The Carl Story; My Rescue Guinea Pig

Carl the G.Pig

Today I’m going to focus on Carl, my rescue guinea pig.  Carl is a black long and curly haired male guinea pig.  He’s nearly two years old and I’ve owned him for one and a half years.  I adopted him after he had several medical conditions, some due to neglect, which is the reason he is still currently housed alone; not ideal but I’ll explain later.

Carl; the Early Stages

Carl was first brought to me as a patient when I was working as a vet.  He was only eight weeks old and was in a pet shop at the time.  He was healthy apart from his right eye.  When I examined Carl his eye was very swollen and infected with shavings around it. I also couldn’t tell whether his eye was just infected or if it was no longer fully in the eye socket.  At the time I was seeing quite a few guinea pigs who had at least one eye socket that was shallow.  This defect increased the risk of their eyes no longer staying in the socket and becoming infected more often.  As many of these guinea pigs were bred at the same place I think it was probably a genetic problem amongst the group and one which affected Carl.

After I had examined Carl I spoke to the pet shop staff member that brought him to me.  Together we decided to see how he went on medications to start off with as we didn’t want to remove his eye unless we had to.  So, I prescribed him a course of antibiotics (Baytril) to treat the infection, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (Metacam) to take down the swelling and lessen the pain, pain-killers (Buprenorphine) which were similar to Morphine as it was really sore and antibiotic eye drops.

I wanted to do everything I could to save his eye and quickly so hoped that would do it.  I could’ve tried surgery to check if his eye was in place or not and place it back in but I needed to get on top of the infection first.  Finally, I warned the staff member about the prospect of him losing his eye if the treatment regime didn’t help.

When I next saw Carl the swelling around his eye had improved as well as the infection.  However, it was clear his eye wasn’t fully in the socket and was very damaged.  The only option was for me to surgically remove Carl’s eye ASAP.

Guinea Pig in cage
Carl (Guinea Pig)
Carl’s First Surgery

I operated on Carl later that day, carefully dissecting around and removing his right eye.  Whilst doing this I checked for more infection but found none. His eye was removed successfully and he woke up with no problems.  Due to his eye having been infected he needed to stay on antibiotics and staff at the pet shop were instructed to keep his wound clean. Carl also had to stay on the anti-inflammatories and be regularly checked by a vet.  On top of this, I requested that he had puppy pads down in his cage rather than shavings.  All caged animals should have their bedding changed this way if they have any wounds; shavings cause problems if they stick in wounds.

Over the coming weeks, Carl wasn’t given his antibiotics regularly and his wound wasn’t cleaned.  His health was neglected.  As a result of this neglect, Carl’s wound became very infected and turned into an abscess.  After two weeks the infection was at it’s worst and sadly wound completely reopened.  Carl’s face really didn’t look good and there was a chance it would never heal.  I spoke to the pet shop staff about this neglect and found it was due to some of the staff being unaware of how to give him his treatments.  To reduce the risk of further problems, I spent time teaching the store staff members how to give him his treatments.  Also, I explained the how important it was for him to get his medications.  At that point, they seemed to understand what h needed and why.

Carl Faced Further Problems

Over the next few weeks, my veterinary colleagues kept seeing Carl.  His wound infection cleared and his face began to heal.  Carl faced more problems though.  He developed a ringworm; a fungal infection, which commonly occurs in stressed guinea pigs and can spread to people.  Carl also contracted an airway infection from some ill rabbits housed around him.  In a bid to tackle these infections Carl was started on different antibiotics (Septrin) and had an anti-fungal medicine (Itrafungol) every day for over two weeks for his ringworm.  This all cleared up.

Ten Weeks Had Passed

Ten weeks after I first removed his eye, I saw Carl again.  He was still living in the pet store as he’d not been healthy enough to be sold.  By this point, his ringworm and airway infections had resolved.  His face, however, had not fully healed.  There was no infection but a small hole was still present from and clear fluid leaked from it.  The hole didn’t look like it wasn’t going to heal on its own.

The only way to treat this was to put him under the knife once more.  This was risky surgery.  His skin was already thickened and scarred due to the infections.  There was a chance I wouldn’t be able to close the wound, in which case he would be left with a larger wound over his eye socket.  Even if I could stitch it back together there was a chance of the wound becoming infected or opening back up again.  However, if it wasn’t closed he’d have got infections under the skin on his face over time which would have been disastrous.

Guinea pig plastic surgery
Carl after his second surgery sporting his stitches and shaved face
Plastic Surgery!

Carl was brought for surgery again.  I carefully dissected the thickened and damaged skin around the hole in his face.  For it to heal I had to remove a small amount of skin all the way around the hole and look for any infection. There was none.  The surgical site was carefully and gently stitched before I sat with him whilst he awoke from the anaesthetic.

