We’ve got a few new residents up here at the Sanctuary. On June 19, I spent about 5 hours waiting for Midwest flight 2704 from Raleigh to Milwaukee, which had a special climate-controlled, pressurized cargo compartment carrying three new Sanctuary residents. I’m spreading their introduction over two posts, so today I’m pleased to introduce Gracie.
Gracie is a spayed female Californian rabbit, between 6 and 8 years old. She was owned for 5.5 years until a job transfer made her owner decide to give her up.
Californians are huge rabbits, in the 10lb range, having originally been developed for meat and fur production. Gracie’s size, age, and some fairly minor age-related health concerns would have made it nearly impossible to find an adopter for her, so although it’s not standard practice for owner surrenders, we agreed to a direct transfer to the Sanctuary.
This transfer would also be advantageous for us: we have an existing bonded pair of very large rabbits, Roo and BunBun. Roo is only 7 or so years old, but his partner BunBun is nearly 12. With BunBun clearly showing his age, we’ve been having to give thought to a future partner for Roo once BunBun passes. But we don’t have any other potential bondmates for Roo in the Sanctuary (our primary candidate, Jeannie, has proven beyond a doubt that she hates him and will murder him if given the opportunity), so practically any solution required bringing in another rabbit.
Ideally, it’s best to form a triple in a situation like this, so that there is no solitary grieving period when the eldest bunny passes; the other two can comfort one another. At the same time, making a triple is very difficult. The existing pair-bond is strained, and the difficulties of introduction and bonding are doubled. But I thought we might have a better than average chance with Gracie, Roo, and BunBun, because of some unique circumstances in their history:
Gracie has outlived two previous partners, both neutered males, so she has a proven track record of being able to bond with other rabbits. The members of the Sanctuary pair are both males, the most difficult pair to achieve, so adding in a female wouldn’t strain the relationship to the same extent as if they were a mixed-sex pair. Roo and BunBun also had a female third at one point early in their bond, when all three were still being offered up for adotion (Paula was later placed with one of our board members into a new pairing). Finally, since all the rabbits are members of large, mellow breeds, I didn’t expect the furious scuffling that can occasionally arise in introductions with smaller, more fiery breeds (Jeannie is an exception to this rule).
When planning an introduction, I always schedule it for a weekend when I plan to be home pretty much continuously. Rabbits do best when allowed to work out their dominance issues without too much human interference – one rule of thumb is, “don’t separate them unless you see blood”. Not strictly true, of course (see these pages for detailed HRS introduction techniques), but it gives you the idea that you want to interfere as little as possible. To do this safely, you have to be available to be home and to observe the rabbits carefully in case things turn sour.
So Friday night, I began the introduction. I decided to start by violating one of the main guidelines for intros: using neutral territory. Instead, I dumped Gracie into Roo & BunBun’s cage. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, KIDS. It’s an excellent way to end up spending your Friday night at the emergency vet.
Whether by intuition or luck, I was right: there were no major problems. Gracie decided to show that she’s the new boss, and for all her enormous size (she’s a few pounds bigger even than Roo!), she spent some time chasing and humping both Roo and BunBun. Fortunately, both figured out quickly that they could just go into a litterbox and hide from her, and she’s too lazy and fat to follow for very long.
Once their chubby butts were all tired out and the chasing had stopped, I offered some fresh hay and some veggies and pellets to see whether they fought for resources. Not at all. They contentedly shared hay, veggies, and pellets, occasionally grooming one another’s noses or ears as they happened to brush against them. This is a very excellent sign and indicated to me that they were probably not going to escalate beyond mounting.
[Aside: In the picture above, you can see tufts of fur sticking out all over all three rabbits. In young rabbits, this could be a sign that they had been fur-pulling or biting one another, but in these guys, it's just a result of their poor grooming habits. Failure to self-groom is a common sign of aging; BunBun in particular needs to be groomed by human hands every few days, otherwise he looks like a dandelion about to explode.]
After two full days and three nights, they’re still doing wonderfully. Mounting has almost totally diminished as of yesterday afternoon. This morning, I caught Roo and Gracie laying side-by-side (BunBun, as is his habit, was snoozing a few feet away in his hidy box). I think we have our triple, and now I have a little more peace of mind about Roo’s future when BunBun crosses the Bridge.
At ACR&S, we are in the business of trying to produce happy endings. I often think of it in context of a book that I read, where a group of fairy godmothers traveled around nudging events and people into place to make happy endings occur as they should (after all, what’s a hero who doesn’t have a quest to go on?). We spend a lot of time talking, educating, traveling, and emailing, all trying to nudge that happy ending into place.
It can be tremendously grating. The vast majority of our emails are people who want to surrender animals, or who want one of our animals, but have no interest in learning how to properly care for them. But, the payment for all of those people is an ending like this:
Clementine, the bald, seizing, screaming pig first mentioned here, went to her forever home this weekend.
When Clementine came into our house, feeling like a tiny burn victim, and so desperately ill, a request also came in from long time ACR&S friend Celia. One of her piggie pair (Jerry) had just passed, leaving his friend Ben alone. Ben and Jerry’s relationship had always been tumultuous, so she was having Ben neutered and looking for a girlfriend for him.
Living with Clementine and helping her every day, I promised her over and over again that if she would only get better, I would make sure she went to the best home ever. And so I responded to Celia, asking her to open her home and heart to this poor pig. She agreed, pending Ben’s approval (obviously), and so when she came into town to visit her daughter, we introduce Ben and a much healed Clementine.
I think the picture speaks for itself. Ben had been withdrawn since losing his buddy, who was his louder half. During the introduction, he squealed, wheeked, ran, and popcorned a bit.
