ACR&S is lucky to work with many wonderful veterinarians. Most of our animals owe their lives and health to vets who have donated time, supplies, knowledge, and money to provide care above and beyond what we might hope for. Now it’s time for us to help pay them back!
One of our vets in particular, Dr Lauren Powers, also devotes a good amount of her time to furthering the science of companion animal medicine by publishing research papers about some of the cases she’s seen. It’s all well and good for a vet to be knowledgeable and to learn from her experiences, but sharing that knowledge with other vets is critical to improving the ability of ALL vets to care for these difficult cases. The primary way for vets to share their knowledge is through peer reviewed research papers published in veterinary medicine journals.
Dr Powers has had a case involving a young rat named Dylan, who had a very unusual illness – one that has possibly never yet been described in medical journals. We’d like to help Dr Powers get his case published so that other rats can be helped, by letting other vets read about Dylan and Dr Powers’ efforts to save him.
Dylan first came to Dr Powers with very low blood glucose. He did not respond to treatment. This is typically a sign of insulinomas, which are tumors that secrete insulin. Dr Powers did every test she could, but his condition got so bad that he had to be euthanized, and Dr Powers did indeed find a tumor when she did a necropsy on him. This is a rare spontaneous tumor in rats, but it’s not unheard of – it’s known that they do occur in rats. However, further testing of Dylan’s tumor found that it is NOT an insulinoma – if the results are correct, this means Dylan had a relatively new form of pancreatic tumor (somatostatinoma, or mixed tumor). Dylan may have survived with successful surgery.
Dr Powers has spent a significant amount of her own personal money to diagnose and treat Dylan and to get the initial examination of his tumor. She needs one more analysis which will be done at Michigan State University (MSU) to confirm the nature of the tumor. That analysis costs $450, and ACR&S has promised to help Dr Powers raise the money so that this analysis can be done and the study can be published. This way, Dylan’s illness will not be in vain. Other rats may be presenting with similar symptoms and are dying because their vets don’t know it could be a somatostatinoma: since there is no report of this occurring in the veterinary literature, the vets don’t know that this is a possibility and don’t attempt to treat it. Additionally, description of a somatostatinoma in a rat might even help human doctors understand the occurrence of similar tumors in people! For all these reasons, we feel that getting Dylan’s results published is critically important.
One of ACR&S’ board members has pledged $50, so we are already part way there! If we can get just 20 people to donate $20 each, or 40 people to donate $10 each, we’ll make it in no time! All we need is some help from anyone who loves rats, or wants to help vets have a better understanding of how to diagnose and treat cancer. If you have loved and lost a rattie with cancer, please consider giving.
You can make your donation through PayPal – just use the link at the top of the page or log into your PayPal account and send money to firstname.lastname@example.org. This will be a tax-deductible charitable donation and you will receive a receipt to use on your taxes. Additionally, ACR&S’ board members will absorb the PayPal fees, so 100% of your donation amount will be sent to Dr Powers and MSU. You can also send a check directly to ACR&S or MSU, just email us to get the mailing address.
Even if you can’t donate, spread the word, and hug your little ratties in memory of Dylan for us!
We lost Ms Piggy today. She originally came to us from the Orange County Animal Shelter in late 2005, as a 2 or 3 year old by estimate. We took her in to pair with our Jacksonville pig Cookie for an adopter in early 2006. The pair were returned after about 18 months, and both had lost a lot of weight. Between this and their age it was decided to make them Sanctuary residents.
Cookie died in July 2008 and Ms Piggy was paired with Brownie (shown here to her right). Brownie passed in September. During all this time we were still trying to resolve Ms Piggy’s low weight.
In October 2008 we found an excellent vet, Paul Gibbons, who finally discovered that Ms Piggy’s weight loss, poor coat condition, constant thirst, and hyperactivity was due to hyperthyroidism. Although the guinea pig rescue community is well aware of hyperthyroidism in pigs, there is very little clinical data and only one or two published case reports, and Dr Gibbons had to get creative at adapting the protocols for diagnosis (by measuring T4 levels) and for treatment. We started treatment with Tapazole and after a few months of dose adjustment, found a dose which worked wonders for her. She put on weight and her other behaviors normalized. In December 2008 she was paired with Douglas, and they’ve been together ever since.
Ms Piggy’s behavior last night was perfectly normal – begging for dinner, running from her medicine. Her weight has been up, and there was no indication at all that she was ill or even slowing down. We suspect that it was just her time to go. At the lowest estimate, she is at least 5.5 years old – the length of time she’s been in the rescue, even assuming she was much younger than we thought on intake. She could certainly have been as old as 7!
