… to keep from screaming. Sometimes a little off-color humor helps you make it through the rough patches.
Up in WI, the other day we found out that one of the local GL regulars just lost her last piggy. It was really sad; she’s a fantastic piggy mom and loved Blackberry like crazy. But she made a very generous donation of supplies to WIGPR, so Blackberry’s memory will live on with all the piggies her donation helps support.
Among the supplies was this thing:
Part of me reeeeeeeally wants to keep it; the other part knows I do NOT need another dust collector in my house, especially one with crazy eyes that might come to life and start stalking me in the middle of the night. It’s going to have to go to the WIGPR with the rest of the stuff.
We’re taking in a sow from Char-Meck animal control this week. She’s obese, possibly ill, and has bumblefoot. But if we can get her healthy, she’ll be going to one of our great repeat adopters out in Asheville, which is about the best happy ending any piggy could ask for.
Apparently she’s so rotund that we might have to check her for pillbugs:
Pudgie had a near-death experience on Tuesday. He seemed to be feeling much worse – dragging his hind legs and not really willing to move for his treats. We took him to the vet once again, fully expecting the vet to recommend euthanasia. But the vet didn’t feel like Pudge was ready to give up. Instead, we’re trying two more treatments – a new pain medication in addition to his Metacam, and a different topical shampoo to try and directly relieve his skin discomfort. So he got to come home after all.
He’s not as eager to move around as he was a week ago, but he’s definitely still got attitude and appetite – he didn’t want to get up to get his orange, so instead he whined and bitched at us till we put it right in his cuddle cup with him:
Finally, a note on Spring in Wisconsin. It’s pretty nasty. There’s no green growth yet, so everything’s grey and brown. The melting snow reveals a lot of ugliness and unpleasantness: dirt and garbage (the street sweepers can’t operate on ice), months-old frozen deer carcasses, ruts in the grass where cars ran off the road during snowstorms.
Among the worst things I’ve seen revealed by the snowmelt:
Yes, that’s a pissing toddler Brent Favre and a horrified toddler GB cheerleader. Seriously, Wisconsin, WTF.
One of the most commonly seen problems in guinea pigs is mites. According to Guinea Lynx, pigs can have mite infestations (Selnic mites, a type of mange mite specific to cavies) and not show any symptoms, because in healthy pigs the immune system keeps the infestation in check. But any stressor or illness can over-burden this symptom, leading to a sudden outbreak with no apparent cause. Rabbits don’t have the same predisposition towards endemic infestations, but since they are more often taken outside or allowed to come into contact with dogs and cats, they are more likely than pigs to have fleas.
From personal experience, I would say that about 100% of pet store pigs have mites. EVERY pet store pigs I have ever seen, which has not yet seen a vet, has had mites. This is without exception in nearly eight years of doing pig rescue. I had one poor pig surrendered because he “had a neurological problem”. Ten minutes with the pig, and I could see that he was merely scratching himself into seizures. I advised the owner that she could simply treat for mites and the problem would go away, but she declined because “the vet said pigs don’t get mites.” (This was a vet at the same PetSmart that sold her the pig. We took him in, treated him, and he recovered just fine.)
Due to both the available information and personal experience, I feel that both pigs and rabbits should be on regular preventative parasite treatment regimens, just like we do for dogs and cats. At ACR&S, every new animal is treated on intake. Resident animals are treated monthly (if there are frequent new animals coming in) or twice a year if there are not new animals coming in (like in the Sanctuary).
The standard parasite treatment for pigs and rabbits is Ivermectin. However, the drug acts on both parasites and the mammalian host in the same way: it blocks the GABA receptors. Because it has similar effects on host and parasite, there are numerous reports of toxicity due to overdose . Despite these concerns, owners continue to be partial to Ivermectin because a) it’s available without a vet prescription, from locations such as farm stores, b) it’s very cheap, and c) it can be given orally, topically, or by injection.
At ACR&S, we have had success with using Revolution (generic name selamectin). It’s applied topically (to the back of the head or neck), only needs to be applied once per month, yet can be applied as often as every 2 weeks. It’s not commonly used by the GP and rabbit communities because a) it requires a vet prescription, and b) it’s expensive as heck (like $6-$12 per dose).