And, even more amazingly, for the first time I’d ever heard her, Clementine sat and chuttered and chortled and popcorned, and seemed extremely happy. There was quite a bit of joyous and romantic chasing, but love was definitely in the air.
Clemmy’s new mom writes:
Yes, we made it home safely. The pigs rode in separate cages and everyone was very quiet. They made up for it when they finally entered their new ‘gated’ community. Clemmy inspected every spare inch, testing the walls and trying each pigloo to see which suited her best. She has made it clear that she likes the meals we serve! I put up the cage divider at bed time so everyone could get some rest and they settled down quickly, though Ben plastered himself against it so he could continue to breath in her beauty! This morning I came into a kitchen with the sound of two pigs wheeking- Clemmy for breakfast and Ben for Clemmy. They make beautiful piggie music together! It is so cute. He adores her and shrieks in protest when I remove her from the cage! She has been very good about medicine taking (except maybe for the final biting of the syringe!). She is keeping Ben fit, too. Honestly, he never used to run and now he runs everywhere! This is wonderful – every thing I had wished for and more! I can understand that you miss her because she is such a funny mix of assertive and cooperative at the same time. She has managed to set limits on Ben – sort of. He just can’t keep himself away from her! While she was checking out the second water bottle (she’d just drunk from the first, Ben approached for her attention. What else can I say but thank you, thank you, thank you!
Love, c., c. , & b.
It’s hard to believe, but with only a few short weeks of intensive care and love, Clementine went from a poor, ravaged looking creatures who didn’t seem like she should even be alive to a sweet and beautiful guinea pig who is funny and is not above giving a retaliatory nibble if she feels like you’re annoying her too much.
And so this is the gas the fuels the tank of rescue. This is what makes it worthwhile. It was one of those fuzzy moments that makes all the other anger, sadness, and horror worthwhile. So, to Clementine, congratulations on your new home, and your new husband. You deserve it.
If the wordless could speak, they would say, ” Bless you for caring enough to help us.”
Please quote me on that!
Thank you, as always, Celia, for your kind words. But ACR&S would be lost without our wonderful adopters, who make it possible for these little souls to live out their happy endings.
By this time, almost everyone “knows” that cedar is a dangerous bedding choice for small animals. The strong odor (which repels insects, making it a great bedding choice for dogs or horses) is known to be harmful to the lungs of smaller animals such as rodents, rabbits, birds, and reptiles.
Pine is often lumped in with cedar – they are both softwoods, and related, and have similar odors. But there’s still an ongoing “war” about whether pine is actually as dangerous as cedar, or not. The anti-pine people don’t typically cite references, so their evidence is considered anecdotal by the pro-pine people.
Someone recently posed the question: can the anti-pine people find real, scientific, studies demonstrating pine’s harmful effects on animals?
The answer is YES.
Here’s a mostly-well-referenced article which cites several studies which found ill effects due to pine phenols:
Pine and cedar toxins affect more than the respiratory tract (4). Several studies (5,8,14,15) have shown that rodents kept on softwood beddings have elevated levels of liver enzymes. The liver is the body’s detoxification system, and elevated liver enzymes indicate that the body is working harder to eliminate toxins.
Two studies are cited as saying that heat treated pine (kiln-dried) is better than regular pine, but kiln-dried pine still may have some ill effects:
If pine or cedar shavings are heat-treated or soaked in a solvent, so that some of the phenols are removed, the effects are not as great, but still occur (14,15).
Now, these studies seem to lump pine and cedar together. Do any studies differentiate whether pine is less harmful than cedar? Yes, but the study found pine is the second most dangerous bedding next to cedar:
Another study goes even further. It concludes that rats and mice kept on four bedding types were affected most by red cedar, but that white pine was the next most hepatotoxic bedding…(2)
Here are the references cited in this article. I’ve linked to the abstract/free full text whenever possible:
01. Ayars, G.H., Altman, L.C., Frazier, C.E., and Chi, EY.;1989; The toxicity of constituents of cedar and pine woods to pulmonary epithelium; Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology; 83: 610-18
02. Cunliffe-Beamer, T., Freeman, L.C. and Myers, D.D.;1981; Barbituate sleeptime in mice exposed to autoclaved or unautoclaved wood beddings; Laboratory Animal Science; 31 (6): 672-675.
03. Daly, C.H. (DVM); 2002; Rats A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual; Barrons; New York.
04. Ducommun, D.; ©1999-2002; The Toxicity of Pine and Cedar Shavings; The Rat Report; http://www.ratfanclub.org/litters.html; Retrieved on 28 Apr 2007
05. Ferguson, H.C. (1966) Effect of red cedar chip bedding on hexobarbital and pentobarbital sleep time. Journal of Pharm. Science, 55 p.1142-8
06. Harkness, J.F. and Wagner, J.; 1995; The Biology and Medicine of Rabbits and Rodents, fourth edition; Lea and Febiger; Philadelphia.
07. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS); Foster Volunteer Handbook, A Reference Guide for Rabbit/Small Mammal Foster Care Volunteers; http://www.petfoster.org/Documents/Rabbit_small_mammal_manual.doc; Retrieved on 4 May 2007
08. Jori, A. et al.;1969; Effect of essential oils on drug metabolism; Biochemical Pharmacology; 18: 2081-5
09. Safe Pet Bedding (FAQ); Originally created and posted by Emily Rocke; http://www.aracnet.com/~seagull/faq/beddingfaq.shtml; Retrieved on 4 May 2007
10. reference 10 missing
11. TeSelle, E.R.; 1993; The Problem with pine: a discussion of softwood beddings; AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales News-Magazine, July–October 1993; American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association; http://www.afrma.org/rminfo2a.htm; Retrieved 8 September 2007
12. Trees for Life; http://www.treesforlife.org.uk/tfl.aspen_entomological.html; Retrieved 9 September 2007
13. Perring, F.H. and WALTERS, S.M.; 1976; Atlas of the British Flora. Botanical Society of the British Isles. Second Edition; Wakefield
14. Vesell, Elliot S. (1967) Induction of Drug-Metabolizing Enzymes in Liver Microsomes of Mice and Rats by Softwood Bedding. Science, 157:1057-8
15. Weichbrod, Robert H. et al, (1988) Effects of cage beddings on microsomal oxidative enzymes in rat liver; Laboratory Animal Science; 38 (3): 296-8
Here’s another source, this one by a well-known and respected reptile expert. She goes so far as to recommend not using prey which has been housed on cedar. She also recently (2007) came to the conclusion that pine was not a good choice for reptiles, despite the fact that there are very few reptile-subject studies on the topic.
Here are her references (links to abstracts). Many of these are much more recent:
Ayars GH, Altman LC, Frazier CE, Chi EY. (1989) The toxicity of constituents of cedar and pine woods to pulmonary epithelium. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1989 Mar;83(3):610-8
Campagnolo ER, Trock SC, Hungerford LL, Shumaker TJ, Teclaw R, Miller RB, Nelson HA, Ross F, Reynolds DJ. Outbreak of vesicular dermatitis among horses at a midwestern horse show. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1995 Jul 15;207(2):211-3
Feron VJ, Arts JH, Kuper CF, Slootweg PJ, Woutersen RA. Health risks associated with inhaled nasal toxicants. Crit Rev Toxicol 2001 May;31(3):313-47
Kacergis JB, Jones RB, Reeb CK, Turner WA, Ohman JL, Ardman MR, Paigen B. Air quality in an animal facility: particulates, ammonia, and volatile organic compounds. Am Ind Hyg Assoc J 1996 Jul;57(7):634-40
Thomas JC, Carlton DL, Barzak PF. An improved method for evaluating hardwood animal bedding products. Lab Anim (NY) 2001 Jun;30(6):43-6
Pelkonen KH, Hanninen OO. Cytotoxicity and biotransformation inducing activity of rodent beddings: a global survey using the Hepa-1 assay. Toxicology 1997 Sep 26;122(1-2):73-80
Potgieter FJ, Wilke PI. Laboratory animal bedding: a review of specifications and requirements. J S Afr Vet Assoc 1991 Sep;62(3):143-6
Potgieter FJ, Wilke PI, van Jaarsveld H, Alberts DW. The in vivo effect of different bedding materials on the antioxidant levels of rat heart, lung and liver tissue. J S Afr Vet Assoc 1996 Mar;67(1):27-30
Torronen R, Pelkonen K, Karenlampi S. Enzyme-inducing and cytotoxic effects of wood-based materials used as bedding for laboratory animals. Comparison by a cell culture study. Life Sci 1989;45(6):559-65. Erratum in Life Sci 1989;45(24):2381
Vandenput S, Istasse L, Nicks B, Lekeux P. Airborne dust and aeroallergen concentrations in different sources of feed and bedding for horses. Vet Q 1997 Nov;19(4):154-8
Vogelzang PF, van der Gulden JW, Folgering H, Heederik D, Tielen MJ, van Schayck CP. Longitudinal changes in bronchial responsiveness associated with swine confinement dust exposure. Chest 2000 May;117(5):1488-95
Ward PL, Wohlt JE, Katz SE. Chemical, physical, and environmental properties of pelleted newspaper compared to wheat straw and wood shavings as bedding for horses. J Anim Sci 2001 Jun;79(6):1359-69
Welker JA, Zaloga GP. Pine oil ingestion: a common cause of poisoning. Chest 1999 Dec; 116(6): 1822-6
Weichbrod RH, Cisar CF, Miller JG, Simmonds RC, Alvares AP, Ueng TH. Effects of cage beddings on microsomal oxidative enzymes in rat liver. Lab Anim Sci 1988 Jun;38(3):296-8
Whelan G. The influence of cage bedding on the metabolism of sulphobromophthalein sodium by an hepatic cytosol-located enzyme system. Aust J Biol Sci 1975 Feb;28(1):25-9
Overall, it looks like there is a good scientific basis for the common belief that pine (and of course cedar) are potentially harmful choices for bedding. As in the past, ACR&S continues to recommend that owners are conservative in their bedding choices, and use aspen (a hardwood which does not produce phenols) or recycled-paper based beddings for guinea pigs and rabbits.
Quote of the day:
I am sometimes asked ‘Why do you spend so much of your time and money talking about kindness to animals when there is so much cruelty to men?’ I answer: ‘I am working at the roots.’
- George T. Angell, 1823-1909, MSPCA founder and humane education advocate
The next part of the “mini” Sanctuary in Morrisville are two of the boys belonging to the Jacksonville 48. I’ll leave the entirety of the Jacksonville Saga to Susan to tell, as it is largely her story, but I did end up with two of the boys from that group. Basically, a backyard breeder duped a fellow rescue into believing that they were a rescue and left her with 48 sick half-dead pigs.
I volunteered to foster, and I ended up with #20 (who became Picadilly) and #21 (who became Hobo).
Hobo’s tale is an illustrious one filled with humping and yearning after guinea pig women. He was one of the less spectacularly marked of the 48, so Susan paired with him Picadilly (an agouti satin) to help move him into a home. He got his name because of his ragged ears… we speculate that this breeder must have crammed pig after pig on top of each other and that there must have been nearly constant fighting. At his intake, he was probably only 8-9 weeks old.
