Looking After A Bereaved Guinea Pig

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Wiebke

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I hope that the following remarks will help you and your surviving piggy get through a very difficult time!

Overview
I What can I do immediately after a guinea pig has died?

- Saying goodbye
- What can I do for my grieving piggy?
- Acute pining

II New companionship and human grieving
- When can I start looking for a new mate?
- "Replacing" a guinea pig: the conflict between human and cavy needs
- How do I best go about finding a new mate? (Possible options listed for bereaved sows and boars)

III Getting support for yourself (including further links and resources)


I: What can I do immediately after a guinea pig has died?

Saying goodbye
Please let the companion(s) take leave if your piggy has died at home. Reactions can vary enormously, from completely ignoring the body to hunkering down next to it. Many piggies will lick the eyes and move away again.


What can I do for my grieving piggy?
Please put a bereaved piggy next to others if you can or bring it indoors where it will have more company. Please don't leave it alone in an outdoors hutch.

Let the grieving guinea pig have a cosy or fleece that still smells of the passed away companion to snuggle into for comfort in the first few days, if that is possible and there has been no infectious/transmittable disease. Otherwise, a safe guinea pig sized toy that has been rubbed over with guinea pig scent can also help.

Grieving guinea pigs will usually withdraw and not show much appetite. They don’t feel and grieve any less deeply than we humans. You will have to respect this, but monitor the weight daily and top up with syringe feeding if the weight loss becomes larger than 50g/2 oz until it is eating again fully by itself, which is often happening on the second day, if reluctantly. Sometimes, a little syringe feed can stimulate the guinea pig to eat for itself again, but be gentle and don't force feed your grieving piggy just for the sake of it!

Offer your friendship, but accept that it may not be wanted. Unlike humans, most guinea pigs come out of deep mourning after a few days and get on with the vital job of surviving again, even if they have lost their previous sparkle.

In some cases, a very self-sufficient piggy will not show any signs of being upset and will concentrate on getting on with life (but please be aware that it still may prefer new company!), while occasionally, a piggy will decide to follow its much loved and tightly bonded friend; this happens more often when there are already underlying health issues.


Acute pining
Acute pining is thankfully rare! But if your bereaved guinea pig is not eating and drinking at all for a day and is refusing to take any notice of the world around it (weight loss and turning its head to the wall or not come out of its hidey at all), you will need to step in with syringe feeding and watering. This is called "acute pining" and it has to be treated as an emergency.
Complete Syringe Feeding Guide

It is imperative that you have your guinea pig both checked by a vet to see whether the shock of the loss has caused an underlying health problem to the fore, and if that is not the case, find your guinea pig a new companion asap without the benefit of quarantining if the new guinea pig has not undergone one in a rescue; the need of companionship has got absolute priority as it is a matter or life and death!
In many cases, the new company will bring your grieving piggy round, but sometimes the bond is sadly too close to prevent a piggy from just giving up and following its beloved mate.

Health problems and depression can sometimes manifest some days or weeks later with a grieving guinea pig on its own. Please make sure that you do not overlook the health angle and always have your piggy vet checked for an underlying health issue before you diagnose a depression!
 

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New companionship and human grieving

When can I start looking for a new mate?
If a piggy takes a loss very hard and is literally pining away, it can be vital to find a new mate as quickly as possible and from wherever you can get one asap!

Otherwise, the best time to start looking for a new friend is from the moment a piggy is picking up its regular life again, which happens usually after a few days. This is generally long before you as a loving owner are emotionally ready for a new pet. Please keep in mind that guinea pigs have different needs to us, and the need for companionship is much greater than for us humans!

If the companion has died from a transmittable illness, please have your surviving piggy checked by a vet and wait 2-4 weeks before letting your bereaved guinea pig come in contact with others (quarantine). It can be a weighing up of risks if your bereaved guinea pig is showing signs of acute pining.
If you are dealing with multiple deaths from some transmittable mystery problem, please do not get any new piggies until any risk of transmission has passed and the source has been identified. This may mean months in the worst case if your surviving guinea pigs can remaining carriers. In this case, please ask your vet for their assessment of the situation.
Importance Of Quarantine


“Replacing” a guinea pig; the conflict between human and cavy needs
Be reassured that you are not simply replacing the piggy that you have just lost; each bond is unique and utterly irreplaceable! You will never completely stop missing a piggy, irrespective of how many come afterwards. They have shared a part of your life, and through that, they will always remain part of you.
Any new piggy will tie an entirely new individual line to your heart and create its own unique bond in its very own time. As they share a different part of your life with you, your relationship won’t be the same, not necessarily less or more loving, but simply other to what has come before!

