Eye injuries in the guinea pig: foreign body entrapment

Posted in Medical at 7:33 am by ACR&S

Last night I noticed that Chester, one of our Sanctuary piggies, was squinting his right eye. He had seemed fine 24 hours previously.  Closer examination revealed reddish discharge and a matte, foggy area in the cornea, consistent with an eye injury. Our last box of hay contained a number of very stemmy bits, so I wasn’t terribly surprised by this type of injury.

Guinea pigs are surprisingly prone to eye injuries, especially those caused by foreign bodies. We house them in a world filled with dry particulate matter – wood chip bedding, dusty hay, etc – and it’s quite common for these materials to cause minor eye trauma.  A pig owner should always be on the lookout for discharge, crustiness, or abrasions on the surface of the eye itself. [For more information, visit the Guinea Lynx page on Eyes.]

It’s useful to have a bottle of sterile saline eye drops on hand to rinse an eye if a tiny particle of hay or bedding gets in it – that’s usually quite minor. However, if there’s any cloudiness in the cornea or sign of actual injury (including red, bloody discharge), a vet visit is essential. If the cornea has been damaged, the eye requires protective drops or ointments until it heals, and only a vet can determine if this is the case.

In Chester’s case, I’ve seen enough of these to know that he had an abrasion injury and he needed immediate vet treatment. We headed off to our emergency vet, the wonderful Dr. Koeppl at the Madison Emergency Clinic for Animals. I expected this to be a simple poke-type injury from the stemmy hay, but to my surprise, the examination found a bit of hay entrapped underneath the eyelid, which I had not seen on my own examination. Dr Koeppl tried to remove it with a cotton swab, but resistance showed that it was possibly partly embedded. The end of the hay was raised off of the eye’s surface, so Dr. Koeppl was able to grasp it with tweezers. It ended up being not just a small piece of hay, but a full three and three-quarter inch-long strand, which had been wrapped around and around under the eyelids. Dr. Koeppl expressed amazement and recorded the incident for posterity:


Yes, that entire piece of hay was hidden behind the eyelids.

Hay has sharp edges and there was significant abrasion to both the cornea and the underside of the lids. Chester seemed to immediately feel much better, becoming much calmer and laying down in his carrier for some much-needed rest. He’s on Metacam for discomfort and antibiotic ophthalmic ointment every 4-6 hours to help heal the corneal injury. I certainly am glad I saw something was wrong as soon as we did – if I hadn’t noticed, the pain might have led him to claw his own eye out! We go back to our regular vet in 3-4 days for another corneal stain to check how it’s healing. Send Chester your best wishes, and give your emergency vet a hug!


Goodbye, Roo

Posted in Medical, Memorials at 12:37 am by ACR&S

On November 2, we lost the first rabbit we ever rescued.

It was the summer of 2002 when I first saw Roo. He was a giant white fuzzball in a too-small cage at the local shelter. He was a New Zealand White, a rabbit bred as a meat producer, weighing in at an astonishing 10 lbs. His cage was barely 2’x3′, and too short for him to fully stand upright. He was probably around two years old, and had, not surprisingly, been surrendered because he “got too big”.

For nine months, I visited Roo whenever I came to the shelter for other reasons, and gave him as much exercise and attention as possible. Finally, in February 2003, I couldn’t take it any more, and I brought Roo home. I knew he was probably unadoptable due to his size, but I just couldn’t leave him to huddle in that tiny cage until he was euthanized.

Although an avid fan of Watership Down, I had never even spent time with rabbits before. I had him neutered (curbing his sock-raping tendencies) and was amazed to find that he was a delightful and engaging pet. He LOVED to be petted, unlike most rabbits I have met since then. His huge size made him all the more entertaining – it’s really something else to see 10 lbs of rabbit throw himself joyously into the air, or try to sneak up on you to steal a box of treats.

