Today I thought I’d do a tutorial on how to give medications. Here I show you with Carl, my guinea pig, but it’s a similar method with hamsters (though they are much more wriggly!), rats, degus and rabbits.
Along with this blog, I have filmed a basic tutorial of how I do this with, of course, Carl demonstrating! I need to up my game both with speaking to a camera and editing!
Carl currently is not on medications so I gave him water. I would not have given him anything he didn’t need and I would not have done this if he minded!
Step 1; Get a Syringe and the Medication
Prescribing medications usually come in a bottle which you can fit a syringe into. Your vet should also have given you an appropriately sized syringe. Usually, with rodents, this is a 1ml syringe but it may be bigger if you have a rabbit.
If you have a medication called Metacam (the active ingredient is Meloxicam which is also sold as Loxicom) this may come in a special bottle with its own syringe; follow the instructions from your vet.
Make sure the syringe is clean. The first time you use it it will be sterile. You should clean it after each time you use it.
Step 2; Fill the syringe with the medication
To fill the syringe, submerge the end into the liquid and pull the plunger back.
Put more of the medication in that what they need.
Take the syringe out of the medication, and then carefully press the plunger to put any extra medication back in the bottle.
Make sure you check the bottle; your vet should have put a label on it to say how much your pet wants and how often. Give them the amount they say; if you’re unsure how much to give then contact your vet.
Often when a syringe is first used there is an air bubble in it. This takes up space that should have the medication in so if you leave the bubble there your pet will get less medication than they need.
To get rid of the bubble(s) put the syringe upright with the nozzle at the top and the bubble should rise to the top. If it doesn’t rise then flicking it and pulling the plunger back may help it to rise.
Once the bubble is at the top of the syringe, pull back on the plunger to suck more air in then push the plunger until there is no air left in the syringe (don’t worry, it doesn’t matter if there is a small amount due to it just going into their mouth).
As you put in more medication than your pet needed, push the plunger until there is only the prescribed amount of medication in the syringe.
If you end up with not enough liquid left in the syringe then don’t worry, suck some more back up.
Certain medications have a specialised syringe fits a nozzle on the bottle. If this is the case, attach the syringe to the bottle, turn the bottle upside down then pull the plunger back until the desired amount is in the syringe.
Step 3; secure your pet/ get someone else to hold them
Try to get someone else to hold your pet whilst you give them their medication.
Your pet should be held ideally on the floor so they don’t fall if they get away. Otherwise, they could hold them over a table or on your lap.
They should hold them with 2 hands if they are guinea pig or rabbit sized, one hand over each shoulder, and hold them firmly but not tight. They should allow you to take your pets head if need be.
Another option is to wrap them in a suitably sized towel. Depending on the size of your pet and towel it may help if this is folded in half first.
Then place the towel over the surface
Put your pet in the middle of the width of it with their head at the front of the towel.
Place 1 half over their back then the other side.
Make sure their front legs are tucked into it
Hold it by the top firmly but not too tightly; they need to be able to move their heads and not have their chests squeezed.
If you’re just doing in by yourself, hold them in one hand with 1 or 2 fingers between their legs and the rest of your hand around their side and back. It may be easier if you lift them up and rest their back against your chest. Make sure they’re not lifted far above the surface though in case they get away.
Step 4; Place the Syringe into their mouth
Pick up the syringe with the medication in your free hand.
They have a gap in the side of their mouth between their front teeth (incisors) and cheek teeth (premolars and molars).
Place this syringe into this gap pointing towards the back of their tongue.
Put it in some distance but don’t force it back too far.
Don’t worry if your pet chews on the syringe, it won’t harm them.
Step 5; Press the Plunger
Press the plunger before removing the syringe from their mouth.
Step 6; Give them something nice and tasty or give them a fuss
Though some medication tastes nice, most of it doesn’t. Most animals get stressed when you give medications to them. To make sure that they are as happy as possible and to make it as easy as possible give them a stroke in their favourite spot or maybe a treat or piece of food they like.
Be careful when you give medications; it will take a while to get used to. You don’t want to scare your pet. Take it steady and if you’re struggling and only manage to get half their medication into them stop, give them a break, and then try again. You’ll be more successful and have an easier time in the future if you don’t allow yourself or your pet to get too stressed.
