Tag Archives: guinea pigs

How to Win Friends

1 May

Castration is a drastic measure, but for our six grumpy guinea pigs, the advantages have outweighed the risks. It all goes back to their adolescence, when they suddenly stopped being friends and started tearing chunks out of each other. Barry’s ear got bitten completely in two. This was a shock to us, because all the information we’d read declared that guinea pigs are social animals and MUST be kept together. Besides, other pet owners had told us dire tales of guinea pigs who had died of loneliness.

We took them en masse to Broadley’s vet hospital. There were seven of them then, as their dad was still alive. They were filthy from exploring the flowerbeds, and I hadn’t dared bathe them while they were hurting. The nurse on duty was Cath. I learned that day that Cath is passionate about guinea pigs (and rabbits), and has stacks of experience and knowledge about them. When we presented her with our sea of growling, dirt-blackened, bitten-up animals with patches of fur missing, she exchanged horrified glances with the vet. I felt sure they thought we had been systematically abusing them.

I described our set-up, and asked for advice. Cath’s first advice was, of course, to separate them. Then, to bloody well give them baths. She and the vet strongly advised against castration, as it doesn’t necessarily affect guinea pig behaviour, and general anaesthetic carries a higher death risk for little animals.

We duly fenced the garden off into territories and separated their tower block into apartments. The guinea pigs spent all summer patrolling the fences and rumbling at each other, and all winter growling at their ceilings and floors.

Winter tower

Horatio, awake before the others on Christmas Eve.

Then we had to neuter Colin, because he kept gumming up the rabbit’s eye. (Never mind how.) Afterwards, his territorial behaviour ceased, and all the other guinea pigs were nice to him. It was as though we had given him a social skeleton key. Was this a fluke?

When Twogoose and Horatio began furiously threatening each other, we decided to try neutering them too. We  felt confident that the skills and equipment at Broadley’s meant it wasn’t too much of a risk. Cath noticed them waiting there for the snip, and gave us a worried call to check that we were sure we wanted to go through with it. Our client money makes no difference to her: animal welfare is everything. We said we understood the risks – but we spent the rest of the day biting our nails, waiting for the call to say they were okay. They were. They have enjoyed each other’s company ever since.

How lovely it would be, we thought, if all the guinea pigs could live together again! Being all brothers, there was a chance they would all respond to neutering. We sent Clive, Barry and Orkney to be castrated too. Cath watched over them during their operation and recovery. She has taken a special interest in our guinea pigs since that first terrible day, and whenever she sees me, she asks, “how are the boys?” When I need guinea pig advice, she is the person I phone.

Here she is with her rabbit Ralph last month, just before she beat 11,000 contestants to become Veterinary Nurse of the Year. It is completely deserved.

Cath

[Photo from Broadleys Veterinary Hospital.]

The guinea pigs’ tender areas healed just in time for their annual exodus to live among the grass and daffodils. Here’s Orkney, lurking in his new bedroom. They usually lurk for three days before leaving their hutches to explore the garden.

Orkney lurking

This time, it took them just a few hours to step outside and start grazing. We have placed all the hutches together, and have been watching closely for signs of distress. We left most of the territory-fence up just in case, but  removed sections so they can explore the whole garden.

Summer setup

There was a brief squabble over who got to sleep in which hutch, but after that they settled in beautifully. Not one of them has got angry with the others – not even when there was a hailstorm to rattle them up. The change in them is remarkable! I never thought I’d see them daring to turn their backs on each other.

Long may the peace continue.

Among the daffs

Horatio, Clive, Orkney and Twogoose.

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Wild Paddy

8 Aug

Paddy, the patriarch of our seven guinea pigs, once lived in the woods with a cockerel. Their many wives roamed around the cottage garden in the Highlands where Bunty’s mother lives. Paddy and the cockerel spent part of the day with their wives, and then the two would cross the burn, climb the hill, pass under the fence or fly over it (depending), and return to their batchelor pad among the Scots pines.

