Often, at ACR&S, we walk a very fine line between educating our potential adopters and the public in general, and in coming across as unreasonable and unnecessarily “paranoid” about our requirements. One of the big things that we push to our adopters is that small animals require vet care, and generally when they need it, they need it fast. Because they are prey animals, they hide the true extent of their problems right up until they are sometimes literally on death’s door.
So, when I saw an ad for a guinea pig on Craigslist, I was so concerned that I immediately contacted the owner. Her guinea pig, she explained, had a malocclusion problem, but they just didn’t have the money to get him treated. I emailed her and gave her information on handfeeding, as well as contact information for our vet, whom I hoped would be more affordable. She emailed me back the next day that she had taken him to see a vet in Durham, who had confirmed that he had tooth problems, and that she had also contacted our vet, but that she couldn’t afford the treatment, and could she sign him over to us?
I agreed, because while tooth problems can initially be costly to treat, usually they can be controlled once they get back to “zero” (so to speak). When I met her to pick up her guinea pig, I was really taken aback. While this little animal clearly did have tooth problems (he was drooling uncontrollably and had thick wads of spit caked against his left cheek) he was clearly in bad shape, and probably not far from death. His left eye was cloudy and caked with pus. His head tilted sharply to the right, and he tracked back and forth incessantly with his head. His ears were filthy and he cried when they were touched.
The woman explained to me that when they adopted him a year ago, his eye had started watering. They had treated it at home, and it had gotten better, and then would come back, and they would treat it again, and so on and so on. Over a year, the eye got progressively worse, becoming more and more infected. The infection from the eye spread back into the ear canals. The ear infection caused his head to tilt sharply to the side. The pain from infection caused him to stop eating — his molars and incisors overgrew, and then he couldn’t. The eye continued to worsen. The infection robbed him of most of his vision, and of his hearing.
In short, Pinball (as he is now known) is blind, deaf, has bad teeth, a head tilt, and can’t walk straight because of a simple eye infection that was likely started by an innocuous hay poke.
Pinball visited Dr. Munn on 12/10/2009 to begin his long treatment. His radiographs showed extensive bone-loss, indicative that he’d been having problems eating for a long time and probably had not had a good quality pellet before that. He was anesthetized and the points on his molars were trimmed down (Dr. Munn reported that some were bigger than a pencil lead!). Once the teeth were in better shape, he turned to the eye. The eye seemed to have suffered some sort of minor trauma initially (as mentioned, hay pokes are not unheard of), but untreated it became infected. The top layer of cornea could not get hold of the eye and it wrinkled and continuously ulcerated. So he cleaned out all the dead issue on the eye (you can see it originally here – though be warned, it is pretty gross looking), and then gently used a q-tip to slightly abraid the underlayer to give the top something to grow onto. We added a strong antibiotic regiment, pain medication, and an eye ointment, and waited. Days later, the eye looked better and had improved, but stalled there.
Pinball is back at the vet again today for a re-evaluation of his eye, and a new plan. He may eventually lose the affected eye, but we at ACR&S are committed to giving him a high quality of life as long as it is possible. Blind and deaf guinea pigs can and do adapt remarkably well (like our own Andrea’s Maddie) but to get him there, we need to get him healthy. If this is possible, he will be able to live out the rest of his life as a sanctuary animal with ACR&S to ensure that his likely ongoing treatments and tooth trims will be accomplished.
It is because of situations like this that we so strongly push preventative and timely vet care. Had the initial problem been addressed when it occurred, Pinball likely would have had to endure 2-3 weeks of eyedrops and a recheck and would be perfectly healthy right now. Instead, over a year, he developed an infection that literally has made him special needs for the rest of his life.
But, he has found things to enjoy. He loves Critical Care, and begs for it endlessly. He also really loves parsley and has become something of a diva (if you’ll notice in his picture above, a wilty piece of ignored lettuce is on the ground while he dives into a pile of parsley). Adding to his diva status is his love of cuddle cups. If they’re out to be washed, he whines, and when they come back he dives in and does his little circle dance in them. And his will to fight has not waned. Every night when I pick him up to put in his eye ointment, he rumblestruts at me, and headbutts me when I try to pet him on his forehead. He took such joy in his last batch of parsley that I had to get a video:
It is because of animals like Pinball that we are so adamant about educating to care standards and making sure that our animals go to homes where their needs will be met. Because Pinball is not an isolated incident. With small animals like guinea pigs, the most serious cases that we see are often due to owner ignorance. Animals starving to death with overgrown teeth, seizing to death with parasites, slowly dying from untreated, yet operable tumors. And most of it happening in a living room while a loving owner pets their head. The blog is full of animals who often could have been spared a tremendous amount of pain and suffering with vet care at the beginning of their illness, instead of reaching a point where something so simple and stupid as a piece of hay poking you in the eye literally made you blind, deaf, and physically challenged.