Alabama Rot (CRGV)

Alabama Rot (AKA Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy (CRGV))

Alabama Rot, apart from one potential greyhound, was first discovered in the UK in 2012.  Prior to this a similar disease by the same name was present in Greyhounds in the USA throughout the 1980s and ‘90s and affected a Great Dane in Germany in 2002.

 

Though Alabama Rot in the UK is very similar to the disorder affecting Greyhounds in the US, it isn’t the same disorder.  The disease in the UK is known by a number of names; Alabama Rot, Alabama Rot-like Syndrome and finally Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasculopathy (CRGV); the latter being the more medical term and describes what happens to the body.

 

Alabama Rot is a very rare but devastating disease but appears just to affect dogs and currently just appears to affect the UK (plus one confirmed case in Ireland).  The reason this disease appeared only during 2012 and its cause are still very much unknown.  There is a chance of cases occurred before 2012 but were missed or misdiagnosed as Acute Kidney Injury (AKI) which is one of the disorders that Alabama Rot causes.

 

Cases first appeared in/ around the New Forest, Hampshire.  Since then there have been cases across the whole of England and Wales with a small number of cases having been diagnosed in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland.  The fact that it has spread across to Ireland and NI is particularly worrying due to the natural barrier of the sea which usually stops the spread of disease.  At the time of writing, throughout the UK and Ireland there have been 152 confirmed cases of CRGV.

 

Historically, CRGV has appeared to be seasonal with most cases being between November and May but some cases have occurred outside of this time.

Currently, even with effective treatment, the mortality rate in most cases (once the kidneys are affected) is 80% meaning if 10 dogs were to become infected by the disease between 8 would die.

Possible Causes

The seasonality of the disease has led to some researchers wonder if it is related to bacteria in the mud, with muddy areas being more abundant between November and May.  A fish vet called Fiona Macdonald did come across a bacteria, Aeromonas hydrophila, which lives in water and mud and causes skin ulcerations followed by AKI in fish. The link between this and CGRV has not been confirmed at the time of writing.

The Signs of CRGV

  • Skin ulceration/ wound
    • Usually on the lower leg but may be around the belly or on the muzzle. Some may also be on the tongue.  Some may also be between the toes.
    • These are usually surrounded by a reddened area of skin.
    • If a dog is licking or paying a lot of attention to parts of their body check tha area for a wound
    • Limping; if the sore is on the leg the pain from the skin pulling against the wound when walking can cause a limp
  • Drinking a lot
  • Urinating less than normal
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Not eating
  • Collapse
  • Dehydration
  • Jaundice

 

The signs other than the wound are mostly due to the dog having problems with their kidneys known as an Acute Kidney Injury (AKI).

 

It is ultimately the AKI and associated damage rather than the skin wound that may kill the dogs.

 

Dogs with Alabama Rot tend to develop AKI about 4 days after the skin wound(s) but this is not always the case.  Sometimes the skin wound is the only sign whereas other times they just develop the AKI without any wounds.  Also, sometimes the AKI can start before the skin wounds or quite some time after.

 

This unpredictability, and the fact that the skin wounds look like normal wounds, can make it difficult to diagnose in the early stages and therefore treatment may be delayed.

What Does Alabama Rot Do to the Body?

In the UK, Alabama Rot’s medical name is Cutaneous and Renal Glomerular Vasulopathy.

Cutaneous means the skin.

Renal = Kidney.

Glomerular is the main part of the kidney that it affects; the part that filters the blood.

Vasculopathy= A disorder which affects the blood supply.

This means that it’s a disorder affecting the blood supply to parts of the kidney and skin.

 

It causes small blood clots within the blood vessels of the skin and kidneys.  This stops that area of skin/ kidneys getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs (as well as getting rid of any waste products it has) causing the area to die.

Some red blood cells squeeze past the clots but due to the tiny space, they are often damaged.  This damage may be seen in a blood sample and it can cause anaemia.

The large number of clots throughout the body use up quite a lot of platelets which may show up in the blood sample as there are fewer left in the blood than there should be.

 

The anaemia can also affect organ function across the body, however, most issues are due to the kidney damage.

 

The skin wounds may also become infected too causing further problems.

 

Diagnosis

A complete diagnosis is made by looking at samples of the skin and kidneys for the typical damage for this.  Sampling the kidneys is only usually done after a dog has died by post-mortem examination.

