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Satin syndrome

Abi_nurse

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For those who have been around the guinea pig crowd you may have heard of 'satin' guinea pigs and also heard that they get something called osteodystrophy (thinning of the bone). So here's a quick and concise guide about what the mostly up to date research can tell us about satin breed guinea pigs. This is one reason I would advise against having one of these breeds, and why, if you have one you should be aware of this disease likely to effect them.

What is a satin?
Satin is a coat type which occurs in many different breeds of guinea pig. The gene which is a recessive one causes the guard hairs (particular type of hair) on the piggies body to become translucent and light to shine through them. This causes a sheen type effect in the coat. Once you have met a satin coated, you will never mistake one again. The satin gene factor can also effect other species such as hamsters and rabbits too.

How can I tell if my guinea pig is satin?
Satins are immistakable once you have seen one in person, try googling satin Guinea pig, or ask the members on here. Photos don't always pick them up, especially if you've taken them indoors. Satins have a very special sheen to the coat which is especially visible in direct sunlight, so a photo in the sunshine is easier to spot the sheen in. The darker the coat colour the harder it is to spot if your not used to them too.
Here is Peppa - a silver agouti coat but also a satin, you can see her typical sheen in the sunlight.
IMG_3249.JPG
And here is Cosmo - my most recent satin, which you can't see so easily on camera (less easy to spot in artificial lighting and the darker coat colouring)
IMG_2261.JPG

How do I know if my guinea pig is a gene carrier of the satin gene and may get this syndrome?
Unless you have bought your guinea pig from a breeder you will not know if your piggie is a gene carrier of the satin gene. If you have bought your piggie you will need to know if the parents were satin and if any siblings were too. If this was the case then it is likely that your piggie is a carrier of the gene.

What is satin syndrome?
Recent research into satins and satin gene carriers (those pigs who have the genes but do not have the coat type) show that they have a high incidence of renal (kidney) disease. This long term chronic kidney failure leads to something called secondary renal hyperparathyroidism. This is a complex medical problem and in as simple terms as I can put the following happens.
As the kidneys do not filter out blood as well as it should, it has a knock on effect on the parathyroid gland. This gland then produces too much parathyroid hormone which in turn causes disruption of correct levels of calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D Levels in the blood stream. This disruption later in life can potentially cause calcium to be stripped from the bone structures as the body tries to correct the levels. This is where the idea that satins develop oestodystrophy - weakening and thinning of the bones, and it is not incorrect to suggest some satins may develop this. These breeds can also develop dental changes due to poor bone strength in the jaw and also be more predisposed to heart problems too.

How can I tell if my guinea pig has satin syndrome?
Only satin and satin gene carriers have been proven to suffer from this disease so they must be either of these. However there are a lot of normal coat guinea pigs developing kidney riskier later in life so please bear in mind that some of these symptoms can be a sign of kidney disease in normal coated guinea pig. Please note that these signs can develop at any point in life, not just the first 18 months as once believed. The most common near always sign is progressive weight loss. You should be weighing your piggies weekly ideally and if they are gradually losing weight over a period of time then this should make your concerned. (There are also plenty of other diseases which can cause weight loss too so don't jump straight to thinking it is kidney disease)
Signs are often very vague and not specific but may or may not include one or more of the following:-
- Progressive weight loss
- Drinking more and urinating more (if you can measure how much your piggie is drinking in a 24 hour period)
- Sunken eyes
- Lethargy and reluctance to move around
- Difficulty in chewing food, selectively eating softer foods like pellets and vegetables.
- Lameness on one or more limbs (more likely to develop in later stages of the disease)
- Any other vague signs of illness such as bloating, eating less, changes in feaces etc
- Increased breathing rate or effort which can be a sign of heart problems (but also sign of pneumonia)

How can my vet diagnose satin syndrome?
The short answer is with great difficulty. Most general practicing vets have no knowledge of this disease as it is quite niche. Those who have a special interest in guinea pigs and those who are specialists in exotics are more likely to have either heard of it or encountered it. These vets, even if not seen one before should be able to do some research and help you out. There are several tests and symptoms which we can put together to try and build up a picture of satin syndrome. Guinea pigs are typical medical mysteries and actually one of the worst pets to reach a diagnosis on as they give little away in symptoms or changes on diagnostics. The few things I would be looking at doing if I were concerned about satin syndrome would be the following:
- Checking the concentration of the urine (urine specific gravity) - this can see how well the kidneys are concentrating the urine.
- A blood sample (which must be taken under aneathesia/sedation), to check kidney values, phosphorus and calcium levels. Please note that because guinea pigs like to be difficult, kidney values even in individuals suffering end stage disease may not change
- X-rays (or CT scan) to check the density of the bone to see if there are any signs of thinning, must be done so under anaesthesia or sedation to get diagnostic views
- A full dental check (ideally under aneathesia at the same time)
- A kidney ultrasound to check the kidney structure - many satins will have cysts in one or both kidneys
If your satin piggie has changes to the calcium and phosphorus blood levels, thinning in the bones, reduced urine concentration and/or cysts visible on the kidneys I would be highly suspect of satin syndrome and you should have your piggie monitored throughout life.

How can we treat satin syndrome?
Unfortunately there is no known cure for kidney disease in any species of animal but we may be able to help relieve symptoms and potentially slow down the progression of the disease but it will not stop them suffering from kidney failure later on. Some things which may be worthwhile considering is:
- Getting your piggies outside in the direct sunshine in the summer, and in winter months using a UV-b light to increase levels of vitamin D In the blood stream - this increases the amount of calcium the body can use. (Reducing the chance of osteodystrophy occurring). I would avoid giving oral supplementation of vitamin D as you would be more likely to risk overdosing your pet. Many pelleted foods have vitamin D In them too. (I will post photos later in the year of the UV light I will buy for Cosmo.) if you wish to buy a UV bulb please have a chat with me as many commonly available do not give out sufficient levels of UV-b spectrum. Note that sunlight through windows does not have the same effect as direct light.
- Using drugs such as semintra (Semintra | Semintra). This can help with protein levels in the urine and other blood levels. Talk carefully with your vet about using this. Exotic vets are using it successfully in rabbits but little is known about how good it is in guinea pigs and their kidney failure seems to be slightly different. I have given this long term to a kidney failure piggie and had no ill effects, it may be worth a go later in life
- Increasing weight by giving extra syringe feeds and high calorific foods. Be very careful not to over feed foods that are high in carbohydrates such as oats, barley, corn etc and those high in sugars like fruits and carrots. Although these will be good for weight gain they won't be good for the gut bacteria and you may end up with cases of bloat later down the line. Oat hays are fine for extra energy and also very small amounts of alfalfa.
- Heart medications should there be heart disease present - please speak to your vet about these as different types of heart disease may require different drugs
- Keeping their homes easy to move around in. If they have signs of bone thinning or lameness, ensure their enclosures are single level and easy to move around without straining their joints

Will having satin syndrome shorten the life of my guinea pig?
Sadly yes, kidney disease is not curable and is likely to result in a shorter life for your guinea pig but this does not mean they cannot have a fabulous life none the less.

Is this disease like hyperthyroidism?
The thyroid and the parathyroid are two different glands (which sit next to each other in the neck). They are used for different functions. Hyperthyroidism and hyperparathyroidism are two different diseases and will not always present in the same way.

What can I do to help?
I am personally extremely interested in advancing our knowledge of kidney disease in guinea pigs so if you have an interesting case of your own piggie (satin or not) please feel free to give me an email. I will be doing more research and looking into kidney disease in guinea pigs over the coming years.
aedis@rvc.ac.uk.
 
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Abi_nurse

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