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  • You can find lots of information on how to settle in, understand your new guinea pigs in our New Owners Guide Collection but please ask any questions you have in Wannabe and New Owners' section.

Emergency and Bridging Care until a Vet Appointment

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Wiebke

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Overview:
I Statement
II Emergency assessment and accessing vets
III First aid kit of non-medical support products
IV Bridging and home support care tips
V Looking after a dying guinea pig



I Statement

The advice in this guide DOES NOT replace a vet visit or any medical diagnosis and treatment!
The following is only there to help keeping your guinea pig going until you can see a vet ASAP and until any prescribed medication can kick in. Unfortunately immediate vet access is not available in all areas and countries.

None of the mentioned support products in this guide is a medication.
They do NOT heal; they only help to make your guinea pig more comfortable and – if it is not eating or drinking – attempting to help you keep it going if that is still possible.

Please make a vet appointment first for a clearly ill guinea pig before starting a thread.



II Emergency assessment, vet access and vet visit resources

Emergency assessment: How urgent is my guinea pig’s problem?

Please contact your closest open vet clinic NOW at any time of the day or night or as soon as any clinic within your reach opens if you are dealing with a life or death emergency! Do not wait for an exotics vet appointment.

List of life and death emergencies
To assess whether your guinea pig’s problem counts as a life or death emergency, please see this link here. It contains the full list of problems that need immediate vet attention: List Of Life And Death Out-of-hours Emergencies

How soon should my guinea pig see a vet?
Problems that should be seen within 24 hours of you noticing and problems that can wait a few days until you can get a regular vet appointment. Book an appointment now for as soon as you can at your regular vets if you can get one in the recommended time span.
If you are worried, please always see a vet as soon as you can get to one.
How Soon Should My Guinea Pig See A Vet? - A Quick Guide


Finding an emergency vet

In order to find out-of-hours vet care, please ring and listen to the phone message of your regular vet clinic.
In urban areas, you can google for out-of-hours or 24 hour veterinary services.


Please note that night-time appointments or weekend services come with a surcharge. Overnight consultations usually include an over £90+ out-of-hours fee on top of any medication. Some clinics won’t charge for an emergency euthanasia, but others will.
Please make sure that you always have appropriate funds available and accessible at all times. Save up for a vet fund right from the start as part of the weekly/monthly living cost or – for the UK – get exotic pets insurance if you prefer.

Recommended vets with regular opening hours. Exotics vets may have several days’ waiting time.
UK: Recommended Guinea Pig Vets
Some other countries incl. US: Guinea Lynx :: GL's Vet List


Useful resources when seeing a vet not familiar with guinea pigs

You are within your rights to ask the treating vet for what medication they are giving and what their reasoning is, as long as you do it politely. This is especially important for any injections. You are also within your rights to check any medication against these lists before you leave the premises and ring the clinic for conformation on of medical brands and prescribed dosages.

List of safe medications: Guinea Lynx :: Medications

List of dangerous medications: Guinea Lynx :: Dangerous Medications
Adding convenia antibiotic for UK members after several fatal experiences from forum members.

The Problems With Steroids And Why They Shouldn't Be Used.
 

Wiebke

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III First Aid Kit of non-medical support products

The following list contains items and things that you likely already have at home or that are easily available from a pharmacy. Please check the use by date regularly.
We strongly recommend to always keep a strong disinfectant, syringes, recovery powder sachets, probiotics and electrolyte powder sachets at home in case of an emergency, as well as styptic powder in case of bleeding and to weigh and health-check your guinea pigs once weekly during their lives in order to catch any more slowly developing problems early on.