 

In alive dogs, the diagnosis is made by the symptoms and the presence of typical skin wounds/ ulcerations.  Skin lesions are usually on the lower leg or foot but can be under the belly or muzzle and in some cases they are also on the tongue too.

 

Kidney disease is diagnosed by blood and/ or urine samples.  If your dog is suspected of having Alabama Rot, even if well, your vet will usually want to take blood samples.  The blood samples are usually repeated after a few days to see if the markers for kidney damage increase.  If they increase above a certain amount, even if your dog seems well, they likely have AKI and need to be treated.

 

Blood samples may look at the number of platelets and white blood cells (and their types) in the blood. The type of white blood cells can point to the presence of an infection, and sometimes the type of infection (ie if it’s due to bacteria or parasites).

Any abnormalities in the shape of the red blood cells can happen with CRGV due to them squeezing past the blood clots.

Vets also look at the level of something called Bilirubin in the blood.  This can be raised due to damage to the red blood cells or with liver damage.  Dogs with high bilirubin levels are often jaundiced; their skin, gums, and the whites of their eyes look yellow.  This is seen in up to half the dogs with CRGV.

 

Finally, vets look for evidence of other infections which could cause these symptoms eg; Leptospirosis or poisons.

 

Treatment of Alabama Rot

The main treatments revolve around the AKI.

The wounds are treated with thorough cleaning and antibiotics.  They may be covered with a dressing and the dog may have a buster collar on to stop them licking the wounds.

 

They will be put on a drip to help flush out any toxins within the kidneys and help with their dehydration.

Dogs may have a catheter placed into their bladder for vets to measure the amount of urine they pass.  This helps them evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment.

Dogs are usually given anti-sickness medication.  If they are eating they may be fed on a prescription diet to help their kidneys.  Some dogs are fed using a feeding tube into their stomach.

 

Giving them plasma via a blood transfusion replaces the platelets used up during clotting but this may not help to a huge degree.

 

Finally, a new treatment that has been trialled at the Royal Veterinary College called Plasmapheresis.  Here the plasma (the liquid part of the blood) is filtered to remove antibodies.  These are parts of the body’s immune system but sometimes cause harm and thereby removing them, or an excess of them, can help the dog.  In the trial, two out of six severely affected dogs survived which is a significant improvement on the usual odds.  This trial is still very early on so its overall success is still unknown.

 

Prevention

There is no known, reliable prevention for Alabama Rot.

As the cause of this disease is unknown a vaccine cannot be produced.  Also, people cannot be advised on specific protocols to follow.

This disease is more common during muddier times of the year and potentially in dogs walked in specific areas.  Some recommend washing the dogs legs and paws after coming home from a walk.  This usually won’t harm your dog and may actually increase the chances of you finding new wounds on them.  It is important to remember, more often than not new wounds are not caused by Alabama Rot.

 

Once a cause is found likely more information will come out regarding preventative measure to help you protect your dog from this devastating disease.

How To : Clip Rodent’s Nails

One of the most common things Rodent/ Rabbit owners as me is;

How do you clip nails?

or

Must they go to the vets for their nails clipping?

Animals do not have to go to the vets for their nails clipping and the majority can be safely done at home if you know how to and with the right equipment.

Being at the vets causes a lot of stress to most animals from;

  • the bright lights
  • the smells of both the animals and the chemicals, and,
  • being handled by someone different.

 

The stress negatively impacts on an animal’s welfare for the time they are there, the journeys each way (travelling is a common fear) and during the time it takes for them to settle on returning home.  Some owners also separate their rodents (presuming they are a social species, obviously Syrian hamsters should always be kept separate) to take them to the vets.  Whilst people may find this easier to transport them, these animals become more stressed when separated and this separation and the altered smell of the one who visited the vets) can making mixing them back together difficult on their return, ultimately leading to fighting and, potentially, needing longer-term separation.

 

Therefore, it is in the best interests of both yourself and your animals, to learn how to trim their nails at home if at all possible.

My video may also help you learn how too;

What do you need?

  • A pair of nail clippers.
    Here are the Rosewood Options (left) and Ancol Ergo (right) small animal nail clippers
    • Human nail clippers usually work well with small rodents (rats, gerbils or hamsters) but they can be quite fiddly.
    • Guinea pigs nails are often a bit too big for human nail clippers so cat nail clippers or those designed for small animals (both are very similar in size and shape) are often needed.  Dog nail clippers are too large with their bulkiness making the task harder.