They fostered with me for a good six months without any solid adoption leads, and Christmas quickly approached. They got stockings, and they got presents, and we realized that it was not in us to make the two of them go elsewhere. Shortly after Christmas 2005, Hobo’s problems began.
It started out with a scream in the night. He was screaming painfully while urinating, and was obviously in distress. He was rushed to the our current rescue vet immediately the next morning. A round of x-rays, intensive care, urinalysis, and other diagnostics revealed…. nothing. He was absolutely completely healthy. Lacking any other option, he was given a round of antibiotics and sent home.
The problem seemed to go away, but another problem had arisen. Having been separated from Picadilly, Hobo would no longer accept him. After several days of trying to rebond the two, it was given up, and Picadilly moved in with my first two guinea pigs, Gizmo and Mogwai.
A couple of weeks later, the problems resurfaced, and we went back to the vet, came back with more Critical Care (which is really good stuff, keep some in your house, seriously), more fluids, more Reglan, and more antibiotics. After a good two weeks of fighting tooth and nail to feed this poor pig (who was actually quite obnoxious when it came to being fed), I finally found the cause of the problem. He had a lump in his left testicle.
So back to the vet, and Hobo was neutered to remove the lump, which turned out to be a tumor surrounding an abscess. Then the fun began. Hobo abscessed a total of 3 times for a total of 8 weeks of antibiotics. He also rejected the suturing materials, which I discovered one horrifying morning when I found a small plastic string poking out of one of his surgical wounds. This was not due to the vet, who has performed many successful neuters for us before. Hobo is a genetic Frankenstein.
Finally, we healed him, and integrated him in with two spayed sows adopted for the purpose of being his friends, Lethe and Mnemosyne. It was decided that he was never really going to be a good candidate for adoption, given his history of aggression to males, and his extreme allergies to surgical materials, AND the fact that at the age of 1 year, he had already had a tumor removed. So he stayed with me.
Since then, Hobo has gone into stasis 6 times. He has had 3 sets of x-rays, and 4 urinalysises. He has also had 3 penis infections, and tends to produce grit when dehydrated. Because of his aggressive obnoxiousness, he has had 2 abscesses removed. We finally figured out that he was pinning the girls inside of pigloos and then marking them constantly until they finally bit him to escape. We removed the pigloos. Today, Hobo is 3, and he has already had more surgeries than many other elderly pigs.
Picadilly, his counterpart, has had less problems, but is in worse shape.
Pica (as he’s known) is a satin pig. Satin is a coat type on guinea pigs (much like teddy pigs, who have curly fur, or peruvians, who have long fur). The hair shafts of a satin guinea pig are hollow, which makes the pig especially “shiny”. Unfortunately, the price of having a pretty, shiny pig is an unpleasant death for them, in many cases. The gene which causes pigs to have these hollow hairs is very frequently accompanied by a disorder known as osteodystrophy. When a guinea pig has osteodystrophy, their bones begin to lose calcium. Their joints can “collect” this calcium, and become thickened, and it is often painful for them to walk and/or eat.
At one year of age, Picadilly began showing symptoms of osteodystrophy. It has progressively worsened, but he is now managed with pain medication and calcium supplements. Today, Pica lives in relative happiness with the addition of daily pain medication. Without his medication, he painfully hops, and becomes lethargic, refusing to move from his cuddle cup, even for his favorite foods.
Many intentional breeders, even today, deny that their guinea pigs have problems with osteodystrophy, yet none that I have talked to do baseline x-rays or screen for it. I noticed Picadilly’s hopping one winter afternoon. At that point, he showed no signs of weight loss, and was still speeding around with excitement after food. But I knew he was a satin, and I knew what the hopping was a portent of. It wasn’t until nearly another year later that he began showing severe painful symptoms. Had I not already had my baseline x-ray, I wouldn’t have thought it was osteodystrophy. But comparisons showed severe bone loss.
Very limited studies have been done because of the specialty nature of both the disease and the species it occurs in, but what limited research that is available points to extremely high statistical occurrence of this disorder in satin guinea pigs. Even sadder, at least as his adopted mom, is the fact that Picadilly is such a sweet guinea pig. He has the personality of a feather bed, and gets along with everyone. He and Mogwai truly love each other, and they have ever been tolerant of newcomers. It’s heartbreaking to watch such a kind animal going through such suffering, and knowing that there is no end to it. Not only is there no end to it, but that the suffering was purposefully produced, just so that someone could have a pretty shiny guinea pig.
Piglet, the little incisor-less piggy we took in at the beginning of April, had her remaining incisors pulled on the 17th. There was absolutely no sign of regrowth from the missing incisors in the month and a half we had her, so our vet was convinced that the tooth buds were dead, and that pulling the two remaining teeth would be easier on her than having monthly anesthesia to trim the teeth (without their uppers to grind against, the incisors would grow and grow until they impacted her upper gums).
The surgery was risky because Piglet has been in such poor body condition. She was so thin when she came to us, it took forever to get her stabilized above 700g, which is the minimum weight the vet felt would allow her to survive an extended anesthesia. There was a good chance that after all this effort, we’d lose her.
Fortunately, just a couple hours after she went in, I got the call that her surgery went very well. She was awake and taking syringed Critical Care very quickly afterwards, which was excellent. Here’s a picture of the extracted teeth. The blue lines roughly indicate where the gumline was – piggy teeth curve WAY down into the jaw! They are laying against the printed boxes on a GL weight record, for size reference.
Unfortunately, as soon as we picked her up we noticed something else was wrong: her right eye was dry looking and slightly swollen. It shortly developed a reddish spot. We traipsed back into the vet and he thinks that her eye rubbed against something during surgery or recovery. She had a definite corneal abrasion and would have to be on antibiotic eye drops, in addition to the oral antibiotics and pain meds for the tooth extraction.