Do you have any further questions? Leave them in the comments below or contact me directly. If your animal rabbit or guinea pig has an illness causing pain then check out my guides on signs of pain in those species to help you monitor that.
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Here I will be investigating the need to feed hay and it’s alternatives. I will mostly cover small rodents and rabbits but will also mention farm animals and horses.
What is Hay?
Hay is dried grass. It’s as simple as that.
It is usually cut from fields in the late Summer/ Early Autumn and then is sold throughout the rest of the year. Hay can have differing colours with newly cut hay being a much greener colour than older hay.
The type of hay purely depends on the type of grass or crop that was cut and dried.
Hay can be cut to different lengths, made from different grasses and contain other plants. For instance, the hay I feed Carl contains Dandelion and Marigold.
Hay tends to be fed when either it’s not possible to feed grass all of the time or there isn’t enough grass.
Small animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas tend to be kept in cages with little access to grass much of the time.
With large animals such as horses or cattle, however, hay may be fed when there isn’t access to enough lush grass. Though hay may not always be as good to feed as grass. The nutritional value of grass may reduce as it dries and it containing less water means more needs to be drunk. However, as a replacement to grass, hay is usually completely fine.
Why is hay important?
Grass, hay or alternatives to hay is the staple dietary component for most herbivores. Not only does this mean sheep, cows and horses need to eat it but also rabbits and guinea pigs.
These animals have digestive systems that rely on a very high fibre diet and a large amount of roughage (grasses/ hays) needs to pass through it to keep the guts moving. If they stop eating this or don’t eat enough they are at risk of their guts stopping. This is worsened by many of these animals being unable to vomit.
Why is this important?
Rabbits, for instance, groom lots so develop hairballs in their stomachs. Unlike cats, rabbits are not able to vomit these back up leading to the potential for blockage. The high fibre diet ensures that the guts keep moving and, in doing so, stop a blockage developing.
Herbivores bodies are designed to have constant energy production from food. If this stops then it may lead to low blood sugars.
These animals also rely on the naturally good bacteria in their gut to both break down food and prevent bad bacteria invading and causing them to become ill. If they don’t get grass or hay this bacteria will not get the fuel they require to survive and thrive and therefore could die, affecting digestion.
Guinea pigs, chinchillas and rabbits, as well as the aforementioned farm animals have continuously growing or erupting teeth. These teeth need to be ground down to prevent them overgrowing or becoming sharp next to the tongue or cheeks, causing damage. These animals must eat plenty of grass or hay as the movement of the teeth across this and each other allows them to become ground down.
If teeth do not grind down against each other appropriately they will become unevenly worn. This uneven wear will make eating more difficult and prevent them getting adequate nutrition which can then lead to greater problems such as gut stasis, where the guts stop working. It can also cause the teeth to develop sharp points which cut into the tongue or cheeks leading to severe pain.
How Much Hay do they Need?
The amount of hay needed depends what species your pet is. A rabbit requires 80 to 90% of their diet being hay or grass. A guinea pig, on the other hand, need slightly less than this; requiring approximately 70% of the diet being hay. The reason why these need less is that they must also eat fruit and vegetables daily to get enough vitamins C, which is not the case in rabbits. Fruit and veg will give some of the nutrients it Hay would otherwise and it also helps to grind down the teeth.
It is often for that rabbits and guinea pigs should have approximately the same amount of hay during a day as their body size. However, rabbits and guinea pigs should have hay available throughout the day which is both clean and easily available for them to eat. This means that should be separated from the bedding. Their bedding hay often has droppings and urine getting mixed in and therefore affecting not only is quality but reducing the likelihood of your pet wanting to eat it. For instance, you wouldn’t want to eat and go to toilet in the same room, and this is the same rabbits.
One way to do this is to provide hay in a hay net or a hay rack and keep this regularly topped up, checking is plenty of hay at very least twice a day. If out in a garden, remember these animals can eat grass which may even be healthier for them dependent on both the quality of hay and that the grass. This means they will need to have as much hay throughout the day. However, before giving your pets access a garden you must make sure you don’t have any poisonous plants throughout it.