 

I have two different pairs of small animal nail clippers (I lost one, bought a second and then found the “old”(ie twice used !) pair within a couple of days!).

I first bought the Ancol Ergo Small Animal Nail Clippers and then the newer pair are the Rosewood Options Grooming Deluxe Claw Trimmers.  Both work very well, with the main difference just being the size; the Ancol ones are much smaller.

  • Corn Flour or Silver Nitrate pens
    • These help to stem the bleeding if you accidentally clip the blood vessel.
  • A Towel
    • With some animals the job may be easier (and safer) if you wrap them in a towel as I demonstrate in another blog post. This helps to keep them still and is especially useful if you’re alone.
  • A Friend?
    • You may find it easier, especially the first few times, if you get someone to hold them for you.  You then have both hands free to hold the foot (if needed) and clip the nail.

One Thing to Remember… Stay Calm!

I’m aware this is easier to said than done.

Pet’s are very good at picking up on body language so will pick up on your stress levels.  Them noticing you’re stressed means they will think there is something to worry about, squirm around more and find it scarier.  This will not only make it harder on the first attempt but also in future attempts as even if everything goes COMPLETELY to plan they will still believe there is something to worry about.

 

Nail clipping shouldn’t cause any pain/ discomfort and if you do it carefully the worst you can do is cut the quick (where the nail come from which contains the blood vessel and nerve) which will cause pain and bleeding but will heal over time.  The more you stress the more your hands will shake and more your pet will move leaving it more likely that you do accidentally cut the quick.

Staying calm is key.

If you can’t do it calmly then ask a friend or relative to do it for you (or consider taking them to your vet. Independent pet shops may even be willing to clip nails if you ask).

Clipping their nails is like clipping your own

Their nails are similar to ours, just a different shape.  The small size and the different shape is what puts people off.

 

Just like our own, the nails are made of a protein called keratin and the part you trim doesn’t have a nerve supply so it shouldn’t hurt.

 

Look at your own nails;

You will have a large area covering a pink fleshy bit and a clear, slightly whitened area at the end.  The nail protects that fleshy area below and if you accidentally break your nail or clip that structure it’s very sore.

Image showing where to clip the nail. Clip near to where the black line is

Pet’s nails also can be clear and near the base of it, running down the centre is the pink fleshy bit known as the quick.  The quick contains a blood vessel and nerve.  Further down the nail is completely clear/white (unless the nail is black!) and this is the part that you can clip away.

Clipping too short damages the blood and nerve supply causing pain and bleeding so needs to be avoided when possible.

HOWEVER, saying that, some animal’s nails are black.  Black nails have the same structure, you just can’t see it.  If the end of the nail is really thin (much more so than the base of the nail) and pointed usually this doesn’t contain the quick but otherwise be cautious you could catch the quick by accident.  Often I and clip some clear nails first; these give a good indication of how long the quick is and therefore if you clip them the black nails the same length you are usually safe but there is no harm leaving the nail a bit longer.

It’s impossible to see the quick on Carl’s black nails

Another way is to just clip the nail (or even file it if they will allow it) by 1-2mm per week until it looks about right.  This reduces the risk of catching the quick.  It’s also worthwhile having a quick look at the end of the nail after you’ve clipped it.  This will tell you whether it is bleeding or not. Also the quick is like in a tunnel down the centre of the nail with the keratin around the outside.   When you get near the quick this “tunnel” can be seen as a hole down the middle of the nail.  Therefore if the nail is completely solid with no hollow area you’re usually fine to maybe clip it a bit more but if there is even a slight pin hole down the centre then DON’T cut more away.

How to Actually do it

  • Get someone to hold your guinea pig or secure them yourself.
    • Your dominant hand, in most cases, should be the one you clip with so any holding of the guinea pig or their foot should be with your non-dominant hand (ie if you are right handed hold the pig with your left and clip with your right)
  • Try one of the following;
    1. Have one hand, usually over their shoulders, whilst they are ideally on the floor/ your lap and use the other to clip.
    2. Wrap them securely in a towel and expose one foot at a time (see here and here).
    3. Keep their back legs on the floor/ your lap and have your non-dominant hand secure their front legs with their back against your lap and belly/ chest;
One front leg should be between your index and middle fingers with their back towards your belly/ chest.
One forelimb should be between your index finger and thumb with your thumb going around the back of their shoulder/ neck. Make sure their back is towards your chest/ belly.

