Upper Respiratory Infection Signs & Symptoms

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We had a very negative experience at a big brand pet store before we got Charlie and Penny, who we adopted from someone on Craigslist who couldn’t care for them anymore. Before Charlie and Penny, we adopted a very young male guinea pig from Petco named Hatch. Because we were new guinea pig owners, we didn’t know the signs and symptoms of a sick guinea pig until it was too late. After having him home for only about five days, we noticed Hatch was lethargic, sneezingnot eating or drinking, and had a white mucus discharge around his eyes.

We took him to the vet, and our vet diagnosed him with an upper respiratory infection (URI), which is fatal in guinea pigs in most cases. She told us he was barely a month old and had been taken from his mother entirely too early. He was severely dehydrated and his body temperature was sub-thermal (dangerously low). She gave him an injection of medicine that would help his body get stronger, and gave us Oxbow Critical Care to force feed him with a syringe. She warned us that he may not live through the night, but to try to keep him warm and give him water and the Critical Care to help him feel better.

Unfortunately, he passed away that night. Had we known what symptoms to look for, we would have been able to treat him sooner. But aside from knowing the symptoms, the key issue was the fact that Petco was selling baby guinea pigs that were not ready to survive on their own. When we got Hatch, he was already very sick, we just didn’t realize it.

It’s hard to put into words the amount of heartbreak, disrespect and lack of compassion this Petco showed us when we got Hatch. We returned to tell them he passed away because of their own lack of knowledge and care. The employee told us we could get a refund if we brought in the body. We were appalled and said we didn’t have the body because we buried him.

“Can you exhume the body?” the employee asked, expressionless.

We didn’t know what to say. The employee didn’t show any compassion or ounce of emotion, and worst of all, asked us to dig up Hatch’s body. We immediately left the store. After we got home we realized we should have asked for the manager, but we were too shocked and disgusted to go back inside.

Now that we know the symptoms of an upper respiratory infection in a young guinea pig due to lack of nutrition from its mother, we have seen many guinea pigs in other Petco and PetSmart stores with the symptoms of a URI. They’re usually laying down inside the hut in their glass enclosure, eyes half-closed and covered in white discharge. They don’t move much and after watching the sick piggie for a while, we see that they don’t get up for food or water like the other pigs with them.

We reported our horrible incident with Hatch to the corporate side of Petco, and they said they would “look into it” and someone would contact us. But no one ever did and we stopped expecting anything.

The best learning lesson from our situation is that it’s best to rescue guinea pigs from shelters, or adopt them from someone who can’t care for them anymore. It’s shocking how many Craigslist posts there are for people surrendering their guinea pigs. Big brand pet stores, while great for supplies, are not a healthy place for a guinea pig. Please consider rescuing a guinea pig before going to a pet store to buy one; there are so many guinea pigs in shelters that need a home.

Guinea pigs are very sensitive animals, so we highly suggest going to the vet as soon as you notice any problem with your guinea pig. However, after we learned about Critical Care from our vet, we’ve given it to our other pigs when they show basic, non-severe symptoms of sickness. For example, when Bea the Cuy was very young, we noticed just a few white flakes around her eyes, similar to the white discharge Hatch had, but much less on Bea. She didn’t have any other symptoms like lethargy or not eating/drinking, so we decided that some Critical Care would help strengthen her. Critical Care is a nutritional supplement that helps strengthen and recover a guinea pig while they are sick. We gave Bea a few days of treatments and she was 100% healthy after a few days.

This is a photo of Button with some of the discharge around her eyes–we treated her with Critical Care as well and she was cured after a few days.

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You can buy Oxbow Critical Care on Amazon, as well as the plastic syringes you need to administer it. It comes as a powder to mix with water. Read about the proper dosage of Critical Care before you give it to your guinea pig. As we mentioned, please bring your guinea pig to a vet if you notice any serious symptoms.

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If you have any questions about URIs, our experience,  vet appointments, or adopting from shelters vs. pet stores, please let us know by emailing us at piggiepen@gmail.com. 

We would love to hear from you. Please share your experience with us so we can make this important information available to everyone.