Roo was also one of the most easy-going rabbits I’ve ever met. He had multiple cage mates and partners during his stay with me, and he accepted all of them with friendliness and affection. His first partner, Lily, died only two weeks after coming to live with us (she had been attacked by a dog several months before we got her, and had liver damage). His second partner, Karma, suffered from a bout of stasis and megacolon after just a few months together, and although he was happy to visit her in the hospital, she never recovered enough that they could continue living together.

Finally, in late 2004, I introduced Roo to BunBun, an 8 year old male who had come to us from a terrible neglect situation. Surprisingly, the two boys got along wonderfully. Rather than risk separating BunBun from his new friend, I finally decided that Roo and BunBun would both remain as Sanctuary residents.

These two big boys had three and a half years together, and were so entertaining to watch. They were so affectionate with one another, and seemed so content. As BunBun started showing his age, I brought in another large rabbit, Gracie, to make a triple, and ensure that Roo wouldn’t end up alone again once BunBun died.

BunBun crossed the Bridge in July 2008, but Gracie was definitely a comfort to Roo. She was much more independent than him, and he would spend hours with his nose tucked under her chin, eyes blissfully closed, patiently waiting for her to deign to kiss him.

Despite all of these losses, Roo remained good-natured and robust. As a rule, the meat rabbits such as New Zealands are less prone to health problems than rabbits who have been bred only for beauty. He never had any illnesses or even needed a tooth trim in all the time he was with me.

However, time moves on inexorably. Over the last six months or so, Roo has been slowly losing weight, which I attributed to old age. He had been with me for five and a half years, and was at least 7.5 years old, probably older. Shortly after Gracie joined us, he had a minor upper respiratory infection, which passed with no apparant lingering effects. I wonder now if it was a harbinger of what was to come.

On Saturday evening I went to distribute veggies, and Roo did not run and dance as usual. I could immediately tell that he had labored breathing, so we rushed to the emergency vet.

I was hoping that he had swallowed wrong and just had a partly obstructed airway, but by the time we got the vet, his lips were cyanotic – a sign that his lungs were having trouble getting enough oxygen. The vet placed him in the oxygen tent at 40% O2, and he perked up considerably.

X-rays showed diffuse mottling on the lungs, and the left lung was less inflated than the right. However, there was no sign of obstruction or collapse of any of the lung tissue. The differential diagnosis was infection (bacterial or fungal), or cancer (a tumor elsewhere in the body, which had metastasized to the lungs, would show similar mottling to what the X-rays showed) .

The next diagnostic would be to do a tracheal wash (to check for bacteria or fungus) and possibly a needle biopsy (to check the lung tissue for cancerous cells). However, before either of these, we needed to see if Roo could be stabilized enough to get out of the oxygen tent. The vet tried repeatedly throughout the night, but every time the O2 was reduced to below 30%, he started struggling to breathe again. His lungs were too weakfor diagnostics, much less for 14 days or more of treatment. We had no choice but to allow him to be euthanized. He died around 5am Sunday morning.

Initial necropsy showed considerable damage to the lung tissue, but the visual inspection wasn’t able to confirm if it was cancer or infection. We had samples sent out for lab analysis and are still waiting for the results.

I’m just glad that I saw his illness when I did. He must have only JUST started breathing heavily – he wouldn’t have lived out the night if I hadn’t noticed it, and he would have died gasping for air, instead of safely and painlessly anesthetized.

I love you, you silly goose. There will never be another like you. Give some bunny kisses to BunBun and Karma for me.


Welcome Douglas!

Posted in Day-to-day, Medical at 1:23 am by Jenn

Douglas is our newest guinea pig intake.  As has seemingly been par for this summer, Douglas made a mess!Douglas was abandoned at a children’s preschool camp in a filthy aquarium.  On his aquarium was a sign, “CHEWY – FREE TO GOOD HOME”.  I am always appalled when someone keeping an animal in filth and squalor has the nerve to advertise an animal as “free to good home”.  After all, they certainly weren’t providing a good home!

In addition to this substandard care and lack of concern for whoever would pick up this poor animal, they were ignoring a serious health concern for Douglas — he had a huge lump on his right side that had obviously been ignored for months, if not more than a year.