If you do your pets could eat these and then become unwell. Alongside this, weed to killers can also be dangerous to make sure that you don’t use these on any grass that your pets may eat.
Other animals have slightly different requirements for hay. Horses, sheep and cattle all need about 2.5% of their bodyweight in hay each day. This does, however, depend on how much grass they have access to as well as whether horses are ridden, and how much, and if the cattle or sheep are pregnant or producing milk. It also depends on the amount of water within the hay.
Some horses are fed haylage rather than hay which contains more water and therefore they will need to have a higher weight to accommodate the weight of the water. Many cows and sheep are fed silage which again weighs more than hay due to the water within it and so need more than that. Realistically, the best way to feed hay is just to give a slight excess of it unless the animal is overweight at which stage, it should be reduced slightly until that animal no longer gains weight or, have a healthy weight.
Types of Hay
The main types of hay a Timothy hay and alfalfa hay.
Alfalfa hay is much higher in energy so is great for young and growing animals. But it can lead to obesity in older animals. It is recommended guinea pigs, chinchillas and rabbits switch to Timothy hay as adults in most cases.
There are also other types of hay such as Oak hay which can be fed instead of meadow or timothy hay to horses. Oak hay is good for overweight horses due to it’s fewer calories.
There is also meadow hay. This tends to be finer. Whilst it is great for bedding in small mammals, it’s not the best for feeding. Meadow hay isn’t the best feeder hay as it easier to eat. Though this sounds beneficial, it means it grinds his teeth down less as it takes less time to eat. As a result, it’s poorer for dental health.
Sometimes the best option is to buy hay baled with a mix of grasses creating several types of hay within one bale. Often this type of hay is obtained from the farm rather than from a pet store.
Pre-packaged hay designed for small mammals can come with other ingredients mixed with it. A common one is Dandelion’s which both improves the taste and with picky animals but can help with kidney disorders especially if alongside Marigold. This is seen with Burgess hay. Often adding things to hay can also improve how well your pet eats it and therefore can help those picky eaters. Other manufacturers add in Carrots and Apples. These extra flavours improve how well some animals eat the hay and thus improve their health. Along with that, it encourages foraging behaviour and thus is good for enrichment.
One thing to look for is the stem length.
To aid grinding down the teeth, and to improve their guts, long stem hay is advised. This is where the grass was longer when cut and has not been shredded down further.
A large proportion of the good quality hay in pet stores is now sold like this though not all of it. The aforementioned Burgess Dandelion and Marigold hay is cut to a shorter length. This may be good for those pets with longterm dental issues (which grinding more won’t help) whereby they can’t chew well. However, short-stemmed hay will not wear down the teeth as well so it’s weighing up the pros and cons of each type of hay.
My own guinea pig has Burgess Dandelion and Marigold hay and he has had no dental problems. But, Carl has had urinary tract issues so the benefits of this of this hay is worthwhile.
What should I look out For with hay?
Hay should be sweet smelling and not be too dusty.
With horses, dusty hay is often soaked in water, especially for horses with COPD. Soaking hay reduces it’s nutritional quality and, in most cases, it should not be left to soak for longer than 10 minutes.
Soaking hay isn’t a technique used with small animals and, instead, buying dust extracted hay is the best option. Dust extracted hay is recommended as small animals have sensitive airways so dust is likely to irritate.
It is important to make sure there is no mould in the hay, whatever the species. Something else look for is whether or not there is Ragwort (Jacobaea vulgaris) in the hay. Ragwort is a very poisonous plant and is well known to cause liver damage in horses, farm animals and humans. I have not heard reports of whether or not it causes this in rodents and rabbits however, I feel that the likelihood is that it will. Therefore, if a bale of hay contains any rag worked I strongly suggest that you not only discard the whole bail without feeding it to your pet but, also contact the suppliers immediately to ensure they investigate this further as they potentially need to recall the whole batch.
Mould should also not be in a bale of hay. Mouldy hay causes respiratory diseases but can cause issues to the guts as well and make your pet very unwell. Therefore, like you’ve rag worked is in a bale, I suggest that you discard the bail and contact the suppliers ASAP.
The colour of the hay depends on its age, when it was cut, the type of the hay and its quality. Usually, hay should be slightly green coloured however as said this does vary. The main thing easily is sweet smelling as this is a sign of not only good quality but also the lack of mould.