  • Clean/rub the nails if dirty to help you to see where the quick ends.
  • Ensure they are secure and are not wrigging around.  They should feel quite comfortable.

If they are moving around a lot get someone else to help, change the way you are holding them or swap who is doing the holding.

  • Pick up the clippers (ideally) similar to how is shown in the pictures; these positions give a better grip and improve the stability of the clippers though some people may find this more awkward/ uncomfortable.
Put the thumb through the small hole, your index finger on the plastic just at the front of the handle, put your middle and ring fingers through the larger hole and finally put your little finger on the hook at the end
Put thumb through the hole on the shorter side. On the other side put the ring finger through the hole, the index and middle fingers on the ridges and the little finger on the hook at the end
  • Place the blades of the clipper blades either side of the nail.  Make sure they are between the pointed end of the nail (furthest end from the foot) and where the end of the pink quick (blood vessel and nerve ) is.
    • Sometimes getting someone to shine a light through darker nails can help to show where the quick is.
  • Ensure the guinea pig is not moving and then close the handles to clip the nail.
  • If the guinea pig squeaks or rapidly moves, release the clippers and check for bleeding
    • Bleeding can be quite quick but don’t worry, they won’t lose too much blood from a bleeding nail.
    • If you have cornflour then place their foot in it to stop the bleeding
    • Silver nitate pens can be placed against the vessel to stem any bleeding
    • Putting pressure on the toe and/ or placing some of their clean substrate over the nail can help but this must be held for several minutes (in most cases) to be effective.
  • Some guinea pigs are nervy by the slight noise of the clippers so may squeak/ jump without any damage being down.

I’ve done One Nail, What Do I Do Now?

Move on to the next.  Sometimes a guinea pig will get bored and start shuffling around a bit.  If that’s the case give them some freedom for a while before resuming.

  • Keep repositioning how you’re holding your guinea pig to ensure they still feel secure and give them plenty of fuss.

Once All The Nails Are Done

  • Check for any bleeding nails that you haven’t already noticed.
    • If some were previously bleeding make sure it hasn’t restarted with them moving around more.
  • Give them a fuss and a treat (suitable vegetables or part of their daily ration of pellets may be a great treat if they are overweight) and let them get back to whatever they were doing before.

In Summary

Nail clipping can be done at home where it is often less stressful for your guinea pigs (and you, once you’re used to it).  It just requires you to hold your pet securely and ensuring you don’t cut the nail too short if possible.

If you do cut it too short and it starts to bleed, don’t worry, the bleeding will stop and they won’t lose too much blood and it won’t cause lasting damage.  Clipping the claws in order will help you keep track of where you’re up to and, importantly, may sure you always give your guinea pig a break if they need it.

 

Take a look at my other blog posts if you found this useful; there will be others you enjoy.  To get informed straight away when other blog posts are released then type your name in the boxes at the top of the right sidebar and click the “Sign Up” button.  Feel free to ask any questions in either the comments below or via my contact form; use these methods to give suggestions for future posts too and I will see what I can do.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease 2 (RHD2)

Introduction to Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Type 1 (RHD1) is a disease affecting rabbits first which was discovered in 1984 in China and causes sudden death in rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus).  RHD1 spread quickly but overtime was controlled by a combination of improved hygiene and a vaccination program, one which is still available today.

Fast forward until 2010, a new version of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease, this time Type 2 (AKA RHD2), appeared. By 2014 RHD2 had spread to the UK and from there it spread as far away as Canada and Australia.

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Type 2

RHD2 affects European rabbits of all ages and, unlike type 1, also affects hares.  In 2015 it also started to really cause problems among shows, breeding colonies and in rescue centres where it spread quickly between animals sharing a small space and where rabbits were coming and going. The presence of it in shows also accelerated it’s spread across the UK.

Unlike RHD1, Type 2 can affect many species of rabbit/ hare

Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Type 1 tends to cause sudden death with nothing much else seen otherwise.  RHD2, however, only causes sudden death in a minority of cases, in fact only killing approximately 20% of affected rabbits (though it can kill as few as 5% up to as many as 70% dependent on the area and the timing). Instead, RHD2 often leads to a longer period of illness followed by a recovery.

Between a rabbit catching RHD2 and showing signs of illness there, is approximately 3-9days, known as the incubation period.  During this period, the rabbit can pass it to other rabbits without you even knowing they had it.  Therefore, RHD2 is often spread before you have the chance to improve or alter your cleaning practices and therefore you need to be prepared. It is important you improve your methods and act as if your animal may have it right now; clean their cages to the best of your ability all the time and, perhaps the best prevention, keep rabbits vaccinated against RHD2 to protect them from catching it.