A good Samaritan took pity on Douglas (then Chewy) and took him home.  She bought him some basic supplies to get him through the night and then started contacting vets to help him out.  Unfortunately for her, the lump removal was going to be rather pricey.  She opted to contact ACR&S and seek our help in rehabilitating Douglas.

So our ever-intrepid Charlotte coordinator, Andrea, made the trip to pick up this poor piggie, and then transported him out to me to be de-lumped, neutered, and paired up with a buddy.  I guesstimate him to be 1-2 years of age, and he seems to have spent his entire life in that tiny hell.  When encountering a C&C cage for the first time, Andrea reports that he popcorned, ran, and frolicked as though he had known no greater joy.  (He probably hadn’t.)

Despite all this, he is an unusually friendly and nosy pig.  He likes to come over and see what we’re doing, complain to us about his lack of vegetables (he seems to feel like he should have all he wants instead of carefully measured portions), and tell us about what he’s doing.  He likes to popcorn and seems to be grateful for what he’s finally been given — the very basics.

Douglas, Post Surgery

Douglas went in for his surgery on September 12, 2008.  It was initially planned for him to have this enormous lump removed and to be neutered at the same time, but the lump was too massive, and removal took too long.  Dr. Munn was nervous of keeping him under any longer, especially given the enormous size of the surgical site, as seen to the right.

Doug has taken his surgery in good stride.  He begs for treats frequently, hams for visitors to our house, and tries to appear pitiful when medication time rolls around.  His staples will be coming out this Friday, and he will be on the lookout for his new home.

UPDATE: Due to the odd nature of the growth, our vet isn’t convinced that this is a one-time problem. Therefore, we think Douglas will have to stay in the Sanctuary. He may be able to be considered for adoption to experienced pig owners only, with the understanding that he will be special needs and may have life-long medical expenses.


Bladder Stone Trouble

Posted in Day-to-day, Medical at 3:36 am by Jenn

I haven’t been updating the blog recently because of a medical crisis in one of my sanctuary piggies, MnemosyneMnemosyne. Mnemie is around 3 years old, and was pulled from a local shelter. When I got back from Fozzie and Kismet’s excellent adoption 2 weeks ago, I went and cleaned all my cages, only to discover that Mnemie had lost weight and was sitting in a puddle of blood.

I got her into our vet the next day, we got x-rays, and it was confirmed that she had bladder stones. Bladder stones can form in the case of a very inappropriate diet which does not have a balanced calcium to phosphorus ratio, has way too much oxalic acid in it, or for no real discernible reason, but seemingly genetically related.

Initially, because of her rather older age, I opted to try and have her pass the stones on her own. The x-rays revealed that she had 2-3 rather smallish stones, and they seemed positioned well to pass. So we went home, with a lot of pain medication, antibiotics, a setup for subcutaneous fluids, and a lot of Pedialyte, and spent a week trying to help her pass them.

At the end of the week, the followup x-rays showed that they hadn’t moved at all, so we opted to try the surgery anyway.

Bladder stone surgery is not easy on pigs, and I was terribly worried. The morning of surgery dawned, and I dropped her off in the early AM with plenty of veggies and lots of good wishes. I received a call at my job at 9am. Dr. Munn had her open, but he couldn’t find her bladder. My initial response, I must admit, was outrage. How could a vet not find an entire organ!? But, he went on to explain, when Mnemie was spayed (at the local shelter) she had formed a intricate knotwork of adhesions. These fibrous bands of scar tissue had basically solidified all of her organs into a giant lump in the middle of her body.

I asked him to try and break them and find her bladder, but gave my blessing to euthanize her on the table if for some reason organs were damaged. It’s extremely common to do so, because adhesions are tough to get around. I fully expected to be burying Mnemie next to poor Ferdinand.

An hour later, I received the call I never expected. He had managed to find her poor bladder by breaking the adhesions as gently as possible. Nothing had been damaged, Mnemie was stitched up and sleeping and they were watching her to see if she woke up.

