Friday, March 20, 2020

Covid-19 and your Guinea Pigs

Wherever your are in the world, the last week or two have been unprecedented. Here in the UK, schools, bars, restaurants, cinemas, theatres and leisure centres are all shut as of today or tomorrow. The public have been advised to self-isolate. Scary times for all of us.

On top of worrying about the vulnerable and the elderly, lots of folk are quite obviously concerned about the well-being of their pets. So, what about our guinea pigs? What can we do to ensure they sail through this uncertain time?

Firstly, I would say DON'T PANIC! Guinea pigs are herbivores and grazers that are designed to thrive on lots of relatively low-quality forage. Hay is essential, and there is the same amount of hay as there was before this virus hit. There will be no more hay produced until this hay season, whatever happens! In addition to hay, small businesses such as Piggie Parcels continue to produce their awesome dried forage, which is rich in nutrients and vitamins, as well as keeping your small pets occupied and allowing them to exhibit natural behaviours and as they are dried, they will keep for longer than fresh veg if this is limited.

If you are self-isolating the biggest threat to your piggies might actually be over-feeding! If you give into their demands and believe their little faces that they're starving... their usual feeding routine may go out of the window! Try to maintain normality if you can. Pellets should still be measured, hay should still be readily available.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are currently hard to come by in the UK due to people panic-buying. This should soon pass as people realise it's not viable to maintain that state of panic. Contact your local farm shops and markets, these are mostly still stocked up with a good variety. There are also many things you can grow easily at home, even if you don't have a huge garden! Herbs like Parsley and Coriander grow quickly, and can even be grown in a pot on the windowsill if you live in a flat. Pick-and-come-again lettuce, or rocket and other salad leaves germinate quickly in a trough or raised bed and will keep growing throughout the summer too. Longer term, perpetual spinach and chard are quite low maintenance and will keep cropping later into the Autumn and Winter. Be sure to introduce new foods gradually. 

Grass remains free, and readily available, with the advantage that it is the thing that guinea pigs are designed to live on! Obviously beware of contaminants such as cat or dogs fouling, pesticides and such, but most people should be able to find somewhere that they can harvest some grass (use scissors to prevent pulling up the roots) and other fresh forage. There are several Facebook groups that are great at helping ID things if you are unsure, I will link to them in comments.

Above all - enjoy any extra time with your piggies, carry on as 'normal' as far as possible to avoid any sudden big changes to their diet and routine but remember that we are all resilient and adaptable!

If you have any questions, we will all try to offer support and advice any time. I spoke to our vet today who also assured me that they are carrying on offering all of their services but obviously trying to limit face-to-face time with clients (human!). If your guinea pig is on permanent medication then speak to your vet to ensure they will have supplies over the coming weeks and months.

Friday, January 31, 2020

The Longest Month...

January has been the longest month. Hampered by persistent illness which left me bed-bound for days at a time, I really struggled to do the normal chores including the guinea pigs. I'm so lucky that my daughter knows the ropes and that my husband is supportive! It's the first time that I've ever not been able to do my own pigs and it was quite scary. I am on the mend but it's taking me a long time to get back to 'normal'.

Our January statistics are not good:

Pigs in: 30
Pig out: 7
Pigs to another rescue: 2
Pigs on waiting list: 11
Pigs in foster: 15
Pigs here: 28 indoors. 62 out = 90

Thank goodness for our foster carers and those that have helped by transporting pigs this month - you are quite literally life-savers!

The numbers look bad enough but the reality is actually worse, as the 28 pigs indoors are mostly not adoptable due to age, being single or being on medication. So we have a sort of gridlock with one big block full of OAPs and the other full of single boars! We need to get going on our neuter fund I fear, as they are all tricky characters who so far have failed to bond with any other.

However, we have met and been supported by a lovely lot of people both online and in person, which truly does make all the difference. This rescue could not keep running without your support; I really do feel that our online community has a real share in our ups and downs here.

Looking forward to February and to the Spring; it's been so very wet here and the ground is waterlogged, I miss grass time for the pigs!

This month I'll be keeping up with the blog and looking at fussy eaters, bonding and single-use plastic!

Our 'happy endings' this month are Angus and Ron who were adopted by a lovely family and are settling nicely, Mabel Maud and Matilda who are living in the luxury to which they're accustomed, Giles and Dusty who are now part of another wonderful family, and the most heart-warming happy ending has to go to the feral mum Astrid and her baby Ursa Minor who have gone back to live with the very kind lady who initially contacted us when she found a wild colony of guinea pigs in her garden. They are living their best life and I get regular updates too, such a great outcome for some very special pigs.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Pitter-Patter of Tiny Feet ...