The signs of RHD2

The virus can cause your rabbit to become ill in three different forms;

Percute type
  • This looks similar to RHVD1 in terms of it just leads to sudden death
Acute Type
  • Fatal in a lot of cases, often within the space of 36htrs.
  • Signs of it are
    • collapsing,
    • large amount of bleeding; blood in their urine, any discharge from their body, bleeding gums and nosebleeds.
    • Some show signs of brain and nerve problems
    • collapse,
    • seizuring,
    • poor balance,
    • falling over, or,
    • walking like they are drunk (Ataxia).
    • crying out a lot.
Subacute/ Chronic Form
  • This sometimes causes rabbis to die but often not for over a week and is due to liver failure, the main organ affected by RHD.
  • During this time they have
    • severe jaundice (meaning their skin and the white of their eyes, along with other places, looks yellow),
    • they refuse to eat
    • very quiet
    • lethargic.

Treatment

Firstly if you suspect one of your rabbits has RHD2 it is important for you to contact your vet straight away.

When rabbits have Subacute/ Chronic RHD2 they often stop eating and drinking. To prevent rabbits becoming dehydrated, make them feel better and increase their odds of survival you should make sure they’re kept warm (be careful using heat pads or hot water bottles; these can burn their sensitive skin. Only use heat pads if they are no warmer than around 40C and they are able to move away from them on their own). If they are very unwell or not drinking your vet may want to put them on a drip until they are drinking and eating enough.

How it’s Spread

RHD2 is highly contagious meaning it can spread from one rabbit to another very easily.

However, it’s not just rabbits you have to make sure don’t pass it on, if any of the virus gets on the bowls, cages, your shoes etc, anything another rabbit may come into contact with it can be passed along.

The main things the virus is passed on in is the tears, saliva and nasal discharge but it also stays in and on any of the rabbit’s bodies who died from it.

Indoor rabbits may be affected by RHD2 too. Image; Twitter @SarahTait123

To make it worse and even less predictable, if a fly has been near an infected rabbit they can pass it to another rabbit they spend time near/ bite.

Finally, RHD2 is spread in the rabbits urine and faeces throughout the whole time they are infected until around one-two days after the infection has resolved.  The risk is if one cage is stacked on top of another then it could be spread easily if they are not completely waterproof and any urine seaps from one cage into another, infecting the second group of rabbits.

It is unknown how long the virus survives to reinfect other rabbits when it’s in the environment.  One thing to watch out for is later infections if a previous rabbit had one such as a rabbit catching it from bits of virus left in its cage.

Therefore, if you are keeping rabbits near/ in an area where a rabbit has been previously infected with RHD2 it is important you keep up with high levels of hygiene, vaccinate all of the rabbits and be vigilant for signs of infection.

If your rabbits have previously had it or you own a breeding colony/ similar leaving rabbits your rabbits are at high risk of getting it.

Preventing the Spread of RHD2

If you have several rabbits and one has come down with RHD2 you should isolate the affected one and look after that one totally separately. Your hands should be thoroughly cleaned and/ or alcohol rub used to clean your hands and you should wear different clothes when looking after/ interacting with your healthy rabbits to try and prevent its spread.

RHD2 is a very difficult virus to kill and prevent its spread so often doing this isn’t 100% effective especially with rabbits spreading the disease before they show any signs of illness.

One any affected rabbits have been separated from the healthy ones it is important you get the healthy rabbits vaccinated against RHVD2.  A vaccine for type 1 has been shown to now really help against type 2 (though in some cases may offer a small amount of protection). Your rabbits will then need to get boosters at least every year, ideally every six months if your rabbits are at a higher risk of catching it such as you show or breed them or you’ve owned affected rabbits near where your current rabbits are housed.

Really young rabbits are at risk of RHD2 and, in high risk areas, vaccinating them at four weeks old should be considered

With the disease spreading very easily and being difficult not only to save rabbits but to prevent others from becoming infected, rabbit shows are now cancelled in an affected area. You should not take a rabbit to a show if you suspect they are infected or if you have another rabbit who has it or recently did.

