Adopting Ralph the Guinea Pig

Carl’s the Guines Pig’s Early Days

Two years ago, pretty much to the day, I was operating on Carl, a black seventeen-week old guinea pig.  This was the second time I’d operated on him within eleven weeks.  The first surgery I removed his eye and, following months of complications I then closed up the wound during the second surgery.  One week prior I had considered I adopting Carl if no one else was and, during the surgery, I decided I was definite rehoming him.  On that hectic Sunday, as I was sat writing up the last of my clinical notes for the day he was in an open box next to me coming around from the anaesthetic.  This is the start of the journey to adopt Ralph, a long journey!

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

Having adopted Carl, my interesting in guinea pigs grew further and during my MSc I did some work with Cavy Corner Guinea Pig rescue in Doncaster.  We both passed information to each other with me volunteering at some of their events.  I decided that should I adopt another Guinea Pig it would be from them.

Why Carl Was a Lone Pig for Two Years

I do not advocate housing guinea pigs alone. They not solitary species and should always be housed with other guinea pigs whenever possible. Saying that, I kept Carl by himself for almost 2 years. The reasons;

  • Carl was isolated for over guinea pigs from the age of eight weeks so I didn’t know how well he would reconnect with one.
  • Secondly, and the main reason, since before I adopted him, Carl suffered from upper airway infections which proved to be contagious having spread to a friend’s rabbit I sometimes care for. Initially he had flares very often, showing symptoms for several days at a time though, luckily, he always recovered without the need for antibiotics. Any stressful period he faced he suffered with another infection. However, over the last year these reduced in both severity and frequency, with him now not showing signs of them even when stressed.

 

Over the first year of having Carl, it became obvious that me getting him a friend would almost definitely cause him to have a severe bout of infection which would spread to whichever guinea pig I adopted. Therefore, at that point, the risks were really high and, given Carl had been isolated from eight weeks old, the chances of them not making friends of another guinea pig were quite high. It was decided that at that point the risks of getting a friend outweighed the potential benefits.

Guinea Pig in cage

Over the last six months, the tables have reversed that. It became clear Carl wanted friend and, the odd time he’s had an airway infection it is only been very mild. As a result, I decided it was time to try him with a friend.

Discussing Adoption

I contacted Sue at Cavy Corner regarding getting Carl a friend and Sue’s response was very positive. She was very happy about trying him with another guinea pig to see what would happen. However, when I first contacted her the time wasn’t right. I was away from home quite a bit so I wanted things to stabilise before I look to getting him a friend.

 

I stayed in contact with Sue over the weeks and had further discussion with her a few days after I volunteered at Cavy Corner’s most recent fun show. We discussed the possibilities of me getting a friend for Carl and how you go about this in a safe way; both of us deciding it would be a good idea.

 

From my point of view, the first step, order a bigger cage!

 

From Cavy Corner’s point of view, the first step; invite Carl around for a date!

Sue knew that due to

Carl chilling out

Carl’s airway infection and his previous experience of surgeries, I didn’t want him undergoing surgery unless he really needed it so I wasn’t fond of getting him castrated so it was decided to try and match him with a boar. Bonding two boars together is less successful bonding either to sows or a sow and boar but, I knew these risks. There was also a very high risk that Carl, having not been around guinea pigs for so long, would not appreciate the company of another guinea pig and, therefore, leaving him a lone guinea pig. But, I felt it was only fair to turn the decision over to Carl himself.

Carl Goes on a Date

One evening,  myself and Carl took a trip to Cavy Corner. We decided the best way to go about it was the Carl to stay in a separate room to the rest of the guinea pigs at cavy Corner to reduce the risk of his infection spreading; it spreading around the “Caviary” would have been a disaster. However, the chances of a successful bonding were higher if the bonding took place in a neutral environment such as at Cavy Corner. I sat and had a drink with Sue and just discussed what I was up to as well as what she was up to and all the guinea pigs at Cavy Corner I then went home, having left the Carl at Cavy Corner for the night.

 

It was a quiet night at home!

 

Putting Together the New Cage; Nightmare!

 

The next day there was a knock on the door; the new cage. A Ferplast Plaza 140; a flatpack cage. I’d read online reviews saying it took around 90 minutes to 2 hours to put the cage together. I didn’t believe it would take me that long. Having spent times putting many cages together when working at a pet shop in my early 20s (during a break from vet school) and mending cat cages as a vet, I decided after 20 minutes max I’d have it sorted.

An hour and half later I’d only just got it put together! It was a nightmare of a cage to put together.

All of the joints were really stiff and the instructions were unclear. However, once put together, it is a really nice cage which comes to pieces which, to some extent, should help with transporting it. I still struggle to get most of it apart which does make life more difficult when moving it.

The Result of the Bonding

The previous day, whilst at Cavy Corner, Sue asked me what the latest time I’d like to be contacted regarding whether Carl’s bonding was successful or not. My response, any time I don’t mind. Sue’s reply, “I’m often up till 3AM with the guinea pigs, I don’t think you want to be contacted at that time!” I then replied, any time up until midnight but I do want to sleep after then!