General
  • Disposable gloves, kitchen paper, cotton pads, clean old towels; scissors and tweezers
  • A vet grade disinfectant like F10 (recommended) or internationally available virkon
  • 1 ml needle-free syringes for syringe feeding and medication
  • Kitchen scales for weight/food intake monitoring
Comfort for a very ill guinea pig
  • Microwaveable snugglesafe pad
    Please heat only half the maximum time but more often.
    Allow a guinea pig to move away on its own account from any source of warmth if they start overheating.
  • Comfortable fleece cosy and/or blanket, ideally with change in order to keep your guinea pig clean and dry
  • Please keep your ill guinea pig as much as possible in its familiar surroundings and in the company of their friends.
Illness and recovery support care products

Recovery foods

  • Mushed up pellets: Use hand warm mushed up pellets if you haven’t got any formula powder at home or if your guinea pig refuses to accept the formula mix. In some cases it can help mixing formula powder into mushed up pellets to cover the unfamiliar taste. If your guinea pig is completely off its food, anything goes that goes in!
  • Recovery formulas: There is now a range of recovery foods in powder form available. If you can, please opt for a timothy hay based product.
    Oxbow products can be ordered online worldwide.
Information on available products and preparation (including mushed pellets) in our syringe feeding guide:
Complete Syringe Feeding Guide


Digestive aids: ‘Poo soup’, probiotics and fibreplex
  • ‘Poo soup’ is made by soaking poos that have literally just dropped out of the bum of a healthy companion in water. You then syringe the water.
    Mimics natural behaviour and very effective with really fresh poos. You need to make it with totally fresh poos every time in order to make sure that gut microbes are still alive when they reach the gut in order to work.
  • Probiotics are widely available powders to help digestion.
    A pet shop is often the best place to get some in a hurry.
    The effectiveness of probiotics is still somewhat contested. They are a food supplement and not a medication, and are therefore not prescribed by vets in many cases.
    Follow instructions or give a pinch either 1 hour before any antibiotic (US recommendation) or 1-2 hours after the antibiotic (UK recommendation). Either way is OK.
  • Fibreplex: A probiotic high fibre paste. Proven to be effective with digestive problems and loss of appetite from an antibiotic.
  • Metatone (UK brand) from a pharmacy can sometimes help as short-term pick-me-up in ill or recovering guinea pigs. Not recommended for regular or long term use! It does not replace proper medication.
    Give 0.2 ml to a 1000g guinea pig twice daily for the first week, then only once daily.
More information on available recovery and probiotic brands in this link here: Probiotics, Recovery Foods And Vitamin C: Overview With Product Links


Rehydration

Electrolyte powder to mix with water can help with any guinea pigs struggling with massive digestive problems and total loss of appetite, but especially with runny diarrhea.
Offer as much as they will take, but see a vet for a sub-cutaneous fluid injection if your guinea pig is very dehydrated.
Dioralyte (UK) and pedialyte (US) can be got from any pharmacy.


Accident and injury

Disinfection of open wounds

  • Saline solution:
    Sterile saline is available from any pharmacy.
    In an emergency you can make it easily at home by stirring 1 teaspoon of salt into 250 ml / ½ pint of boiled cooled water.
  • Hibiscrub
  • F10 Disinfectant
Bleeding
  • Styptic powder is available from any pharmacy.
    Any bleeding should stop within 10-15 minutes. If it continues or if the bleeding is very heavy, please contact a vet ASAP.
Eyes and ears
  • Sterile eye wash without additives may help to wash out an eye. It does NOT replace a vet consultation and antibiotic eye drops. Do not use it if you are seeing a vet within 24 hours.
    Eye injuries and infection can deteriorate in a matter of hours. The damaged area can be much wider than visible to the naked eye. Only a vet can properly assess and treat the eye issue.
    See a vet ASAP if the eye is bloody, promptly if they is cloudy or there is a bluish dot or film on the eye surface (ulceration).
    Milky white fluid is normal eye cleaning fluid and nothing to worry about. It can sometimes not drain away properly and dry into a white substance.
  • Artificial tear gel: For rehydration and as support in the healing process in combination with antibiotic tear drops. Does NOT heal on its own!
    Gel is longer lasting than drops and easier to apply. Apply 3-6 times a day, but wait for at least half an hour after treating with antibiotic eye drops.
  • For ears please always see a vet promptly if your guinea pig develops is repeatedly shaking its vigorously, pawing at the ear, developas a head tilt, suddenly walks in circles or starts fitting/has balance issues.
    NEVER pour any oil etc. down an ear!
    If you also keep rabbits or there are rabbits close by, please ask your vet to check for rabbit ear mites and the possibility of e.cuniculi.
Breathing problems