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Traveing with Guinea Pigs

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The day finally came: it was time to embark on a cross-country drive from Los Angeles, California to New York, New York. At first, travelling with our seven guinea pigs seemed like a major roadblock. In the end, though, driving through 11 states with a bunch of little pigs was not as hard as we thought it would be.

All seven guinea pigs were absolutely unfazed by the entire 8-day journey. Despite the long hours of driving and the heat of summer, the pigs seemed to enjoy the trip, especially when we made it to the various hotels each night when they were rewarded with fresh veggies.

Preparation:

Our guinea pigs live in a large C&C cage. They aren’t used to enclosed spaces, so we needed to figure out the best way to transport them where they wouldn’t feel unsafe or too enclosed.

We went to Target to buy the things we needed to construct makeshift homes for the pigs. We bought:

  • two large containers with lids (one for 4 pigs, one for 3 pigs)
  • a large, dark bathroom towel
  • duct tape

From the pet store we got some important supplies as well:

  • natural paper bedding
  • two water bottles
  • extra food pellets
  • extra hay

We already had these items, but you also need:

  • huts for the guinea pigs to hide
  • a toy or two
  • bowl for food
  • empty cardboard box (or similar) for hay
 Guinea pigs shouldn’t be exposed to direct sunlight for any extended period of time. We prepared the containers to ensure that our pigs had shade while they relaxed in their home.
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Here are the steps:
  1. Cut the lid of the container in half
  2. Cut a piece of dark towel to fit the entire halved piece of lid, with a few extra inches on each side so it can wrap around the lid
  3. Use duct tape to secure the towel to the lid
  4. Wrap the edges of the towel around the edges of the lid so the edges are covered (especially the jagged edge from cutting it in half)
Next:
  1. Cut a hole in the side of the container for the water bottle spout to go through
  2. Use duct tape to secure the water bottle to the side of the container (extra duct tape is needed throughout the journey to re-adhere the bottle to the container every time you take it off to fill it up
  3. Fill the container with paper bedding
  4. Put in house, toys, box with hay and food bowl

This is what the ensemble looked like:

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Linus and Bea enjoying the journey (GLAD box is an empty box with hay)

The Drive:

The containers we bought fit perfectly across 2/3 of the backseats (more like a back-bench). We put some sturdy objects on the other 1/3 of the backseat to make sure the container wouldn’t slide around while driving. The container should be securely in place.

While driving, we’d quickly look back at the pigs to see them simply resting, completely relaxed by the hum of the engine and gentle movement of the car. When we stopped for gas or food during a day of driving, we left the windows down and kept the rest stops brief in order to start the cars and get the AC going again.

When we booked hotels for the night, we’d first make sure they had a pet-friendly policy. Surprisingly, most hotels and motels did. When we carried in the two containers, people were always excited and interested in the guinea pigs.

When we were in the middle of nowhere in states like Arizona and Nebraska, with very little around, it was hard to find places that had fresh vegetables. Once or twice we had to ask a restaurant for a plain salad with nothing on it, just the straight up lettuce (no iceberg lettuce).

At night, we would create small playpen on the floor (using our bags and such) so the pigs could walk around and get some exercise after laying all day. They were always very happy and wheeked like crazy as they popcorned around the hotel room floors.

It was an easier journey than expected. We were so glad the pigs were happy and content throughout the whole trip. They even got to see some amazing sights along the way!

 

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Keeping Your Guinea Pigs Clean & Healthy

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Cleanliness is an important part of a guinea pig’s health. Making sure their skin and fur are clean is important. A clean habitat prevents a guinea pig from getting sick, too. Here are some helpful tips and tricks for keeping your little piggies clean.


mites

Unfortunately, mites (parasites) and lice are common ailments guinea pigs face. Lice are less dangerous and more common, whereas mites can cause serious health issues and even death. It’s important to keep an eye on your guinea pig’s skin and fur to make sure they haven’t caught one of these nasty bugs.

