Posts Tagged ‘guinea pigs’

CareFRESH Blog!

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

I am SO excited about my newest writing project!  I have been working with CareFRESH for a little over a year, and the team decided to start a blog on the website.  I love it!

Lavender CareFRESH bedding complimented Fuzzy and Wuzzy’s gorgeous skin the best of all the colors…

With this project, I will be less able to just go with my random kicks, and need to focus on themes and schedules and such much more than I do here on Riley and James, which, honestly, will be very good for me!

I am fairly disciplined, but (I have only ever told Russ this, and just very recently…) a large part of my discipline is extrinsic.  For example, I love having a made bed every morning, but if FLYLady did not tell me to make my bed, I probably would not!  I love being a veterinarian, but if I had not had the structure of veterinary school, I would not have learned all that I have.

And I love writing about environmental enrichment of <hamsters>, but if I were not led to write about it, I probably would not!

I will write somewhat shorter posts than what I normally write here, focus on small pets – rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, mice, rabbits and ferrets – and send the team every single picture I have of Fuzzy, Wuzzy, Princess and Piggy!  Feel free to send cute pictures of your Warm Fuzzies too!

Wuzzy in her Classroom in a Box

I will let you know where on the CareFRESH website the blog is as soon as I know.  It will probably attract a similar crowd to the Ask-a-Vet part of the CareFRESH website (kids and adults who are in love with small pets – two of my very favorite subsets of humanity!)  It will be an interactive blog, which will be very fun.  I hope you will come join me as often as you can!

For now, will you help me come up with topics? Do you have questions that would be best answered in a longer post than the Q & A of Ask-a-Vet?  Are there things about your own favorite small pet species that you think everyone should know, but may not yet?  THIS is going to be fun, people! :)

Princess Gerbil



Boobs and Coffee

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Things that have cheered me this sad week…

You ALL showed up with hugs and encouraging words after Piggy passed away.  And some of you just sat with me and sighed.  You are all wonderful.Wednesday I saw sixteen cats as patients, which I am pretty sure is an all time personal high.

My last two patients of the day Wednesday were two blond Pomeranian brothers, who took turns jumping onto my lap to get squoze then onto the floor to dance in happy circles then back onto my lap again.  One of them had tiny pom-sized sled dog boots.

My patients right before Happy Pom Kids were two of my favorite guinea pig patients.  Angela had to tell me to give them both back.  It was hard to let go.

The day Piggy died, the girls and I started a HUGE photo album project to cheer ourselves.  It is working.  Also, Russ found these pictures of Amanda (2) with Ebony…

and Abby (6 months) with Ebony…

who was just over one year old at the time.  Look how much she looked like Joy does now!  (I took this picture of Ebony (left) and Joy (right) today…

I don’t look for gorgeous black pets.  They just find me.My friend started a blog that I absolutely love.

Long, rambling disclaimer:If you let your kids read Riley and James for the guest posts written by kids, or the hamster pictures or other fun stuff, but you don’t want them to read the word BOOBS, have them skip this post.  The link isn’t kid-appropriate, but only because it is Things Grown-ups Struggle With That Kids Should Not Have To Yet, not because of inappropriate material or pictures.  We try to shield our kids from Almost Everything in the World.  I know I probably overstep, and I will pay for the therapy as they need it, but hilarious names for anatomical parts is one thing we definitely do not shield them from and even encourage them to learn. 

That being said, here is a very thoughtful, sensitive, multi-layered new blog by one of my very favorite people in the Whole Wide World.  It is about Life, but it also has a Cat I Love and a Dog I Love.  In fact, I love the whole family.  You would too if you knew them, I just know it.  Thank you Friend, for starting this blog the week I needed something to take my mind off the sadness of losing Piggy and helping put things in perspective, as you also do so well in Real Life.

Boobs and Coffee


Vera Jo

And finally, this Christmas 2010 picture of Piggy that I forgot I had…

AND this picture of Piggy that Dave drew cheered me.  I put it as my phone screen background…

May you have pets in your life as wonderful as Piggy and Friends in your life as wonderful as mine, and may you find reasons to smile, even during the most difficult of weeks.

Piggy the Great

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Our guinea pig Piggy died Monday morning.  I held him on my lap and told Amanda and Abby Comforting Things I had very recently told them about Fuzzy and Wuzzy Rats, only this time it was Piggy.

