let the fun begin!