Some symptoms of mice and lice are the same:

  • frequent scratching
  • flaky or scabbing skin
  • hair loss

If the guinea pig has had mites or lice for an extended period of time without treatment, more severe symptoms may be present:

  • lethargy
  • not eating or drinking
  • severe hair loss

If you notice any of these symptoms on your guinea pig, the best thing to do is take them to a vet as soon as possible. Guinea pigs are sensitive animals, so receiving proper care is necessary.

One day, we noticed hair loss and flakes on Dharma. After further inspection of the skin where the hair was gone, we saw what looked like lice. The small flakes at the root of the hair were the minuscule lice insects. We took her to the vet immediately. The vet gave her an injection of Ivermectin, which treats both lice and mites. After about a week, we noticed the lice was gone and her hair was growing back.

The vet told us that because Dharma was infected, the guinea pigs she lived with were most likely effected as well. Instead of bringing each guinea pig to the vet (requiring a separate appointment for each one), the vet suggested a treatment usually given to livestock; we decided to research it before we administered it. It turns out the treatment the vet suggested was lethal on small animals in most cases when it was used.

We quarantined Dharma in a separate habitat while we decided how to treat the other pigs. A few online guinea pig sources suggest treating the infected guinea pig with flea treatments for small cats, or with topical Ivermectin. The dosage of topical Ivermectin is extremely specific to the guinea pig’s exact weight and can easily kill the guinea pig if a little too much is given. An injectable type of Ivermectin – the kind that the vet administered to Dharma – is also available for purchase, but it is highly recommended that injectable doses should be done by a vet.

We were scared about using Ivermectin on our other guinea pigs. With Bea being so large and Button being very small, we were nervous that the dosages would vary greatly and make it harder for us to treat all of them. Also, if any of the Ivermectin was accidentally ingested by one of the pigs, it would most likely be fatal.

As a last resort before we were going to cave in and try Ivermectin, we found a YouTube video about a product for small animals specifically used to treat parasites and lice. It is made by a company in the UK called Beaphar. It’s called Anti-Parasite Spot On For Small Animals.

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The product is extremely easy to use and you don’t have to worry about the exact dosage issue Ivermectin presented that could potentially hurt your guinea pig.

Each box comes with 4 small tubes of medicine (an approved veterinary preparation containing ivermectin), meant for 4 doses if needed. Depending on your guinea pig’s size, you would either use one or two tubes in one dose. As long as your guinea pig is above 300mg, the treatment is totally safe (you can easily weigh your guinea pig with a kitchen scale). In the case of our pigs, they all only needed one tube except for Bea, who got 2 tubes because of her size.

It’s very simple to give to your guinea pig. While holding the guinea pig still, you squeeze out medicine from the tube to a place on their body that they can’t reach when they clean themselves. We put a small amount on the middle of their backs (closer to their behinds), and some behind each ear. The dose lasts for 4 weeks and if the symptoms are still present, you can administer another dose after the 4 weeks are up.

The only guinea pig of ours that exhibited any symptoms of lice was Dharma, but we treated the other guinea pigs as a precaution. After we treated them, none of them showed no signs of lice or mites.

To prevent mites or lice:

  • keep the habitat clean
  • keep the guinea pigs clean
  • know the signs and symptoms

bathes

Some guinea pig owners don’t believe in giving their guinea pigs baths.

However, bathing a guinea pig presents no danger to him or her if done every few weeks, and is actually beneficial for their health.

It is important to bathe your guinea pig occasionally. It is not healthy for their skin to be bathed every week. We usually bathe our piggies about once a month.

There are a few key things to keep in mind when bathing your guinea pig:

  • do not let their nose go under water
  • use warm water (not hot or cold)
  • use a gentle shampoo

Two shampoo products we use are Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Shampoo and Kaytee Critter Shampoo. The J&J’s Baby Shampoo (available at any supermarket) is formulated for a baby’s sensitive skin, so it is perfectly safe to use on guinea pigs, and Kaytee’s Critter Shampoo (available at Petco/Petsmart) is made specifically for small animals. We use both interchangeably, but prefer the J&J’s Baby Shampoo because of its pleasant fragrance.