Alternatives to Hay
Many people are allergic to hay.
Alternatives to hay depend on the species. Horses often are given hayage as an alternative. This is higher in energy and is, therefore, more likely to cause obesity and so may be avoided in overweight horses. However, haylage may be much lower in dust, but I have experiences with mould within it.
Cattle sheep and goats tend to be fed silage which is very acidic. This has been partially fermented and should not really be fed to small animals.
In most cases, guinea pigs, rabbits and chinchillas should be fed hay. There is an alternative called ReadiGrass which is partially dried grass. Realistically though, if you are allergic to hay you’re likely allergic to this. It is not suitable to use instead of hay due to it being very high in calcium and energy which increases the risk of obesity. However, ReadiGrass is great as an occasional treat.
The main take-home message is that guinea pigs, rabbits, chinchillas and herbivorous farm animals need hay or grass as a main part of the diet. Hay aids both dental and digestive health.
Unless animals are overweight, they ideally should be offered hay continuously. This is definitely the case in rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas and if these become overweight the best option is to reduce their pellets or muesli feed.
There are several types of hay such as meadow, Timothy, oat and alfalfa hay. It is important that you avoid hay containing lots of dust or any mould or Ragwort in it.
Freshwater should always be provided alongside hay. If your animal stops eating hay you must seek veterinary advice straight away. Also, ensure that the supplied with hay offer before such as within a hay rack or hay net to prevent it becoming mixed with their droppings or urine.
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Pet shops sell a large number of items for small mammals, some of which are suitable, others just aren’t. Sometimes it can take a while to find items which not only suit your pets but also yourself.
Here I’m going to say what Carl has and also, perhaps more importantly, what he doesn’t have and the reasons I don’t endorse these products.
For various reasons right now his set up isn’t completely how I want it; I plan on getting him a larger cage soon but most of it I’m happy with.
I’m the first to admit, Carl’s hay isn’t the cheapest option. Hay (and grass) should make up at least 70% of a guinea pigs diet (the next biggest component should be fresh fruit and vegetables followed by a concentrate food, ideally pellets). If you’ve got a rabbit then 90% of their diet should be hay or grass due to them not needing as much fruit or veg.
I want him to be as healthy as possible which means I would prefer to spend money on good quality hay which suits him. Cheaper hay often has a lower nutritional value (it hasn’t got as much good stuff in) and may be full of dust and, in worse cases, mould. This is more likely to cause them to be ill so may end up being false economy (alongside it not being nice for your pet).
When I first adopted Carl drank huge amounts of water, a sign of kidney damage/ failure. He hadn’t had the best upbringing and had a large amounts of medications and serious infections which took their toll.
I feed Carl Burgess Feeding Hay with Dandelion and Marigold. I was aware Marigold is supposed to help with Kidney Disease in rabbits and so I decided to give it a try. The worst it could do is not help (and cost me more!). Gradually over the next six months he began drinking less, he was no longer drinking the huge amounts he previously had. His improvement could be for a number of reasons, some being that he gradually recovered from his previous problems, however, I like to believe the hay helped.
But would I always recommend this hay? No
Though it suits Carl, it isn’t perfect. One of the main functions for hay is for rabbits and guinea pigs (as well as farm animals) to grind their teeth. Hay should, therefore, ideally, be in large strands. With this product, the hay has been cut shorter. If your pet has this hay they don’t have to grind the hay as much and therefore, especially in those prone to dental problems, this hay may cause more issues. Instead, some other products, including some made by Burgess (eg. long stem feeding Hay), may be more appropriate.
This hay is not designed to be used as bedding, partly due to the expense of it.
Some other types of hay are very dusty. Guinea pigs, like many rodent species, have very sensitive airways. Dust can irritate them and therefore causing them to sneeze, cough or breathe with more difficulty. Along with this, some types are quite old or made from low-quality grass and therefore do not contain all of the goodness they otherwise could have. These should be avoided.
One of these is the Pets at Home brand Timothy Feeding Hay which I’ve always found to be very dusty.