 

Sue contact me at around 11 o’clock the next day to inform me that Carl had a friend. My reply do we have a name.

 

“Ralph”

 

That is all I asked.  I didn’t really care about anything else.  I only wanted his name so I could refer to him in some way other than “the new pig”.

Bringing Ralph Home

I returned Cavy Corner later in the afternoon to meet Ralph, a mere nine week old tricolour guinea pig with a very very long nose, huge feet, and facial markings that make look like he has really long fringe!

 

Him and Carl were curled up together and getting on great.

 

After talking to Sue about Ralph and signing the forms, we arrived home and I put them both in the new cage for the first time and, within seconds they were both eating and remained very very calm. Definitely a successful bonding and I was very glad I got Carl a friend. It was obviously just what he needed. My only regret was that I hadn’t done this sooner.

Photo courtesy of Cavy Corner Guinea Rescue

Over the next three weeks Carl and Ralph got on great. Ralph was a very cheeky boy who, for the most part, got his own way. He stole food from Carl, pushed Carl out of bed, and always got the first lot of veg.

 

I also took to task with taming Ralph. This process has already started Cavy Corner but, with having been young, this wasn’t complete. Alongside this, Ralph hadn’t had the best start in life. He’d been adopted from a breeder who had too many guinea pigs and therefore had been neglected on that front.

Not all was Rosy; The Squabbles

Two months on, for the most part, Carl and Ralph are still getting on. As soon as I had owned Ralph for three weeks, coinciding with him hitting puberty at twelve weeks old, we faced some struggles. Before this point Ralph and Carl had never had a squabble but the testosterone surges within Ralph took over a bit and lead to a lot of arguing and some fighting. The opposite to what I thought, Carl is always the one to win fights. Before he was such a pushover but he obviously wanted to remain dominant. They were a rough couple of weeks but it all seems sorted for the most part now.  Carl is the boss but Ralph tries his luck and in some situations get his own way.

Ralph also has one huge benefit, the huge fluffy bed! Luckily for Ralph, Carl has never liked that bed so has never slept in it but Ralph hopped in it when he first arrived home and so it’s definitely his.

How Things Are Now

 

Ralph is still sometimes nervous of being handled but, is chill

 

ed out in virtually any other circumstance. I recently moved house so at times there was a lot of banging and Ralph didn’t even turn round throughout the noise, often sleeping straight through!

 

There is one problem left, when I first adopted Ralph I put twice as much food in the cage. Pretty much all of which was consumed by a very greedy Carl. Carl slammed on weight very quickly and is now very overweight. I have taken action and rationed their food.  I’m sure with Carl now on a diet and losing weight, he will slowly regain a waistline, but I’m not sure is completely happy about the reduced food!

 

Ralph is getting on well and has definitely retained his cheeky side!

Guinea Pigs Need to be Sociable

I want to reiterate that in almost all circumstances guinea pigs should be kept together. They are very sociable species and need to be able to interact with other guinea pigs, ideally within the same enclosure however, if you cannot bond your guinea pigs, the next best thing is for them to be in cages next to each other.  These will allow them to smell, see, verbally interact with, and possibly touch each other.

Carl in his fluffy bed!

Though they are a sociable species, they should only be housed with other guinea pigs. Housing them with other animals is inappropriate. Their body language and other methods of communication are different to those of other species, as is their diet. Many believe they can be housed with rabbits and they sometimes still are in pet shops but, rabbits being a lot bigger can hurt them. Also, the dietary requirements change with eat species and therefore they should be kept separately. Astonishingly I recently heard of someone housing guinea pigs and birds within the same cage! This is wholly inappropriate for both species and is likely going to cause a lot of fear amongst the two.

Guinea Pigs, like rabbits, do enjoy interacting with people either through gentle handling or talking to them.  Every little thing helps for them to remain happy, have interactions with others and settle with as little stress as possible.

Unless there is a strong medical or psychological standpoint, as was the original case with Carl, it is of utmost importance for guinea pigs to be housed with others.  On the odd occasion where this is impossible and a guinea pig has to be completely isolated from others of their species, housing them close to another mammal will provide some socialisation, interaction and enrichment to their lives.  If your guinea pig is alone it is of huge importance that you spend a lot of time with them to help with their need social needs.  However, it is important to realise that however sociable you are with your guinea pig, it will be nowhere near as beneficial to your pig as them having another guinea pig friend if at all possible.

A special thanks to everyone at, or supporting, Cavy Corner. You have all in some way helped with the rescue recuperation and adoption of my little tricoloured Ralph and, Carl’s increased, sustained happiness and welfare.

Photo courtesy of Cavy Corner Guinea Rescue

The more information on Cavy Corner Guinea Rescue, visit their website or Facebook page and, to discuss the care or possible adoption of a guinea pig contact Sue or Winston; details are on their website. Feel free to also ring them with any concerns about the welfare of any guinea pigs and they can give advice or support on these matters.  Alongside that, feel free to contact myself regarding the behavioural or social needs of animals.  I will also answer aim to answer any comments left below.