Mnemosyne's Bladder StonesWhen I arrived to pick her up, the stones they showed me were frightening. Her whole poor bladder had been full of stones. It was very thick walled and irritated (obviously from all the stones), but the inside of the bladder was also deeply crenelated, and all of those crevices had been filled with tiny stones and stalactites of stone. The largest of the stones are pictured here.

Unfortunately, that gives her a less than promising prognosis, since it seems like her bladder is custom-made to sieve off any stone forming materials and collect them in pockets to develop bigger stones.

2 weeks of recovery followed. She was incontinent, and she leaked pee constantly and stayed filthy. She was preferential to veggies, and tended to have loose stools. We did nightly subcue fluids, which she hated and screamed at me for, and I hated because she hated. She stayed mostly on a very low heating pad because she had problems maintaining her body temperature.

And then 2 weeks later, I tried reintroducing her to Hobo and Lethe, her cagemates, because she seemed to be doing much better (although she was still very underweight). Her reintroduction caused massive weight loss within a day, and I can only imagine that she is still not feeling 100% despite her weeks of healing.Mnemie with Hobo and Lethe

But now I am left wondering if I made the right decision. Mnemie is now living by herself, and seems overall to be happy. She begs for vegetables each morning, and seems delighted for new hay every day. But she is still underweight, and can’t live with her friends. She also is still incontinent (which Dr. Munn says may eventually go away — in dogs and cats he’s found it can take 4-6 months for those muscles to redevelop themselves). Because of her incontinence, her poor vulva is almost always irritated from urine. I powder her twice a day to help keep her dry, and change her bedding every other day, but this still remains a problem.

We have made changes to her diet, to try and make it even more balanced (though all of the pigs here in Raleigh have a relatively balanced veggie diet). Lots of water, which is all filtered or bottled, and cranberry juice as treats to help stave off UTIs are now par for the course. She gets her bottom powdered twice a day now, which stings her, and makes her cry.

It is hard for me, as a caregiver of a small animal like this to discern if I have truly made the right choice for this pig. All I know is that 3 weeks after surgery, covered in pee, and with bed sores on her tiny feet, she crawled up to my chest and lay her head next to mine. And then she licked my cheek over and over again for about half an hour. She has never done it before, and she has never done it since. I hope that it is her way of saying that she’s still “in the game” and appreciates the chance.


Gone before we could write her a happier ending

Posted in Medical, Memorials, Uncategorized at 10:11 am by ACR&S

On August 12, we got an email requesting us to take in a sick pig:

I’m desperate! I have a sick guinea pig and I will be leaving to go out of town on Thursday for a wedding that my daughter is in. I don’t know what to do as I had planned on leaving the pig with a neighbor but I now feel that she needs more care than an inexperinced person. I do not have the time or resources to take her to a vet. I suspect a possible jaw malocclusion as she tries to eat but cannot seem to chew. She has diarhea and is losing weight. I really just noticed today how sick she is.
Can you or do you know of anyone who can help? I don’t want to put her down.

Normally, we don’t take owner surrenders, and this attitude is exactly the reason why. If your pig is sick and you cannot afford medical care, euthanasia is the only humane choice. But this person was seeking to absolve themselves of responsibility by dumping their problems on someone else. By helping them, we reinforce that this is acceptable behavior, rather than making them deal with the consequences of their choices. But my NC coordinators both badly wanted to take this poor piggy in, so I agreed.

My Charlotte coordinator Andrea went to get the piggy, named Trixie, from the owner. This horrible person was not even willing to donate even a DOLLAR to help cover vet care costs. Why? Because she had just spent $1,000 on her horse, and her daughter was in this wedding and had to buy a dress, and they both had to fly out, and it was all SO expensive.

Incidentally, she was only feeding the pig the cheapest, seed-filled, Walmart-brand pellets, and baby cereal (unacceptable under any circumstances).