It is also possible in some cases to buy hay directly from a farm. Whilst this may be good a high quality, it must be remembered that this has not been dust extractors like hay from many companies producing products for small mammals. This means that the hay is more likely to contain dust and therefore, irritate their airways more. If this appears to be the case you should avoid hay from this supplier.
Recently a relative fed him for a night. She couldn’t find Carl’s food so bought him another brand (unsure which) and he left most of it. With Burgess Nuggets, throughout the course of a few hours (he eats his vegetables in preference to it much of the time), he eats every single nugget.
With rodents there is usually a choice of pelleted food or the more traditional muesli style. I would strongly recommend avoiding the muesli form and instead going with pelleted versions.
Pellet foods are slightly more expensive but they tend to be the better quality diets and with the length of time they last the extra cost shouldn’t be that noticeable in the long term and reduces the risk of other problems.
Muesli style foods tend to have parts which your guinea pig/ rabbit will eat and other things they’ll avoid. Often people feed them too much leading to them picking out the bits they want. Owners quite often leave the uneaten bits in the bowl and when these seeds accumulate over a few days they leave their pet with just these to eat. Their pet will often still refuse these and go without concentrate food for a day or more.
Muesli-style foods tend to be higher in fat and sugar, especially the parts most pets find tasty. This puts them at higher risk of diseases such as diabetes which affect small mammals and are quite common in hamsters. These foods also often lead to obesity, causing animals to become unfit. Therefore, when possible, muesli-style foods should be avoided if there is a pelleted version.
Carl has space Back2Nature litter as his bedding/substrate.
This is very much like cat litter (in fact the company produces cat litter which looks identical) and is both very absorptive and good at reducing odours. This is great for a male guinea pig as these often smell more than females and, I found that larger areas of this remain dry compared to other substrates.
I have tried CareFresh bedding before, in fact, Carl was on that when I first got in. Though I liked the low amount of dust as well as the odour control properties, I did find Back2Nature, this was less absorptive. This was a problem for a guinea pig who urinated a lot and meant I was often cleaning out large amounts of his bedding in one go so it cost a fortune.
Personally, I don’t like the use of shavings or sawdust. These are sometimes produced from pine which is toxic to many small animals so they could become ill if eating it.
The main reason I don’t like shavings is that I have seen many eye injuries caused by shavings getting under their eyelids. This causes damage to the surface of the eye which can be both painful and, in more severe cases, can cause permanent, severe damage to the eye. Carl had one eye removed when he was only eight weeks old and therefore, wherever possible I aim to reduce the risk of him having injuries to his remaining eye. Therefore, I choose not to use wood shavings or sawdust.
Another downfall of shavings is they don’t contain the odour as well leaving cages with this substrate smelling worse.
Carl has a hay rack which came of his cage.
This is solid and attaches to the outside of his cage.
The reason I use a hay rack is to ensure that this hay remains as clean as possible and does not get mixed with his urine or droppings. I like the use of a solid hay rack as this reduces the amount of hay spilling out. It is also more stable and therefore is less likely to cause problems if Carl somehow gets his leg stuck in it.
I have got a metal ball that can be used to feed both treats and hay to him. This is more of an enrichment activity rather than something which wouldn’t contain all of his food as it’s really small. I do sometimes use this though due to its size I don’t use alone for his hay.
You can also buy hay nets for small mammals. These are not too dissimilar from the metal ball above however, these are much softer and, often larger. These, like the hay rack, prevent the hay from touching the floor and therefore help to keep it dry. I have never personally used these and therefore cannot fully endorse them however I thought there were worth a mention.
All guinea pigs need somewhere to hide. Even the most confident of guinea pigs spend a large proportion of their lives hiding. One of the most common hiding places is a tunnel.
Personally, I like using either Sea Grass tunnels or hay based tunnels. These give Carl something safe to chew which not only means there’s less of an issue if they chew on them but also gives them something to do; enrichment is very important.
It’s very common to see plastic based tunnels. Though these last longer they will likely get gnawed upon leaving a risk of the plastic cutting their mouth. There’s even a small risk of them swallowing some plastic which could cause them a lot of damage.
Carl also has a log tunnel. This comes flat and is pieces of wood connected by wire. It can then be bent into a circle to create a tunnel or, like Carl’s, bent to create a bridge going onto a raised area of his cage. This not only is used for him to climb up onto but he can also hide underneath it. It is also safe for him to chew and he’s had it since I got him over 18months ago and it will last him for years to come.
