Handling and Health
Well, after the basics, you probably know if piggies are something you have the time, money and energy to take on. So now you are choosing your piggy, one of the best parts of getting a new pet.
Where to get piggies from?
Rescue. Rescue. Rescue. Whee cannot say it enough. You would be surprised by the number of cavies in need out there. If you choose to go to a breeder or pet shop then you run significant risk of come home with a sick or pregnant piggy. However if in your part of the world that is the only option available to you (whee know not all countries have rescues as over run as whee do in England) then whee strongly suggest you carefully examine the piggies before purchase using our basic health check guide and get them vet checked as soon as possible after getting them. Some diseases like the fungal, Ringworm, can be passed to hoomans and other animals from piggies and a pretty common from pet shop piggies.
How to settle your new pets
Firstly, like any pet, guinea pigs will take time to settle in their new surroundings; sometimes a bit more than you might think. So don’t forget that patience is a virtue! It can take months before they are relaxed with you.
Now whee know whee piggies are irresistible and impossibly cute but our first tip is that you should really try to resist handling us to start with. The minimum whee would recommend would be 48 hours before trying no matter whether they are from a rescue and have been regularly handled, or from a pet shop with minimal handling. They do need time to settle and adjust. After that there are a few different methods you can use for taming but they vary wildly so whee may do another post on that soon.
Our next tip is to give your piggies lots of hiding houses. These can be plastic pigloos, or cardboard boxes with holes cut in the sides. To start with your piggies will hide all the time and only sneak out to eat when they think there isn’t anyone around. Don’t panic if you don’t see them eating as they are fairly secretive. You can leave little treats to tempt them near the hideys and round the cage.
Another thing to do is try to make as many normal sounds as possible after a few days of quiet. You don’t want to tip toe round, gain their trust and then find it vanishes when normal things happen such as music playing or the telly being on. Just remember to talk to them whenever you are near the cage, whether it is to feed them or just in passing. This will help them to get used to the sounds of your voice and bond with you.
Next, as least to start with, you will want to move carefully and avoid sudden movements – guinea pigs are prey animals, and in unfamiliar territory you will find that their instincts on high alert. Make sure to kneel or make yourself as low as you can to to make yourself seem less threatening and like a predator about to pounce!
How to handle a guinea pig
Whee piggies are fragile animals with delicate bones. Sometimes whee get excitable or frightened suddenly and have a tendency to jump (especially when you are returning us to our hutches or cage). Learning how to carry and handle us is a bit of trial and error but very important as falls and jumps can result in broken bones, injury, and sometimes death.
This is how our Mummy picks us up. First she corners us, (or if it is Nutty or Nibbles – both of whom love coming out – just reaches into us). Then she wraps one hand round our chest, just under our front paws. Then she uses her other hand to support our back feet and bottoms to make us feel secure and safe. It is nearly impossible for a piggy to jump in this position, even with nervous piggies, so it is then safe to lift us out and bring us to your chest. Mummy finds that whee like our paws on her shoulder or to hide under her chin but all piggies are different and you soon learn which way whee like to be carried.
A very important thing to add here would be that children should not be allowed to lift and carry piggies. All it takes is the child to tighten it’s hold, loose it’s grip or for the piggy to become startled and your piggy could end up hurt. Mummy is in the process of teaching the little hoomans how to lift us safely, but only with them sitting on the floor next to us and lifting us onto their laps. Never carrying us. She says it is not worth the risk.
As for putting us back in our hutches or cage, one thing Mummy does with Nibbles who has a tendency to leap from her hands is to have him face her and put him in bum first so he doesn’t get excitable and hurt himself in his haste.
Normal or not? A guide to basic health checking your piggy.
Serious signs of illness you should know are:
- Refusal to eat or drink
- Laboured breathing
- Crusty eyes
- Rough or puffed up coat
- Dull and/or receding eyes
- Lethargy, hunched posture
- Blood in urine
- Hair loss, excessive scratching
- Loss of balance
If your piggy shows any of the above you need to seek immediate veterinary help. The best guide to emergencies has to be this page on guinea lynx. It covers just about everything.
As for basic health check, this should be done daily and honestly Mummy says it becomes almost like instinct after a while and she now does it automatically. Like the song ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ you need to work through looking at each part of the body.