To make matters worse, the eye was clearly bothering her, and she persisted in trying to scratch it with her hind leg. The vet had to fit her with an e-collar to prevent her from causing further damage. The only e-collar small enough was actually a bird collar. He cut the central opening larger to accommodate the larger neck of a piggy, but it was designed to be very wide and stiff to prevent a bird from removing it. Poor Piglet could hardly walk with it on.
I was concerned about having to use an e-collar – they are bad for pigs and rabbits, for several reasons. First and foremost, both species are coprophages and must eat their cecal droppings in order to complete their normal digestive cycle. With an e-collar, they cannot reach these nutrient-rich pellets, and may quite quickly develop digestive problems such as stasis, because without them digestion does not occur correctly. This is compounded if the e-collar interferes with normal eating, too. This one certainly did, as Piglet could not even lower her head to reach her bowl.
However, we really didn’t have many other options with Piglet. She absolutely had to have something between her eye and her feet. When we got her home, the first thing I did was take off her collar and give her a chance to eat while DKMS stood guard against eye scratching, and I tried to figure out some alternatives to the collar. I figured she would spend all her time scratching, or her gums would hurt too much to eat, and I’d have to re-collar and handfeed her. Boy was I wrong. She went after her bowl of mash like a buzzsaw, actually STANDING in it to lick it up against the far side of the bowl!
At the advice of the good people on Guinea Lynx, we were advised to construct a new e-collar out of interfacing, which is a stiff but flexible fabric material used in sewing. While she was eating, I made one up, and after she’d eaten her fill, I taped it on. She was NOT happy. But at least she could bend her head down, lie down, and reach her bowl, now.
She managed to keep the collar on all night, much to my surprise (these guys are often very inventive at getting a foot inside the neck hole and wiggling out of them). She’d definitely eaten some more mush overnight, too. I took the collar off for about an hour, and although she wasn’t thrilled about breakfast, I did see her eat several cecals and do quite a bit of grooming. She only scratched at her eye once, and it looks slightly less red and swollen, although still very dry. Maybe, if it’s better tonight, she can go a little longer without the collar!
The next few days will be critical for Piglet. We must keep her eye from getting infected, because an infection that close to the surgery in her mouth could spread quite easily and become fatal. We also have to make sure she keeps eating, as the antibiotics and surgery have compounded the eating problems she already had with missing teeth. If we can just get both of these issues resolved, we can work on getting her to eat more whole foods, and that will allow us to try to find a cagemate for her. The ultimate goal of her rescue was to allow this poor, lonely, malnourished girl to have a shot at a normal piggy life. At this point we just have to wait and see whether that will be possible.
Update: This morning, here eye definitely looks a little better!
Both branches of ACR&S – the main adoption branch in NC, and the Sanctuary branch in WI – are each fortunate to be located very close to a major vet school. Ever since ACR&S’ inception, I have loved vet schools and loved working with them on rescue projects whenever possible. This past week, ACR&S and the Wisconsin Guinea Pig Rescue (WGPR) collaborated with the vet school at UW-Madison on a opthalmology clinic for exotics. This was a unique opportunity both for the two rescues, as well as for the vet students who participated.
We were approached by one of the coordinators, asking if our guinea pigs and rabbits could donate their time for eye exams. Normally, these clinics involve laboratory animals, all of whom are young, healthy, and identical. The laboratory animals are typically bought just for the clinic, and then euthanized for use in the cadaver labs. By working with rescues, the vet school was able to avoid unnecessary euthanasia, as well as to give the students the rare chance to examine animals across the spectrum; old and young, health and with medical conditions.
Between ACR&S and WGPR, we were able to present the students with 12 guinea pigs and 7 rabbits to examine, ranging from 2-12 years in age. The guinea pigs ranged from healthy animals to those with such various conditions as pea eye, cataracts, and entropian eyelids. The rabbits included healthy eyes, conditions such as chalazions and cataracts, and eyes of different colors (pink and blue in addition to the normal dark brown!).
After the exam, one of the vet professors told us this was the first time some of these students had done an exam on guinea pigs. They just don’t have any opportunity for exotics clinics in the typical “track” of classes. The variety of eyes and conditions allowed the students to practice with a wide range of instruments and challenged them to make diagnoses rather than just observe healthy eyes. We also benefited – it would have been impossible for us to pay for specialty clinic opthalmology exams for 19 animals!
ACR&S was very grateful for this opportunity. All of these animals in our Sanctuary owe their lives to vets who have donated time and experience, and a few hours of non-invasive examination is the least we can do to help pay it back to the younger generation of vets. I love the idea that just maybe, working with a rescue will motivate a vet student to become involved in rescue later in life, or that seeing the differences in guinea pigs and rabbits will engage a student to become an exotics vet rather than taking the usual cat/dog track. In addition, it’s good to know that we saved the lives of 20 lab animals who would have otherwise have to have been used for this lab.
Most vet schools are eager to work with rescues, and the benefits are tangible. I strongly recommend such a partnership to any rescue.
Now on to the pictures! We weren’t able to take photos of the exams themselves, since eye exams are performed in the dark (obviously!), but I got a couple of interesting shots I wanted to share with you.
I’m often accused of driving a Tardis, and several folks were skeptical when I reported I would be carrying myself, the president of WIGPR, and 13 carriers in a Toyota Corolla. Well, here’s the proof:
Six crates… Nine crates… Eleven crates!
Plenty of room left over for the two crates from WIGPR, plus, I can still see out the mirror!