 

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Fourteen Signs of Pain in Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs (Cavia porcellus) are very common pets.  The interactions between themselves and people and them being easy to tame means they’re often sought after as pets.

Guinea Pigs are naturally prey animals and to stop themselves being caught by predators they hide signs of pain and illness really well, similar to the rabbit.  When scared, guinea pigs tend to freeze, a process known as tonic immobility, rather than show obvious behaviours of pain or fear.

Pain in guinea pigs often shows as very different to our own people often overlook it and don’t usually realise it’s due to pain.  People naturally associate how humans react to pain and expect painful animals to cry out which often is not the case.  When people don’t recognise the signs of pain in their pet they often misinterpret it, sometimes believing their pet doesn’t feel pain in the same level or some things which are painful to us don’t hurt them. Usually, this is not the case, they experience pain just demonstrate it in a different way. Species such as cats, dogs, and rabbits all experience pain the same but the signs they show are unique to the species (though there are some similarities present).

 

Though Guinea Pigs are common pets, as well as sadly being used as lab animals in potentially painful procedures, the symptoms they show when in pain still haven’t been fully studied and are often unknown.  Throughout this blog I will explore already known or highly suspected the signs of pain in guinea pigs  I’m hoping this will help you identify if your guinea pig is ever in pain.

1.Change in Posture

This is a very consistent sign and shown in various ways depending where the pain in a guinea pig is.

Having the back arched is seen with other species such as the dog.  This is seen if they have belly ache for instance if their guts are not working properly or they’ve had surgery like neutering.  They stand or walk with their bodies very tense and their spines curved over making their back appear rounded rather than flat.

Changes in posture are also seen when lying.  Normally guinea pigs lay with their back legs tucked under them. Pain in guinea pigs from their spine, belly or legs may lead to them holding one or both back legs stretched out behind them or splayed to the side.

Remember healthy guinea pigs sometimes alter their position even when not in pain.  When looking for signs of pain you need see if they are in this position lot or are also showing other signs of pain.

  1. Squeaking/ Screaming (AKA Vocalising)

Sometimes, with sudden pain, guinea pigs may make loud and high-pitched squeaks which sound different and often lasting longer than their normal lower pitched noises.

They don’t always cry out when in pain, but sudden, intense types of pain rather than aching pains can cause this.  One example is if a sore part of their skin is touched or if they hit a sore leg against something.

If you’re only trying to identify pain through them making noises, you’ll miss it most of the time.  Lack of noise doesn’t mean their pain is less severe.  Pains which are grumbling away often don’t lead to them crying out.

  1. Eating less and Weight Loss

When you’re feeling unwell you don’t want to eat as much and, to some extent, that’s the same in Guinea Pigs.  Guinea Pigs enjoy eating and spend much of their day eating.

When in pain, guinea pigs often eat less but may still readily accept treats they like when offered.

Guinea Pigs may still eat treats when in pain

 

Guinea Pigs eating less usually isn’t noticed instantly, usually, it’s only noticed the next time you feed them where you will likely find more leftovers than usual.  Monitoring eating as a sign of pain can be difficult and inaccurate because you’re likely to only realise they’re in pain after several hours have passed by which point they may have improved or have suffered in a lot of pain in the meantime, adversely affecting their welfare.

  1. Drinking Less

Similar to eating, pain in guinea pigs may be seen as them being uninterested in drinking.  This doesn’t necessarily mean they stop drinking altogether, but, they drink less and noticed when you change their water.  Therefore, this sign, like with eating less, may not be that helpful by the time you notice.

Noticing your guinea pig eating or drinking less and possibly losing weight gives you a clue they’re not feeling 100%.  Once you notice this behaviour change it’s worth looking for other signs of pain to help decide if they are in pain or what else is occurring.

  1. Unkempt Coat and Grooming Less

Any animal in pain tends to stop grooming themselves either because they don’t well enough due to the pain or their pain worsens in positions needed to properly groom themselves.  As Guinea Pigs don’t groom consistentlyand may groom themselves when hiding, this sign is difficult to spot.

With pain in Guinea Pigs it’s not always easy to notice a reduction in the time spent doing a relatively sporadic behaviour.

The first way you may notice your guinea pigs aren’t grooming fully is due to their coat looking unkempt.  It may be dirtier than usual, full of dandruff or, if long-haired, there may be more knots in it.  A guinea pig’s coat being unkempt takes a while to develop and become visible with the guinea pig being in pain for some time (usually longer than twelve hours) before their hair gets to the state where it’s noticeable, before then there often won’t be a visible change in the coat at all.

Guinea pigs may be in sore when touched
  1. Moving Less and Lying More

When in pain, any movements can worsen the pain so animals tend to stay still to avoid further pain.  Pain is also tiring leading to your guinea pig lying down and sleeping more.

Along with lying and moving less to avoid pain, your guinea pig will be scared due to the pain.  When guinea pigs are scared they tend to freeze their body.