Joy the Puppy walked up to us sideways, wagging her tail.  She kissed Abby on the arm, kissed Piggy on the head, kissed the DVD case next to Abby, kissed Abby again and settled in to be sad with us.  I would take Joy the Puppy over a smart dog any day.  She is one of a kind.

And I would take Piggy over a smart guinea pig any day.  He too was one of a kind.  (Are there smart guinea pigs?  Does anyone know?)  He was sweet and gentle, goofy and fun.  Piggy and I spent almost every morning together these past six plus years.

I found some of my favorite pictures of Piggy.  Some are photographs I took, and some are drawings given to me by the kids at Camp Kindness in the summer of 2008, when Piggy came to help Fuzzy and Wuzzy Rats and me.  A few have fun stories that go with them, and if so, I linked the stories to the photo captions.

Piggy Kissing a Purple Hippo

Piggy as the Zero-Zero Domino, Halloween 2010

(The three black dogs were all Dominoes too, but they were big enough for dots!)

Piggy Eating Cat Grass in the Garden He Shared with Max the Cat

My first (and still favorite) species-specific “pet care” article was inspired by Piggy:

Taking Care of Your Exotic Pet, For Example, Your Guinea Pig, Which is Not Really All That Exotic

We will miss you Piggy.  You were the sweetest, cutest guinea pig I have ever known.

Piggy Finch

May 1, 2004 – January 17, 2010

This is a card my brother Dave made for me several years ago, even after he said “But I don’t make greeting cards!”  Isn’t it awesome?  I still use it all the time when I want someone to know I am REALLY REALLY grateful.  I know some of you have gotten one from me! Dave included his Great Dane Riley (yup, same Riley), his cat Abaye and Piggy.

This next set is the pictures kids drew of Piggy when he went to Camp Kindness at Nebraska Humane Society with me.  How many ways are there to draw a black egg-shaped pet?  (Apparently, as many ways as there are great kids writing thank you cards.)  I like the green pig too – apparently drawing black pets is as difficult as photographing them…a box of crayons gives you more wiggle room than a camera.  Thank you kids…looking through these again cheered me a little.  And thank you Friends, for all of your kind words and love.  You have cheered me up quite a bit.

And one by Abby…


And one by Amanda…

And this last one did not include a drawing of Piggy, but it is my favorite thank you card I have ever received from Camp Kindness…

Piggy, you touched a lot of hearts, but you really got to mine.  We will miss you buddy.



What I am Doing This Week: Spending Time With My Rodent Friends

Monday, January 25th, 2010

What I am doing this week is allowing all of my highs and lows to be determined solely on the basis of how the rodents in my life are faring.  Which, if you know me you know, is not unusual.  It just seems that this week, the highs have been especially high, and the lows have been especially low.

First of all, we found out this weekend that our Wuzzy Rat may have a serious illness.  I am still processing it.  And I don’t even know the whole story, just the beginning of it.  However, when I do, I will tell you about it here and maybe on the blog of the awesome website I am now also working with,

(I don’t know, is there a hairless rat blog section on

I will let you know as soon as I know more how she is doing and would appreciate your prayers for Wuzzy.

The good news this week is that starting in the spring, Petsmarts across the country will be carrying Oxbow Vitamin C tablets!! I have been discussing this the past few months with one of Petsmart’s veterinarians who oversees pet care nationally.  I have been asking if they would carry Oxbow Vitamin C 50 mg tablets and telling them why I think it is so important, and for such a large company, they responded amazingly fast.  I thought from the start that it was so kind of them to listen.  I know there were other pet lovers involved in their decision, but from here it feels like I said “Please?” and they said “Your opinion is valid” and more importantly, “yes.”



And in keeping with our rodent theme, here is the “note” I left my friend Jenn yesterday at church…

January 25, 2010  Jennifer VanCleve is my awesome friend who runs Westwood Church’s Preschool Program.  She asked me yesterday to check if her guinea pig Peanut was pregnant.  (She had accidently been left with a male guinea pig at a preschooler’s home.)  She was not.

January 29, 2010 Yes, now there is really is a hairless rat blog section on!  I was kidding about having a hairless rat blog section!  You guys are awesome!  It will be called The Wuzzy Chronicles.  Wuzzy’s first article is up now.  YAY!  I am so excited about this new project!