You don’t have to feel bad or guilty for not being able to feel anything at all for a new piggy right away until you have been able to deal with your loss in your own - human - time; that is a very common reaction to the difference in the grieving process of the two species involved.
Having addressed your bereaved piggy's needs, you have every right to take your own time to come to terms with your loss. Any new piggy is coming to your home to be there for your bereaved piggy, first and foremost; at least not until you are yourself ready for a new piggy journey!

Most often, you will find that you have actually bonded with a newcomer before you are aware of it, simply through the daily contact and by seeing a new relationship develop between your bereaved piggy and its new friend.
You will however find that it is usually a very different kind of bond that you grow yourself with your new piggy, not the all-out love you have for your first piggies; it is more often an affectionate slow-burner which gradually deepens into true fondness and eventually love the second time round.

Personally, I have found that being able to do something positive towards making my bereaved piggy happy again has helped me at the same time deal more constructively with my own grieving process. The instant change when my piggies came alive again when meeting new potential friends was ever so gratifying to witness! Just to see the sparkle back was more than worth setting my own feelings aside. So far, I have always got a very loving relationship out of my several dating trips to a rescue, even if I rarely arrived back home with the new companion I had provisionally reserved!


How do I best go about finding a new mate?

Guinea pigs of both genders and all ages can be re-bonded or will at least profit from interaction through the bars with another guinea pig.

However, it is important that - if at all possible - you let piggies choose a new friend for themselves for a happy new relationship. Age is actually of less importance than character compatibility and mutual liking, but if meet & greet is not an option for you, then it is usually better to opt for a younger piggy - at worst as a next door companion if the only way you could get a mate was by buying one on spec and after finding that they didn't work out together. Bonding tips and support can be got in our behaviour section to help you staging introductions for best success.

It is in any case well worth going further afield for a bonding session to make sure that the most important part of a successful guinea pig bond, the fact that they “click” with each other, is present before you bring a new companion home.

A few rescues are open to foster out or let you adopt a suitable rescue guinea for the duration of your bereaved piggy's life with the rescue piggy returning to the rescue afterwards as part of the fostering/adoption agreement; mostly with private guinea pig rescues. Unless stated explicitly on the website, you will have to enquire whether this option exists in any of the rescues within your reach or not.

If you are in the UK, the best place is dating under expert supervision at one of our recommended good standard rescues. Please be aware that rescues can be very busy places run by volunteers in their free time, so it can take more than a day or more than one try before they can come back to you.
Guinea Pig Rescue Centre Locator
There are also good guinea pig rescues in other countries, but you will have to enquire as to their adoption policies and whether they offer meet&greet if you find one within your reach; it is however well worth making the effort!
Recommended rescues in other countries: Guinea Lynx :: Rescue Organizations

Please be aware that if you get a guinea pig via free-ads that it can easily turn into a rather steep and sometimes expensive learning curve; the responsibilities and risks re. potential health problems (quarantine), pregnancy and compatibility with your own piggy are all on your side. As with every bonding at home, you will need a plan B in case things don't work out the way you want to. You may also need to conduct a quarantine before bonding.
Here is a guide on what to look out for in guinea pigs that do not come from a rescue with a mandatory quarantine and vet care. What to check and look out for in new guinea pigs (vet checks, sexing, parasites&illness)


Options for bereaved sows
- Sows can be bonded with both other sows as well as a neutered boar of any age, but they can have very clear ideas about who they like and who they get on with, so an initial meeting on neutral ground before you commit is always helpful and can spare you sleepless nights!

- If you struggle to re-bond your - especially older and rather cantankerous - lady, there is always the option of next door piggy company of any gender to interact with through the bars.


Options for bereaved boars
- Many of our recommended rescues also offer boar-to-boar dating in some form; some even as residential “full” boar dating, which is the safest way of bonding boars of all ages.