You need to see a vet as a life and death emergency if your guinea pig is apathetic and breathing with its sides heaving. It is generally a sign of a build-up of fluid either on the lungs or the chest cavity. Ask your vet for a diuretic in any case to help drain the fluid as quickly as possible.

  • If you have a dog or cat with a cough or have been visited by a coughing dog, please ask your vet to consider bordetellosis ("kennel"). It can also be transmitted by guinea pigs living together with rabbits.
    Dogs, Kennel Cough And Guinea Pigs - An Important Consideration.
  • A bowl of steaming water next to the cage may help ease the breathing a little if you are dealing with a potentially lethal respiratory tract infection (URI), but please see a vet promptly as your guinea pig will need an antibiotic to recover.
    You can add 2-3 drops of olbas oil safely, but vicks contains ingredients that are noxious to guinea pigs and should never be used around them!
More information on respiratory tract infections in this link here: New piggy problems: URI - ringworm - skin parasites


Skin problems

Please NEVER home treat on spec and see a vet as you can very easily make things much worse by treating wrongly or undertreating – and you can end up spending a lot more extra money than if you see a vet promptly!


Information on guinea pig specific skin parasites as well as fungal skin infections in this link here: New piggy problems: URI - ringworm - skin parasites
The potentially fatal risk of treating with flea powders: Fleas And Flea Powders


Fly strike and maggots

Please have your guinea pigs vet checked asap if you notice white maggots in your cage, and as a life or death emergency id notice slightly red bumps on your guinea pig's genitalia when bringing them in from the lawn, which then develop into swollen genitalia and white dots.
Please be aware that occasionally bottle flies can come indoors and lay their eggs on frail and elderly guinea pigs that are unable to clean their genitalia!
More information here: Fly Strike
 

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IV Bridging and home support care during vet treatment

Once you have booked a vet appointment, your second priority is to keep your guinea pig as comfortable and well as possible.

Key is monitoring the weight and stepping in with support feeding if necessary. When keeping an eye on the poo output please be aware that it is lagging behind a day or two, but any smaller and thinner poos indicate decreased food intake. Poos that are a different colour mean that a food group has been dropped and undigested chunks of vet are a sign that things are not working well.
Weight - Monitoring and Management

If you are dealing with soft poos, cow pads or runny diarrhea, bloat, GI stasis (no gut movement and no burbling sounds in the gut) please take your guinea pig off any fresh food asap.
Stringy poos and tiny mucus covered poos are a sign that the guts are not well at all and that your guinea pig is likely dehydrated. In the latter case your guinea pig has not eaten or drunk anything at all in the last 24 hours – that is a life and death emergency.

Depending on what the scales and the poo consistency are telling you, you manage the syringe feeding support:
If your guinea pig is losing weight but still eating on its own, then you offer additional support with as much as recovery syringe feed or mushed pellets as your guinea pig wants to eat; offer water but only as much as your guinea pig is willing to take. Do not force your guinea pig to eat more than it wants at this stage!

Any guinea pig completely off its food needs round the clock care; feed the more often the less your guinea pig is accepting. Never give more than your guinea pig can process and swallow; depending on its weakness and illness that can be as little 0/1 ml at a time. Only offer more feed or water once the previous lot has been swallowed.
Feed every 4 hours if your guinea pig is still accepting 10-15 ml of syringe feed in any session. Your aim: 60-90 ml in 24 hours.
Feed every 2 hours round the clock if your guinea pig is struggling and every single mouthful is a fight. The closer you can come to 40-60 ml in 24 hours, the better, but every ml you can get in is a little step forward.