Talk about an emotional rodent week…while Wuzzy Rat is still not out of the woods health-wise, I just heard today that another Rat Friend, Jack the Rat, has passed away.  He was one of my very favorite patients, and the sweetest pet.  RIP buddy.  You will be dearly missed.

Taking Care of Your Exotic Pet, For Example, Your Guinea Pig, Which is Not Really All That Exotic

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

In keeping with this year’s wellness theme, this newsletter is about the care of “exotic” pets…kind of an overarching view of my thoughts on wellness care beyond cats and dogs.   We have talked about keeping dogs and cats healthy through appropriate diet and exercise.   Let’s talk about expanding our healthy lifestyle mindset to other species.

We will use guinea pigs as our template, because I like them, and they are cute.   My point in doing that, I guess, is to emphasize that if an animal is appropriate for a pet (Please do not adopt a tiger cub or Komodo dragon…or a prairie dog, for that matter) there are similar steps to take, regardless of species, to become a proficient pet owner.

I would say we are about fifty years behind in the pet care of species that are not dogs and cats.  That is, fifty years ago, dogs and cats dealt with nutrition and lifestyle issues that, thankfully, I have only seen in veterinary textbooks.  Because we have honed our care of these common friends so well, we are often able to have them in our lives for the full extent of their domestic lifespan, and well beyond the lifespan they would have in the wild.

Our other pet friends are not as fortunate.  Exotic pets often become ill because we just don’t know as much about taking care of them as we do about dogs and cats.  I think we are on the cutting edge of extraordinary advances in this area, and with all of the information that is out there, knowledgeable experts and the accessibility of information on the internet, we can make that half century leap, and take as good of care of our exotic friends as we do of our dogs and cats.

In fact, you, as owners of these pets, have been as helpful to me as anything I have learned in my veterinary training, experience, reading and continuing education.  You are proactive about learning about the care of the pets you own, and have been so generous to share what you learn and what you experience.  It seems only natural that we should take it even farther…share with each other and with other pet owners and potential pet owners.  If I never have to treat another rabbit with bumblefoot, or guinea pig with scurvy, or lizard with bone disease, and you (and everyone we reach) never has to watch a pet struggle through these or other husbandry-related diseases, it will be well worth all the work we put in together.

So here is my guinea pig “example.”  I hope that if you actually own a guinea pig, the information is helpful to you.  But for all of us, I hope it gets us thinking about how we can set up all of our pets for the best possible odds of a long, healthy life.

We own one guinea pig, a male American Shorthair named Piggy.  He is five years old, and I have not told him that the “average” lifespan of guinea pigs in captivity is five to eight years.  We are all hoping to have him around long after our daughters have left for college…maybe their own kids could even meet him.  As of today, he is healthy and happy, so I will tell you what I have learned from my obsessive reading, veterinary training and experience, and hanging out with Piggy.

First, and most importantly, guinea pigs need Vitamin C.  Guinea pigs and primates are the only mammals whose bodies do not manufacture this particular vitamin.  Most every guinea pig resource tells us that they will get enough Vitamin C from their food/water supplement/fruits/vegetables.  Here is the hitch.  There is not enough in their food.  There is not enough in their water supplements.  There is not even enough in the awesome citrus and veggie snacks you feed them.

Close this newsletter and grab your car keys.  Or if you are way cooler than me (odds are you are), track this down on the internet and have it shipped to you…chewable 25 mg Vitamin C tablets.*  Your piggy needs twenty-five milligrams of oral vitamin C a day.  I know…I usually make broader statements.  25 milligrams.  Not water drops.  Not orange wedges.  An actual chewable tablet.  Of course my reasons for insisting are selfish.  If you all start today en masse, and I never again see another scurvy-related problem, I will be indebted to you forever.

Vitamin deficiency related diseases are some of the most heart-breaking to treat in any species, even humans, I hear.  Here is a list off the top of my head of some conditions caused by or worsened by low levels of vitamin C.  For the final draft, maybe I will try to be more scientific and look up every possible disease.  Probably not.  For starters, that’s not really my style, and I am afraid it would make this kind of boring.  But more importantly, I suspect that even the brightest and best of the scientific/exotic/veterinary community does not know the full extent of the good vitamin C does for a guinea pig, or you and me for that matter.