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There are 2 techniques you can use for bathing your guinea pig: 

1. Hold the guinea pig in a sink under a gentle stream of water from the faucet

This technique is our preferred way to bathe our pigs. we recommend that you hold the guinea pig in one hand and shampoo with the other. Or, if you have a helper, one person holds the guinea pig and the other person gently scrubs him or her. If you are the only person who is cleaning your guinea pig, make sure you hold them in a way that supports their sensitive backs. We usually rest the guinea pig on our forearm and hand, as if they were standing in air. When we clean their tummies, we use one arm to support their back and the other hand to scrub their bellies. We try to bathe them quickly as to not make them nervous – the sooner they are standing on all four feet again, the better.

2. Fill up a large sink or bathtub with water and give them a bath while they stand in the water. 

We have found that unless there is a mat or textured surface on the bottom of the sink or bathtub, our pigs slip around and cannot get secure footing. They get nervous when they’re slipping and sliding all over, so place a rubber mat on the bottom of the tub or sink so they can stand.

Many people don’t know it, but guinea pigs are amazing swimmers. They cannot swim underwater because water would get in their nose and mouth and cause dangerous health issues, but if you keep the water at a level that doesn’t go above their neck, it is fun to watch them frolic around. Be careful to only let them swim for a few minutes to make sure their skin does not become too sensitive to being in water for too long.

No matter what technique you use to clean your guinea pigs, there are a few important things to do while you soap them up:

  • be gentle while you wash them; clean them as if you’re giving them a nice massage
  • make sure to clean each paw
  • gently clean their private area (especially male guinea pigs)
  • do not get soap or water in their ears, or near their eyes and nose

To dry them, use a soft towel and gently massage their skin with it, moving your fingers in small circles. You don’t have to dry your guinea pig completely with the towel. Like dogs, guinea pigs love to shake off the water; they curl their front feet up, stand on their hind legs and shake their little bodies!

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We use all natural bedding in their C&C cage. Wood shavings are not safe for guinea pigs, even though they are sold in stores. We buy Carefresh Natural. We like the unscented kind because the scented kinds have extra chemicals in them – not the best for guinea pigs!

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Many guinea pig owners prefer Fleece Flippers over paper-based bedding. We used Fleece Flippers for about 2 months before we decided that they weren’t as cleanly as we thought they would be. After flipping them over when once side got too dirty, we noticed that the odors remained. Even though there is a lining of absorbent material beneath the fleece, we found that the fleece held the smells and dirtiness. If you decide to use Fleece Flippers, make sure to buy extra pads for the insides of them. Also, spot cleaning is imperative!

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An alternative to Fleece Flippers is simply lining your cage with a fleece blanket. Just be prepared to clean it (and replace it) often!

No matter what type of bedding or lining you use, make sure it stays clean. Guinea pigs can get sick from bedding that is too dirty (lice, etc.).

other tips

We received a question about air deodorizers and if Febreez was safe if it got in a guinea pig’s eye.

We choose to not use Febreez or other products like it because the chemicals used to make it are not pet-friendly. Air deodorizers that aren’t pet-friendly aren’t safe if they get on a guinea pig.

When we spray the room, we use Kaytee Instant Shampoo. It has a nice clean smell and if it lands on the pigs, we know it is safe because it is meant to be used as an easy shampoo spray.

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If you have any questions about keeping your guinea pig clean, how to treat an illness, what products we use, or any general questions, please feel free to email us at piggiepen@gmail.com.

Piggie Profile: Charlie

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Inspector Chuck Browning: A Career for the Ages

By Charlie

Charlie here, also known as Inspector Chuck Browning, the resident police inspector of the piggie pen habitat. I have a few drug busts and arrests on my resume, so you could say I’m accomplished. Some may even say I am the law.

Once, I held a month long investigation about a suspicious entity called “mistletoe.” It was hanging around the precinct so I investigated suspicious perpetrators and held extensive meetings with my peers regarding its presence. When it mysteriously disappeared I took my investigations elsewhere. Unfortunately, there was no verdict due to lack of samplings.

Here are the facts about me: I’m a girl, despite my name being boyish. My sister is Penny. Peppers and grapes are my favorite foods. I choose pellets over hay when presented with both at once. I am curious, always on the lookout, and the queen of the habitat.

Thank you, that is all.

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