Trixie seemed to have a raging upper respiratory infection. We took her to the vet on August 13th and got Baytril and a general physical exam, which showed no problems with her teeth. Andrea syringe fed her, gave her subcues, and there seemed to be improvement over the next day or so. She was even eating hay and drinking a little water on her own. Then on August 15 she took a turn for the worse. Andrea put her on the floor for playtime and Trixie completely freaked out, hobbling and trembling and doing weird little jumps. It was like a seizure but it wasn’t steady, it was like a popcorn only she squealed each time, like she was in pain. It was anywhere from a few seconds to a whole minute or two in between each one. Eventually these subsided and she seemed calm again. But Andrea knew Trixie definitely had something wrong with her joints and her shoulders/legs, and needed an X-ray to diagnose.

First thing the next morning, Andrea got Trixie in with Dr. Lauren Powers, who is one of the best exotics vets in NC. They did the X-rays and the findings were unbelievable: Trixie had almost no bones left. Every bone in her body was degraded, showing a swiss-cheese pattern similar to the calcium-leeching disease osteodystrophy. Only Trixie was not a satin. Our regular vet in Cary reviewed the X-rays and asked if she had been starved. Presumably, her condition was caused by terrible malnutrition. As is common in OD, her bones and joints were probably causing her tremendous pain, to the point where it hurt even to eat.

All of us were in shock (including both vets). Andrea dosed her up with pain meds, but we finally decided she would probably need to be euthanized. There are a few reports of OD being reversed through calcium supplementation, but given the extent of the the damage, and the amount of pain she was already displaying, we didn’t think we could give her a reasonable quality of life long enough to reverse the bone damage. We decided to wait till Monday in case our vets or anyone on GL came up with any better ideas.

On August 17, Trixie chose her own ending. Andrea found her dead in her cage around 4pm EST.

I’m so sorry, Trixie. I’m sorry your former owner was so heartless as to starve you to death because you weren’t worth spending money on. I’m sorry that three vets, $200 in diagnostics and medications, and all of our tears and anguish over the last five days weren’t enough to save you and give you a chance at a better life. I hope you find peace, comfort, and plenty of good food as the newest member of Death’s herd. You will find many new friends waiting for you there as well.


Medical non-crises

Posted in Medical at 1:58 am by ACR&S

Last week was pretty rough coming on the heels of the three losses we’ve had so far. About a week ago today, Roo, our big white New Zealand rabbit, started showing signs of an upper respiratory infection (sneezing, snuffling, etc). We scheduled him to go to the vet on Thursday the 24th. Then, on the morning of Wednesday the 23rd, I found our 10 year old bun Rosemarie with a wet bottom, likely caused by stones or kidney failure. She ended up being squeezed in that morning as an emergency case.

I was really not looking forward to two more deaths. But in both cases, we got lucky. Rosemary didn’t have kidney failure, she didn’t even have stones – just bladder sludge. This is a condition where calcium and other minerals become trapped in the bladder, but can be passed with a little extra hydration. We had to give her a week of subcu fluids and she’s now on a more restricted set of veggies. Unfortunately, she also went into stasis for a day or two after her vet visit – she wasn’t eating, and not producing any poops. She had to be handfed for several days, which she does not tolerate well.

Roo also came out lucky. He was also found to be drooling, and tooth problems came on the table. Combined with the nasal issues, it could have meant a tooth root abscess, which requires invasive surgery on the rare chance it’s not fatal. He ended up with – nothing at all! His teeth were perfect, and the vet saw no signs of URI, although we are culturing his nasal discharge, but it had already started to dry up by the time the visit occurred. It’s possible that he just had a bit of hay or water up his nose and there was nothing wrong even to start. Both rabbits are doing fine at this point, with seemingly no lingering symptoms.

It’s nice to catch a lucky break once and a while.


Congratulations Fozzie and Kismet!

Posted in Adoptions, Day-to-day, Medical at 12:33 am by Jenn

This past Saturday (July 19), Fozzie and Kismet, the longest fosters we have had at ACR&S since I became the local coordinator, went to their forever home.

Fozzie was from a litter of shelter pigs whose adopters contacted us for help in placement. Kismet was purchased pregnant from a big box pet store (you know, the ones that sell only one sex to prevent missexing?), but ended up being pregnant. Her owner dumped both her and her young son off at a dog rescue in South Carolina. Her son was adopted as a partner for an older male, and his new owner called us, distressed, asking us if we had room for Kismet.

