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Guinea Pigs/Legs not working


QUESTION: My guinea pigs front legs arnt working.  My wife and I went shopping for a guinea pig.  We went to a pet store that I had one that was kept in a back room, pretty much observation.  They said they received him from the breeder an he had an inner ear infection that caused his equal libreum to be messed up.  They nicknamed him spinner, since he spun around in circles and his head bobbed around.  He is deaf, but the most love able thing in the world.  I pretty much told u this because it leads to what happened to him.  My son had him out of his cage, when he went to put him back, spinner started bobbing his head all around and squirming about.  My son dropped him on the way back to the cage.  He landed on his chin and shoulders.  He had a cut on his chin afterwards.  Its like his chin, and throat hit the floor, with his front shoulders hitting the floor a well.  Since then, his front legs arnt moving (neither one), so he just lays there.  He is hard to handle when he starts doing that.  At first we thought it was a broken neck or spinal chord problem.  He can move his back legs and head, so that's not the issue.  I think his shoulders are dislocated.  When I feel around on him, it feels like his shoulder bones are kinda sticking out.  I have been hand feeding him and watering him because he just lays there.  I love my little spinner and I just want him right again.  I don't want to put him down.  Is there anyway this problem can be fixed, or even if his shoulders are broken.  I know I need to take him to the vet, but can he be healed.  What do u think my options are?  Any help would be great.  Thanks.

Cavy skeleton
Cavy skeleton  
ANSWER: Oh dear, this is not a good thing. It's very possible that he's dislocated one shoulder but would be unlikely to have both dislocated. If it were a spinal chord issue he would be paralyzed from the neck down. Christopher Reeves suffered such an injury if you remember. In either event it's not going to have a good outcome. It could be just pain that's keeping him from moving the front legs. The other possibility is that both front legs are broken. You don't say whether he's showing signs of pain such as squealing when touched.

I've attached a picture of a cavy skeleton to help you see why it's unlikely that the shoulders are broken. Because of the size of the front legs and the position in which they normally lie I would expect him to fall with those front legs in the position you see. If they were pointing backwards he may fracture the elbows seen where the two front bones connect and are touching the floor. However, they are much like a cat in that they tend to land fairly straight. If there were a fracture there he would squeal in pain when you tried to move them.

The large flat bones are the scapula. The shoulder bones are connected right at the base of the neck and between them is the clavicle aka collar bone. It's possible it could be the clavicle that is broken. Fortunately that's one bone that has a remarkable way to fix itself.

I'm disappointed that a pet store would sell a pig with such a disability and sell him as a pet. An inner ear infection leaves permanent damage such as the inability to walk straight and to spin in circles. It puts a huge responsibility on the new owner, one of which is to handle the animal no more than absolutely necessary. This is information that a buyer should be aware of before they make that committment. Unfortunately pet store employees and often owners have little or no experience with the animals they sell. We can't expect them to be experts in every pet they have for sale.

If you'll bear with me I'll try to give you a clinical description in layman's terms to help you understand what's going on. Inside the ear is the cochlea, so named because it is shaped like the conch shell. When an inner ear infection happens it gets past the eardrum and into the more delicate parts of the ear. The eardrum can repair itself when ruptured. The cochlea does not have that capability.

Because we live on a constantly spinning planet nature has provided a balancing mechanism inside the ear. Without that we'd all fall over just trying to walk, which is what is happening to Spinner. The balance is maintained in the same fashion as a water level such as you'd use in building. If you fill a glass half full of water and tip it to one side the water will always find level.  The cochlea's job is to do the same and keep Spinner upright. When damaged by an inner ear infection there is scar tissue that prevents the fluid that is supposed to find level, from being able to do so. The result is living in a spinning world.  The only way for him to find comfort is to stay in one position, upright. The slightest movement and the 'level' can't compensate and adjust for the change.