Back to the list:  upper respiratory disease, pneumonia, dental disease, conjunctivitis, unthriftiness, pododermatitis, arthritis and other joint-related diseases, immune-related conditions and bladder issues.  Vitamin C is also involved in maintaining a strong immune system, wound healing and recovery from illness in general.

OK, you have your vitamin C.  Next most important (yes I believe that one little tablet is more important than the entirety of the rest of the diet), is the rest of the diet.  Your guinea pig needs an endless supply of timothy hay.  Really, a bottomless bowl.  Some owners use “hoppers,” those little wire things that hang on the outside of the habitat and allow the guinea pig to pull hay as needed, without the hay supply getting wet or soiled.  That is way more sophisticated than what we do, but we stuff two tissue boxes full of hay, and Piggy pulls the hay out as he eats.  Sometimes he will eat two entire boxes of hay in one day!  We refill them every morning, and at the end of the week, we start over with new hay and new boxes.

Of course you need a fresh water supply.  A water bottle seems to work best, as piggies are a bit too messy for a water dish.  If you are used to smaller rodents, guinea pigs will seem to drink ALOT, so make sure to check the supply every day.

Next, have a small bowl for piggy pellets.  He or she needs only two tablespoons of pellets a day.  That is half of one fourth of a cup.  MOST owners give their piggies as many pellets as they want.  And most guinea pigs are overweight.  Cut back gradually until he or she gets just that small scoop once a day.  And if he or she is on a seed diet, switch to pellets over a couple of weeks and use the seed mixture for a treat.  The seeds are not bad for them, but they are high in fat, and not as nutritionally balanced as the pellets are.  The pellets are important for two reasons.  They contain the correct mix of trace minerals and vitamins other than C that are also important for your piggy’s health.  And just as importantly, they love pellets, and we need our guinea pigs to be happy.

Last, and still important, are treats.  Fruits and vegetables are fine.  Carb-based treats are fine.  Commercial guinea pig treats are fine.  Everything in moderation.  You would think we would know more about guinea pigs, being…guinea pigs…but I am extrapolating from what we know of dogs and cats for this next part.  If guinea pigs are also sensitive to the toxic effects of some foods, as I suspect they are, they should not have any of the following:  chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, garlic or macadamia nuts.

As far as creating an ideal habitat, guinea pigs often enjoy running happy laps around their homes and popcorning (jumping straight up in happy piggy jumps, one of the cutest things you will ever see).  They also like to have a little hiding space.  Base your final habitat size on these factors.  If your pet seems cramped at all, you could always upgrade later.  Piggy’s home is two feet wide, two feet high and four feet long with a plastic bottom and wire mesh sides and top.  There is room for his two tissue boxes, his snack/vitamin/pellet bowl, his water bottle, his igloo, and his happy piggy antics.

For flooring, no wire!  With adequate Vitamin C, a great body condition and a comfy floor, your pet will never need to deal with infectious pododermatitis (bumblefoot), a horrible disease that often ends in euthanasia due to the severe pain involved.  For bedding, no wood shavings!  It is irritating to their respiratory systems and little feet.  Carefresh bedding is a great absorbent paper-based product, by far the best bedding available.  Piggy uses Carefresh bedding, and it keeps him comfortable and not stinky for about a week.

Guinea pigs often need their nails trimmed, like dogs and cats do.  If you are not comfortable doing it at home, bring them in and have it done.  Also check the bottom of their little feet and make sure they appear healthy.  I know they are weird looking, but you will get used to how they look on a good day, and know if anything abnormal is going on.

Also check your guinea pig’s body condition score.  Unlike a dog or cat, he should not have a visible waist.  But he should have ribs you can feel (but not see) and should not have a big tummy behind his ribs, but be a cute elongated egg shape.

As long as you have him out and are giving him a mini-check-up, make sure his coat and eyes are bright and shiny.  Look in his mouth and make sure his cute little teeth are not longer than normal.  When he comes for his veterinary exam, we will check all of these things too, and also use a speculum to look at his back “cheek” teeth.

Speaking of checkups, I recommend you bring your pet in when you first adopt him or her for an initial check up and every question that you can think of, and then every six months and any time you are concerned about his or her health.