Aunt Petunia has been on pregnancy watch since she arrived before Christmas as she had been brought from a breeder several weeks earlier. Sadly she is definitely pregnant and hasn’t long to go now until the babies are due.

She is a very sweet piggy who the breeder refused to take back when she didn’t get on with the lady’s existing sow (although with hindsight her aggression was likely hormonal!). She is sitting happily in the rescue block looking like she did in fact eat all the pies!

Since our baby boom in the summer when we had so many pregnant rescue pigs at once, we haven’t had many babies and these will be the first of 2020 (previous were born just before Christmas). 

It would appear that Petunia was housed with her baby boars so these babies are almost certainly inbred. This isn’t uncommon with guinea pigs but clearly not ideal! We’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Are Guinea Pigs Suitable as Children's Pets?

I am often asked at the rescue for 'tame' baby guinea pigs to be children's pets, and I wanted to write about it here as it really is a huge issue for guinea pigs and pet owners.

On our Surrender form, when somebody is signing over their guinea pig to us, one of the questions asked is 'reason for surrender'. The most common reply to this is 'the children lost interest'. Looking at the age of the guinea pigs they are usually only 6-9 months, rarely over a year!

I want to say here and now that I grew up with guinea pigs as pets from the age of 10, and have rarely been without them since. My daughter and son are 8 and 5 and have never known NOT having guinea pigs. They have never dropped one, trodden on one or otherwise harmed one. Both have guinea pigs that are 'theirs', and my daughter has a herd of 10 who are her responsibility, which she takes very seriously. My son helps with the general pigs as well as his own. Do I expect them to? Well, yes! The rescue pigs are my own 'fault' so I will take responsibility for their day to day care but as a family we deal with the daily household stuff that needs doing and our pets are an important part of this.

Coming back to the beginning, 'tame' baby guinea pigs are hard to find (!) so my answer to this is usually that all guinea pigs need regular and gentle handling to get used to people, and that is very much up to the new owners although we can help them to choose suitable guinea pigs they are probably not going to be babies. Around 50% of the time these enquiries do not become adoptions. Yes, they've probably gone to a pet shop and bought some entirely un-handled pigs who were born in a rodent mill...

At the other end of the scale we also have very lovely families with children who have adopted piggies from us, and we are more than happy to let our pigs go to. These are the families that have done their research, saved up their pocket money, often waiting a good few months or more to be ready and to find the right pigs for them. These pigs are family members and treated as such.

As far as pets go, I would much rather that guinea pigs were a lot less popular as children's 'starter' pets and much more hard to come by, to eliminate the impulse buys that happy daily at well-known pet supermarkets, bolsted by the attractive array of guinea pig paraphenalia that is now available and makes them even more appealing. I wonder if you did an exit survey, how many of those went into the store with the intention to buy a pet? How many just gave in to the impulse buy? Sadly I know where a lot of them end up, and it's at the bottom of the garden and neglected, or in rescue with us.

If you have children and as a family you are considering guinea pigs as a pet, great! But please think about the following (and include your children in the thinking). Far too many children are being brought up to see pets as 'disposable'.

1. Guinea pigs rely on their humans for everything - food, water, shelter, the lot. They have to live in whatever accommodation you've chosen for them, usually 24 hours a day with some play time if they are lucky (many get none). It is therefore your job to make sure their lives are as good as they can be in terms of diet, exercise, foraging, company of their own kind and medical attention if required.

2. Lifespan. Given that a guinea pig can easily live for 8 or more years, do the maths! If your children are already 10, they'll be off to university and the guinea pig might still be going strong. Which is fine if you as adults love having guinea pigs. It's a lot less fine if it's only the child wanting them and you are left caring for them.

3. Guinea pigs are prey animals. They are always wary, even the friendliest ones. I can feed my herd and sit down to watch them, and if my phone goes or I move they scatter! They are by nature timid. Us picking them up must feel like a predator getting them! I have one or two out of the 70 odd here that will sit entirely still while I pick them up, but they are definitely the exception. Most will run.

4. Safety first. A lot of children don't like the scrabbly nature of guinea pigs and their claws, which is understandable. The guinea pigs should never be left unsupervised with children, and the adult should initially do the catching. We use fleece snuggle sacks for cuddle time as it helps the guinea pig to feel safe and the child to be more confident holding them if they wriggle. But it takes time and effort (daily) to get both the child and the guinea pig used to this routine. Do you have time for that? Every day? Unfortunately guinea pigs are fragile and one fall is enough to disable or even kill a piggy. Accidents happen, even with good measures in place, but the danger to the pigs is very real.