To prevent RHD2 from spreading you should use plenty of good quality disinfectants when cleaning their cage and anything they come into contact with. Sadly, the RHD2 virus is difficult to kill so not all disinfectants are effective.  The use of alcohol skin rubs rather than a disinfectant called Chlorhexidine (either within a rub or as a soap with water) is more effective.  Other than that, when cleaning their cages diluted household bleach may be one of the most reliable things. If you use bleach make sure the cage is thoroughly rinsed out afterwards to prevent it burning your rabbits skin or the inside their mouth if they gnaw on a treated area.

 

Vaccination

For rabbits at high risk, it is worthwhile considering vaccinating kits from four weeks old.  Prior to this age if their mother has either had RHV2 or has been exposed to it the kits will get immunity from their mother’s milk, however, this immunity wears off at four weeks.

At four weeks old these rabbits no longer are protected by their mother and are very susceptible to it due to their underdeveloped immune system. If they’re not vaccinated at four weeks and are exposed to RHD2 they will likely get it.  Current vaccines have a licence to be used from 10weeks of age but are believed to be safe to use from four weeks of age.  However, if given the vaccine at four weeks old, young rabbits will need a second vaccination when they are ten weeks old as it hasn’t been shown to last longer than this 8n such young rabbits.

It is still important they have vaccines against myxomatosis which, itself, is often lethal

Vaccinations, once given at ten weeks of age or older last for a year in mild-moderate risk areas.  However, if your rabbits are at high risk of an infection it is recommended they have a booster every six months.

RHD2 vaccines are on top of Myxo-RHD1 vaccinations which are the normal vaccines given annually in the UK against myxomatosis and RHD1.  This vaccine is very important for rabbits to still get as RHD2 vaccines do not work against myxomatosis or RHD1 and vice versa. Myxomatosis in its own right is a very common and often fatal disease which can be easily prevented by annual boosters s9 these should be unavoided as other methods o& prevention are less effective.

Currently, there is no evidence of whether the Myxo-RHD and the RHD2 vaccines interfere with each other if given at the same time and, therefore, it is recommended that at least two weeks is given between a vet giving your rabbit each of these vaccines. Though, it doesn’t matter if the vaccines are separated by a longer period of time, or which is given first.

The new vaccine in the UK by Filavacs however, does cover both types of RHVD. However, it must be remembered that this vaccination still doesn’t cover myxomatosis at all so getting that vaccine too is still highly recommended.

In Summary

There are two types of Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease; type one tends to cause sudden death. Type two however can cause a more long-lasting disease.

Both types can be prevented by vaccination and Filavacs does a vaccine protecting against both but rabbits should also be vaccinated against Myxomatosis in a separate vaccine.

Rabbits at high risk should be vaccinated from very young (4weeks of age) and maybe twice a year as well as thorough cleaning and prevention strategies.  Shows should be avoided in high risk areas too.

If you believe your rabbit may have RHD then contact your vet immediately.

 

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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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If you have any questions regarding pain, guinea pigs or something else entirely feel free to ask in the comments below or, otherwise, contact me directly via my form.

What is Involved with Spaying your Dog?

Spaying in veterinary surgeries is classed as a routine procedure.  Vet students spay cats and often spay bitches before qualifying.  Spaying your dog is definitely not a simple surgery. You should weigh up the pros and cons to decide the best choice for you and your dog.

I know of experienced vets who are anxious when spaying bitches but why is that the case?

What is Spaying?

Spaying is the name given to neutering female animals.  It involves removing both the ovaries and usually the uterus.  In women, this is known as an Ovariohysterectomy and it’s not a routine procedure.  In fact, in human medicine it’s avoided whenever possible and is usually only performed by Gynaecologists with several years’ experience post-graduation from Med School.

Broken down, Ovariohysterectomy means; “Ovario-” refers to the ovaries whereas “Hysterectomy”, removal of the uterus (or womb) so, put together, it means removal of the uterus and ovaries.

In humans, though they usually just perform a hysterectomy (ie the ovaries are not removed) whereas if vets are spaying your dog the ovaries are almost always removed.  Women without ovaries have low Oestrogen (a female sex hormone) levels.  People’s need Oestrogen for their bones to absorb sufficient Calcium. Without Oestrogen, the bones poorly absorb Calcium.  Naturally post-menopause the levels of Oestrogen in women put them at risk of Osteoporosis (meaning pores, or holes, in the bones) and removal of the ovaries causes this to occur sooner.

