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Guinea Pigs/Guinea Pig Birth Defect



Gir\'s Leg
Gir's Leg  
Yesterday I went to the local pet store down the road, and my fiancÚ and I were looking at some of the animals, not really planning on bringing anything home. He was looking at some lion head rabbits, when something else caught my eye - a baby guinea pig. He's still small, but was just recently separated from his mother (I go to the pet store once in a great while - the mother was pregnant one of the first times I had ever been there, and later on I saw them together. He was the only baby she had, but when I got a closer look yesterday I noticed something wasn't quite right. He would lay on his side, near his food and the water bottle was within reach. One of the people at the store came over, and told me that the guinea pig is "handicapped." His front right leg sticks out, and his back right leg does the same thing. When he's laying down, he flops over on his left side, and sleeps. He can barely lift his head, and I'm not overly sure what to expect when I bring him to the vet. It almost seems as though his shoulder has been dislocated, same with his leg, but I'm not a vet - so I'm not overly sure. Any input would be great, I'm not sure what to expect when I take him in and I don't want to go in blind. He also seems to have a wryneck problem, and I'm not sure if it's because of his whole right side is messed up or if it's something else. He can move his head, but it always just goes back to the right. Today I took him home with me, hoping I could do something for the little guy, my fiancÚ and I have called him 'Gir'. He doesn't seem to be in any pain, and acts almost like a normal guinea pig, minus moving around. He's very verbal when we pet him, and he seems to like being pet by the ears and shoulders.

You're very brave to want to rescue this little guy and you're right, you need to know what you're getting into. As a single birth it's unusual for there to be these kinds of defects as the pups always present nose first with front legs tucked tightly under them. When delivered the back legs are pulled back as if the pig were stretched out. This allows the slippery baby to slide easily out. If this were a large litter there could be cramped quarters in the sow, but I don't think that's the case here.

My first impression was to wonder if someone thought they were being helpful and tried to pull this little guy out. Wry neck is typically caused by the neck being hyperflexed in the womb as if the pig were trying to look over his shoulder toward the back end. If an animal needs help with delivering a baby it's imperative to wait until the mom has a contraction, at which point gentle pulling and working with the contraction is used to ease the baby out. Trying to pull against nature can cause injuries such as these.

If the petstore had the sow in with rabbits there's a good possibility that they stomped this pup and left him this way. Guinea pigs are incredibly good parents by nature, both males and females. They would not have injured this baby.

Hopefully the petstore had the mom and baby where customers, or other employees, could not pick him up and handle him. They are so incredibly fast they can leap out of your arms without warning. It's much like trying to hang onto a goldfish. Inexperience can result in injuries to the animal.

You have to look at what his daily needs are in order to meet them. He is going to need help getting to his feed and water. The babies drink large amounts and they eat more pellets during their growth than they do once they're adults. Just like human children, they must support rapid growth and health. He will need nourishment frequently, as much as every hour round the clock.

I had a little female that was born with a front foot folded into the inside of her leg. She walked on it anyway and grew enough callous to support the pressure. But the rest of her was fine. For Gir you will need extra soft bedding to prevent his rubbing the hair and skin on his belly and causing it to get raw and open up to allow infection to get to it.

Unlike humans, animals do not have the capacity to feel sorry for themselves. They accept what life tosses them and adjust to it. So it's possible Gir will do the same thing. The biggest concern as I see it would be the inability to move. Pressure sores will develop and will cause him pain and infection.

It's certainly not inappropriate for you to try. With persistence and patience he may surprise you and learn to deal with his fate. The fact that he has a wry neck that turns to the right, and his leg issues are also on the right it would be reasonable to consider that there is some brain damage that has paralyzed that right side. If so, he will not recover from that.

If it were me Wynter, I would be just as tempted as you are to see if he can have even a reasonable quality of life rather than euthanizing him right away. You just need to consider that his needs will be 24/7 and that's a big responsibility and burden to carry.

There's also the issue of bowel and bladder care. His inability to move doesn't allow him to get away from the urine. Lying in it for even a short time can cause damage to the skin because of the ammonia and nitrites that are in it. It will require constant cleansing.

His respiratory system may be compromised by his inability to move and to keep the normal secretions from mobilizing. When that happens pneumonia quickly sets in.

That being said, you have a big job on your hands in trying to maintain this baby's quality of life. At very best it will be poor. Just one deformed leg will not keep him from learning to get around. Sometimes a wry neck corrects itself within a few days of birth. This poor little guy has three strikes already, lessening his chances of any kind of quality of life to a very low level. He will be unable to do anything for himself. This will require constant care round the clock.

If you still feel you can do this I doubt anyone would fault you for trying. If it turns out to be more than you can handle you can make a decision later. My best of luck to you and Gir. Please keep me posted as to what progress he makes and how you are dealing with it. My heart goes out to you.  

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Pat VanAllen


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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