Pain in guinea pigs are likely to make them quieter if you’re around due to increased fear that you’ll pick them up or touch them and them naturally hiding pain when in front of people.  Therefore, some will act normally if you’re watching them for signs of pain.

Guinea pigs moving less could be for many reasons such as stress from the surgery or due to medication side effects.  For instance, the pain killer, Buprenorphine, causes Guinea Pigs to lay more even when they’re in less pain so this can become confusing. Therefore, guinea pigs being quiet should not be interpreted as them always being in pain.

  1. Writhing/ Abdominal Contractions

Like in Rabbits, the signs of pain in guinea pigs are very subtle.  One of these is them writhing and having abdominal contractions.  Some abdominal contractions, to make it more difficult, can be normal in Guinea Pigs, however, these tend to worsen with pain.  Looking at them carefully and seeing contractions and them stretching their body out at the same time is likely due to pain, especially if they do it often.

  1. Flinching

Most animals flinch when in pain.  This is a sudden involuntary movement where the animal is trying to move away from whatever is causing the pain.  This may be from you if you try to touch them or they could be appearing to just flinch if nothing is near them due to pain within the body rather than just in the skin.  Flinching is more common with sudden and shocking pain rather than a duller constant pain.

Eating less is a sign of pain
When in pain, Guinea pigs often eat less

 

  1. Shaking

Pain in guinea pigs, either due to fear or adrenaline, may cause them to shake.  Shaking may be very difficult to see as it is only very subtle.

As shaking is a very subtle potentially due to not only pain but also medication side effects and stress, it is not the most reliable of signs.  Due to this if you see your guinea pig shaking you should keep an eye on them and monitor them for other problems to try and work out what their problem is.

  1. Paying Attention to a Painful Area

Like ourselves, if a guinea pig has a painful area they will tend to look at it or touch it.  Your guinea pig may groom, lick, scratch or chew at that area more which may be noticed by them having wet hair or it could even lead to the skin or hair being damaged in some cases.

  1. Moving slower

Pain in Guinea Pigs tends to worsen when they move.  Therefore, as a result, they tend to move slower.

Guinea pigs will tend to move slower, potentially an altered posture and moving more stiffly.  However, medications causing sedation such as painkillers or anaesthetics may cause your guinea pigs to move slower even without pain so they should be monitored for other signs of pain.

  1. Limping

Limping is only a sign of pain if the pain is in their legs or sometime in their spine.  Lameness is usually due to pain, especially if it suddenly comes on, however in some cases it could be due to other problems such nerve or muscle problems.

Whichever leg your guinea pig is limping on is likely the one causing the pain. If they’re in pain with several legs, then the one they’re limping on is likely the most painful.

Not all guinea pigs in pain will be limping.  Also, even if they are in pain and are limping they may show no further signs of pain than the limping.

Metacam is tasty!
Carl nibbling on the Metacam  (a painkiller) Syringe

 

  1. Cage Bar- Biting

    Rodents normally chew but this can worsen or change when stressed.

    Most happy, healthy guinea pigs don’t chew their cage bars a lot unless they are stressed or bored.  If they suddenly start cage-biting it’s a sign something isn’t normal.

    Once they start cage-biting it is important for you to find the cause and try to treat it or correctly alter their behaviour whenever possible.

    Though you can buy foul-tasting liquids to spray on cage bars to prevent chewing.  This just acts as a deterrent and is unlikely to stop them chewing in the long term.  Also, chewing is only a sign of another underlying problem in a lot of cases so you need to discover what this is, correct it and then try to resolve their chewing if it continues.

  2.  Grinding Teeth (Bruxism)

 

Guinea Pigs sometimes grind their teeth when their mouths or teeth are sore.  This is usually the case if their teeth are overgrown or not meeting properly so some grow more than others.

If your guinea pig is grinding their teeth you need to see your vet ASAP as issues with their teeth/ mouth stop them eating properly, leading to other health problems.

The summary

The signs of pain in Guinea Pigs are very subtle and still poorly understood.

Unlike rabbits, mice, rats and other species, no long has studied the effects of pain on facial expression to aid with grading pain.  There are some easier signs to detect such as limping or crying out but otherwise you need to focus on subtle signs which, each on their own, could be unrelated to pain by being related to behavioural or medical issues or are a result of medication side effects.

The best way to detect signs of pain in guinea pigs is to look out for all potential signs and, if they show any, then try to identify if others are present, monitor them and look for the cause.

 

If your guinea pig show signs of pain you should take them to your vet.  Your vet can help to work out if they are in pain, where this is and then diagnose and treat them.

 

With Guinea Pigs, just being stressed from pain or them eating less can cause other health problems, some of which may be fatal.  This means trying to resolve pain not only improves your guinea pig’s welfare but, if you don’t they could become very ill.