Kongswere originally designed to fill up with treats/ biscuits for dogs to chew on when you’re out at work/ at night. Ones for small mammals/ birds are similar and it just gives them something to do.
Carl has a Kong. I put some of his treats in there and occasionally some of his veg. He doesn’t tend to use it much though and leaves things in it and I end up just emptying them back out.
Though you can use these it is important to check them daily for things stuck in them and empty them out. If you don’t, food or treats stuck in them will go mouldy causing you guinea pig to become ill from breathing in the mould particles or eating mouldy food.
Carl has a weird wooden toy. It is like a cage on the outside with a wooden ball inside. He doesn’t play with it much but does chew on it. This gives him something to do and some animals enjoy moving them around.
The chewing helps to grind their incisors down and allows them to carry out normal behaviour whereas moving it around and exploring helps engage their brains.
As mentioned previously, I am worried, perhaps overly so about Carl’s eye becoming damaged and that lead to me buying him beds to place in his cage instead of using hay/ paper bedding/ shredded straw. He doesn’t always sleep in a bed but he does have the option.
Carl lives in my house where it’s kept warm enough for him. He also does take some of his hay and create his own bed. I see this as a normal behaviour and a form of enrichment. Yes, it’s expensive hay for him to use as bedding but if this is what he chooses to do then it’s up to him.
All animals need water. In the case of mammals, this needs to be given in a way they can drink it.
Usually, small mammals are given water from a bottle or bowl. Personally, with Carl, I use a water bottle. This gives him constant access to clean water. I ensure it is changed daily to make sure it’s fresh and the bottle is clean. I also make sure that there are no issues with the bottle not working.
Carl likes to play with the nozzle and ball within it. Though this sometimes causes parts of his cage to be wet it does give him something else to do so I don’t mind replacing some of his Back2Nature a bit more often.
Water bowls are more natural for them to drink from. However, both guinea pigs and rabbits tend to poo in them which causes the water to quickly become very dirty. They also, often, tip these over or walk through them leading to their substrate becoming wet too and them having no water left.
Using a bottle or a bowl comes down to preference. So long as animals have water in a form they will drink from is the main thing. Some animals will refuse to drink from a bowl whereas others refuse to drink from bottles. The main thing is finding out what your pets will drink from and providing them water in that form.
If your pet is ever going to spend time at the vets (either when ill or being neutered) it is important you inform the staff the way that your pet drinks their water. This will ensure they will be given water in the way they are used to and so they are more likely to drink which will improve their health and healing.
1 of Carl’s favourite toys and free is the inside tube from a toilet roll or kitchen roll. He throws this around and chews them. You can also stuff them with hay (or goodies) and hang them up to the sides of the cage using parcel string if you wish; I’m yet to try this with Carl but it is on my list of enrichment activities.
So that’s a bit of a summary of what he has and why. I haven’t included his cage in this (he’s getting a new, bigger, cage soon) or his vegetables, I will likely cover those at a different time.; in short, Carl gets a variety of veg and fruit on a daily basis.
This blog post is a bit different to most of the others but I hope you found it educational and enjoyable. To discuss anything then please write a comment below, especially if you have any questions. If you’re interested in reading further animal-related blog posts then please put your email address in the subscription box in the box in the right sidebar to get emails when new blog posts come. To discuss something with me more privately then feel free to contact me directly.
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.
This is a very consistent sign and shown in various ways depending where the pain in a guinea pig is.
Having the back archedis 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pain in Guinea Pigs tends to worsen when they move. Therefore, as a result, they tend to move slower.
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 withseveral 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.
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.
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 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.
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Do you feel down and want something to help you to feel better? Did you know pets can help you to become and remain happy? Let’s explore the reasons for this and let you see whether a pet is a good option to improve your mood.