As evidenced by the similarity in names, selamectin is related to ivermectin, but its mechanism of action (binding the glutimate gated chloride channels) ONLY affects the parasite, and not the host . Seemingly, this would make Revolution much safer than Ivermectin. Yet Guinea Lynx continues to maintain that Revolution does not have the proven safety record of Ivermectin. 
To verify this, I did some research and found a few articles which reference the use of selamectin in rabbits or guinea pigs (mostly rabbits).
Selamectin Safety and Efficacy Research
I actually found that selamectin has a very good record of safety, even using much higher doses (18 mg/kg and up) than are recommended by Pfizer and by vets:
1. Veterinary Dermatology 18(1) p.18-22, February 2007. 18 mg/kg used on 42 New Zealand rabbits with psoroptic mange and 37 Angora rabbits with sarcoptic mange. No adverse events and no mortality in either group. PDF
2. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 223(3) p.322-324, August 2003. 48 mixed-breed domestic rabbits with active P cuniculi mite populations and clinical ear lesions. Both 6 mg/kg and 18 mg/kg were tested and deemed effective. No adverse reactions associated with selamectin treatment were observed in any group. PDF (not free).
3. Intern J Appl Res Vet Med Vol(3), p.87-96, 2007. Meta-analysis of other published studies. For Guinea pigs with any of 4 species of chewing lice or with the mange miter Trixacarus caviae: “Beck recommends 15 mg selamectin for animals weighing less than 800 g body weight and 30 mg for animals heavier than 800 g body weight.” For the fur mite Chirodiscoides caviae: “Good results in the treatment of this parasite have been achieved with 2 applications
of 12 mg/kg body weight selamectin with a 2-week interval. In a clinical case, a 3-year-old guinea pig with a body weight of 600 g was treated with a single topical application of 30 mg selamectin. Clinical signs improved within 1 week of treatment, and pruritus had ceased within a few days. There were no adverse effects following treatment.” PDF; I was not able to find the Beck article itself on Pubmed.
4. Material Data Safety Sheet from Pfizer. Tests in rats showed toxic effects on pregnant females and pups at 60 mg/kg/day. PDF
5. Product Profile for the European formulation, sold as Stronghold. “Selamectin has been classified as very slightly irritant to the rabbit skin and slightly irritant to the rabbit eye.” PDF.
Oddly I was not able to find many S&E studies on smaller doses, although that could be due to my search limitations (I don’t have access to vet-specific article databases). The MDSSs indicate that doses about double what these studies are looking at are problematic, at least in rats.
Since efficacy is clearly demonstrated at the lower dose of 6 mg/kg, and safety has been demonstrated for the higher dose of 18 mg/kg, I think it’s sensible to continue to use and recommend the lower dose of 6 mg/kg.
First the disclaimer: I am not a vet. This information is not an acceptable replacement for a veterinary consultation, and you should never administer ANY medication without the supervision of your vet.
If you have spoken to your vet and you are both willing to use Revolution for parasite treatment in your guinea pig or rabbit, dosing takes two steps.
First, you need to weigh your animal on a very precise scale and convert the weight into metric (grams or kilograms). This is where the vet comes in: most vets have a gram scale, or at least have taken enough math that they can do the conversion.
Second, you need to figure out how much of the tube to apply, because the commercially available doses are too large for most guinea pigs or rabbits.
The recommended dose (from Pfizer and as from my research above) is 6 mg of selamectin per kg of animal body weight. The smallest size tube is the Kitten strength (Mauve package) which contains .25 mL of liquid containing 60 mg/mL of selamectin.
60 mg per 1 mL = 6mg per.1 mL. So, an animal which weighs 1000 grams (1 kg) needs to have a dose of .1 mL. Since the tube contains .25 mL, it contains 2 and a half doses for this animal. To subdivide further, for every 100g of weight, add .01 mL (which is the tiniest marking interval on this syringe). So a 600g animal gets .06 mL, a 2300g animal gets .23 mL, a 985g animal gets .0985 mL (which you’ll probably measure out as either .09 or .1 mL, because you can’t actually get that fine a measurement with a syringe like this).
If you use any other package of Revolution, the strength in the tube might be different, and you will have to recalculate the dosage accordingly.