Finally, the signs of pain fit into a couple of big groups, normal behaviours they have stopped doing (such as being active or eating) and pain behaviours they have started (such as writhing or sleeping).  It must be remembered that Guinea Pigs hide pain when people are around, so it can be very hard to spot; even if you only see a pain behaviour performed a couple of times it may suggest a major problem.

Final Words

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Seven Common Hoof Problems in Horses

As the old adage goes, “No Foot, No Horse”.  Horses are heavy animals spending most of the time on their feet.  In fact, them lying down for long periods can cause potentially disastrous damage to their muscles.  Unlike smaller animals and people, the sheer weight of a horse means leg amputation would not help them so any foot problems cause huge issues.

 

So, what are the most common disorders of horse’s hooves.

Laminitis

This condition raises masses of fear in any horse owner.

The horse’s hoof has two layers of soft tissue between the hoof wall and the inner structures.  This structure is called the lamina.  The lamina holds the pedal bone in the foot to the inside of the hoof wall and stops it falling further down within the foot.

Laminitis is a swelling of this structure.  It is usually associated with lameness of the front legs but can affect just one foot both back feet or all four.  This is an incredibly painful condition and can either come on really quickly or much more slowly and be there most of the time.

Laminitis presents more commonly in overweight ponies and is associated with hormonal conditions such as Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Cushings Disease.  However, it is also common in horses worked on hard ground, eating large amounts of fresh lush grass or even those recently treated with steroids.

The symptoms of laminitis include some or all of the following;

  • Lameness.
  • heat in the feet.
  • A bounding digital pulse, ridges on the hoof.
  • bruising of the sole.
  • Lameness or stiffness.
  • Standing back on their feet.

Laminitis, in the most severe of cases, can lead to the pedal bone rotating and dropping lower into the foot which bruises and may even puncture the sole.  These cases can be easily picked on xrays or MRI scans.

If you believe your horse or pony has laminitis you should ring your vet straight away.

With laminitis, you vet will ultimately want to work with both you and your horse’s farrier to try and make sure the horse has several treatments.  In most cases the horses should be kept on a;

  • deep layer of bedding.
  • rested.
  • have specific shoes to take the weight off their painful toes (such as heartbar shoes).
  • be given anti-inflammatory medications.
  • medications to improve the blood flow to the laminae.

Though laminitis can sometimes lead to a horse being put to sleep, especially in the more severe cases, getting the best treatment regime for them as soon as possible can really make a big difference.

The pedal bone (the lowest bone in the picture) has rotated and has dropped through the sole
White Line Disease

White line disease is very common.  It is caused by the separation of the hoof wall at one of the deeper layers of the hoof which lacks pigment, hence the white.  This may occur anywhere on the hoof but appears more at either the heels and quarters (back and sides) of the hoof.

There’s a number of possible causes of White Line Disease.  This tends to first develop with changes in moisture where the structure of the foot may be weaker. The movement of the foot when it’s strength isn’t at its maximum, as well as potential nutritional problems or increased concussion, may lead to small cracks developing.  With the presence of small cracks, bacteria and fungi get into the hoof from the outside world into the deep layer of the hoof causing it to separate.  However, the cause is not always clear-cut.

White line disease can alter in severity from really minor cases whereby the horse remains sound and relatively unaffected to the more severe end of the spectrum with it affecting the structure of the lamina treading to pedal bone rotation.

Other signs include

  • a crumbly area around the edge of the hoof wall on the sole.
  • the foot being hot or tender.
  • their feet becoming flat.
  • their hoof becomes concave on one side whilst bulging on the other side.
  • The hoof wall then starts to chip.
  • Their hooves sound hollow when tapped.

White line Disease may be diagnosed by your farrier finding damage to the hoof, either at the surface or when trimming.  In more severe cases where lameness is present any rotation of the pedal bones may be found by X-rays similar to laminitis.

With treatment,

  1. Any separated hoof wall should be removed and further damaged areas on the surface being removed at 7-10day intervals until the healthy horn is reached.
  2. The actual original cause of the disorder should be found and resolved.
  3. Appropriate shoeing can remove pressure from damaged areas of the hoof, these shoes should be replaced at four weekly intervals.
  4. The application of iodine or similar topical medications to the area may treat the infection.
  5. Keeping the foot dry.
  6. Use supplements which aid hoof growth eg Biotin and Methione supplements.

One thing to avoid is the application of acrylic to seal the area. This will enclose infection in and worsen the problem.

Navicular Disease

Navicular disease is very common. It is the cause of up to a third of chronic cases of lameness affecting both front legs, especially in Thoroughbreds.

There are a number of causes of Navicular Disease.

  1. Some horses are born with a divided navicular bone increasing the risk of a fracture to the navicular bone; a bone just in the heel of the foot.
  2. Trauma due to “wear and tear”. The most likely focus of this damage is due to damage of the deep digital flexor tendon (a tendon running down the back of the heel and which also attaches to the navicular (and pedal) bone.
  3. A fracture of the navicular bone.
  4. Reduction of blood flow to the navicular bone.
  5. In a smaller number of cases, the cause may be an infection of the navicular bone or a fluid sac behind this.  These infections are often caused by nails puncturing the area, often near the frog (a soft structure of the sole) which can lead to permanent changes such as arthritis.