So she caught several rides north and came to ACR&S, where she and a neutered Fozzie quickly became close friends.

But while other pigs were adopted, nobody seemed interested in this pair. Even older pigs who were considered “less” adoptable, like our 4 year old boys from a hoarder bust, found homes as Fozzie and Kismet were left behind.

This weekend, it quickly became clear that they were waiting for a special family of adopters to move cross country in order to find their perfect home! Jamie and her family opened up their hearts (and fridges) to the duo, and in a very short time it was clear that it was love as first sight.

They quickly settled in, and now their new mom says:

Right now Fozzie is on the couch and Kismet is mad that she is not out. I walked past her home and she ran up to me, she has learned fast that lap time = treat time.
Guinea pigs are lovable, but they are not above being mercenary with their affections. With the correct bribing, they do quickly learn that the loud bipeds who wander around generally come with food and are to be tolerated.


Guest Blog: Why we recommend bloodwork

Posted in Medical, Why We Recommend at 7:11 am by ACR&S

We have a new guest blogger joining us: Dr. Jhondra Funk-Keenan holds a PhD in genetics and is a rising 3rd year vet student at UW-Madison. She is also the recipient of Oxbow’s 2008 Veterinary Student Scholarship, and has owned rabbits and been involved in animal rescue for well over 10 years. Jhondra is able to mesh the perspectives of an owner and an educated medical specialist, and will be contributing a regular column called Why we recommend, which will provide owners with understandable clinical information on the reasons behind vets’ recommendations.

If you have a specific question you’d like investigated or explained by Dr. Jhondra (for exotics or traditional small animals like dogs or cats), please email us!

Why we recommend….performing bloodwork on pets

I have a lot of people ask me “Why should I do bloodwork on my pets?” Admittedly, only one of these people owned an exotic animal. However, I think this will change in the next decade. More higher-end exotics specialists and emergency clinics regularly recommend bloodwork to exotics owners. And, within 5-10 years, I believe more vets (including ones seeing exotics) will routinely recommend bloodwork to exotics owners, both for “wellness” checks and for medical problems requiring vet care.

So, here are some of the basics of bloodwork you should know as a client. Few vets perform bloodwork in-house. Typically, orders for bloodwork are sent out to the nearest medical laboratory. There will be a few days lag time before results are back. The exceptions are veterinary schools and higher-end emergency veterinary clinics, which typically have in-house labs. These clinics have faster lab results, but may charge more for both a physical exam lab work. Most vets will recommend two types of different but complementary bloodwork to the average client: a biochemistry panel and a Complete Blood Count with Differential (CBC/Diff).

A CBC/Diff is very similar regardless of where the bloodwork is analyzed. Information about your pet learned from the CBC/Diff include:

  1. The number of red blood cells (RBC). RBC carry oxygen in all mammalian species and almost all vertebrates (except in the icefish, who has clear, whitish blood—totally awesome). Low RBC may mean anemia and be cause for concern, but this depends on why the animal is anemic. Was the animal hit by a car. If so, anemia may reflect blood loss from the trauma. A good CBC/Diff will tell us if the anemia is regenerative, which it should be. If not, that leads us down a different diagnostic path and may warrant more tests.
  2. The number of white blood cells (WBC). High number of white blood cells (called leukocytosis) may indicate an infection, especially if certain types of white blood cells are high (neutrophils, maybe monocytes). However, this isn’t straightforward, as stress can increase WBC, including the stress of traveling to the vet.
  3. Total protein. A increased total protein can mean an animal is dehydrated; decreased can mean blood loss.

