Part 2: Heart problems and aging.
I am not a doctor; only a devoted slave to my pets. This is a report of my memories of Zoe’s experiences. This has not been approved for publishing by any of the vets mentioned.
Zoe is a 7 years and 8 month old guinea pig. She is a Satin-American Tortoise Shell mutt, who when healthy doesn’t weigh much over 2 pounds.
A few weeks ago, Zoe started falling down. She had been looking a little stiff before, but now she was falling and rolling over. She was starting to lose weight. Apparently, she hadn’t been as successful as usual at climbing up to the bowl to eat her pellets. I made an appointment with my favorite vet. I immediately went to a thrift store and found 2 ceramic ashtrays to use as pellet dishes. I also bought her 2 more water bottles and brought the spouts down a little lower. I wanted her to be able to eat and drink, no matter where she was in the cage. This helped her to gain a little weight back for a while.
Our first appointment, the vet listened to her heart and said he heard a significant heart murmur. He sent me home with Rimadyl for the pain and we scheduled a follow up appointment. Her walking improved with the Rimadyl, but by the end of the week, she was stumbling again.
The next appointment, Zoe made a sound that she has been making off and on for about a year. It was a wheezy kind of sound, but every time a vet checked her out, they would say that her lungs sounded fine. She had never made this noise before in front of a vet. It was just luck that he was holding her at the time. She also had been having a crustier nose and eyes than is normal. I always thought it was just part of her aging. It was possibly an earlier sign that her heart was not well.
An x-ray showed an enlarged heart. He said that normally, the heart would take up the width of 2 ribs. Her heart took up the width of 5 ribs. He showed me how the heart was pushing up against her esophagus. The x-ray also showed the degeneration of the spine. This time, he sent me home with Enacard for her heart (1 mg every other day of the clinics solution.) He gave me a solution of Aminopphyline, a bronchial dilator to give her at .2 mg 2x a day. He also increased her Rimadyl (clinics solution, so dosages may sound different from another solution...) from .75 mgs to a full 1 mg, 2x a day.
The x-rays were very sobering. We might be able to improve her quality of life for a bit, but she would not be getting better. I asked how I would know if I should be putting her to sleep. She was rallying now, but I didn’t want her suffering. He said to look out for heavy breathing or mouth breathing, loss of appetite, or obvious signs of pain like whimpering. He told me how he puts guinea pigs to sleep. First they put them to sleep with anesthesia, then they give them a shot. This was somehow comforting to know that being put down would be more traumatic for me than for my sweet pig.
The Rimadyl increase was encouraging. At this point, Zoe was still eating and drinking enthusiastically. Her droppings had been small and hard, so I decided to add some peeled cucumber to her diet. This helped. I also decided to occasionally syringe plain water into her. Her droppings became moister, but have yet to go back to large.
On her third check up, Dr. Murray said that her heart sounded like it was doing better. He increased the Enacard from 1 full mg. every other day, to 1mg 1X every day.
The fourth visit was encouraging. He said that at this point, she was not getting worse. We kept the medications as they were. She had been on Baytril (for life) since she had survived the Cervical Lymphadenitis a year and a half ago without the surgery. (See Part 1 of Zoe’s history). We had had her on .45 mg of Baytril during the worst of that illness and then brought it down to .25 2x a day. There was some question from other’s to me about why the dose was so low. I finally figured it out at this last visit. For her weight, which now is a little under 2 pounds... that is the lower dosage recommended for that solution. When I asked him to recheck the Baytril, he said to go ahead and use up the rest of the bottle at .2 mg 2x a day, and we would not keep her on it after this. A recheck showed that she still had no signs of her almost fatal bout with Cervical Lymphadenitis.
Through correspondence by e-mail and through the forums, suggestions were made about alternatives to Zoe’s meds. Here is Zoe’s vets response to my questions, as best as I can recall.
It was suggested that Meloxicam (an NSAID) would be a better choice for her arthritis symptoms as there are fewer problems with the liver. He said that he would much rather prescribe that drug, but it is only used outside of the U.S. Fortunately, the Rimadyl has been very helpful. That made me want to move to Canada with my piggies.
I asked about the difference between Lasix and Enacard. He said that Lasix was only helpful for it’s diuretic effect. Enacard works specially on the heart. Zoe has responded well to the Enacard so far. He said it would not help her heart murmur, but would help with the enlargement issue..
I will have to ask again about the drug Terbutaline to replace the Aminopphyline, which it was suggested had negative effects on the heart. I do remember that he seemed to feel Aminopphyline was the drug he wanted for her. It has a slightly diuretic effect, like the Lasix. It is also slightly stimulating, which is not an issue for Zoe. She is getting the bronchial dilator for the slight fluid in her bronchial system.
We returned from our last visit feeling pretty hopeful. Zoe was alert and playful with Dr. Murray. My mother, who came with me this time, said she wished she could find a doctor for humans as warm and knowledgeable as Dr. Murray. I thought Zoe was a goner a month ago and she was looking pretty good now.
The next day, after reporting to everyone about our wonderful visit, Zoe stopped eating so enthusiastically. For the past couple of days, she has only wanted to eat a lettuce or dandelion greens, which is frustrating since she has also developed the runs. The little carrots she used to love, where bitten into pieces and left. She ate a couple of strawberry tops, but refused some fresh wheat grass. She won’t eat cucumber anymore. She used to shove her nose deep into her dish when I stuck my hand in to give her some oats. Oats are ignored.
Yesterday, I pulled out the 35 cc syringe and mixed up some pellets with water and a touch of vitamin C. I managed to get her to put up with some syringe feeding. Back in her cage, she sits in her house with her nose in the corner.
Her “house” is actually a pillowcase roof put up in the corner with clothes pins. Her bed, since she started falling, has gone from a t-shirt that is changed a couple times a day, to a doubled over towel covered with a t-shirt or flannel pillowcase, and changed as often as it gets wet or messy.
This morning she curled up next to me and slept. I believe she is on her way out and I couldn’t sleep last night wondering how she was doing. I heard one little nibble on some timothy hay and she gulped down some lettuce. I am syringing water into her periodically; a few mgs at a time. I may or may not syringe feed her. I will take my cue by how comfortable she is with it.
Her last appointment was Tuesday afternoon. It is now Thursday morning. I will update further as events unfold.