Monday, February 17, 2014

Your Guinea Pig's Health

I will start by letting you know that I am not an expert, and if you have any health concerns with your guinea pig, I strongly encourage you to find a guinea pig knowledgeable vet - actually it's even better to find the right vet before an emergency presents itself.

You've probably noticed I post "Today on the menu" everyday if you follow the Guinea Pigs' Cavy Club on Facebook, but do you know why? It's really fun to see their excitement each day for fresh veggies, and sometimes fruit, but that isn't the main reason. Vitamin C is an essential part of a guinea pig diet and food alone doesn't provide all they need to keep them healthy. Most of the veggies I feed daily, particularly bell peppers, are a good source of Vitamin C. Do not dose water with Vitamin C - it breaks down too quickly to be of any health benefit and it can discourage the guinea pig from drinking by altering the taste of the water. You can give 25mg of orange flavored children's Vitamin C tablets, most tablets are 100mg, so break into 1/4.  You can read more about fresh foods here.

Why do guinea pigs need so much Vitamin C? They cannot create it within their bodies, and a deficiency may cause Scurvy, which is quite serious and potentially fatal. It can cause sore joints, bone and teeth problems, bleeding gums, and even back leg paralysis. The good news is that Scurvy can be treated with an increased amount of Vitamin C of 50mg per day. As always, it is recommended that you consult a vet with these potentially serious health issues.

Leg paralysis can occur as a result of arthritis or injury to the spine, limbs, or pelvis. This is why it is important to see a veterinarian, as X-rays may be needed and medication such as Rimadyl may be able to treat the issue.

It is very important to prevent injury. Sadly, it is all too easy for an accident to happen when another pet feels threatened by the guinea pig or a human accidentally drops the guinea pig. A classroom guinea pig at a school recently died as a result of internal injuries sustained by a middle school student dropping him by mistake. Be sure every member in your family is old enough to understand how to safely handle your pig. Also, avoid exercise wheels! Those cause a guinea pig's spine to bend backwards in a way they are not meant to, causing very serious injury.

Equally as important, make sure your guinea pig cannot reach any potentially toxic plants, cleaners, air fresheners, or other toxic substances. Keep them away from electrical cords and anything else that isn't piggy proof.

In the event your vet recommends medication, it is easier to give a liquid medication with the help of one person to securely hold the guinea pig, while the other person holds the head and neck, and slips the syringe behind the front teeth to slowly release the medication from the syringe. Pills may be easier to give if the dosage is crushed and put in 1ml of a liquid such as Ensure, then using the above suggestion for giving liquid.

Let's also talking about bugs. Did you know that guinea pigs can get fleas, mites, or mange? It's true. I'm no expert, and I have ZERO medical experience, so I do not give medical advice. I recommend you closely observe your little piggies and if you see any bugs on them or itchiness, loss of fur, etc. contact a veterinarian.

I will tell you my personal experience with Chewy. Holding him for awhile on the car ride home, I noticed he had fleas. By the time we got home, I'd found a few hopping around on him. I bathed him as soon as we got home in Dawn dish soap and gave him a drop of Ivermectin pour on behind each ear.

We haven't dealt with any pest issues with any of the guinea pigs since, however I want you to be aware they do exist and be vigilant about keeping your guinea pigs safe. Parasites could make a guinea pig very sick, and they can be contagious. This is also a great reason to quarantine all new piggies.

This brings us to REGULAR MAINTENANCE: (I will post more detailed information in the coming weeks by topic. This information is intended as a brief overview.)

Some ways to monitor your guinea pig to ensure could heath include checking eyes and nose to make sure they are clear of discharge. Check the teeth to make sure they are not overgrown and causing issues eating. Provide chew toys to keep teeth worn. Feel your guinea pig over to make sure they don't have any lumps or patches of hair loss. Nails will require trimming to prevent overgrowing. Weighing your guinea pig regularly is a good idea. A steady loss of weight is a red flag that your guinea pig has a health issue. This can help you catch problem before it becomes critical. As always, consult a veterinarian if you have health concerns with your guinea pig.

Guinea pigs do not need regular baths, but it may be needed if they are dirty or need a bath for a medical reason. I've used shampoo formulated for guinea pigs, kitten shampoo, Johnson's baby shampoo, and Dawn dish soap. I only bathe a few times a year. It's important to keep the soap away from their ears and face. There is a grease gland on the rear of a guinea pig approximately where a tail would be that may require some extra time and cleaning. Be sure to locate the grease gland and ensure it is cleaned well. It may appear wax like on the surface. Cetaphil facial cleanser works well for this grease gland.  Boars may require some additional gentle cleaning around their genitals to prevent urinary issues, so check folds and creases for dirt buildup. It's also important to take the time to rinse fully, then dry them completely after a bath, so they do not get chilled from drafts.

There is some work involved in caring for guinea pigs, but with a simple routine, it's pretty easy to keep up on. The joy of their cuddles and squeaks far outweighs the maintenance.

Wishing you and your piggies an abundance of good health!

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