Roo was a little concerned about why he was in this box…
But most of the guinea pigs were more concerned with eating breakfast.
Here’s all the crates unloaded. 19 animals in 13 crates!
A shot of the lab room, showing some of the interesting decor.
The school lobby.
Random painting in the hallway of doctor parrots.
Several people have asked me to post more about being in Wisconsin. I’m hesitant to use this as a personal blog – we have plenty to say about the animals without getting off topic.
I will mention just a couple of things this time. First, we’ve had some bad weather up here recently: tornadoes, torrential rain, thunderstorms driving destructive winds and hail. The joke “nine months of winter, three months of bad weather” was not a joke this year. Fortunately, apart from one journey into the basement due to the local tornado alarm going off, I haven’t much been affected. I did get this shot of a mudslide about to come into my lane on the highway.
Other than that, the most other interesting thing I’ve seen up here is, apparently the local plumber is offering the deal of a lifetime: SEVEN houses on my street threw out toilets last week. I only captured five of them.
So yeah, that’s why I don’t post about Wisconsin, much.
Although the main sanctuary of ACR&S is up in Wisconsin, I do have several animals classed as Sanctuary living with me in North Carolina. They were adopted into my household because they were unadoptable, and because I am a sucker and couldn’t let them leave. Although these animals are officially part of ACR&S, as part of sanctuary care I provide them with all of their food and vet care to ease their burden on the rescue.
I have a total of 4 guinea pigs, and 2 rats that are classed as sanctuary residents due to their long term health or behavioral problems. The rats were my most recent addition, after the last time I officially said “no more ‘keeper’ animals”. (You would be surprised how few times “no more animals” actually means “no more until the next one that has nowhere to go”. Or maybe not.)
Phedre entered my life shortly before Christmas 2007. She had a pretty typical story for a rat. Someone had bought her from Petco to feed to their snake. Unfortunately for that person, she was way smarter than they were, and escaped the snake, and then the tank, and ran amok in their house for a couple of weeks.
When she was inevitably captured, they decided to take her back to the Petco and chuck her back into the bin with all the other rats. Fortunately for her, one of our volunteers overheard the saga at work, and agreed to take her (thinking that the rescue could find her a home once she was rehabbed a bit).
Unfortunately for Phedre she had (like most pet store rodents) a rather severe respiratory infection that had raged untreated while she was fending for herself in their house. Once our volunteer got her, she was immediately put on antibiotics. Because of this, she stayed at my house during the Christmas holiday so I could medicate her. That’s always how they get you.
The second night she was there, I headed to the bathroom to medicate her, and then realized I had forgotten to bring the syringe. I plopped her down in the tub to run and explore while I went to fetch it, and she stood on her back legs, reached for me, and let out a heart-rending cry. I knew she wouldn’t be able to leave my house.
Unfortunately for poor Phedre, her respiratory infection was so severe and had gone untreated for so long that it scarred her lungs, and now she permenantly wheezes. She gets a steroid/bronchiodialattor combination daily to help her breathe more easily, but we knew it would be nearly impossible to find a home who would buy her medication, especially since she was already around a year old by the time we exhausted our supply of antibiotic treatments. Rats with lung scarring also typically don’t live as long as ‘normal’ rats. Their expected lifespan is 1.5-2 years, in general, instead of the longer 2-3 years for a healthy rat.
So she did get to stay with me. Typical rats are very effusive and friendly. They like human interaction, and most enjoy being held and played with. Because of her early days, Phedre is afraid to be out of her cage. She’ll cower in your arms until she can return, and actively tries to climb back in if you take her out. She shakes in fear at being let loose on a couch, and ignores all food until she can go back to her safe place.
But she is still a rat, and she needed a companion. Rats are incredibly social creatures, and regardless of how much love, attention, and spoiling she received, one of her own kind to snuggle with, lay on, and share food with was essential. It took several months to find her a companion, but we did finally find a person doing private rehabilitation of rats, and I adopted Cecilie to live with Phedre.
Cecilie is about as opposite to Phedre as day is to night. Phedre is calm (by neccesity, with her poor breathing), demure, and careful. She grooms herself extensively, and makes sure that every single hair is in the correct position. Cecilie stampedes around like a bull, often falls into her food, and is frequently stained odd colors by the day’s treats. But they do love each other, and they’re frequently found curled up in a big rat ball snoring away. They follow each other everywhere, and Cecilie is helping Phedre to become more outgoing, and enjoy her treats (as seen to the left).
In addition to the absolutely adorable babies that I talked about in my last post, ACR&S has been growing with other intakes looking for homes as well. Our household has become pretty inured to new, itchy, complaining, antibiotic-taking animals coming into our home, in a very strange way. So when I drove to Greensboro on May 31st to pick up our newest intake, it was more of the “same old, same old”. In fact, I was actually pretty happy since it was only an hour drive to pick up this guinea pig (if that gives you any idea how much driving I actually do).
We had been contacted by the kind vet that took Clementine in, asking if we had room for a guinea pig. They’re primarily a dog and cat practice, and like most vets, don’t necessarily have the facilities to care for adoptable animals long term, especially animals which need recovery time. When I called and talked to the vet, he told me that she had a case of mites, but that they were treating her with ivermectin and she was in the middle of a course of antibiotics. I was cheered by this news — this meant that the guinea pig I was picking up was already on her road to recovery, and shouldn’t need a ton of care, just followup on Revolution.
When I arrived, the staff was very nice, and loaded her into the carrier for me from their quarantine area. I peeked in, and saw a ball of fluff, with some balding, and didn’t think there would be any problem. They gave me a letter detailing their treatment, and thanked me profusely for agreeing to take her. According to them, she was a surrender from a classroom (which is not unusual, there is a history of classroom animals arriving with severe health problems, so I didn’t find that surprising). He suggested she may have a fungal problem, because the ivermectin treatments had only improved her a bit.