Navicular Disease is related to swelling of the tissues and new the development of bone in some areas of/around the navicular bone and the breakdown of other areas of bone.

Signs of Navicular Disease;

  • Walking with their toes hitting the ground first.
  • Leaning forward over their toes; the opposite to those with laminitis, taking the weight off their painful heels.  This may visible by their hooves being worn over the toes and not at the heel.
  • With severe cases, your horse may be very reluctant to put any weight down their heels.
  • A nerve block (where your vet injects local anaesthetic at different points in the leg. This causes specific areas to become numb and, if the affected area is numb they will no longer be lame) around the navicular bone.
  • XRays show changes to the navicular bone leaving the Navicular bone looking moth-eaten around the edges.

To treat navicular disease your vet needs to find the cause.

  • Any fractures need to be repaired, often with surgically placed screws.
  • Putting a camera (known as an arthroscope) into the back of their foot to view the structures around the navicular bone, cut away any unhealthy tissues and clean out the area.
  • Your vet may suggest you call your farrier to shoe your horse so their toe is shorter and their heel. This stops them putting pressure on their heels.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory Drugs such as Phenylbutazone (“Bute) or Meloxicam (Metacam) to reduce both the swelling and pain helping your horse be in less pain and be able to move easier.
  • In severe cases, surgery can be done to cut the nerves at the back of the foot. This doesn’t affect their walking as these nerves don’t control their muscles. It also only helps in the short term as, over time, the nerves will heal. This method works purely by numbing the area so your horse will no longer be in pain and will therefore no longer be in pain.

    Heartbar shoes can help with laminitis and cracked hooves
Foot Abscess

A foot abscess is a very common cause of sudden lameness at rest in horses.

As the horse suddenly becomes severely lame when they previously showed no lameness, many horse owners initially think their horse has damaged a tendon though this is not the case.

An abscess is a pocket of infection and pus.  As the hoof is very hard there is nowhere for this pus to be released so pressure builds up against sensitive structures of their foot such as the lamina.  Abscesses are very, very painful and often the horse won’t even put weight down their leg at all.

Usually, an area of the sole next to the abscess becomes soft which can be found and then removed by a farrier or vet, releasing the pus.  With the pus gone the pressure on the structures of the hoof reduces instantaneously and the pain drops rapidly with the horse no longer being quite as lame.

To help drain any extra pus from the foot and prevent further pus and infection developing there the foot is often bandaged with a poultice which actively draws any pus out of the foot. With training, most horse owners are able to apply bandages and poultices to their own horse’s feet, especially if they are quiet.

Bruising

Horses feet, like ours or those of other animals, can become bruised.  A bruise on a horses foot looks very similar to bruises we may get.

These develop for a number of reasons;

  • Having stones stuck in the foot or walking on stony ground.
  • The rotation and dropping of the pedal bone in laminitis, especially if the pedal bone has rotated and is dropping
  • Abscesses.
  • Poor feet trimming.

Nothing consistently speeds up the healing of bruises but your horse should not be worked when they have these as they do cause some pain.  Providing your horse with a thick soft bed will also help through the cushioning reducing the pressure on their feet.

Cracked Hooves

Several things can cause hooves to become cracked.

If the hoof becomes cracked, either side of the crack move as the horse is walking and weight-bearing.  This constant movement puts pressure on the lamina and tears it.  As the lamina is the only structure within the hoof holding the pedal bone against gravity, the tendency is for the pedal bone to rotate and drop if not careful.  Other risks are that infection enters the crack leading to a foot abscess or even, more dangerously, the pedal bone becomes infected which, if happens, will require surgery.

Cracks have various causes.  The vertical cracks start either at the top or bottom of the hoof and are known as sand and grass cracks respectively.

Sand cracks are commonly caused by the hooves being overgrown.  The overgrowth places pressure on the front of the coronary band (the area where the hoof grows from) which contains lots of small tubes for supplying nutrients to each tiny section of the hoof.  As pressure is placed on the papilla they become blocked and, after a short period of time, the new horn growing in that area dies from a lack of nutrition.  As a result, a gap develops in the growing hood, creating a crack.

Cracks starting at the bottom of the hooves, however, result from a horses foot not being correctly balanced.  Horses should walk with either side of their foot hitting the ground at the same time and the heel hitting slightly before the toe.  If the horses walk isn’t balanced, some areas of hoof are worn more than they should be and other areas not worn enough.  A crack will develop if the hoof isn’t trimmed down to correct this difference.  Sometimes cracks can start in the middle.  This isn’t seen as much as it used to be and was caused by carriage horses stepping n the hoof of the one next to them.

If cracks develop you should contact your vet, especially if they are more than superficial.

These may have foreign bodies in them that must be identified by xray before removal.  Without these procedures the likelihood of foot abscess and infection of the bone (osteitis) is greatly increased.