She has been a sweet pig and we’re sad to see her go, but so happy she was in our lives for this long. Goodbye, little girl.
Our very own Pinball is the pig of the month for Sponsor a Guinea Pig in January! We are pleased and honored that we were chosen to be January’s rescue.
Pinball was in again today for dental surgery (his incisors had overgrown horrendously since his first tooth trim on December 10th), and we got some extremely bad news for him. His molars had also overgrown — and not only overgrew, but overgrew enough to trap his tongue! Because of the speed with which they overgrew since his intial trim, his prognosis is not looking very good. We have elected to go ahead and trim him back down to “zero”, to attempt massaging and possibly purchase a chin sling for him, and to give this guinea pig the chance that he didn’t get the first go-round.
We ask that you keep Pinball in your thoughts. There has been an outpouring of love and support from all across the country, and we are touched and amazed that one little pig has meant so much to so many people. As always, at ACR&S, we try to make the best choices for all of our animals, and sadly acknowledge that sometimes the best choice is a gentle end. Be assured as we struggle to make the best choice for Pinball, our hearts are always looking to what is best for him in the long run. Thank you again, everyone, for all the kindness that you’ve shown to a spunky little pig that got a second chance.
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.
Gypsy was found dead in her cage on the morning of August 21. She came to ACR&S in late 2008, surrendered by her owner with two other pigs. She was thought to be about 5 years old at that time, and was very aggressive with the owner’s other two pigs. As a result she lived alone until she arrived at the Sanctuary in December 2008 and was successfully paired with Stinky.
Gypsy showed no signs of illness at all prior to her death; her appetite was good and her weight had been stable. A necropsy revealed that the proximate cause of death was pericardial effusion, which is an abnormal buildup of fluid around the heart. However, the underlying cause of this was unable to be determined. There was no overt evidence of infection or lymphoma, which are the two most common causes of pericardial effusion.
She was a sweet girl and will certainly be missed by all who knew her.
We lost a foster pig yesterday, and I’m typing this up mainly so that other people might see if they see the signs that we did. We didn’t connect the dots in time, but someone else might, now, and be able to save their pig.
Harley came into our rescue about 2 months ago. He was huge. Over 3 lbs huge. His owner was a pretty good owner, and kept him in a C&C cage, did a good quality diet with lots of veggies, and was heartbroken to have to give him up. He came with a plethora of stuff, including a bottle of Selsun Blue shampoo.
She explained to us that he had a reoccurring spot on his back, and that once she washed it with the Selsun Blue, that it went away. Given the description, we figured he had some sort of active fungal infection, and didn’t think twice about it.
Sure enough, he had the spot when we picked him up. We dosed him with Revolution and started treating the area with a fungal cream, but it didn’t seem to have any ongoing infection or fungus. The skin was perfect, but bald. He’d just sat there and chewed himself bald. (You can see the bald spot in his earliest pictures.)
When it went away briefly, and then subsequently came back, we went to the vet’s to try more stuff. He gave us an oral antifungal and used scotch tape to look at the skin cells under the microscope (he hates doing skin scrapes on pigs and does that instead). He told us that the skin seemed healthy, but sent off for ringworm testing, and it came back negative.
We both, at that point, wrote the spot off as a neurosis reaction to being alone most of the time. Susan has had animals start chewing their backs when they had bladder stones, but before they came painful enough to wail while they peed, and she’d caught several that way by doing x-rays. Since he was having no other symptoms, and his weight remained stable, that didn’t seem likely. After all, there are a number of animals that self mutilate from boredom, right? We went ahead and neutered him since we had a lot of available ladies, and sat back to wait.
The neuter was unremarkable and he healed with no problem.
This week (4 weeks after the neuter), while preparing for his pending adoption, I did his weekly weighing and noticed that he’d dropped 4 oz. I was concerned, but not too concerned. He was a huge pig. I felt like having pigs around him (he was sharing a grid wall with my herd) was probably making him more active, but I still gave him a once over looking for anything out of the ordinary, and I found a lump above his penis.
I swore, and figured he had an abscess (even though it didn’t feel like one) and took him in yesterday to have it drained. I got a call at work from our vet who had him open on the table. The lump was just the bottom end of an enormous (presumed) abdominal tumor, bigger than a golf ball, that was extremely invasive, and had even wrapped partially around his penis. He hadn’t cut it yet, because he wanted to talk to me beforehand.
I told them to try and remove it if at all possible (and to check and make sure it wasn’t some bizarre abscess) but that if he felt he couldn’t, not to wake him up.