So I loaded up into the car, and headed back home. When I stopped to get gas, I took a moment to open the carrier and visit with our (then unnamed) pig. I was horrified. What I had taken as a mild case of mites was the worst case of mites, fungus, open wounds, and infection I’d ever seen. Her skin felt like a reptile’s because of all the scabs and open wounds. She was almost completely bald on both sides, although the left side looked better because her fur was black and she hadn’t scratched as much. Her face was covered with fungal lesions, and her ears were stiff with scabs, wax, and inflammation. Her chest was an untouchable knot of scabs, scratched and healed, scratched and healed. “Oh, darling”, I said to her, really wanting to cry, and she gave a little sigh and laid her head down on my arm.
I knew I had a big job ahead of me.
On the way home, I was listening to the radio, and they happened to play a clip from the song “O My Darling Clementine”. As soon as it started, I heard a raspy “wheep wheep wheep!” from the carrier. I knew that we hadn’t had a pig named Clementine, and it seemed like she really wanted that to be her name. She was certainly a darling. And so Clementine she remained.
I called and consulted with Susan on the way home to formulate a game plan. Revolution for the mites, Nizoral and Monistat for the fungal lesions, Metacam to help her deal with the pain. I got home, made an emergency run to our grocery store to pick up supplies, and started “operating”. She was so very good for her bath, which must have been terribly painful. Bathing her only uncovered more and more knots of scabs, but I was glad to be able to get her clean.
Unfortunately, she was still apparently carrying quite a large mite population, in spite of her long treatment with ivermectin. Her bath triggered a huge set of seizures as the mites burrowed into her already sensitive skin.
For those that are unfamiliar with guinea pigs, their mite infestations, when left unchecked, can become horrific. They start out itching, much like a dog with fleas. Soon they’re losing hair, and have scratched themselves raw. In the last stages, they start seizing from the extreme pain of their infestation. I cannot count the number of times that people have told me their guinea pigs were “scratching their backs” only for me to inform them (to their horror) that the pigs were really having convulsions from pain. Though I had taken in pigs who were seizing before, never had I seen one as bad off as Clementine.
That night remains one that will stick with me. Anthony and I were frantic to keep her from doing damage to herself. She gashed open several of her scabs while seizing, and I finally held her with both hands and talked softly to her as she seized so that she couldn’t scratch herself (though she did scratch up my hands quite badly). As I was doing this, Anthony leapt into action, and quickly jury-rigged a small “sweater” for her out of a sock, so that she couldn’t scratch herself. This didn’t stay on for very long, but it did give me enough time to pull a dose of pain medication for her and give it to her. I kept her in my lap, holding her and helping stop her bleeding until her pain medication kicked in, and she once again relaxed. Again, she put her head on my arm and gave me this look which seemed to say “It’s been a heck of a day, hasn’t it?”
When she dried, she was treated with Revolution, at the higher ferret dosage of 18 mg/kg (as opposed to the more typical guinea pig dosage of 10 mg/kg). At the recommendation of several people on GuineaLynx, I went out and bought some coconut oil, and massaged it into her skin and ears. She seemed so grateful. With the oil, her skin was no longer scaly and brittle, and when she did itch, she didn’t tear big gashes into her skin because it was supple. Her ears were also flexible again, instead of stiff little flaps of scabs.
Her treatment has continued in this vein. Pain medicine and antibiotics in the AM, and then veggies, come home, more pain medicine, more antibiotics, and then her coconut oil massage. Today we’re adding an oral antifungal so that we can avoid the baths. Once she’s over the worst of it, we may also add a soothing oatmeal bath for her poor skin.
But for Clementine, hope remains. I found it surprising that an animal in so much pain could trust anyone at all, much less the crazy person who makes her smell like a tanning booth once a day, and makes her take the gross medicines. But Clementine is learning to love life. Sunday night, she heard me giving the babies from the previous post some alfalfa hay, and I heard her querulous, uncertain, raspy wheek (sounding for all the world like she had never used it before) lift over the other din in the house, asking for her share. In the end (at least for guinea pigs), where there is hunger, there is hope.
When I name the animals who I take in, I like for their names to have a meaning. Some are silly (Rincewind is named after a cowardly wizard, because he too is a coward), some are superficial (Kassidy, for example, means “curly”), and some are a right-time, right-place type of name (Kismet got her name by showing up exactly on time to catch 3 rides north). Clementine is my first pig to pick her own name. I wondered if she was expressing her love of folk music, for NPR, for documentary radio, or for the singer’s voice. Or if she was trying to state something, or even ask for something. So I looked it up.
Clementine means “mercy”.
For many people considering adopting a rabbit, they’ve never heard of rabbits living indoors and using litter pans. Their only experience with litterpans is from cats, so they are often at a loss as to what a rabbit needs for its litterbox, and what cat products can and can’t be used. I’d like to offer this post to helping folks understand the various options available and how to make a good informed selection.
There are two parts to a litterbox: the box, and the litter.
The most commonly sold type of rabbit litter box is a triangle-shaped box with a high corner. They are sold in the small pet section of stores, and typically come in two sizes – an 8″ diagonal, or a 13″ diagonal.