In dogs, however, this doesn’t appear to happen.  The relationship between Oestrogen and Calcium is unknown.  This means the removal of the ovaries causes fewer problems in our pets.

Oestrogen does cause issues.  Along with other sex hormones, oestrogen leads to bitches coming into season (“on heat”), makes them fertile and increases the risk of some diseases (eg mammary cancer).  These factors together demonstrate why vets spay bitches.

Normal Bitch spay
A normal bitch spay showing the anatomy of the female reproductive tract which is removed via spaying.
Why is Spaying Your Dog a Big Surgery?

Spaying isn’t an easy surgery, especially not with larger breeds or overweight dogs. With these, it’s harder to get to the ovaries and sufficiently cut off their blood supply.

If blood supply isn’t sufficiently cut off it leaves a blood vessel close to the Aorta (the biggest artery in the body, coming straight out of the heart into the tummy) open leading to blood pulsing out which, in severe cases and when not immediately dealt with, can lead to death.

Dogs also have a large amount of fat around the ovaries making them harder to find and cut off the blood supply, risking future bleeding.

This surgery can be incredibly stressful for the veterinary surgeon and whilst most bitches are fine, especially those who are young and a healthy weight, there are occasional complications.  The complication rate is around 17-22% but most of these are related to issues with the wound healing rather than complications in the surgery (6% of spays).

Spaying your dog is usually done by open surgery where a cut is placed down the centre of the tummy and both the ovaries and uterus are removed through that hole.

To have bitch spay
A young female YorkieX puppy who will be spayed in a few months.  Instagram; @TenaciousTilly

Otherwise, some practices do it via keyhole surgery.  Here, several small incisions are made and usually just the ovaries are removed.  Even if the uterus is not removed, with the ovaries gone the bitch can’t get pregnant or get a condition known as a pyometra which is partially caused by female sex hormones.

Spaying requires the vet to close your bitches muscle layers with dissolvable stitches.  These do not need removing. They then close the skin with either the same material or stitches which need to be removed seven to ten days later.

After the op your dog will be sore so will usually go home with several days worth of painkillers.  You should try to keep them quiet for the first few days and prevent them jumping up.

After a week has passed treating them like normal is fine most cases.  However, your dog’s muscles still won’t be fully healed so you should not let them run off the lead for around three weeks.

 