A good farrier should be able to reduce the size of the crack however, in severe cases, they cannot fully immobilise them.

Grass cracks can sometimes be removed mostly through trimming of the hoof.  As well as this trimming of the hoof should be used as a method of altering how the hoof hits the ground the balance the foot and reduce the pressure on the crack to allow it to heal.

Finally, glues and staples can be used in the centre of cracks as well as heartbar shoes to help to stabilise the hoof wall.  Over time, the cracks grow out as the foot grows down.  The exception to that is with severe defects or those fully splitting the coronary band whereby a gap may always be present in the growing hoof.

Picking out a horses hooves is a very important part of their care
Thrush

Thrush is a fungal infection of the sole.  It creates a foul odor and black discharge often around the frog.

Thrush may develop due to a lack of hygiene and can also be aided by the improvement of that.

To prevent Thrush developing, your horse’s feet should be picked at least once daily with a hoof pick and cleaned if they are muddy.

Thrush is treated by adhering to strict hygiene regimes and, if needed, you can buy Thrush treatments.

Thrush usually doesn’t cause pain or inflammation so it doesn’t usually cause them to become lame, however, over time it can damage the soft structures of the sole.

End Note

So some of the main problems affecting the hooves of horses and other equids (such as donkeys or zebra) are laminitis, abscesses, navicular disease, thrush, cracks, bruises and white line disease.  These can all be of varying severities and often can be interlinked ie navicular disease can be due to a bone infection which could lead to an abscess or bruises can be as a result of laminitis.

To find out about my connection with horses then read my introductory blog.  Also if you want to discuss anything here in more detail then leave a comment below or contact me directly.  Finally, if you found this job informative/ interesting then please subscribe; enter your email in the box in the right sidebar.

Warning; Antifreeze Poisons Pets

Following on from yesterday’s blog, I decided to inform you of another dangerous wintry household item; Antifreeze.

Antifreeze is found in most car owner’s houses/ garages or in their car either as a screen wash or a spray to defrost the windscreen

Ethylene glycol is the main ingredient in most types of antifreeze.  This is a very dangerous poison killing more than 73% of cats and 35% of dogs who have drunk it.  Only 6-7ml of diluted antifreeze can kill the average cat.  Ethylene glycol tastes sweet so if any drips on the floor or a bottle is left lying your pet may drink it.  The key to preventing your pets being poisoned is by ensuring you leave no drips or puddles around after filling up your car and checking for puddles around your neighbour’s cars.  If you have outdoor cats it is worth enlightening your neighbours to the dangers of antifreeze; why not share this blog with them?

Are my Pets at Risk?

Outdoor cats are more at risk of Antifreeze poisoning as you may not be there to stop them drinking any puddles.  However, any animal with access to where this is stored or to a car either leaking antifreeze or that has recently been filled up may be at risk.

Stop your dog from drinking from puddles as these may also contain antifreeze.

Sheep Dog
Sheep dog in a wet farmyard where there may be antifreeze
How Does Antifreeze Poison Dogs and What are the Signs?

Antifreeze is absorbed into the bloodstream after being drunk.  Once it is in the blood produces crystals.  These crystals block up the small blood vessels in the kidneys which injure the kidneys before causing kidney failure over time.

Antifreeze poisoning causes the following symptoms soon after an animal drinks it;

  • vomiting.
  • being wobbly (ataxia).
  • fast heartbeat (tachycardia).
  • seizures (“fits”).
  • incontinence (not being able to control their bladder or bowels leading to them urinating or defaecating without realising.  The can’t help this so DON’T punish them).
  • dehydration.
  • being very thirsty (they will drink a lot if they have access to water).

Over the next few hours, your pet’s symptoms will worsen leading on to the following;

  • Their Heart beating beat even faster,
  • Rapid breathing or panting (tachypnoea) as fluid goes into and around their lungs making it hard to breathe.
  • Become depressed/ lethargic.
  • Fall unconscious/ into a coma

If untreated, or with inadequate treatment, your pet’s kidneys are likely to be so severely damaged that treatments available to most vets won’t make them improve though may improve their welfare.

Guinea Pig
Guinea Pigs and other animals can be affected too
What will The Vet Do?

Your vet is likely to take blood and water samples to see how badly their kidneys have been affected.  If you take your dog to the vets within the first two hours of drinking antifreeze, they may give your dog a medication called Apomorphine. Apomorphine doesn’t work well in cats but it causes dogs to vomit.  If there is any antifreeze in their stomach, making your dog vomit will get some of it out and prevent it from being absorbed.  Apomorphine can, however, cause dogs to become wobbly and sleepy.  Vets may try other medications to make your cat vomit such as some sedatives.

Often with poisons, vets will syringe-feed animals with a black liquid called Activate Charcoal.  Activated charcoal binds to a lot of poisons and stops them being absorbed into the body.  However, activated charcoal doesn’t bind to ethylene glycol so isn’t a treatment for antifreeze poisoning.

