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Question
While I was very sick with the flu One of our male guinea pigs Tim stopped eating and lost over 20% of his weight. The vet said he had maloccluded teeth that the vet ground down, apparently his back teeth were so bad that his tongue couldn't move.

Since the surgery he won't eat solids, he tries but just nibbles on his food and then drops it. he does this with all veggies, and pellets.

I've been syringe feeding him critical care for 4 weeks now, and he is still lowing weight slowly. He's clearly hungry as he chews on the syringe until he's full. I feel him a teaspoon-full of powder mixed with enough water to use a syringe, 3-4 times a day. The vet said he only needs about 3 syringes (3ml) a day, but he's getting a lot more than this and still losing weight daily. How much should a cavvy need?. He's down to 650g (he used to be around 1kg) now and the vet has no further advice but keep doing what we are, which isn't working.

he's been on painkillers and antibiotics daily since the surgery, which the vet said to keep up. enrotril is the name of the antibiotic.

we've tried every vegetable that pigs can eat, the only thing he can swallow is the tips of a broccoli floret, but I know they shouldn't eat too much of this. I've tried wetting pellets to soften them, but he just nibbles and crushes them.

There aren't many cavvy friendly vets in our area, and this one won't admit it, but doesn't seem to know what else to do.

we don't know how old Tim is, as he was taken from a school that could no longer keep him and doesn't know how old he is. we have had him 2 years.

I'm hoping you can suggest something, as I have a feeling this vet will either say to continue with the same until he wastes away, or that he needs to be put down.

Answer
You're right, there are not a lot of cavy knowledgeable vets.  It's not that they don't want to treat them, there just isn't enough money spent to research their needs as they are not a big enough industry to make it practical. We can't fault the vets for that. It's lack of opportunity that binds them.

More experience based knowledge has been gained by breeders than by researchers.  They've learned through trial and error and passed their knowledge on. The majority of vets don't have enough cavy patient base to be able to learn much about them. So it's not that they are not friendly about caring for cavies, they just don't have enough opportunity to gain the experience they need.

I have to question is why is he still on antibiotics?  Guinea pigs don't tolerate most antibiotics and absolutely cannot take any for of penicillin.  It destroys the good bacteria in the stomach and gut, leaving them open to secondary infections.  

Except in rare cases such as chronic kidney or bladder issues, antibiotics are designed only for short term use. If overused they begin to destroy the immune system and cause more problems than they fix. I would suggest stopping the antibiotics immediately. He may be suffering a belly ache because of them, but if there is no suggestion of infection there is no reason for antibiotics. I would also stop the pain killers. Again, there is no indication for their use. They too could be causing him more discomfort than they are good.  

You might try smashing the pellets into a rough powder and just let him lick the meal out of his dish. Adding water makes them turn hard and makes it more difficult for him to lick them up. You can put critical care into a water bottle.  Mix it according to instructions and he will take it just as he does his water. That will at least sustain his body needs.

The fact that he is trying to eat is a good sign. You simply have to find a way for him to do it on his own and not be syringe fed. Weight loss is a red flag, but typically when a pig is losing weight it's because he isn't wanting to eat.  Tim is obviously hungry, his issue is not being able to get his food down. The dry cereal pellets may do the trick. And by offering them dry they cannot harden to the point he can't get them out of the dish.

You bring up a valid concern about not knowing his true age. The fact that his teeth were so overgrown is a good indication that he is in his senior years. The average life span is 4 - 5 years.  But that's not written in stone. I've had pigs that went as long as 7 yrs, but that the exception.

Hopefully by stopping all his medications it may just perk him up and put him on the road to healing.  I really believe that some of his problem may be 'polypharmacy' i.e. too many meds.  

Please keep me posted.  I am interested in how he does. I hope this helps you and I wish you and Tim success.  

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Pat VanAllen

Expertise

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.

Experience

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.

Organizations
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.

Education/Credentials
Graduate in nursing. Certified in emergency medicine.

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