What are the Positives to Spaying
  • Stops your dog going into season.
    • You don’t have to worry about not taking them for a walk or to doggy day-care when in season in case there are any males around.
    • The mess involved with bitches bleeding when in season no longer occurs.
  • Birth control.
    • Pure and simply once they are spayed they cannot breed.
    • The UK dog population exceeds the demand (with rescue centres completely full) puppies are difficult to sell and may end up in a shelter
  • Pyometria = “Pus in Uterus”
    pyometra bitch spay
    The pus-filled uterus of a pyometra being removed in surgery
    • This is a life-theratening condition killing approximate 5% of treated cases meaning 1% of entire female dogs older than 10 years die from it.
    • There are two main treatments for Pyometra’s;
      • Emergency or urgent spaying; main treatment most vets use.
        • This involves the removal of the whole uterus which also removes all the infection.
        • Dog’s will also be put on a drip and needed large amounts of antibiotics to kill the bacteria in their bloodstream.
      • Medical Treatment
        • Giving the bitch with two or three different medications, to open the cervix (sometimes it’s already dilated), expel pus from the uterus and antibiotics to kill the bacteria.
        • This is often successful however in 80% of cases bitches will go on to develop a pyometria after their next season.  Bitches should be spayed once they’ve recovered.
        • Spaying is a big operation and riskier in ill animals. The advantage of this approach spaying your dog when they are healthier to reduce the risk of surgery.
        • I have seen this method not be fully effective leading to the bitch needing to be spayed urgently when unwell.
        • Though Prometra’s most commonly occur when bitches are over 10yrs old, 2% of bitches get this within any year when they are younger.
  • Mammary cancers (breast cancer in dogs)
      • The risk of dogs getting mammary cancer if they are spayed before their first season is virtually nothing, 0.5% meaning 1 in 200 bitches will get it.  However, the risk rises with each successive season they have, being at 8% if spayed after their first season and 26% after their second.
      • Mammary Tumours are grouped into two main types, benign ones which spread (malignant) with chances being 50:50.
      • If it’s benign it can usually be removed by surgery and if all of it has been removed there should be no further problems.
      • In malignant cases, tumours are likely to spread throughout the other mammary glands and elsewhere; most commonly to the lungs.
        • These are harder to treat and once they’ve spread to the lungs further treatment may only extend/ improve your dog’s life rather than cure them.
      • Studies have shown spaying a bitch once she has mammary cancer will not improve their survival times.
  • Ovary and Uterine Cancers
    • These are less common and can mostly only affect animals who haven’t been spayed.
      • Uterine cancers are seen in only approximately 0.3-0.4% tumours in dogs whereas Ovarian cancers are seen in 0.5-6% of dogs.
      • If they’ve only had their ovaries removed they can still get uterine cancer though the chance is low.
    • These are often diagnosed quite late and are difficult to treat.
What Are the Cons?
  • Urinary incontinence when older associated with a loss of hormones they would’ve had if they weren’t spayed.
    • Most cases caused by spaying the bitch would have incontinence to some degree prior to their first season.
      • With these bitches if you still want them to be spayed it is recommended that you wait until after their first season as often the hormones leading to this help stop the incontinence from continuing.
    • Generally even if they had no issues when young, being spayed after their first season reduces the risks and severity of spay-associated urinary incontinence when older, however, it still occurs in approximately 20% of spayed bitches.
  • Obesity
    • Neutered animals need approximately 30% fewer calories than entire ones so it is easy for them to quickly gain weight once spayed.
    • It is recommended you put them on a lite/ low calorie or “neutered dog” diet post-spaying. These have all the nutrients in normal diets but fewer calories.  As opposed to feeding them less of a normal diet where they’ll also receive fewer vitamins/ minerals/ proteins that they need.
  • Hypothyroidism
    • A disorder where the metabolism is slowed.
    • It can also cause hair loss, lack of energy, mood changes, aggression, obesity and make the dogs feel cold much of the time
    • It needs lifelong medication, usually in the form of tablets, to improve your dog’s symptoms
  • Vaginal Dermatitis
    • Swelling, pain and infection of the vagina, vulva and some of the areas around them.
    • Signs of this are hair loss and thickening of/ discharge from the skin around the vagina and vulva. She will often be licking the area a lot and making it really sore and reddened.
    • This usually starts before a bitch hits puberty and is due to a lack of sex hormones
    • The first surge of hormones prior to their first season usually resolves this
    • If affected dogs are spayed prior to their first season this will worsen rather than resolve and may affect them for life and can be very uncomfortable.
  • Osteosarcoma
    Xray showing Osteosarcoma; a bitch spay risk
    Xray with arrows showing suspected osteosarcome. See the increased bone an the “fuzziness” in it indicating some of the bone has been eaten away.
    • This is a really nasty bone cancer
    • It tends to affect big breeds of dog, especially Rottweilers
    • It causes huge swellings most commonly around the elbow which are excruciatingly painful and solid.
    • They are very quick to come up and this cancer causes much of the bone to be eaten away often leading to the bone fracturing. It also spreads to the lungs very quickly can affecting your dog’s breathing.
    • Most cases will be diagnosed with XRays. A vet will not only xray the leg but also the chest to look for spread.
    • The biggest chance of survival is to amputate the leg or at least remove all of the affected part and replace it with bone grafts (bits of bone taken from dead animals) or metal plates.
      • With Rottweilers being such heavy dogs, along with other breeds prone to this, these interventions often aren’t very successful
    • In the majority of cases there’s already spread to the lungs before amputation is performed, thus the chances of them surviving longer than a year or two even with intensive treatment are very small. If chemotherapy or radiotherapy is not attempted in these cases the dog often has weeks to live, if that,
      • To avoid this it is often worthwhile delaying neutering Rottweilers and other large breeds until at least after their first season.

 

In Summary

Spaying your dog has several positives and negatives.  Firstly it prevents them getting pregnant as well as reduce the risk of mammary cancers and prevent ovarian and uterine cancers and Pyometras.  These can all be fatal.

The downsides, however, are the increased risks of obesity, incontinence, Hypothyroidism, Vaginal dermatitis and Osteosarcoma’s, especially in Rottweilers.

Most of the positives are aided by early neutering before bitches have their first season and having puppies does not reduce the risk of problems; in fact there’s the risk of her having health issues during the pregnancy, birth or afterwards.  However, the opposite can be said for the cons; these may be reduced with later spaying.

Whether you choose to spay your dog early, later on, or not at all is up to you but you should definitely have a think about it and discuss it with your veterinary surgeon.

 

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