Hand Feeding Your Ill Guinea Pig
Hand feeding can save your guinea pig's life. Sick guinea pigs very seldom get over an illness without help and can decline VERY QUICKLY. Do not hesitate to seek competent veterinary care if you suspect your pig is ill.
If your guinea pig has stopped eating (shown little or no interest in food over a 6 to 12 hour period, with a drop in elimination and urine), it is imperative that you see a vet to treat the cause and start working immediately to get food moving through the system. Some conditions like torsion or blockage MUST be treated before feeding. (See Anorexia)
Remember: Food is life. Food, water, and a vitamin C supplement are essential to keep your guinea pig alive, to prevent dehydration, and to stimulate the digestive process.
Quantity - How much does your pig need?
Your vet can advise you regarding the amount of food to provide. Harkness and Wagner note that in one day, adult guinea pigs eat approximately:
- 6 grams dry feed/100 grams of body weight
- 10 to 40 ml water per 100 grams of body weight ( will vary with temperature, humidity, etc.)
Weigh your pig to estimate dietary needs. A 1 kilo pig (2.2 pounds) might require 60 grams (2 1/10 oz.) dry food and 100 ml (6 2/3 Tablespoons) of water. Keep in mind many pigs have lost weight before the anorexia is noticed. If you have difficulty determining how much food your pet is consuming, weigh him/her before and after feeding. Caging an ill animal separately (but near companions if not infectious) will allow you to measure what your pig can consume on its own.
- 100grams = 3 1/2 oz
- 15ml = 1 Tablespoon
- 1cc = 1 ml
Quality - What are the best foods?
For the pet guinea pig, a pellet slurry or Critical Care are superior to baby food as they contain more fiber (read about the importance of fiber). Critical Care has received high praise from those who have used it. Available online, the Oxbow Hay Company prefers that you contact your veterinarian (who should examine and diagnose your pet's illness) to order it. They provide a phone number for emergencies.
Some Critical Care users combine the product with Pedialyte, Odwalla juice, wheat grass juice, or natural cranberry juice (no added sugar or preservatives) instead of water to improve palatability and nutrition (see discussion).
Alternatively, one can use plain food pellets or combine pellets dissolved into water (or one of the above suggested alternatives) with minced parsley, vegetables, and carrots. Soften pellets in warm water. Pelleted feeds typically contain 18 to 20% crude protein and 10 to 16% fiber.
Sources in the UK: Check out JC's list of sources for hand feeding supplies in the UK.
Probiotics Your pet may have been prescribed antibiotics. All antibiotics affect the normal gut flora to a greater or lesser extent. Dangerous antibiotics like penicillin are deadly because they affect the normal flora of the gut, causing a fatal and irreversible diarrhea. But even recommended antibiotics may cause problems like diarrhea (antibiotic advice).
A half of a dropping from a healthy guinea pig dissolved in a small amount of water and added to the food is reportedly the best way to re-inoculate the good bacteria and boost appetite, especially if your pet is on antibiotics. Other people feel the addition of a small amount of powder from an acidophilus gel tablet will help to restore gut flora. Yogurt has live acidophilus cultures but is not the best choice as it is a dairy product. Since guinea pigs are herbivores, milk products are not recommended. The probiotics would be given an hour or two after administering the antibiotic.
- See also: Probiotics
Pellet Preparation The day's ration of your guinea pig's usual food pellets can be crushed in a coffee grinder (or ground with a mortar and pestle) or soaked overnight in a refrigerator and crushed by spoon. About 20 grams of powder and 5 mls of water will make a good paste (experiment). A stiffer paste reduces the danger of asphyxiation.
Some guinea pigs will appreciate the mash being warmed. Pellets work the teeth (especially a drier mash) and stimulate the digestive system more effectively than baby food, though prepared peas, mixed veggies, etc are much smoother than pellets. Check out Sef's simple recipe too.
Feeding Techniques Perhaps 20 to 25 grams of mash mixed with 15 ml water on the side will be all you will be able to do at one time. Several (4-6 or more) feeding sessions per day will be necessary, to keep things moving through your pet's system and provide adequate nutrition. A 1 cc. syringe with the restrictive tip cut off (to leave a tube of even diameter -- pictured below) and sanded smooth is useful for feeding. A spare 1 cc needleless syringe can be used to offer water (with vitamin C, if needed) in between bites and to administer medications. A straw can be used in a pinch, though it is tedious.