The most appropriate way to dispense Revolution is to squeeze the whole tube out into a sterile container, then use a 1 mL syringe (above) to suck up the correct dose. If you do this, the container needs to have an air-tight cap, otherwise the unused portion will evaporate.
If you want to be less precise, one drop from the tube is approximately .1 mL. So, you can just squeeze out 1 drop per 100 grams. Use this method at your own risk.
If you’ve used a needle to pick up the Revolution, don’t inject it – just spread the fur on the back of the neck and drip it onto the skin. Taking the needle off to remove the chance of a stabbin’ is a good idea. Choose a spot high enough up the neck that the animal cannot reach it by turning her head around, but low enough that she can’t rub it with her front paws. If your animal lives with a friend, keep them separate for about 10-15 minutes, just long enough for it to dry. After that there’s no risk of them licking it off one another (although I’ve never seen that happen).
The liquid in the tube also contains isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol). This is a known irritant to rabbits skin. In well over 300 uses of Revolution, the only adverse effects I’ve ever seen are that most rabbits will shake their heads and attempt to groom off the Revolution for several minutes after the alcohol has evaporated. I’ve never seen any associated redness, swelling, or other dermatitis. Irritable head-shaking and grooming in rabbits can probably be considered a normal reaction to administration, but if it persists more than an hour or is accompanied by dermatitis at the site, you need to see your vet ASAP.
If you are treating an active infestation, you can apply two doses 14 days apart. If you are treating preventively, one treatment a month is sufficient if you or your animal may come into contact with other animals or anything else that could reinfect your pet; once every six months otherwise.
Anecdotal Efficacy Reports
Although selamectin consistently performs well in clinical trials, there are reports from owners where mite infestations were not totally eradicated by selamectin. In fact – remember Pudge? We took him in for another vet check last week. The vet did another skin scraping, and this time, found a single fur mite. So now he feels that Pudge’s hair loss is due to a mite reaction, despite two recent applications of selamectin, and has prescribed oral ivermectin. This will be the first case in my personal experience where selamectin has not been effective, but it’s not an isolated case. I would still recommend selamectin as a first line attack, but where an symptoms seem to indicate a persistent infestation, a change in pharmacotherapy is certainly indicated.
 Guinea Lynx. Accessed March 15, 2008.
 Ramesh Chandra Gupta. (2007) Veterinary Toxicology: Basic and Clinical Principles. Academic Press: Burlington, MA, p 511. Accessed via Google Book Search, March 15, 2008.
 Guinea Lynx. Accessed March 15, 2008.
First we have pictures of the Sanctuary. Our house is a split level, so from the kitchen/dining area you go down a short set of stairs to an area which is pretty much one giant room.
To the left is the Pig Room. In addition to a non-functional fireplace, a couple of couches, and an unused treadmill, it holds our 16 pigs who are housed in six C&C cages which we refer to as the Condos. Three cages are 3′x7′ (2.5 by 6 grids), divided with a pair on either side. Three are 2.3′x7′ (2 by 6 grids); two of them house a pair of boars and one houses a triple. We always try to give the intact boys a little more room. There’s enough floor space between the couch and the condos that we can spread out a big picnic blanket and give the pigs a 4′x8′ playpen.
I clean the top condos by standing on a step stool and having my lovely and talented assistant hand me clean bedding so I don’t have to climb up and down. I’m definitely getting a bit old for all the climbing; I think within the next 5 years we’re going to do away with the top levels. But for now it still feels far easier than in previous houses, where I was ducking a ceiling fan while cleaning. It only takes us about 40 minutes to clean all 6 condos.
We actually only have 15 pigs living in the condo right now, since Pudge is sick. He’s in our hospital cage, which is a 2 by 2. It’s harder to catch a sick pig for daily medication in the condos.
At the far left of the Pig Room is a pair of bunny cages. These are our Big Buns and they’re over here because we’re trying to bond Jeannie with BunBun & Roo to make a triple, and they get along better if they can’t see the other rabbits. Jeannie is in a 4 by 3 and Roo & BunBun are in a 3 by 6.
The rest of the rabbits are over to the right in the Rabbit Room. In the front are Rosemarie and Dodger, who share a divided 3 by 6. We’ve been trying to bond them but it doesn’t seem to be going so well. All the bunnies have boxes which they like to climb on, and the partial lids on their pens are to prevent them from going visiting unsupervised.