Adopting Carl

One week before Carl’s final surgery, I started to think about adopting him and discussed this with several other people.  I knew, however, that I was busy for the next week so couldn’t take him then.

When I performed Carl’s surgery I decided if he stayed where he was he was likely to be neglected once more.  His wound may have become infected again which would have been disastrous, damaging his face further.  I was also concerned that he may not have recovered fully from the anaesthetic before the pet shop staff went home.  This was all I needed to decide the best course of action was for me immediately adopt him.

Carl wasn’t currently up for adoption due to his poor health.  With me being his vet, however, the pet store made an exception, knowing I could care for him. They allowed me to adopt him straight away.  Having been very busy in the week between me thinking about adopting him and actually adopting him, I hadn’t bought him anything.  The solution; to buy everything he needed from the pet shop he was in.  For the rest of my working day he sat by my side whilst I did paperwork.   Finally, after eleven weeks of him being isolated in a cage behind the pet store and his needs neglected he was coming home.

Metacam is tasty!
Carl nibbling on the Metacam Syringe
At Home

As soon as I got home from work I set up Carl’s cage.

Over the next few days, I allowed him to settle.  Though, during this time, I still had to interact with him to give him his treatment.  By this point, he was only on Metacam and I also needed to had to clean his wound.

Over the next few days, he began to like me giving him his Metacam, grabbing the syringe off me, hoping to get seconds.  He also accepted me cleaning my face though he didn’t enjoy that as much!  Carl did, however, have a relapse; his airway infection returned.  I listened to his airways with my stethoscope at least daily. Carl also stayed on Metacam to reduce any swelling in his airways. Apart from his infection, Carl was otherwise well.  He was eating and active and I monitored him to check it hadn’t spread to his lungs.  I didn’t want him on antibiotics due to the amount he’d had in the past and me believing he could recover without them.  After a few days, he had improved.  Carl’s wound had healed nicely with no signs of infection in either his wound or his airways.

Nowadays

Carl is doing well now.  He’s become more confident; six months ago he wanted to be in his cage all the time.  Now when I leave the door open he runs excitedly around my lounge!  He eats well, loves his hay and eats a wide variety of food.  Carl loves eating.

Guinea pigs are sociable animals and they really need companionship.  Carl, unfortunately, is still a lone pig.  The only companionship, apart from me, is with a friend’s rabbit who occasionally comes to stay in its own cage.  Carl has also, unintentionally, been face to face with Darwin, my Leopard gecko.  I don’t know what they both made of each other.  I also talk to him a lot though but is that enough?

The reason for Carl being alone is, from 8weeks old he’s been isolated from other guinea pigs and he didn’t even acknowledge the rabbit for the first two week-long periods it spent here.    It was as if Carl didn’t even recognise that anything else existed.  I don’t know how he would react with another guinea pig.

Could Carl Make a Friend Ill?

Secondly, and the main reason, is his airway infection.  Every so often when he’s stressed his infection returns for a few days.  It is only mild when it does return but with no other mammals here and him being kept indoors it’s likely he has bacteria lying dormant in his airways.  Though the majority of the time these bacteria cause Carl no issues, he has passed his infection on to his rabbit friend twice.  Carl also only tends to become ill when the rabbit is here.  It is likely the presence of another animal is making him stressed and this stress is leading on to his infection.  Finally, as the rabbit catches Carl’s infection it tells me it can pass to other animals.

The worry is that if and when Carl gets a friend they may contract his infection especially when they first meet as they will both be stressed.  This infection, though mostly harmful to Carl may cause damage to another guinea pig.  However, Carl is more stable and healthier now than he used to be so I am considering getting him a friend.  I don’t know what colour, breed or sex his friend will be but I do know they will be another rescue guinea pig.

Guinea pig facial scar
Carls scar a couple of months post surgery
Consider Adopting

I couldn’t end this blog without linking a few places you can adopt guinea pigs from.  Firstly is a guinea pig rescue which is local to me, Cavy Corner.  Secondly, guinea pigs can be adopted nationwide from both the RSPCA or SSPCA (in Scotland) and Support Adoption for Pets.  There are also other guinea pig rescues around the UK so it may be worthwhile searching online.

If you want to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog or want to find out more about keeping Guinea Pigs feel free to Contact Me via email kim@animalwelfarematters.co.uk.  If you liked this blog or think others may do then please share it.  Finally, if you like my blogs you can subscribe by placing your email in the box in the sidebar.  If you subscribe you will recieve an email alert each time I post a new one.

Author: Kim Halford

I'm a qualified vet and animal behaviour and welfare advisor. I am dedicated to improving the welfare of animals. I also want to work with organisations to improve the education of animal welfare and behaviour as well as improve the bond between animal and owner.

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