Guinea pigs are skilled at hiding symptoms of illness, so I would recommend you bring them in at the first sign of anything weird.  Most experts will tell you that the reason they hide symptoms is they are prey animals and cannot afford to show any weakness.  But he is in your living room!  Up away from the dog and the cat!  I think he is hiding symptoms because he is so kind he doesn’t want to worry you.  Tell him to quit being so selfless, and let you know if he does not feel well.  And if he will not, you will just have to continue being super-vigilant, and bring him in at the first sign of disease.  Better a false alarm than a serious illness not caught.

If you are going to breed your guinea pigs, do more reading than this cursory introduction!  Keep in mind that female guinea pigs need to have their first litter of piglets BEFORE they are eight months of age.  Their pelvic canal fuses together at about this age if they have not given birth, and after this occurs, they cannot safely give birth to piglets.  (I KNOW they are called pups!  I like to call them piglets!)  If they have given birth by this age, their pelvic canal does not fuse, and they typically will be able to safely be bred from then on.

Also, be careful with new pairs of guinea pigs.  Females can become pregnant as early as one month of age!  So make sure you have the piggies you think you have or you may end up with the old familiar “hamster” story…”I adopted two males/two females/one baby female, and now I have five!  Do you want one?  Look how cute they are!”

Long-haired guinea pigs need to be brushed often.  They need to be treated immediately if mats develop.  Guinea pigs are susceptible to dental disease, trauma, respiratory diseases, bladder stones, uterine cancer, urinary tract infections, intestinal parasites and external parasites, most notably scabies.  This is characterized by intense itching, hair loss and sometimes even seizures.  It is very treatable, but fatal if left unchecked, so if you notice your piggy itching, get him or her in right away!

Also, guinea pigs are VERY heat-sensitive, even more so than dogs.  They should not be outside in the summer, and they should not even be in a sunny window.  If you suspect your guinea pig has become overheated, bathe them quickly in cool (not cold) water, and rush them to the veterinary hospital.  Though this will give him the best odds possible, sadly, I have never seen or heard of a guinea pig surviving heat stress.

Guinea pigs are very social.  They like to have piggy friends, so consider adopting two or more.  Beware the too-small-for-the-number-of-piggies-habitat and the dreaded hamster story!  But if you can adopt a friend for your friend, that would be twice as fun!

They like to be in busy areas of the house or church or classroom.  Make sure you talk to them often.  They can be shy, but can almost always be acclimated to gentle handling, and will enjoy snuggle time.  I realize I am inviting trouble by admitting this, but I have NEVER been bitten by a guinea pig.  And I have been bitten by most every other type of pet!  They just don’t think to bite, and if they did happen to get scared or startled, it would be difficult to get a good chomp in with their peace-loving, hay-chewing itty-bitty mouths.

I know that if you are a guinea pig owner, you are a good one, and completely invested in his or her well being.  I also know that if you are not yet a guinea pig owner, you may be thinking of getting one.  Make sure you check with your family…fellow teachers…pastor…first!  And have fun.  They are one of my favorite types of pets ever, and we love having Piggy in our family.

I will try (by “try” I mean call Dave and have him do it!) to set up sections of the website to discuss the practical care of other specific pets.  As of now, as you know, there is a newsletter on how much I like birds (with no practical information on how to actually take care of them), and another newsletter on how much I like hamsters (with no practical information on how to actually take care of them, but a very helpful section on how to make them a rabbit costume.)  They were, however, very fun to write!  Maybe it is time for me to grow up, and start giving you more practical info.  Then again, maybe not…

January 25, 2010 Jennifer VanCleve is my awesome friend who runs Westwood Church’s Preschool Program.  She asked me yesterday to check if her guinea pig Peanut was pregnant.  (She had accidently been left with a male guinea pig at a preschooler’s home.)  She was not.  I left her the above “note” on an index card.

OXBOW ANIMAL HEALTH: We have an extraordinary resource for guinea pig information right here in Nebraska!  Check out the website for Oxbow, and let me know if there are other websites or resources you would like me to add here.

CAREFRESH As of May, 2010, I am working with Carefresh!  I love it!  E-mail me ANY small pet questions you have!