Behind Dodger & Rosemarie are Daisy & Wordsworth. They’re in a 3 by 7, but since Daisy is an especially athletic jumper, we use 36″ dog x-pens for them instead of 28″ cube walls, which makes them lose about 1.5 sq ft on each end. So their pen is effectively 3.5′x6.5′ rather than 3.5′x7′. They don’t seem to mind, though.
One of the nicest features about this new house is that we have a dedicated half-bath right next to the Rabbit Room. We keep extra bowls and bottles in here, as well as medicines, grooming tools, and our scale and weight books (everypiggy gets weighed weekly).
Now for the Plush Pet Adoption Kits!
As I described earlier, we’re raising money and awareness through the sale of some really cute toy “adoption” kits. Each one has care and adoption information (targeted towards kids) along with a toy bunny. Here’s a video of some of the toy bunnies, from Lindsay, who has adopted and fostered for us, and who co-coordinates the SPCA Bunny program and the Raleigh Rabbit Meetup Group:
Now, all of these toy bunnies were donated from supporters. So they represent an, um, eclectic variety of stuffed rabbit toys.
There are some that are very cute.
There are some that are fairly ugly.
There are some that are dignified.
There are some that have no shame.
There are some that seem to be missing an eye.
There are some that seem to be missing ears.
There are some that seem to be missing their entire face.
(Don’t worry, kids, none of these bunnies are really missing anything.)
There are some that are shaped like realistic bunnies.
There are some that have no discernible shape at all.
And there are some who will EAT YOUR SOUL.
The full set of photos can be found here, and you can see the individual kits on Petfinder.
We had to euthanize Dora and Daphne last Friday. These are two rats who were pulled from the OCAS last summer. They had persistent illnesses and ended up never leaving foster care.
Sometimes it certainly seems like there’s more bad days than good in rescue. By and large that’s true – by the very nature of what we do, we see more negatives than positives. But overall, the good outweighs the bad – when that changes, you usually get out of rescue.
Partly, you keep the good on top because you’re constantly trying to make good out of the bad. Fr’instance: although Cinnamon died of lymphosarcoma last Monday, we were able to let the Pathology Club at the UW-Madison vet school use her body for a teaching session led by none other than Dr Steinberg, the author of the lymphoma article I cited a few weeks back. Hopefully some of the students will get interested in guinea pig medicine and down the road we’ll have a few new vets!
Sometimes the good is unexpected: This weekend our NC coordinator Jenn did a “Bunny Party” for a 5 year old girl who is rabbit crazy. The mom is one of those rare and wonderful people who are teaching all the right lessons at the right time. She knows that a child that age isn’t a good match for a bunny, but wanted to direct her daughter’s fascination into appropriate channels. So she arranged a bunny themed party where all the kids played HRS-inspired learning games, and Jenn visited with one of our adopted bunnies, Doc, for some supervised real-bunny interaction. Jenn was surprised at how quickly the birthday girl started repeating the important messages: don’t pick up bunnies to hold them, just pet them on the ground, etc. Personally, I wasn’t surprised at all. With a parent modeling the right behaviors that way, this girl is bound to be a perfect future adopter!
We also can make good by taking pleasure in what we do all the time. We had the good fortune to bring in two new piggies, one as a pet pig and one as a new Sanctuary resident. Honi came to us in the middle of February. She was going to make up a triple with our pet pigs Stinky and Cinnamon.
Honi was an owner surrender to the WI-GPR. She had lived for over two years in a 12″x12″ rubbermaid container. Occasionally, she was let out to run around on the floor with the owner’s other pigs, allowing her to get pregnant. It was after the second pregnancy that she was surrendered.
Due to her confinement and her poor diet, Honi developed into a soft, blobby little pig. She feels like she’s made out of soap suds and would just ooze right out of your hands. She’s not at all athletic and doesn’t have the muscles for the cage sprinting that some of our piggies have. However, her activity level has definitely gone up since meeting Stinky! She also had a heart condition, and is on a permanent blood pressure medication to help this.
Stinky was immediately in love (both with Honi, and with the idea of having two girlfriends), but Cinnamon, who was just starting to show her lymphoma, wasn’t so sure.