When he's picked up he should always be picked up as if in a standing position and kept that way. The slightest tilt causes his world to spin rapidly and render him helpless. That's why the violent spinning and shaking the head. His body is trying to find 'level'. In human's this causes severe nausea and even vomiting. It's extremely uncomfortable. The poor little guy has no idea what's happening to him and the typical response is to fall over and be unable to stand up straight for some time.

My issue with this pet store was that nobody told you what a serious issue this was and how to deal with it. You purchased this poor guy in good faith and rightfully assumed this was just a funny little quirk.

At this point the only thing you may be able to do for him is make him comfortable and hope that the paralysis in the front legs is caused by soft tissue injury and may resolve. As for your options they are slim. There's nothing a vet can or will do for him other than take a great deal of money from you and end up recommending euthanasia. So I would not recommend that course.

The bottom line is he is very unstable at this point. He is suffering and I know that's heartbreaking to watch. This isn't an answer you'd like but if this were one of mine I would have him humanly euthanized. This is a decision that you and your family have to make and I'm so sorry for that. I've been through that too many times and it never gets easier.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: You are right.  This isn't the answer I was hopeing for.  He doesn't squel or act like he is in pain at all.  When we touch him, he kinda purrs like a cat does.  I was curious what that was when we first heard it, I looked it up.  What I understand, is that it means they are pretty much enjoying what ever is going on.  The first time we heard this was when he was eating.  Then we noticed it every time he was held, or we would pet him.  He still does that now, with absolutely no symptoms of pain.  I know guinea pigs don't show pain to often until its almost to late to do anything for them, but something like what happened to him, and what he is going thru now, I figured it would cause enough pain to where we would notice something.  His legs are stiff and hard to move (bend at his elbow) for the most part.  We can kind of move them at the shoulder.  To me, an trying to explain it to u, since u cant see him, is like his front legs are in rigor at the elbow.  

We are going on vacation in a couple of weeks and I couldn't ask any of my friends or family to take care of him the way that we have.  Pretty much hand feeding him, watering him, and moving him in his bedding, and changing his bedding constantly.  We can't try and wait for him to get better if it is a soft tissue bruise or broken coller bone (which u said could heal itself).  He still seems like a happy guinea pig, but I know that he is probably suffering.  It might be best to put him down.  We don't want to, we love the little guy, but like u said, it might be what's best for him.

The pet store have him to us.  They didn't make any money off of him.  We went in an they were out of guinea pigs.  We asked when they would get some more.  They said they didn't know, but they had this one that had war problems.  We wanted to take a look.  We saw him and he was so loving that we fell in love with him and we knew we had to get him.  They told us that he might get aggressive later in life because of his problem and that he might get irritated and bite.  So far he never has.  But that's all they told us.  We decided to leave the store and talk about it.  About an hour or so later, we went back to the store and decided to take him off their hands.  They made us fill out paper work and wait until the store manager looked at the paper work and get back with us.  About 2 days later we were allowed to adopt him free of charge.  We didn't take him because of a funny little quirk.  We took him, because he wouldn't be looked in a back room by his self.  He would get a lot more human interaction, and animal interaction.  He was placed in a cage with another guinea pig, and they got along just fine.  We had three rabbits too.  One of the males and the female had babies and so we quickly ran out of room.  We separated the males, the females and the babies. We had to condense the animals down.  We added the two guinea pigs to one of the male rabbits cage.  He is a sweetheart and they were all best friends.  He would cuddle with them and everything.  It's a pretty good sized cage and they would all play and everything.  We never ignored him, and he had playmates.  We didn't want him to live a life in that back room of the pet store.  We are animal lovers and wanted to take care of him.  I believe he enjoyed us and the other animals.  We also have two dogs that would go up to him in his cage or when we had him on the couch, and try to play with him.  I hope this makes u feel a little better about the pet store.  We almost had to beg to take him.

Anyways, maybe the explanation of his legs and how they feel when we try to see if they can move will help u better understand what they are like.  Maybe it will help u try and pinpoint what actually might be wrong with him.  We are just baffled that he shows absolutely no pain.  Thanks again for your help, patience with my rambling, and responding to me to help me better understand his ear problems.  Any more help that u can tell me sice u have more information would be greatly appreciated.  Thanks again.