Nose – Should be clean. Snotty noses and frequent sneezing can be a sign of a bacterial infection. Any discharge, blood, or crust is not normal and should be investigated by a vet.
Mouth – Should look like this!
Eyes – Should be bright and symmetrical. Occasionally you will see a milky white fluid forming in the eyes but this is normal. Whee call it piggy shampoo and whee magically produce it, then wipe it over our furs to keep them looking good. Whee should not have crusty eyes. If whee do then whee may have a bacterial infection. Our eyes should not be bulging either. If our eyes bulge it may mean whee have an infection or injury to them or even something wrong with our teeth. On the opposite side of the scale whee should not have sunken eyes. If whee do then whee may be suffering from dehydration, sometimes caused by heatstroke which is common in piggies. An obvious thing you shouldn’t want to see is cloudy eyes. If they look cloudy then you need vet treatment promptly to prevent blindness or eye loss. There should not be grease or damp on the fur around the eye, this could be a sign of a number of things like problems with tear ducts or infection.
Ears – Should be clean. They should not look dirty or inflamed inside or out. A crust on the edge of the ear could mean a parasitic, fungal or bacterial infection. The ear should not look dry or be flaky. Some signs of an infection in the ear would be a head tilt, discharge or waxy build up inside the ear, heat from the ear, or pain when you touch the ear.
Tootsies – Our adorable little feet should have a clean, soft pad. Nails should be a safe length. Any scabs, crusts, or swelling of the foot is not normal. A common issue is bumble foot which can cause sores and be painful for the piggies to walk on. Long nails will also affect how a piggy walk so trim them, or get a vet to trim them, regularly.
Furs and Skin condition – Fur should be healthy looking glossy and should only shed a little. Skin should be clean with no sores or flakiness. Lumps, scabs, dandruff, excess shedding or hair loss all mean something is not right. It is important to get any of those things checked out. Most often in is those pesky parasites like mites are but that doesn’t stop it from being painful. Treatment is easy, so it is best to get to the vets.
Poop – One of those things that fascinate little hoomans! Our check when they clean us out that all of ours are a sort of jelly bean shape and medium to dark brown. Some of our poops whee recycle by eating again to get the nutrition our bodies may have missed the first time! Gross, according to Mummy. Cool, according to the little hoomans. Poops should not be clumped together. If they are and the piggy is male then this may indicate impaction. This is very uncomfortable for a piggy so unless you have experience, get the piggy to a vet to be sorted out. Smaller poops and/or teardrop shaped poops may mean that whee are dehydrated and/or eating less food. Diarrhoea with runny of very soft poops can be life threatening. If the poops are just soft, temporarily withholding vegetables may help. Mummy usually does this for three days. Sometimes it overloads the systems when you get a piggy and they are introduced to lots of fresh fruit and veg all at once to be sure to only give them a small amount at first.
If you notice different poops in the cage then you may need to separate the piggies into boxes to work out which is suffering. This is also good to check urine, see below.
Pee – Urine should be clear to cloudy in colour. Blood or anything else is not and should be checked out. Incontinence is also not normal. Your guinea pig should be relatively dry. If its fur is constantly wet and/or there is an smell, then get your piggy checked out for a urinary tract infection or other problem.
Weight – Weight loss is an early sign of many illnesses. To make sure your piggy maintains a good weight it is recommended that you do a wheekly weigh in. Whee enjoy ours as it is often accompanied by parsley!
Drinking – How much water a piggy drinks varies from pig to pig but some factors can change the amount they consume; temperature, taste of water, activity, and preference. A guinea pig provided with rinsed and still wet fruit or vegetables might appear to drink very little during the day. If in doubt, gets vets number out.
Movement -Piggies should move normally around and not waddle, or have feet stick out. Their paws should touch the floor fully and not put more weight on the back or front of them. They should not hop with their hind legs as this can be a sign of pain, or arthritis in older piggies. Piggies do ‘popcorn’ which essentially means bouncing in the air and twitching parts of their body in a way which shocks hoomans who have never seen it before. Popcorning is normal and usually done when a piggy is happy or excited!
Behaviour – Changes in behaviour should be red flags. If whee are not eating favourite foods or is hiding our pigloos all day when whee normal dash around, tells you something is wrong. Whee depend on you to know when are ill. Whee cannot phone for help or say it out loud so you must take us to the vets if something is not right.