I got a call about an hour and a half later. The tumor (it was definitely a tumor) was too big. It had multiple blood supplies going to it, and he couldn’t get it disentangled from his penis. He said that even on the highest gas he was using, Harley was still flinching to him trying to remove it while sedated. After trying as gently and persistently as possible, Harley started to visibly struggle with the anesthesia, and we made the decision to let him go.
He was kind enough to snap some photos with his phone during the surgery as well, and I’m linking to them (as they’re pretty graphic) just to give an idea of how huge this thing was:
(For orientation purposes, the penis is on the left in both pictures)
Initially, we thought that somehow the neuter had triggered the growth somehow, but when we started going back over his symptoms, I think he probably had at least the beginnings of the tumor when we got him.
Now we believe the following behaviors to have been subtle symptoms associated with the tumor:
the bald spot. It was directly over his spine, and lined up perfectly with the tumor. We guess that he was having pain issues with it, and would chew there trying to get at it (much like neuter pigs will sometimes chew their legs). Once he got to the skin, it probably hurt more to chew than the tumor did (or perhaps the tumor pain came and went). If picked up and turned upside down, he would also sometimes chew his front paw, but so many pigs hate it that I didn’t pay attention to it until afterward.
distinct dislike of being touched on the rump. Harley actually liked being petted, and would run up to the front of the cage with no fear to have his head scratched, but if I tried to pet his back or sides, he would try to bite. Again, enough pigs did this that I didn’t think it hugely out of the ordinary.
Since he’d been chewing at the site for several months (according to his mama), we believe him now to have developed the tumor sometime in 2008.
So if you have a pig with a bald spot like this, who is otherwise healthy, and mites, fungal, etc, have all been ruled out, it may be worth pursuing an x-ray, if only for peace of mind. I wish now that we had caught Harley’s problem earlier, so that we could have given him pain medication at least, and made his life a little easier. But he was such a happy go lucky pig. Always had his head in the hayrack, eating like a horse, and otherwise healthy.
Goodbye to Lilith and Nimue, two baby ratties who have left us with so much unfulfilled potential. The sisters arrived in a trio, along with their sister Morrigan, abandoned at a local animal shelter. Their owner had said that they were moving, and did not have room for the tiny rats.
ACR&S took them in in order to find them homes with high hopes! They were playful, bold, and daring, and absolutely loved people. After only a few days in foster, Lilith started limping quite badly on her back leg. She was rushed to the vet, who did x-rays, and confirmed that there were no bone breaks and no congentical abnormalities. Sweet Lilith was prescribed pain medication and cage rest.
3 days later, on a Sunday morning, I got up early and made the rounds, checking everyone, refilling water bottles, and refilling food and giving treats along the way. I greeted the trio of babies and played a gentle game of tag with them before returning to bed to “sleep in”. When I woke up a few hours later, Nimue (left)had passed quietly in her sleep. My husband and I were heartbroken, and we took her body in to see if we could find anything on necropsy. Necropsy showed no apparent signs of death.
Meanwhile, Lilith continued to limp. Even in a smaller, one level cage with no ramps and precious little to do besides snooze, her problems intensified.
Soon, she was beginning to have difficulties with her front legs as well. She kept her front paws curled up and had poor balanced, seemingly out of nowhere and with no reasonable cause. Several people, including our vet, suggested that she may have a pituitary tumor (although such a thing is relatively unheard of in such a tiny rat), and we began an aggressive steroid treatment to try and delay the inevitable.
Only a few days later, she crossed the bridge after I had gone to work for the day. She had taken her steroids that morning with gusto (having been compounded by the lovely people at Carolina Compounding Pharmacy to be a delicious tutti fruitti). She chittered her teeth and boggled at me (all signs of a happy rat) as I held her that morning. She was a real cuddle-bug, and seemed to genuinely enjoy snuggling up to “her” people.
Their sister, Morrigan, continues to stay with ACR&S, and has bonded to another pair of rats named Mischa and Persia, and so far has shown none of the frightening symptoms of her sisters. Rest in peace, little rats. We’re glad you had a time with people that loved and cared for you.
The oldest animal in my house is KiWeed, a 26 year old male cockatiel. He was surrendered to me in 2000, before I was really even an official rescue, due to aggression and biting. He had significant damage to the right side of his head, including a misshapen nare and a cataract in his eye, probably due to being attacked by a cat in his youth. He ended up being a funny, pleasant bird, whose primary vice is attacking poking fingers (he has no problems with fingers as long as they are shaped like perches, and he has no problems with being kissed).