5. Practical considerations. Guinea pigs are poop machines. They poop more than any animal I know. They are poop factories. They exist to poop. They poop everywhere they go, and they can not easily be litter trained. So cleaning is a necessity, often a daily one. If your children do not want to have to deal with the poop, perhaps reconsider. In pet shops the pens are kept spotlessly clean. If they let you see what it looked like after a day, 2 days, a week... nobody would want guinea pigs!

6. Financial aspect. Guinea pigs are not cheap pets. Although the initial outlay isn't massive, the ongoing costs and any vet bills cannot be ignored. A vet trip for a relatively simple URI can cost over £100, we had one who needed an eye removed, £300... They are as deserving of veterinary treatment as any other pet and your responsibility to them is to not allow them to suffer.

If after all of this, you are still considering adopting a guinea pig, good for you! Like most things children ask for, it still pays to wait a while and see if they move on to wanting something else before you go ahead. If they really really want a guinea pig they'll prove it to you. And what a rewarding journey they'll have!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

January 2020 so far..

It's the 15th of January, half way through the first month of the new decade and we have already taken in 21 guinea pigs, with many more on the waiting list. That's 1.5 pigs per day, every single day. I know January is a bad month for rescues all over, but I honestly wasn't expecting this many.

Our quarantine / intake block is a finite size, purposely. There are only so many guinea pigs we can care for to the standards that we set ourselves, and our back kitchen currently houses 20 pigs at maximum. Many of these spaces are currently taken up by single boars waiting for a friend / neuter, or elderly piggies who are happy but unlikely to go to new homes. Thank goodness for our foster network, there are currently another 19 piggies in foster! There are plenty more permanent residents outside in the pig shed but we do not mix these with the incoming pigs due to disease risk.

So our stats look like this:

Pigs in intake block: 23 (oops)
Pigs in foster: 19
Pigs on waiting list to come in: 14
Pigs reserved: 0
Pigs in pig shed: 50ish

To continue to take in piggies that need us, we obviously need some of these spaces to be freed up, but it's not that easy. Come the weekend we will have 7 single boars in rescue waiting to find friends, none of which is particularly straightforward. Even if we neuter them (£55 a time) they then have 6 weeks post-op before they can be mixed with sows. So that's 7 spaces filled.

Oldies are currently taking 4 blocks, bless them. An influx of 5 year old piggies over the Christmas period means that although we have successfully found a number of bereaved piggies a friend or two, they are unlilkely to be offered homes. A resident OAP herd is the answer for the girls but current space makes this impossible right now, although it's pencilled in for the future.

So all of this means that now, right at this moment, we do not have any space. In an emergency we will always do our best but it's simply a matter of maths.

I have several adoption applications to work through but currently very few pigs that are ready to go, so at the moment it is like gridlock.

In the meantime at least I know that the pigs here and in foster are getting the best possible care. I just wish it were easier to help more.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Why Adopt?

There are many reasons to adopt rather than shop, and our hope is to educate pet owners and would-be pet owners that adoption for small pets is just as important as for cats and dogs.

When you adopt from a reputable rescue you not only offer a forever home to a guinea pig who has already been re-homed at least once, often more, you also get these benefits:

1. Health All of our rescue pigs have been quarantined for at least 2 weeks before being put up for adoption (usually more). This means that they should be free from contagious diseases as most illnesses do not have a longer incubation period. (Unfortunately in the case of fungal issues this cannot be guaranteed, as a guinea pig can appear healthy here but show fungal signs when moved to a new home due to the stress, but this is rare and is more likely with pet shop pigs anyway).

2. Investing where it makes a difference You know that your adoption fee is going to good use! The £20 adoption fee we ask for each piggy goes straight back into the daily running of the rescue. It costs us £120 a week to keep the rescue going, and we are entirely self-funded. That £20 can help us rescue another pig from an uncertain future.

3. Advice We are happy to give unbiased advice on cage / hutch choice and size, feeding, minor ailments, taming, and general maintenance! This ensures you and your new piggy are happy and that you don't spend money needlessly on things that pet shops sell that are actually unsuitable for guinea pigs!

4. Life-time Support We offer life-time support for all piggies that are adopted from us. If for any reason further down the line you find yourself unable to keep your guinea pigs, we will happily take them back and look after them for the rest of their days either here or in another adopted home.

5. No Unexpected Pregnancies! All sows coming into rescue are kept on pregnancy watch for 10 weeks, ensuring no surprise arrivals once you get them home!

6. Matching for Character We know all of our piggies very well here at East Anglian Guinea Pig Rescue, and will ensure that you are a good match. If you have a single piggy who has lost their companion we can help match them with a suitable friend through our bonding service. Not all pigs like each other but we have a lot of experience bonding both boars and sows. Guinea pigs should not be kept alone and we do everything we can to avoid keeping them solitary.