Chemistry panels are a little less straightforward. Most labs (and vet clinics) offer numerous panels, which differ by which tests are on the panel. More complete panels will include more of the boldfaced tests:

  1. Liver function: via AST, ALT values; these are enzymes produced in the liver cells. Liver cells also produce albumin and cholesterol; these markers can tell us how well the liver is producing proteins. Bilirubin can be a indicator of liver clearance and also if red blood cells are being destroyed within the body.
  2. Kidney function: via BUN and Creatinine values. Cholesterol and albumin can also be informative about kidney function.
  3. Gull bladder function: via ALP and GGT
  4. Muscle health: via AST and CK.
  5. Electrolytes (Sodium, Chloride, Potassium, and Bicarbonate): All four tell us about Acid/Base balance within the animal, about the GI tract’s state and a little about the kidney function.
  6. Strong ions (Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium): Tell us about the kidney and about GI tract health). Calcium imbalance can be a sign of other issues, like pancreatitis, GI tract, milk fever in lactating females, among other illnesses.
  7. Glucose: tells us about food consumption and also about the pancreas’ secretion (the pancreas regulates blood glucose). Is blood sugar low? If so, is the animal flat on the ground? For example, we can see really low blood glucose in ferrets due to insulinomas.
  8. Several exotics panels will also offer uric acid, which can tell us about kidney function (and possible vitamin imbalance) in birds.

So, now that you know the basics of bloodwork, which tests should you consider doing on your pets?

For my pets, I get a complete chemistry panel (the most complete available) performed while the animal is fairly young and healthy. Suppose you have a sick pet, you come to see me and I perform bloodwork for the first time during that illness. We can only compare this animal’s tests to the “officially reference interval” but these intervals include only 95% of animals (2 standard deviations from the statistical mean). Statistically speaking, as the number of tests on a panel increases, we have an increased risk of getting a high or low values of one or more tests due to either artifact or a value that appears abnormal but is normal FOR YOUR ANIMAL. How would we know what is normal FOR YOUR ANIMAL? Only via previous routine bloodwork, performed when your pet is healthy.

If you have already performed the routine bloodwork and your vet asks about routine bloodwork on subsequent visits, I would ask the vet “What problems do we want to look for?” Some vets want to monitor liver and kidney values in animals (especially pre-anesthesia); if that’s the rationale, can we avoid the complete panel and perform a pre-anesthesia panel? I also perform regular geriatric panels on my older animals; these panels allow me to watch for changes in the liver, kidney, and electrolytes. As my pets age, I perform bloodwork more regularly (every 6 months).

Your vet may recommend a urinalysis, based on physical exam findings or symptoms. Is your pet drinking more water or urinating more? Is he urinating red-tinged urine? This may be normal or abnormal in some small mammals, depending on diet. A urinalysis also complements any kidney values from your chemistry.

If your animal is ill, I would definitely consent to a CBC/Diff and a chemistry panel. A CBC/Diff will tell your vet if your animal is sick due to an infectious disease. Depending on symptoms, your vet may suggest a complete chemistry panel; is the animal suddenly ill, with no signs 12 hours ago, meaning we have few clues as to where to start? For the reappearance of a re-occurring problem, a less-complete panel may give your vet all the needed info.

Be ye warned: bloodwork is not all diagnostic and will never replace a good physical exam by a vet (exotics-specialist for exotics pets). I had a (beloved) rabbit with a very normal geriatric panel 4 months before she was euthanized due to advanced pulmonary neoplasia. She had little to no normal lung tissue at the time of her death and yet her chemistry panel was normal.

Also, don’t try to interpret bloodwork on your own. Vet schools typically have one entire semester-long class on interpreting bloodwork; students learn how to understand ALL the tests performed and ALWAYS in the light of physical exam findings. Don’t be afraid to ask your vet to spend time explaining what the bloodwork means and how it should guide your management of your pet’s health.


Goodbye, Morgana

Posted in Medical, Memorials at 5:38 am by ACR&S

We lost Morgana AKA Tilly on July 2.

TillyMorgana came to us in spring 2006, as an owner surrender. Part of a pet-store-pregnancy herd, she had been housed with her female relatives, but didn’t get along with them and was starting to injure them in fights.