Honi and Stinky are alone again, but hopefully we’ll find another needy girl and finally be able to get them back into a triple. But it’s really wonderful to see her blossoming and running and playing with Stinky. Her 3′x7′ is a far cry from that pathetic little box she spent her last two years in.
Our new Sanctuary resident is a little intact boar named Freddie. He was being advertised on Craigslist – “Free pig with aquarium”. Apparently that owner got him from Craigslist too, along with the same aquarium, but now that her son had learned to walk, she was afraid he’d stick his fingers in the aquarium and get bitten. Apparently a lid was a foreign concept. So we expect that Freddie is probably 3 or so yeas old, and he has lived all his life in an aquarium.
For all this, he’s in surprisingly good shape. He had a bit of an URI when he came in, but that was treated by WI-GPR before he came to us. He was put in a side-by-side cage with two other single boars, and this weekend, we introduced them. They get along surprisingly well! Gonzo, there in the back, is another intact male, and Aragorn (hogging the water bottle) is a neutered male, and we expected some problems because both have always been very dominant, and we had no idea how Freddie would react. However, he was ecstatic to finally have a friend. He sleeps and eates very close to Gonzo. Also surprisingly, Gonzo has ended up on the bottom of the pecking order – he never threatens or challenges anyone, and if challenged, always backs down. It’s Aragorn who has turned out to be the big cheese. Freddie mostly defers to him, but Aragorn is always trying to remind the other two that he’s the boss. Maybe he has a complex about being the only neutered boy in the cage!
We’re still keeping their 2×6 totally empty of toys, just until we’re sure that they won’t fight if two of them unexpectedly walk around a corner and come face to face, but Freddie doesn’t seem to mind. All three of these boys have been alone for a long time, and it’s wonderful to see them enjoying each other’s company. Thus we find the silver lining!
Friday: Pictures of the Sanctuary and of the Plush Pets. F’real, the post is already written!
Sorry there was no post Friday; our two ill animals continue to go downhill and there’s been a lot of other issues as well. So, while euthanasia is always a depressing topic, it’s something that’s been on my mind and I need to talk about it.
Euthanasia is not, and should not be, a bad word. Euthanasia can be performed for many reasons, but it is always a difficult choice and a difficult act to carry out. A responsible pet owner or rescuer really needs to think about what euthanasia means to them before they are faced with a crisis situation and must make a decision quickly.
“Our bodies break down, sometimes when we’re 90, sometimes before we’re even born, but it always happens and there’s never any dignity in it… It’s always ugly, always.” –House, MD – 01×01, “Pilot”
Terminally ill humans are usually able to understand their own impending deaths. Often they have coping strategies or personal beliefs which help them come to terms with their death and manage their pain. But animals do not have the ability to understand death or pain. All they know is that their body is no longer responding as it should; they may become disoriented and even frantic as they are attacked from within by a pain they cannot fight or escape.
Oddly, it often takes animals a long time to die, even ones with terrible injuries or advanced illness. They don’t seem to lapse into comas as easily as humans do, they continue to suffer right up until the end. So when an animal is so ill that her body is already dying, and all other methods are no longer able to keep her from suffering as her body weakens, euthanasia may be the only humane option.
The Moral Burden
Not everyone agrees on the use of euthanasia. For one thing, it’s very hard for a person who loves animals and respects life to accept responsibility for taking a life. The concept of karma can be used here – many people feel that when they take a life, it somehow damages their own soul. For some people, that karmic evil of killing does not outweigh the cost of the animal dying slowly in pain.
I feel that sometimes, when a dying animal’s caretaker resists euthanasia, it comes from more than one underlying reason. Partly there is the desire not to let go, not to have to say goodbye, a hope that just maybe something miraculous will occur and the animal will get better and everything can go back to how it used to be. But partly there is also the inability to shoulder that burden of being a “murderer”. Nobody should have to take on that burden, and I envy people whose pets die quietly in their sleep. But if you are an animal rescuer, at some point you will be faced with the choice: either assume the burden, or find help from someone who can.
But even when you know it has to be done, it’s hard, and it hurts.