There are many techniques -- most basic is to feed slowly and do not rest your pig on its back ( a greater chance of aspiration). Some people find a vertical position works well.
Some people wrap their pet in a little "pouch". Others hold the guinea pig facing away from them. For the truly uncooperative pig, Pinta's technique of administering oral medications may help (see pic). Make sure the pig is swallowing. You do not want to get food into the lungs. A stiffer mix may help prevent aspiration.
"Stick the syringe into the side of the mouth directly behind the front teeth, and work it down to the back teeth until the pig starts grinding on the end of the syringe. Then ... slowly depress the syringe contents into the mouth, stopping if the pig stops chewing. As long as there is chewing motion - the pig is swallowing. A little wiggle of the syringe will often get the chewing motion to start up again if it's stopped."
In Talishan's experience, their mouths will hold about 1/3 of a 1 cc syringe's worth of food at one time. She also suggests (using only a 1cc syringe with the tip cut off and the rough end smoothed) to go deep near the guinea pig's molars and depress the plunger VERY SLOWLY. Give no more than about 1/4 to 1/3 of the syringe at one time. Wiggle the syringe if needed a bit to get him to chew. Then, once the food has been chewed and swallowed, give another 1/4 to 1/3. Don't remove the syringe until it needs to be refilled. She feels that if a guinea pig is chewing, it is swallowing -- that if you watch a guinea pig drink, they actually chew their water! If guinea pigs aspirate, they will cough violently so you should know if that is what has happened.
Vicki of JPGPR finds pigs feel more secure when they have their feet on a hard surface. Place your pig on a towel on the counter, corralled in the crook of your arm. Experiment with gently holding your pet's chin. You can be firm if necessary.
Your goal is to get your guinea pig back to a normal eating routine, so offer food occasionally while you are hand-feeding and make sure there is food always available in their living quarters. Some people find their ill guinea pig responds enthusiastically to grass. If you have fresh, clean, pesticide-free grass available, be sure to offer it to your pet. Avoid areas next to busy roadsides or those frequented by dogs or livestock. Food intake can be monitored by weighing the guinea pig before and after feedings if you question how much is actually being eaten.
Check out Regiane's video for tips: Handfeeding your Guinea Pig
Some pups lose their mother to pregnancy related complications. Other pups do not thrive. Weigh your pups promptly after they are born and daily for at least a week to make sure they are getting the food they need. JHand notes that in 5 different litters, the pups all lost a small amount of weight for the first 2 days and then showed a gain on the 3rd. She emphasized observing how the pup is acting and being very careful with syringe feeding the pups as they can aspirate food. If one pup seems to be losing significantly more weight for the first 2 days than the other pups, be sure to hand feed.
I noticed that when they started gaining weight, it would be 1/8 of an oz a day for maybe the 1st week, then it would up to 1/4 oz a day, after about 3 weeks, it would go up to like a 1/2 oz a day. This was basic averages.
A couple pups failed to gain at the rate JHand observed but eventually began gaining. Check JHands chart to get an idea of what kind of weight gain you can expect in pups. Salana found that a later failure to gain weight at the same rate as littermates can be a sign of tooth problems: she noticed that in the second week her pup Einstein wasn't gaining as fast as her other pup. An examination revealed Einstein's tooth problems.
- What to Feed: Critical Care (or a pellet mash if CC is not available) works best for babies. Try adding a bit of cooked pumpkin (or butternut squash baby food) to the primary food, either Critical Care or crushed pellets. Feed small amounts frequently during the day (the more frequent the better, perhaps every 1-2 hours, at least every 3 hours). At first you may only be able to feed 1 or 2 cc of pellet mash every hour or so. Carefully syringing water (or unsweetened pedialyte) can help keep the pup hydrated.
- No Milk Products: Milk products and milk replacer products are not appropriate for guinea pigs (milk). None are formulated to replace a mother guinea pig's milk. Guinea pigs are quite mature when born (long gestation), so that while a guinea pig will benefit from its mother's milk, milk is not necessary to thrive and survive.