Baby skunks
Baby skunks  
Thank you Rob, I really appreciate your getting back to me.  Nobody knows better than I the agony and pain of having to see something you love going through something like this. And believe me, you are in the driver's seat as to what needs to be done for him. I hope you don't feel I was pushing for you to have him put down. Animals have a way of letting you know when that time comes. And it doesn't sound like he's telling you that, so you're right to just do what your heart tells you.

And I'm grateful that you cleared that up about the pet store. Clearly they do have ethics and did right by him and you. That's not always the case.  

The fact that he's showing no pain seems to indicate there was spinal damage and he is paralyzed. Typically a spinal cord injury leaves the limbs flacid but he isn't doing that. So there could be a fracture or displacement that's keeping him from having that much mobility.

You're absolutely right, that little purr is a sound of content. After 20 years with guinea pigs I've learned their 'voices' and what they're saying. So that is showing you he is happy. God bless you and your family for giving him love and attention. This kind of thing also teaches children about compassion and as hard as it is to watch him go through it shows that you're a special family. That lesson will follow your children throughout their lives.

When my husband was alive he was the "Doctor Doolittle" of the neighborhood. He brought home countless orphaned critters that had a need. We've raised everything from baby skunks to birds that fell in our pool and were rescued and set free again. He's taken lizards and mice out of our cat's mouth and walked them blocks away to set them free.  There aren't enough people in the world like that and I salute you.

Follow your heart and don't let anything prevent you from doing what you feel you need to do. You have my complete support and respect.  My best to you and your family. Please keep me posted.

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As is sometimes the case, people in urgent need of information have a higher degree of expectation than those of us as experts are able to give. The experts on this site do their best to give the most accurate and responsible answers possible. We ask that you remember that it is not our intention nor place to criticize the professional advice given by your veterinarian, nor is it appropriate for us to comment on the correctness of a diagnosis made by a licensed physician. Our knowledge is experience based. Although many years of breeding and showing cavies gives me a wealth of experience it cannot change the fact that we as experts are not veterinarians and therefore may occasionally have to reject questions that appear to be asking us to criticize advice given by the licensed professional. Having raised and exhibited cavies for many years I have extensive experience in cavy care and husbandry. I currently have an active breeding program for pedigreed show animals but do not encourage backyard breeding for inexperienced owners. Although I don't encourage breeding for fun I'm always happy to answer any questions from an owner who is in sincere need of help. Pet owners wanting to breed should understand that even experienced breeders have litter losses. The mortality rate is high in cavies. The chance for losing both sow and pups is always present, even with experience. Although this is a site for experts to assist owners, there is no expert in any field who has all the answers. The wisest thing a good expert can know is their limitations. Not having an answer does not diminish one's ability or knowledge. It simply shows that we recognize our limitations and operate within them.


Raised and shown cavies for many years, having aquired my first cavies in the early 1970's as pets. My caviary currently handles 65 + animals in two different breeds and several varieties. Having been in the health care industry as a licensed nurse for 35 years I have hands on experience with care and needs in both humans and cavies. Member of American Rabbit Breeders Association and American Cavy Breeders Association.

Awarded Lifetime Membership in of one of the oldest cavy clubs in the United States, on whose Board I served as Sec/Treas for six years and currently serving as President. Also editor/publisher of the club's quarterly newsletter. We are strong supporters of our youth exhibitors, most of whom are 4H members who are working on cavy projects. Through these projects they become good responsible citizens. We deal with all aspects of showing, breeding, caring for and sharing experiences in the fancy. The cavy fancy is not a new one but in some areas is still relatively unknown. Our goal is to inspire interest in high quality, responsible breeding to improve the species, not just the reproduction of guinea pigs. Our job is to educate owners to help them make the right decisions and choices in the care of their cavies.

Graduate in nursing. Certified in emergency medicine.

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