Little Pig and her chinny-chin-chin

Posted in Day-to-day, Medical at 12:07 am by ACR&S

Three words (plus a conjunction) on the recent hiatus: taxes and kidney stones. What a week.

On Friday the 4th we got a call from our vet: could we possibly take in a special needs guinea pig? The owners brought her in for excessive drooling: an examination revealed she had no upper incisors – not just broken, but missing. She was supposedly three years old, but the owners could not afford the vetcare to treat or rehabilitate her, so they surrendered her. The vets and staff thought she was darling and couldn’t bear to just euthanize her.Even after seven years in rescue, you can still be shocked. Absolutely none of this made sense to me. How could she be totally missing her incisors? It can occur as a birth defect, for example in lethal whites, but if that was the case, how could she have made it to 3 years old with a non specialist owner and no previous vet care?

I went in expecting the vet to be wrong about the incisors, and the owner to be wrong about the age. Both were proven right.

PigletThis is the Piglet. She was originally named Cha-cha, which is too goofy even for me. We were going to call her Gummi Bear but that was sort of mean.

She’s incredibly underweight as the result of weeks or months of oral pain and difficulty – 608 grams on intake. Most of our sows are easily over 900, even the smaller ones. She’s very petite as well – easily fits in the palm of my hand. But she’s not just a dainty pig – you can feel the frailty that only comes with starvation.

Her nails do look like the nails of a 2-3 year old pig. She’s definitely not under a year old, which I would have guessed based on her size. I managed to talk to her owner – she had only ever eaten pellets, with occasional romaine and carrots, and vitamin C drops in the water. No hay, ever. She lived in a petstore cage, one of the medium-sized ones, with carefresh bedding. The owner confirmed that at one point she definitely did have upper incisors, this was not congenital.

No teefsThe veterinary exam showed the upper incisors to be missing, or at least, broken beneath the gumline. In this picture (taken after all her dental work) you can see a pink flap of supportive gum tissue which is normally behind the upper incisors. There was no sign of infection or swelling in the gums, and no obvious “holes”, all of which usually happens in broken teeth. Her lower incisors were so overgrown that her mouth could not close completely, and she had spurs and malocclusions on all her molar teeth, causing sores in her cheeks and tongue.

They sedated her to trim down the lowers and to plane the spurs off the molars. I asked them to also do an X-ray to verify whether the teeth were actually missing (including the roots) or just broken with an odd presentation. There are no roots. The teeth are actually completely missing.

You can also see in that picture that they shaved her chin, which was caked with dried saliva – she has a reverse goatee now.

According to Guinea Lynx, tooth loss can be caused by vitamin C deficiency. I think this is the most likely cause. The vitamin C in both water drops and in poor quality pellets degrades too quickly to provide adequate amounts like dietary C does. Occasional supplementation with romaine was simply not enough. C deficiency could also explain her small size; her growth overall was stunted.

Our primary goal was to put some weight on her. If we could keep her from dying of malnutrition, she might learn to eat without uppers and be able to live a fairly normal life, except for needing frequent trims on the lowers. We did assisted feeding using Critical Care, which Piglet took with gusto. She put on about 15 grams in the first two days; a very good sign that there was hope for her.

The next step was to see if she would eat at all on her own. Pigs who have lost their front teeth eventually learn to pull food into the mouth and chew it primarily with the molars. Could she learn to do this? We were also faced with the problem that she’d previously had a very limited diet; pigs tend to have neophobia about novel foods and it’s often difficult to tempt them into trying anything they aren’t familiar with or haven’t seen another pig eating.

Piglet’s dinnerSo twice a day, we feed her a large bowl of Critical Care mixed with applesauce, and a huge bowl of of greens cut into tiny 1/4″ pieces (she has shown a preference for romaine, kale, and fancy baby herb salad mix). She also gets a bowl with a variety of other fruits and veggies, cut up small, but all of them are hit or miss. She’s shown no interest in watermelon, apple, carrot or pepper; but loves tomatoes. Other greens like cilantro, basil, wheatgrass, and parsley have also been rejected. We continue to offer all of these veggies in rotation, just in case she changes her mind about any of them. She likes gumming a slice of orange, although mostly I think she’s licking at the juice rather than ingesting any of the pulp.

We’ve also been offering two types of hay, alfalfa and bluegrass. In her situation, the alfalfa is unlikely to do any damage. Fortunately, she loves it! She won’t eat the stems yet, but I crumple it up so all the tiny leaves fall off, and she eats them. I’m also offering the crumbles from the bottom of the bluegrass bag, which are short enough for her to eat, but I haven’t seen her making any great inroads into them.

Possibly because of the Critical Care, she has not shown much interest in her pellets, only eating one or two small pellets a day. The CC is much tastier and easier to gum. But in the nearly two weeks that we’ve had her, she’s gone from 608 g to 667. That’s an excellent recovery rate.

The next step, this weekend, will be to transition her from the Critical Care mash to a mash made with ground pellets. Once she’s eating the mashed pellets, it’s much more likely that she’ll eat the hard pellets as well – incisors are not used in pellet eating anyhow. We also need to keep assessing her for oral health; this diet is not the most conducive to normal tooth wear patterns. She goes back in Monday for a follow up dental and possibly re-trimming of her lower incisors.

We are also going to try to pair her with a companion in the coming days. I’m thinking about Pudgie, who is still arthritic, but who has recovered wonderfully from his bizarre skin condition. Pics of him will come next week!

1 Comment

  1. Kelsey said,

    December 4, 2009 at 9:08 am

    My pig had a similar problem, he had no bottom incisors and his top ones were grossly long and curved around. One dental operation later and lots of cuddles and he’s back to normal, and more curious than ever!