KiWeed is pushing the upper end of a normal cockatiel lifespan, so when he gets sick we always expect the worst. On Saturday, when I went in to wake him up, I noticed that his bad eye was watering and he was repeatedly rubbing that side of his face. With Chester’s eye problem fresh on my mind, I rushed KiWeed to the emergency vet, expecting that his old injuries were finally going to cause him to lose his eye or his life. All sorts of probabilities ran through my mind – tumor, infection, traumatic injury, you name it. Three hours and$300 later, we had our diagnosis:
A really big booger.
That’s right, KiWeed had nothing more than a stuffy nose (admittedly, probably due to a tiny fleck of food getting in there) and it was bothering him enough to cause the eye watering and the face rubbing. The vet flushed out the booger with saline, and we went on our merry way with no further difficulties.
Our big white bunny Jasper found his forever home with his new mom and dad, Jeannie & Steve! He has the most wonderful bunny bungalow to play in, lots of gorgeous toys and accessories, and best of all, tons of friends and playtime and attention! Look at this happy bunny sacked out in his condo bed after a hard day of being loved and pampered!
We had some really wonderful news from Jasper’s vet just prior to his adoption. You may recall that on intake, he had incisor malocclusion: the incisors did not meet evenly and as a result, would grow too long without wearing one another down properly. This can be due to a poor diet, but is more often due to genetics and will recur even with a perfect diet. We expected that he would need monthly tooth trims or possibly even incisor extraction. Jasper’s adoptive parents were fully committed to the extra care all of this might entail, but at the pre-adoption vet visit, Dr. Powers found that Jasper’s teeth look absolutely normal! She said she never would have believed he could turn around so fast, and that not only does he not need an extraction, he doesn’t even need tooth trims! He still has some very slight malocclusion but not enough to cause abnormal wear patterns, and she doubts it will ever bother him. Thanks so much to Dr. Powers for rescuing this sweet boy, and to his new mom & dad for providing him with the perfect forever home!
Elmer is one of our earliest rescues. He came into the rescue in early 2003 – his owner had bought him for her son for Christmas 2002, but her son was horribly disappointed that he wasn’t “cuddly enough” and so they decided to get a kitten instead. She reported that she got Elmer from a family friend who had purchased him as a Christmas present in 2001, but this year got a puppy and decided to dump the pig. Twice rejected; what a start to his life!
Elmer turned out to be an absolute darling, with cuddliness in excess, but we could never get anyone to adopt him, even after we bonded him with the lovely young Strawberry. After two years he came off the adoptable roster and became a Sanctuary resident. Strawberry crossed the Rainbow Bridge in May of 2008, and in August we found a new young lady for Elmer – a timid little satin from WI-GPR who eventually gained the name of Amber. It’s a true May-December love affair; Amber is probably less than 18 months old, but Elmer is easily pushing 8 to 9 years. He’s also showing his age – he’s become slower, quieter, and thinner as the years have passed.
Two weeks ago, it looked like Elmer’s time was up. He declined his dinner on Saturday, and by Sunday evening had lost 100 grams (an 8th of his weight!). We stabilized him with subcu fluids and critical care (not much, he fought it tooth and nail), and we got him to the vet Monday morning. They ruled out tooth problems and bladder/kidney stones, the two most obvious culprits. An X-ray did reveal that his kidneys seemed slightly small, so bloodwork had to be done. Unfortunately, with the possibility of kidney problems on the table, we couldn’t give him any pain medication for the three days it took for the bloodwork results to come back. We kept him going with more fluids and feedings, and after a day or two he did start show some interest in lettuce, but we were pretty certain that he was terminal.
The bloodwork came back this past Thursday, and it was mostly unremarkable. There were some elevated liver values, but those are consistent with an animal who hasn’t been eating or drinking. By this past weekend, Elmer has been eating and behaving much more normally, and has put on nearly half of the weight he lost. We’ve had to mark this issue as resolved and he’s moved out of the hospital cage back into his old house with Amber. They seemed very happy to see one another!
So what was wrong with Elmer? My vet has no idea, neither do I. It could have been a simple case of stasis, but percipitated by what? He had no changes in diet or anything in the days leading up to this. His case should stand as a warning that severe, life-threatening illness can arise quickly and for no apparent reason. If I had left Elmer alone for a weekend vacation, as so many owners do, I would not have noticed his decline in health and he would probably have been dead when I got back. Only daily observation and constant vigilance can ensure the health of our fragile little friends. While it’s frustrating to have no diagnosis and no explanation to an illness that initially looked fatal, but I suppose it’s a good endorsement of my care that I can have a piggy get this ill and not lose him!