Around the same time, one of our adopters lost her female Penny, and needed a new friend for her boy, Pudge (yes, the same Pudge who’s now a medical resident of the Sanctuary). Her owner saw Morgana’s picture and fell in love with her. Unfortunately, the same was not true for Morgana and Pudge. Easy-going-Pudgie was completely content with his new buddy, but Morgana would have none of it. Even after two weeks of intensive bonding and intros, Morgana was still aggressive towards Pudge. She wanted to be a single pig, and even climbed a 14″ grid to attack him! Her owner was able and content to keep them adjoining but separated, and for the next year and a half they lived the high life.

In October 2007, Pudge and Morgana were returned, as their owner was moving overseas. Since they were older and a non-bonded pair, the decision was made to bring them up to the Sanctuary in Wisconsin.

Shortly after they arrived, a friend of ours in the vet school let us know of a classmate who was looking to adopt a pig. She preferred to just start with one pig, but of course pigs are social and we almost NEVER place a single. Yet at this point, I was convinced that Morgana, alone among all the pigs I had ever met, would be content as a single. They met, she loved Morgana, and the adoption was finalized in December 2007. Morgana was renamed Tilly.

I had the pleasure of seeing Tilly several times throughout the last six months, as her owner traveled fairly frequently on school breaks and I was available to petsit. The last time was in early June – Tilly came to stay with me for two weeks.

Two weeks after she went home, her owner called and let me know that Tilly was breathing heavily, and was more lethargic than usual. Could she have gotten sick at my place? I doubted it, because none of the recent illnesses at my house are contagious (just things like arthritis and cancer and tooth problems). There were no changes in diet or stool production, so I told her that it might just be the heat (it’s been in the high 80’s up here) and to make sure to offer cool bottles for her to lie against, but to go to the vet if if the abnormal behavior continued.

On July 1, her owner called and told me they’d been to the emergency vet the previous night. Tilly had gone from “heavy breathing” to “labored breathing”, and from lethargic to listless. However, she didn’t have the funds to perform extensive diagnostics, so the vet suggested they could treat the mostly likely cause (an upper respiratory infection) and see whether she improved.

Unfortunately, this kind of treatment plan is almost never successful. Tilly showed no other signs of a URI (eye/nose discharge, “hooting”, sneezing, coughing, etc) so while a URI is a likely cause of labored breathing, it was highly unlikely in this instance. Treating in a situation like this is shooting blindly, not even knowing if there’s a target to hit. I emphasized to the owner the importance of getting diagnostics, and she decided that it would be in Tilly’s best interests to be returned to the Sanctuary, so I could pay for her care.

On July 2 we took Tilly to the Animal Emergency Center in Glendale, WI. Our vet student friend, Jhondra, is interning there, and that gave us access to an exceptional doctor, Dr Gibbons. His initial examination found edema in addition to the labored breathing, and he gave me three possible causes: kidney failure, liver failure, or lung failure. All three were untreatable, and all we could do was try and make her comfortable. But if her lungs were failing, every breath was a painful, drowning gasp, and there’s no way we could truly make her feel better. Dr Gibbons recommended euthanasia, and we put her to sleep around 11am.

I told Dr Gibbons that I still needed to know what was wrong with Tilly. Diagnostics prior to treatment are crucial for improving your chances at a cure, but even after death they can confirm and validate your hypotheses. The necropsy revealed that Dr Gibbons’ guess had been right on the mark: her lungs, liver, and kidneys were all showing signs of acute failure. We’re still waiting on the final pathologies to confirm the cause of multi-system organ failure, but the top guess is metastatic cancer. If we’d stuck to the URI hypothesis, Tilly would still have died, but much more slowly and painfully. Euthanasia had been the right answer.

Tilly touched many lives in her journeys with us, and is missed by all of us: by her owner, who did everything in her power, and made an uncommonly selfless sacrifice when she knew she could do no more; by her former owner and foster mom down in NC, who miss her bossy, bright personality; and by us at the Sanctuary, who nursed her through the final hours.

Goodbye, Tilly. I’m sorry we couldn’t fix this, but at least now you’re free from the pain.


Bedding question: Is pine really dangerous?

Posted in Husbandry How-to, Medical, Philosophy at 1:22 am by ACR&S

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

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