Generally speaking, animals improve a person’s mental well-being and happiness. Studies have shown, for instance, that dog owners are less likely to have depression than those without pets. Animals can lift a person’s mood. Just by them observing nature our happiness increases. Other animals have specific roles to lift people’s mood or mental health such as Pets As Therapy (P.A.T) animals. P.A.T animals go into nursing homes and hospitals to be stroked by/ spend time with residents and patients to reduce their stress and increase their happiness. Variations of P.A.T animals have long been seen as beneficial with horses used to improve the mental health of patients as far back as the 1860s. Today the popularity of P.A.T animals is still gaining support and increasingly aiding the mental and physical recovery of patients.
So, how do animals make us happy?
1. Increase the Amount You Go Out
Dogs and horses, especially, increase the amount of time someone spends outside whether that be via training an animal, walking them or simply playing. Venturing outdoors increases happiness by allowing you to absorb Vitamin D, both improving our physical fitness and improving mental health conditions like depression. Alongside this, the unique sounds, smells and sights of the outdoors may lift your mood by both changing your surroundings and giving you something to focus on.
Spending time outside with your pet could, in fact, be a method of mindfulness which is a technique used to by many to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and low mood.
2. Animals often need exercise.
Examples of exercising with a pet could be walking your dog, cat or even a ferret or looking after/ riding a horse. Exercise causes endorphins (feel-good chemicals similar to similar chemicals to morphine) to be released, thus improving mood. Taking part in different exercises or activities will give you things to focus on other than your worries.
Exercising with your animal and focussing on them and what they choose to do will likely cheer you up. So, exercise with your pet will likely create happiness through multiple avenues.
3. Animals help to reduce stress.
Studies have shown that stroking/ grooming animals in a rhythmic fashion not only appears to increase their happiness but also increases the happiness and of the person and reduces their stress levels.
Focussing on the heat, movement, and hair texture of your pet allows you to be distracted from your worries and brings you down to earth. Also stroking your pet leads to a release of the hormone Oxytocin within both yours and your pet’s bodies. One role of Oxytocin is to create a bond between an animal/ human and their newly born offspring, meaning stroking your animal not only helps to calm you both down and increase your happiness but also strengthens the bond between you and your pet.
4. Pets Distract You From Your Worries
Unlike people, animals only live in the present, not towards the past or future. Spending time with your often optimistic pet helps ground you and results in keeping your mind in the moment. You no longer become overly engaged with your worries or problems.
The effect of this distraction is aided further if you are taking photos or videos of your pets. Here you’re focussing more on them and their antics even more, further distancing your mindset from any worries/ anxieties.
5. Pets help to Reduce Loneliness
Throughout domestication, dogs have become very good at reading human body language and facial expression. They recognise when people are feeling upset and distressed and often actively seek these people out if they are alone.
If you are alone and have a pet you can develop a lot of interactions between yourself and your pet. These interactions have proven to help reduce loneliness, increase happiness and reduce the severity of mental health issues, anxiety and stress.
Your pet will also make you feel more secure and helps you to develop a routine for their sake which will help you to keep people busy, stay motivated and reduce the amount you dwell over your problems. People tend o stick to routines better if they are doing it for others rather than themselves and routines alone, regardless of the presence of ainimals, lift people’s moods.
However, it has to be understood that buying pets just because you’re lonely is not the best idea. All pets are a big commitment. When buying one you must be prepared to care for them for potentially many years to come so you must not view them as a way to resolve a short-term situation. A dog for example, dependent on breed, can live to fifteen years old or more, Cats potentially longer and rabbits often eight to ten years and that’s not including the financial commitment.
6. Animals Are Great Listeners.
Your pet is non-judgemental, can’t tell other people your secrets/ fears and often stick close when you’re talking to them. You can talk to them without fear of repercussions. Many find talking to their pets often helps to sort out their thoughts and so they can help you feel happier and it can act like a miniature therapy session.
I, personally, talked to my dog about my problems and talked her through topics I was revising. It helped me sort through and analyse my thoughts but I’m not convinced she would have been able to sit through one of my Biochemistry exams for me!
7. Animals Provide Unconditional Love.
The issue with people is that if you do anything they don’t like they potentially will no longer care about you, though usually, this isn’t the case. Animals, however, don’t understand the complexities of life or are concerned by material goods. A dog constantly following you wanting a fuss helps to make you feel loved and therefore helps raise your self-worth and confidence, thus aiding with mental health issues and improving happiness.