There comes a point in an animal’s illness where you know that it’s only a matter of time. At that point the focus changes from curing the illness to keeping her comfortable until nature takes its course. Thankfully, there are a variety of good analgesic drugs that can help with a lot of the pain. But some pain simply cannot be taken away by other means: The slow suffocation of an inoperable lung tumor; the progressive poisoning of kidney failure; the self-destruction of autoimmune disease. There is also the increasing fear an animal experiences when her body starts failing her. The immobilization of paralysis feels no different than the grasp of a predator’s talons to a little brain with no ability for higher distinctions.
But animals, especially prey animals like guinea pigs and rabbits, also hide their pain as part of their evolved strategy for camouflage from predators. The caretaker must rely on more subtle cues to determine that the animal’s pain is no longer adequately controlled. Breathing becomes more labored, movements become weak, she can no longer eat or defecate.
Sometimes, in addition to pain, we also need to evaluate the animal’s quality of life to determine if our efforts are no longer doing any good. An animal who is in no pain but cannot move, eat, groom, or socialize is as good as in a coma. I had a rabbit who lived with me for nearly three years after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was unable to keep herself clean, and required special housing and daily butt washing to keep her from developing urine scald. But her pain was managed, and she could still muster an enthusiastic if weak dance for her veggies. The day that she could no longer dance, could no longer even eat her favorite treats, was the day I knew she was waiting for me to help her die.
When you are the caretaker for a critically ill animal, you have to prepare yourself in advance for the day when you have to make the decision. Everyone will have a different decision point. For some, even the smallest amount of pain is unacceptable and cause for euthanasia. For others, it only comes when every other course of action has been exhausted.
You should make arrangements with your vet in advance. Some people prefer not to subject their pets to a last terrifying ride to the vet’s office, so many vets will perform in-home euthanasia, allowing the animal to die surrounded by family and familiar surroundings. If this is your wish, call your vet and let them know your intentions, so you can find out if there are any limitations on time of day or on which vet is able to perform this service. You may also wish to consult the local 24-hour emergency vets, just in case your decision ends up having to be made at 2am on Sunday morning. You may also wish to make payment in advance. You are going to be sad or even distraught when the time comes, and you don’t want to have to fumble for your credit cards. Most vets will happily place a credit balance on your account for this, and simply send you a refund for any unused amount after the crisis has passed.
For small animals, a two step euthanasia process is usually recommended. First the animal is anesthetized with isoflourine gas – the same anesthesia used in routine surgery. In at-home euthanasia, the vet may use IV or subcue narcotics to sedate them instead. Once the animal is asleep and unable to feel anything, the euthasol is injected directly into the heart to stop it. This is by far the quickest and most painless method.
You will have a choice of options regarding aftercare. If you wish for a necropsy, your vet will need to get the animal’s body to the lab right after euthanasia, although it can usually be returned to you later. Many vets offer cremation services, either with or without ashes returned. If you plan to bury your pet personally, check your local city statutes – some urban areas do not allow animal burial within the municipal limits! Go ahead and plan in advance what you would like, so you are not trying to decide in the midst of a crisis situation.
There are a variety of resources available on the Internet to help with pet loss and grieving. Be assured that grieving is normal – anyone who criticizes your grief by saying “it’s just an animal” has no idea of what it is to be able to love another creature, much less to lose that love. Someone like that is worth no retort except your pity.
I sent the following in an email to a friend who lost a guinea pig she had just rescued. She needed to be reminded why we are the ones to take on this burden, why others pretend death doesn’t exist because they let their animals get sicker and sicker and then dump them in a shelter:
Sometimes we have to rescue animals not just from a bad home, but from life itself, in the cases when every breath is agony. Someone has to be willing to take the responsibility for ensuring a peaceful death rather than letting them continue in torment.
Comfort yourself that you gave her a priceless gift – she died warm, comfortable, loved, and mourned, rather than unnoticed and unappreciated. A midwife, who helps a soul come into the world, plays a cherished and honored role – how can someone who helps at the other end of life receive any lesser accolades? You did a wonderful and generous thing for her simply by easing and marking her passing.
The second medical crisis that we have in the Sanctuary doesn’t actually involve one of our Sanctuary pigs. My partner DKMS technically owns three of our 17 guinea pigs; we call these our “pet” pigs, and he, not ACR&S, pays for all of their care and supplies. Two were adopted from ACR&S and one from the WI Guinea Pig Rescue.