The most effective way of stopping ethylene glycol causing further damage is for a vet to give your pet accurate doses of medical grade ethanol directly into their vein.  Ethanol prevents Ethylene Glycol from doing the damage to cells as it blocks its path.  However, giving dogs ethanol is very dangerous and illegal for anyone but a vet to do so don’t try and treat your animal yourself; it will NOT help and may increase their chances of dying.

For Ethanol treatment to be fully effective, it must be given carefully and at specific doses for several days.  Your pet will stay in the hospital throughout this treatment.

Vets will likely put your pet on a drip to keep them hydrated. Ethylene glycol also causes the blood to become acidic which is also very dangerous and can affect their heart and breathing.  Blood pH can be monitored and treated but treatment with Ethanol alone will not help this.A dog lying in bed

They’ve survived; is it all over?

If your pet is one of the lucky ones to survive and but wasn’t treated correctly immediately they will almost always have kidney failure.  Kidney failure can be helped by medications and prescription diets but the kidneys cannot be repaired. Though they’ll have kidney failure for the rest of their lives, if it is managed correctly you pet may continue to have happy and fulfilled lives.  However, your pet should ideally have blood and urine tests at least every six to twelve months (depending on their health and your vet’s advice) to check their kidney function.  These blood/ urine tests will tell your vet whether the treatment is helping or not and if it may need changing.

If there’s any doubt that your pet has drunk ANY antifreeze/ screenwash you must take them to a vet immediately.

Dog looking away from the camera

Take Home Message

Nothing you can do at home helps Ethylene Glycol poisoning.  Animals poisoned by, or suspected to have drunk, Ethylene Glycol must see a vet immediately.

 

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Welcome!

Who Am I?

My name is Kim.  I qualified as a Veterinary Surgeon in 2011 after studying at the Royal Veterinary College in London.  I then worked as a small animal vet for five years.

In August I completed my Masters Degree in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare at Newcastle University.

Bam; Leopard Gecko
What do my Qualifications Mean?

I know (most of) your animals from inside out, both what’s going on in their organs and what makes them tick.  I also know their welfare needs based on their species and situation.

I can predict how an animal will react something they need is lacking and give suggestions (which can be as down-to-earth or as wacky as you want) on how to solve any deficits in their welfare to improve their physical and mental wellbeing.

Darwin as a juvenile; Leopard Gecko
Can I Understand things From an Owners Point of View?

I am also a pet owner and am not restricted to the conventional species.

My more “conventional” pet is Carl, a guinea pig I adopted after performing a couple of operations on him, most notably removing his right eye due to severe damage and infection which couldn’t be treated any other way.

Leo; Leopard Gecko

The pets that tend to pique others interests more are my three lizards.  Firstly I own Leo, a geriatric Leopard Gecko (Eublepharis macularis) I rehomed from my cousin around six years ago.

Second up is Darwin.  Darwin is also a Leopard Gecko and is coming up three.  She is a lot smaller than Leo, about half the size in fact partly because Leo is huge.  She also has completely different markings to him due to her breeding; she is Hypomelanistic which means she has fewer spots than a “wild-type” like Leo.

Last but not least, I own a  Crested Gecko (Correlophus ciliatus) called Dallas (AKA Dal) who is around four and is the guy in the banner on this site.

Dallas; Crested Gecko
Have I Had any other Pets?

I have owned several rescue dogs and sometimes look after my parent’s Jack Russell Cross, Rocky, who is around twelve.  As a teen and throughout most of my twenties I owned a dog called Tess who was my best friend.

Rocky

 

When I was younger I also owned hamsters (both Russian Dwarf and Syrian (AKA Golden) and gerbils.  Sadly, I haven’t owned any cats though really like their personalities and independent nature.  I do have experience with them from the places that I’ve worked and had a farm cat who was obsessed with me.

Tess

 

Finally, though I haven’t owned any, I worked at a riding school throughout my teenage years caring for up to fifteen horses at a time and knowing each one’s quirks as well as learning to ride and teaching others to both ride and care for horses.

Peter

 

What Are My Passions?

I am very passionate about aiding the care and welfare of animals, both from a physical and psychological viewpoint.  To improve the standards of animal welfare as much as possible I want to educate others about the welfare needs of a wide-range of species, both domesticated and not.

 

I am also passionate about reducing the abuse, either intentional or not, caused by humans towards animals.  I hope to do this through explaining to people both the positive and negative issues facing animals today and allowing people to explore those further and pass their knowledge on to others.

Carl; Guinea Pig

 

What is the Purpose of this Blog?

My aim is for the ordinary pet owner to find this blog both educational and entertaining.  I will discuss the care of different species, current affairs in the animal world and give light of what I’m doing and some of the adventures I have and the animals I meet along the way.  This is here as a resource but also as a conversation starter which will hopefully get you inspired to read on or spread the word.

Darwin; Leopard Gecko
Final Words

I hope I’ve introduced this blog well.  As I progress over the coming weeks if there are any animal related subjects/ items you want me to explore then feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email (kim@animalwelfarematters.co.uk) and I’ll look into the topic further.