8. Animals, especially Dogs, Aid you Socially
When walking a dog you often interact with other dog owners and walkers. Dog or animal lovers who are passing even without a dog are more likely to interact with you or your dog, increasing your human interaction. This helps to increase your self-worth which generally makes you happier and more confident.
Having a pet allows leads on to discussions with pet owners in other situations such as at the vets or on pet-related areas of social media. They also help by increasing your the social opportunities such joining dog walking groups, flyball and/ or agility teams and classes in obedience and showing to name a few. People doing these activities share the common interest of pets with you so it’s a conversation starter and leads to you developing more friends and connections. Having a greater number of connections reduces feelings of isolation, loneliness and withdrawal which, for many, increases happiness.
Conversely, however, having pets such as dogs or horses is a large time commitment which can reduce other areas of your social life. For instance, dogs shouldn’t be left alone for hours on end so you may not be able to spend as much time out with your friends as previously. Pets can also prevent you from booking that last-minute holiday offer as you can’t just drop everything and leave, you need to work around their needs. However, with some thought can have an active social life and pets; go on pet-friendly holidays, employ a dog walker or pet sitter and invite people around to your house instead, with their pets if they have any. This plan means your pet can also benefit from more snuggles, not only keeping you and your friends happy but increasing their happiness too.
9. Pets can Give You a Sense of Purpose
People with low mood often feel like they have little purpose. However, the presence of your pet gives you something to do, helps structure your life and gives you responsibility. You no longer can stay in bed all day; you now have to get up to feed, walk, play with and groom your pets. Purely getting out of bed helps keep your mind occupied, helps you focus on things other than your problems and increases your happiness.
If you become overwhelmed by negative thought or anxiety your pet’s needs and desires will give you something else focus and playing will also further distract you.
Pets do not judge, unlike people. If you help them you’ll be rewarded by their interaction and bond with you helping to raise your self-belief and lift your mood.
If you allow your child to look after appropriate pets they will help raise your child’s self-worth. The presence of your pet’s unconditional love and companionship helps improve your child’s confidence and create a positive self image. This not only improves your child’s happiness at the time but can potentially reduce the severity of mental health conditions they may experience then or in the future.
10. Watching Pets Makes you Smile And Smiling Makes You Happy
Watching the funny and cute antics of your furry friends will lead to you smiling. Smiling itself increases happiness. It not only is an outward sign to others that you feel good but it also causes Endorphins Serotonin and Dopamine to be released in your brain. These chemicals are present in, or enhanced by, anti-depressants and improve your mood. So, think of your pet as being your own little furry antidepressant which doesn’t require a doctors visit.
11. Playing with Pets Enhances Your Mood.
Most pets enjoy play. Play is an activity associated with childhood. As you grow you may no longer engage in play as much. However, playing with pets takes you back to your childhood, improving your mood and reducing your stress. Play also benefits your animals by creating mental stimulation and helping them to stay physically fit.
The same as with smiling, playing with pets leads to Serotonin and Dopamine being released into your brain, having an antidepressant-like effect without the side effects.
Having your Own Pet is Impractical? How You can Spend Time with Animals
Though most people can benefit from having a pet, it isn’t always that simple. With so many people in rented housing where landlords refuse pets, pet ownership can be difficult. You may also not be able to own a pet due to the substantial cost of their upkeep, the commitment they require or you have health problems which prevent you owning any. If these apply to you, all is lost, there are other ways to interact with animals.
Many animals are kept in shelters. These all need companionship either in the form of fostering where the animal lives with you temporarily or, volunteering at shelters. Both of these allow you to care for/ spend time with animals in the short term without the longer term commitments. Volunteering not only helps you mix with animals but also increases your social circle which improves your mood.
Outside of volunteering, there are other opportunities to spend time with animals such as pet-sitting or dog walking which may produce some income; something that may further increase your self-confidence and happiness. You could also spend time with a relative or friend who owns a pet or, some people even find simply visiting a pet shop or children’s/ city farm is enough to help raise their mood.
To discuss in more detail how a pet may help you to become happy, ways in which you could safely spend time with animals or the best pet for you the contact me or leave a comment and I’ll get back to you. If you want to read more of my blogs then feel free to put your email in the box to the right.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com. 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.