- Boar neutering is an option if you have access to an experienced vet with a good operating/guinea pig neutering record; otherwise the risk of post-op complications is sadly still quite high. Any neutered boar also faces a full 6 weeks post operation wait to be 100% safe to go with ladies. (I have the surprise baby courtesy of a supposedly safe over 5 weeks post-op boar living with me.)
Neutered / De-sexed Boars And Neutering Operations: Myths And Facts

- Because spaying is an even more invasive and expensive operation than boar neutering, sows are usually only spayed on medical grounds and spayed sows looking for a new home are therefore very rare. Count yourself extremely lucky if you come across one for your elderly boar!
There are however a few US, Canadian and the only New Zealand guinea pig rescue (in Auckland) with a spaying policy, so it is worth considering if you live within reach of one of them!

- Occasionally, adult and especially older laid-back boars will accept a third submissive and sociable boar into their bond to form a stable trio, but don’t necessarily expect it to work out with your bereaved boar! You can try to stage a meeting through bars on neutral ground and carefully take it from there if the interaction is strictly friendly (see bonding tips in the behaviour section or ask for advice). Abort immediately if there are signs of hostility in order to not risk breaking the existing bond of your other boar couple!
- If you have an older boar who you struggle to re-bond, please consider getting him next door company of his own kind to interact with and stay bright.

Please ask any questions you may have about issues concerning your bereaved guinea pig in our behaviour/bonding section.
 

Wiebke

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Getting support for yourself

Dealing with your grieving, grieving family members and a grieving pet can be very taxing. This chapter is reserved for where to find more information and support for yourself.


Grieving for your guinea pig: Our owners' bereavement guide
We have also got a owners' grieving guide, which will take you through typical grieving aspects and dynamics, ways to cope and where to find support, including where to look for help and resources for children.

You can access our Human Bereavement guide via this link here: Human Bereavement - Grieving, coping and support for guinea pig owners and their children


Getting trained support if you are struggling with your bereavement
If you struggle with the grieving process to the extent that you are unable to get on with your daily life or sleep, or to move on with with your feelings of guilt or loss, please contact a pet bereavement service. There are free and anonymous phone lines in many countries available that can help you cope with your loss.
Pet bereavement can happen to anybody and it can hit anybody much harder than they think imaginable; there is no shame in it!

Please also be aware that the loss of a beloved pet can bring up previous losses again and make the grieving process much harder for you. The helplines are also there for those difficult birthdays and anniversaries when the pain of your loss returns in full strength.


This link here gives you an overview of available services for the UK. The Blue Cross offer both a free phone line as well as an email service.
For other countries you may find any locally available options by googling for 'pet bereavement support'.
SupportLine - Problems: Pet Bereavement: Advice, support and information


More information on saying goodbye and grieving for guinea pig owners
(Guinea Pig Magazine article series)

Guinea Pig Magazine has published a series of insightful and sensitive articles about the whole field of loss and grieving in 2018/19.
These issues can still be back-ordered worldwide from their website both digitally or in print if you think that they may help you understand better what you are going through and come to terms with your loss, or if you struggle with accessing support otherwise.
For ordering, please click here:
Back Issues – Guinea Pig Mag

Issue 44:
- Talking Guinea Pig Mental Health 1: Depression and bullying (including depression in bereaved guinea pigs).
- Thoughts before Vegtime: How long do guinea pigs grieve and how long to wait before introducing a new partner?
Issue 45:
- Saying Goodbye 1: Coping with Grief: How does grief work? - Pet Bereavement Support Services
- Your Duty of Care (including keeping your guinea pigs pain-free and making the hardest decision of all)
- Reader's Story: Coping with Guilt
- The Perfect Gift: A very special last day for Minx. (A story about a terminally ill piggy, euthanasia, bereavement and an acutely pining companion.)
- Calli's Story: Never too old to find a new friend and a new zest for life!
Issue 46:
- Saying Goodbye 2: Coping with Death and Euthanasia: Knowing when to say goodbye - What happens at the vet clinic and afterwards?
Issue 47:
- Saying Goodbye 3: Coping with Terminal Illness: How to care for a terminally ill or dying guinea pig?
Issue 48:
- Saying Goodbye 4: Ways of Remembering Them - Ideas and inspiration
- Single Pigs 1: Challenges and Responsibilities: How to tell if a guinea pig really wants to be alone? (including bereaved guinea pigs)
Issue 49:
- Single Pigs 2+3: Meeting the needs of single guinea pigs.
 
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