Cinnamon was rescued by ACR&S in 2006 from a local animal shelter. We already had a ton of young, adoptable pigs; she was estimated to be about 3 years old and was pretty scraggly looking, with rough-textured fur; so we didn’t think she’d be very adoptable, but we couldn’t leave her in the shelter. DKMS was looking for another friend for his pig Stinky and decided to adopt her almost immediately.
Cinnamon is probably 5 years old now, and this summer she developed some stiffness in her legs and would occasionally limp a few steps. An X-ray found that she had arthritis, so she was placed on a daily dose of Metacam for pain. It helped tremendously and she stopped limping; she also loves her medicine and fights to hold onto the syringe!
On Feb 19, when giving Cinnamon her medication, we noticed that she looked a little “off”. She wasn’t moving as much or as normally as usual. I picked her up and found that she was COVERED in large, hard nodules – under her throat and jaw, and beneath each leg. They literally sprang up within 24 hours. These are the locations of the lymph nodes, so our first fear was a severe infection, and we rushed her to the vet for antibiotics. The vet placed her on antibiotics, but also did a biopsy to confirm, and a few days later we had the results: lymphosarcoma.
Background & Incidence
Lymphosarcoma is a malignant cancer involving lymphatic tissue or lymphocytes. The lymph nodes produce lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that help the body protect itself from infection. Lymphosarcoma occurs when the lymphocytes undergo a malignant change and begin to multiply, eventually crowding out healthy cells and creating tumors in the lymph nodes or other parts of the immune system.  Lymphomas and lymphosarcomas are much better understood in humans, and divided in to a huge number of sub-classifications based on location and type of affected cells. The same sub-classifications could probably be made in animals as well, but the disease(s) are not as well studied as in humans.
The small number of scientific articles I have found on lymphosarcoma don’t give much information, but it’s reported as very rare. One case report from 2000 notes that there were only 15 cases out of 5,000 animals in a 1991 report.  A 2003 paper states “neoplasias are practically non-existent in animals less than 1 year of age (Wagner and Manning 1976). In animals surviving three years the frequency of tumours is as high as 15% (Blumenthal and Rogers 1965). In some laboratory strains, animals older than three years, had tumour incidence ranging from 14.4% to 30% (Wagner and Manning 1976).” Note the age of all of these source articles! And yet, these data contradict the owner anecdotes and some veterinary teaching information, both of which seem to indicate lymphosarcoma occurs fairly commonly, at least in older pigs.
Symptoms can vary, primarily by the location and type of lymphosarcoma. The most obvious symptom is usually swollen or enlarged lymph nodes, but owner anecdotes from medical threads on Guinea Lynx include include loose stools, loss of appetite, weight loss, difficulty breathing, and increased thirst or urination.  In some cases, owners went to the vet for one of these secondary symptoms, and the enlarged lymph nodes were only discovered during the physical examination by the vet.
Treatment & Prognosis
Treatments in dogs and cats (and humans) can include chemotherapy. In a guinea pig, chemotherapy is not as well studied; protocols are not established based on large-sample trials, and their small size makes it difficult since the drugs are designed for larger species. However, it has been done, and there are drug protocols for chemo available on Guinea Lynx.
Due to Cinnamon’s age, her vet did not feel that she would have a positive response to chemo. It causes nausea and GI upset, and she would be likely to go into GI stasis; it also works by suppressing immune function, making her more susceptible to opportunistic infections. He instead suggested that we keep her on pain medication, and also put her on Prednisone. Prednisone is said to shrink the tumors, or at least to slow their growth. As a steroid, it also reduces inflammation and pain.
Most of the treatment information on lymphosarcoma in guinea pigs comes from anecdotal reports of owners who have been through the disease with their pet. However, the prognosis is almost universally bad. One well-respected poster reports: “The average survival rate is quite variable, but I have yet to hear of one living longer than 6 weeks.”  Even when the pig is on Prednisone, a commonly reported complication is the tumors in the throat lymph nodes pressing on the trachea or esophagus, making eating and breathing difficult.
Given the information we have found, we do not expect Cinnamon to be with us very much longer. So now we are mostly focusing on making her comfortable and her last days enjoyable. She is still housed with her friend Stinky, who cuddles up with her and has been seen grooming her ears. She’s been a wonderful little girl and we’ll be very sorry to see her leave us.