The cockerel

Three pregnant wives

Paddy’s wives would nurture and wean Paddy’s pups in special enclosures where they would be safe from cats and owls. When they were old enough, Bunty’s mother would take them to Pets at Home and sell them. One summer, when Paddy’s wives had eleven pups on the go, Bunty’s mother decided to retire him from stud duties. Eleven was quite enough to be getting on with. Thus Paddy arrived at our home as a new member of our family. His arrival was unexpected and we had nowhere to put him, so we ensconced him  in a spare aquarium for his first few days of settling in. It was a far cry from his batchelor pad in the woods.

Not long after this, Pets at Home revised their policies such that they would only buy from a list of specific dealers – not casual hobbyists. Bunty’s mother was left with more guinea pigs than she could provide for. Paddy’s six sons came to live with us. We bought and customised a big hutch, with permanent access to our garden. Paddy had a new batchelor pad.

Paddy at bottom left

As they got older, the guinea pigs paired off, separating  into territorial areas of the garden. Paddy and his smallest son, Orkney, made their home on a patch of lawn edged by flowerbeds and a birch tree. Orkney spent all summer patrolling the edges of their territory against the other guinea pigs. Paddy had no inclination to follow suit: all his sons already accepted him as Top Pig.

In Wintertime, Paddy and Orkney shared the penthouse apartment in the guinea-pig tower block I had built for them all. The pigs like their tower well enough, but nothing beats the sight of them running and jumping unhindered through the grasses and Summer foliage. This year, the elderly Paddy began to take breaks from all the  running and jumping, to sit under a plank propped against the fence and watch the world go slowly by.

Paddy and Orkney in May (favourite plank in background)

Today dawned glorious and warm. As the sun was burning away the morning mist across the fields, Bunty fed Paddy some vegetable off-cuts. Paddy, feral creature that he is, scurried away to eat them in private. This afternoon, he was lying in the shade under his plank again, his boot-button eyes gazing into the buttercups. He had shuffled off his mortal coil, at the grand old age of five and a half.

I usually go to pieces when a pet dies, but this time it was different. He died quickly and quietly, in his old age, in his own territory – an expansive place full of grass to graze on and secret passageways that he had made among the bedding plants and beneath the tree. He died in freedom, with his favourite son close by. We buried him in his special place under the plank.

His last photo

Rest in peace, wild Paddy.

The Doorstep Angel

1 May

You know those stories where a couple lets a wayfarer stay the night and they kill their only goat to feed them, and then the wayfarer turns out to be a wish-granting angel? That happened to us. Only, we didn’t have a goat and anyway, she’s vegetarian and any goat living here would be part of the family. Bunty killed and stuffed a marrow instead.

We had been feeling fraught. I was behind with my studies, Bunty with his work. The house was a tip. The guinea pigs were still living indoors because we hadn’t had time to fix up their summer housing. Everything was getting on top of us and I had a deadline coming up for an assignment which required a familiarity with Excel – a programme I have never used. Then there was a knock on the door.

A smiling girl stood on our doorstep with a rucksack on her back. She asked if she might stay the night. Readers will know that our door is open to every creature needing a bed for the night, so, of course, we said yes. The girl’s name was Seraph. A Christian friend has remarked that you can’t get a bigger clue-by-four than that.

Over the marrow, it transpired that Seraph was familiar with Excel, and so after enthusiastically cleaning out the guinea pigs’ tower for us, she spent the evening walking me through the steps needed to produce graphs from tables. It was a huge relief. The cats showed their approval by standing on her.

A week later, she is still here. She has fixed up the animal housing,

Bathed the guinea pigs and released them into their new homes in the garden,

Dismantled and spray-cleaned the guinea pig tower,

Cleaned the house, told us stories, cheered us up, and gave us enough free time and energy to get out of the house and go sightseeing.

It’s mighty generous of this God fellow to bless us godless atheists like this. Our Doorstep Angel is looking for a job, and when she finds one, she will move on and leave us. We wish her well… and we are thinking of starting an angel sanctuary.