***GREAT NEWS!!!***January 25, 2010 I just got an e-mail from the veterinarian who oversees national pet care at PetSmart.  I have been, um, bugging her for a while about Petsmart carrying Oxbow Vitamin C.  Here is part of her e-mail…

“The best news of all is that the Oxbow vitamins are coming in spring I think so we are making good strides. As always we welcome any of your comments or questions. Happy Monday :)”


It is indeed, a Happy Monday.

Some Numbers and Statistics

Thursday, March 1st, 2007

Age children should be before they own a reptile: 6.

Age children should be before they have primary care of a pet: 12.

Age children should be before the family owns a pet prone to aggression: 18.

Age I was married: 24.

Age I had my second child: 30.


Favorite dog name: Joey Cupcake.

Favorite cat name: Mr. Narwhal.

Favorite rabbit name: Junie B. Jones.

Suggestion for their new bunny’s name: Judy Moody.

Dogs or cats: both.

Being a vet or being a Mom: being a Mom.

Crabby owners or crabby pets: crabby pets.

Treating or preventing: preventing.

Hamsters or pit bulls: pit bulls.

Dogs I have disliked: 0.

Cats I have disliked: 0.

Number of years I have been a vet: 8.75.

Number of years I have been a mom: 7, including gestation.

Number of crabby owners I have had to deal with lately: 1.

Number of crabby pets: 10 maybe? But if you have read “Will Benji be there?” you understand why it was not their fault!

Primary guideline for scheduling appointments: No crabby owners, crabby pets are just fine.

Coworkers who stand by that with me because it makes work very fun: 5 of 5.

Coworkers on my list of favorite people: 5.

Percent of pets who come in for prevention-related reasons: 90.

Percent of pets who come in for treatment of disease: 10.

Hamsters who have bitten me: 3.

Percent of hamsters who have considered biting to thank me for their great care: 98.

Pit bulls who have bitten me, or even tried: 0.

How these statistics, excluding the hamster bites, make me feel: happy.

Average lifespan of a dog: 12 years.

Oldest dog I have known: 17.  Breed: Poodle.

Average number of years that are added to a dog’s life when fed properly: 2.

Average lifespan of an indoor cat: 13 years.

Average lifespan of an outdoor cat: 3 years.

Oldest cat I have known: 21.

Breed: Siamese.

Indoor or outdoor: Outdoor.

Average lifespan of a betta fish: 1 year.

Age of our betta: 3.

Secret of Fish’s youthful beauty: oxygen.

Most common cause of death in pocket pets and exotics: improper diet or housing.

Amount of Internet information on pet care that is accurate: 50%, I would guess. But I still maintain that it is a great place to start.

#1 cause of death in cats and dogs: euthanasia due to behavior issues.

#2: euthanasia due to overpopulation.

Most common signalment of a dog with cancer: senior patient who has had excellent care and grown old enough to develop cancer.

Most common issue owners who have pets with cancer deal with: guilt.

Stages of grief owners go through at the loss of a pet: 5.

Percent of dogs and cats over 2 with dental disease: 80.

Frequency of dental cleaning recommended for average adult pet: once a year.

Average lifespan of guinea pigs: 5.

Age of Piggy: 3.

Most common vitamin deficiency in guinea pigs: C.

Animals that do not make vitamin C: Primates and guinea pigs.

Amount of vitamin C in Piggy’s daily supplement: 25 mg.

Number of guinea pig diets with adequate vitamin C: 0.

Number of guinea pig liquid supplements with adequate vitamin C: 0.

Diseases Piggy has had: 2.

Diseases related to vitamin C deficiency: 0.

Most common vitamin deficiency in birds: A. Most common vitamin deficiency in reptiles: D.

More favorites…

Favorite rodents for children: rats and guinea pigs.

Favorite rats from children’s literature: Nicodemus and Templeton.

Favorite mice from children’s literature: Mrs. Frisby, Herman the Great and Ralph.

Number of favorite dog breeds I have: 23.

Number of least favorite dog breeds I have: 2.

Number of breeds I have mixed feelings about: 4.

Favorite canine from children’s literature: Carl.

Other favorites: Ann and Dan.

Number of favorite cat breeds: 1.

Number of least favorite cat breeds: 0.

Favorite feline from children’s literature: Socks.