- Technique: Some pups will eat from a spoon. Others need more aggressive hand feeding. Feed carefully to avoid aspiration (getting fluids into the lungs vs. the stomach -- may cause pneumonia).
- Encourage Eating Standard Foods: Make sure pellets, hay, water, leafy green vegetables, and grass are always available so the guinea pig can begin eating on its own as soon as possible.
- Elimination Tips: You will need to help orphans to pass waste during the first week or so of life. Normally a mother will do this by cleaning the pup's genitals. Wiping the genitals after feeding will help to stimulate elimination. Try a warm, wet washcloth, stroking several times.
- Foster Mothers: A foster mother will often accept pups. Pairing a mother with few pups with one that has many gives the pups from the larger litter a better chance at survival.
- Time Alone: Some runts can benefit from extra time with their mother. Remove the competing pups periodically for 15 minutes or so to give the runt more opportunity to feed.
- See also Tracis links to hand feeding threads: Handfeeding Young Pups: Avoid Milk/Formula Products
Tips For The Ill Guinea Pig
Towels: You may wish to keep your pet on flat folded towels instead of loose bedding, as it is easier to walk on if he/she isn't feeling well, and you can keep better track of urine and stool output.
Warmth: A few pigs benefit greatly from extra warmth. Linda enthusiastically recommends Thermacare wraps -- designed to relieve sore muscles, they heat up when exposed to air and stay warm for up to 8 hours. She has used them with orphans and ill guinea pigs.They can be purchased in supermarkets and pharmacies. (See: www.thermacare.com) WARNING: Children and pets should not ingest this product as it may be poisonous when consumed.
Some people will use a wrapped water bottle or light (for its radiant warmth) at one end of a cage. Any heat source should be positioned so the guinea pig can move away from it if uncomfortable.
Pain Management: If your guinea pig is in pain, it may be reluctant to move or eat. When appropriate, be sure to get pain medication for your guinea pig. Do not give any pain medication unless it is under the supervision of your veterinarian. Meloxicam and rimadyl are both effective. Read about post surgical pain.
WEIGH DAILY! While your guinea pig is ill, weigh it once or twice a day. This is especially important if your pet is not eating, in which case you should be monitoring to see if your hand feeding is able to maintain your pet.
Feylin's sick pig tips:
- Give the probiotics 3 or more times a day (keep them 2hrs away from ABs). Use several types, the stuff from your vet, a fresh poop from your healthy pig, human acidophilous capsules.
- Vit B can make pigs perk up and want to eat. My pigs got a shot of Vit B from my vet, but you can order liquid Vit B for humans off the internet.
- Sub Q fluids. The extra electrolytes and hydration can help pigs feel a bit better. The Vit B can be given with this. You can do them at home if you get the equipment, or have the vet do them.
- My vet used to like to give antibiotics by injection to pigs who really didn't want to eat. You bypass the GI system entirely that way, but it is more expensive and you have to rotate injection sites. [Note: injections of enrofloxacin (Baytril) should be restricted to only the first one or two doses]
- Try all types of juices and pure baby foods (carrot, berry, parsley) to see which type your pig likes mixed in the CC. Each pig is different and I usually go through several tries.
- Mix pure canned pumpkin in with the CC. It is high in fiber, low in sugar, and tasty to many pigs.
Fiber In A Hand Fed Diet
If the food doesn't keep moving through their system, it will ferment causing gas and lead to bloat. Pigs are basically designed to keep grazing all day long. Proportionate to their size - they consume and process amazing amounts of food. They are essentially pooping machines.
I have a theory, backed up by absolutely nothing but observation, that it is extremely important to include fibre when hand feeding. I have noticed in a few cases of baby food feedings, that bloat has occurred, usually when it appeared the pig was out-of-the-woods. I think that the intestines become adjusted to the soft, effortless texture of the baby food and when fibre works it way back into the diet (in the form of hay and pellets) the intestines have difficulty moving the suddenly bulkier matter through. Clogs and blockages occur leading to bloat.
Through many years of hand feeding with a pellet slurry, we have never had bloat occur. (We have had one case of bloat due to surgical adhesions.) The 2 times we were forced to feed baby food (the only food that could be chewed) we lost both pigs to the underlying problem before fibre could be reintroduced. As I say, this is only a theory. Might be completely wrong.