Both versions of this pan are too small, even for dwarf rabbits. The high back looks attractive because rabbits do tend to back up and squirt urine behind them – but in these small pans, it’s just as common for the rabbit to face the corner, and hang their butts over the back and pee or poop on the floor next to the litter box! Rating: UNACCEPTABLE
Another version of this pan also has a high back, but is a square, about 13″x13″. These pans are a little better than the corner pan, but still too small for large bunnies, and the very low front may mean that even small rabbits end up peeing over the side onto the floor. Rating: POOR TO FAIR
In general, I find it better to choose a cat litter box instead of one marketed for rabbits. A rabbit’s litter box needs to be large enough that he can get totally inside it and turn around comfortably. I also recommend high sides so that even a big bunny can pee without going over the edge. The only thing you might want to avoid is a covered box – most rabbits will treat a covered litter box like a den, and use it for napping and not as a toilet.
This cat litter pan is an excellent choice for bunnies: it’s available everywhere, is large enough for most rabbits at 14″ by 10″, and is 3.5″ tall which is tall enough for all but the largest or most directionally challenged bunnies. It’s also only about $3, which is about a third of the cost of a pan marketed for rabbits. Rating: EXCELLENT
Some rabbits will still have trouble with any commercially available box, and you’ll need to get creative.
My favorite litter box – one I use for almost all my rabbits – is a 10 gallon Rubbermaid brand “Roughneck Storage Box”. It’s 23.9″ by 15.9″, and nearly 8.5″ deep – perfect even for my 10 lb New Zealand white. At $5 each, they are quite affordable even for households which need multiple pans. The bottoms aren’t perfectly smooth, so they are a little harder to clean – I recommend scraping them out with a small dust pan, then wiping them clean with paper towels and white vinegar every time, so that crud doesn’t build up in the indentations and corners. For smaller rabbits, such as Flax here, I cut a “door” in the side using a sharp box cutter. The bunnies have 4 deep corners to pee against, and the door is still 4″ deep so it still contains most of the mess from even the most industrious diggers. One thing to note – some bunnies just can’t resist nibbling those crisp edges, so I cover them with split lengths of 1/2″ or 3/4″ PVC pipe or plastic tubing. Rating: EXCELLENT
Special needs or elderly rabbits may have trouble getting into litter boxes with tall sizes, yet may still need the deep walls to contain accidents. I recently found some very nice litter pans marketed for dogs. They have one side with a very low door (about 2″ high) but the inside is spacious and deep. They come in a variety of sizes. The only disadvantage is that they are very expensive – about $20 for the large 24″x30″ size that I use for my large elderly lop. Rating: VERY GOOD
Whichever litter pan you select, keep in mind that rabbits prefer to have a choice, so offering multiple boxes is always a good idea. If your cage is not large enough for two litter boxes, your cage is too small! Putting hay inside the litter box, or in a rack above it, is also a good way to encourage good litter box habits.
For the most part, cat litter products cannot be used for rabbits. Rabbits almost always eat a portion of their litter, so clay-based, mineral-based, or “natural clumping” cat litters can all cause blockages and death.
There are one or two products sold for cats which are acceptable for rabbits. I’ll mention these below. Usually, one version of the product is packaged for cats, and another for rabbits. However, keep in mind that the cat version will almost always be cheaper than a version packaged specifically for rabbits, but the product inside is identical.
Over the years I have tried almost every litter product there is. I’ve used shredded paper, Carefresh, Yesterday’s News (YN), Cell-Sorb, Feline Pine, pine stove pellets, aspen shavings, and kiln-dried pine. My ratings are as follows:
Aspen and pine shavings are pretty cheap ($11 for a month’s worth), but they are TERRIBLE as rabbit litter. They don’t really absorb much urine, they don’t cover the odor at all, they easily get kicked out of the box, and they are very dusty. When I’ve used wood shavings, I had to clean the boxes twice a day and everything in the room had a thick layer of dust by the weekend. Rating: POOR
Shredded paper is free, but it has no absorbency and no odor control, and it gets everywhere. Using this is about the same as using pure hay, which some people also do. I only use this when I’m in dire need of a litterbox change and the stores are closed, but I’ve never found it acceptable for more than overnight emergency use. Rating: POOR
Carefresh is a product made of compressed paper, shaped into flakes and very soft. has almost zero dust, and great absorbency/odor control. However, as it’s so soft, it can stick in the fur of longer-haired rabbits, and it’s very light and fluffy so it can easily get kicked around and out of the box. It’s also the most expensive product ($17 for 4-5 box changes). Rating: EXCELLENT
Yesterday’s News and Cell-Sorb are equivalent products. Both are made of compressed paper, but formed into cylindrical pellets. Cell-Sorb pellets look like crushed YN pellets, like the YN factory rejects. They both have great absorbency and odor control (but slightly less odor control than Carefresh, I feel). Since the pellets are heavier than the Carefresh flakes, they tend to stay in the litterbox better than Carefresh which makes them less messy. They are slightly more dusty than Carefresh, but still miles better than wood shavings. Cell-Sorb is way cheaper if you can get the biggest bags, but both are still fairly expensive (around $20 for 50lbs). Rating: EXCELLENT
Feline Pine (or pine wood-stove pellets) are compressed pine sawdust pellets. They are made with a process that eliminates the dangerous phenols of pine. They are exactly the same thing, but the former is $15 for a 20lb bag, and the later is $5 for a 40lb bag. Absorbency is great, possibly even better than for YN/Cell-Sorb, because the wood pellets break into sawdust which sorta clumps together when wet. Odor control is slightly less than for the paper-based products, but the slight pine smell (if you find that pleasant) seems to mask any urine odor. Both are more dusty than YN/Cell-Sorb but still less dusty than wood shavings. Rating: VERY GOOD TO EXCELLENT
Due to the costs of having so many buns, I use the stove pellets right now ( Marthwood brand in WI) and am pretty happy with them, but if cost was no object, I would use YN/Cell-Sorb exclusively to cut down on dust. Read the rest of this entry »