It is a time consuming and draining process; and in the middle of the night also a very lonely one! But your syringe feeding care can really make the difference between life and death and can be every bit as important as any medical vet care. Since hay is making over 80% of the food intake, getting as much fibre into a very ill guinea pig as possible is crucial.

An increasing number of clinics is offering to look after very ill guinea pigs in need of support for clients that are not able to provide this intensive care. Please enquire when you register.

Our illustrated syringe feeding guide will take you step-by-step through the whole process. The first time is always daunting (practice definitely helps), but please persist!
Complete Syringe Feeding Guide
Not Eating, Weight Loss And The Importance Of Syringe Feeding Fibre
Syringe Training Before The Need For Medicating

Use praise, cajoling and guinea pig whispering tricks by stroking around ears and eyes to get that little bit more into a very ill guinea pig that is fighting syringe feeding. A piggy will often start to chew reflexively when you stroke it; you can try to use this when trying to help getting things down.
Understanding Prey Animal Instincts, Guinea Pig Whispering And Cuddling Tips
 

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Looking after a dying guinea pig

We all can end up with a situation where a guinea pig is deteriorating quickly and going into organ failure before we can see a vet.
Some illnesses can literally happen right out of the blue and kill within hours or they can suddenly a quick turn for the worst.

The following is just a rough guide for what to look out for when you assess and reassess the situation constantly. No case is the same.
If you can, please contact an open vet clinic ASAP and speak to them.

Signs that your guinea pig could be dying
  • Removing itself from the group and facing a corner. This is a signal that your guinea pig is feeling critically ill.
  • Heaving breathing from the sides where every breath is a real struggle means that there is a dangerous fluid build-up in the chest or lungs and that the heart is straining.
  • Feeling cold to the touch means that the blood circulation is no longer working properly and that the body has likely started to close down.
  • Fighting syringe feed well in excess to its weakness is often a sign that your guinea pig is no longer able to process any food.
  • Decrease in the amount of syringe feed it can process.
  • Apathy and difficulty to raise the head. Too weak/unable to swallow.
When to see a vet for euthanasia if at all possible
  • Salivating is a sign that there is a blockage somewhere in the digestive tract from the mouth through the oesophagus right down to the guts and that not even the saliva which is continuously produced can pass anymore. It is not pleasant at all. See a vet asap, if only for euthanasia.
  • Any screaming, twisting with pain or grunting is a sign of severe pain and the need to race your guinea to the vets as quickly as you can.
  • If bloating is developing very fast and the belly is not just tight but feeling like concrete, then you are most likely dealing with a twisted gut. It is extremely painful. Please take bloated guinea pig that is grunting with pain to the vets asap.
  • Multiple organ failure is a complex process that varies depending on the order the organs shut down and how healthy/strong they are. It can go quickly in just an hour in a very frail guinea or it can last for several days. If you feel at any point that your guinea pig is in discomfort or fitting longer than 15-30 minutes, please contact a vet ASAP.
    Otherwise keep your guinea pig as comfortable and warm, but not hot and asmuch as you can in their familiar surroundings.
    Please also respect the right of any companions to accompany this process. Remove a guinea pig only if has removed itself from the group, otherwise leave it with its friends.
Putting your guinea pig to sleep is the most heart-breaking, but at the same time the most precious and loving gift we can give any suffering pet. Please put the needs of your beloved one before your own fears of loss.
The knowledge that you are doing the right thing will give you the strength to see it through, I promise you!


Euthanasia - What happens when it's time to say goodbye?
Human Bereavement - Grieving, coping tips and support links for guinea pig owners and their children
Looking After A Bereaved Guinea Pig
 
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