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Can my guinea pig make me sick?

16 Jan

A little while back I noticed this article about people getting strep from guinea pigs start making the rounds on the internet. Now, this article is done pretty tastefully and tries to explain that there’s really nothing to worry about, but you know how it is — some people panicked anyway and started telling others to never let their kids near a guinea pig, etc.

I was already well aware of the fact that there are certain diseases that can move from cavies to people from time to time, but I hadn’t heard about the strep connection. Furthermore, I suspected that it was far more common for guinea pigs to catch ill when handled by their people, not the other way around. After all, most guinea pigs stay home in their pens all day. It’s us humans that wander around, interact with one another and bring our germs home with us.

To get to the bottom of the issue, I decided to go to the experts — in this case, my friend Cynthia Bishop, a research veterinarian who studies guinea pigs.

According to Bishop, while it is possible for some diseases to move from people to guinea pigs, it’s not as common as you might thing. In fact, she said you’re more likely to catch something from a dog, cat or rat than you are from your guinea pig.

Bishop said whether a disease can spread from one species to another depends largely on what causes the disease. Parasites, for example, are usually species-specific, which is why humans don’t get lice or mites from guinea pigs, even though guinea pigs do on occasion get lice and mites from one another. Cavy lice is actually a different species that the stuff that makes humans itch, and while this particular kind of lice can make guinea pigs miserable, it can’t live off human blood. Mites can get on humans, but they won’t stay for more than a few hours and you’ll only notice if you have an allergic reaction to them.

Likewise, viruses usually can’t infect a species they weren’t originally designed to target. So your guinea pig isn’t likely to develop something like, say, the chicken pox, and consequently you’re not likely to catch chicken pox from your guinea pig. However, there are a few viruses that may be common to both guinea pigs and humans: the jury is still out on whether the flu and the common cold can spread to guinea pigs. Cavies are used in scientific labs to study the flu, but it’s uncertain whether the flu will spread to guinea pigs without scientific aid. Some studies, however, found native populations of guinea pigs in Peru carried antibodies for common human strains of the flu, so it is possible that transmission may occur from time to time.

Bacteria, on the other hand, adapt to different species more easily. So it is possible that bacterial infections, such as strep, could spread from guinea pigs to humans. Humans and guinea pigs are also known to share certain types of eye infections, Bishop said.

Fungi are the most likely disease-causing agent to move from one species to the next. Ringworm, for example, can be especially problematic because it likes both humans and guinea pigs and will move from one species relatively easily.

But note that I say relatively. Bishop said zoonosis, that is, the spread of a disease from one animal to the next, really isn’t all that common. Even with something like strep, if a colony of strep is already used to living in a guinea pig, it would much prefer to stay in a guinea pig. In most cases, Bishop said the people who catch diseases from their pets are immunosuppressed . That is, they had an elevated risk of getting sick to begin with.

In general, Bishop said, basic precautions such as hand washing should be enough to prevent sharing diseases with your guinea pig and vice versa, even among people who are, say, taking drugs that make them more susceptible to infection. If you’re feeling paranoid, extra care can be taken if you know you have something that might make your pet sick (like the flu) or if you know your pet has something you could catch (like ringworm).  But even in those circumstances, basic precautions such as wearing a face mask (like the kind you can buy at the hardware store) or gloves and making regular use of soap should be sufficient to keep you, your family, and your pets safe, Bishop said.

Three easy ways to be more organized about breeding cavies

9 Jan

I know I’m a little late to this ballgame, but I noticed the other week a post on Facebook where one breeder asked others she knew whether they had a cavy-related New Year’s resolution. As I watched the responses come in, I noticed a common theme: many people wanted to get more organized about breeding and record keeping.

We at Legacy Caviary have been pretty diligent about records keeping from the beginning. And it’s not just pedigrees, although we’re pretty particular about those as well — we have pedigrees going back to our very first cavies, probably ten generations or more at this point. But we also keep detailed records on health, lifespan, show winnings, breeding, miscarriages and deliveries. At one point I even used the records we’ve kept to conduct a small scientific study for one of my senior-level college classes.

That’s probably more record keeping than the average breeder wants or needs to undertake. But just in case you’re looking to get started with some basic record keeping and organization this year, here are a few breeding-related ideas you might try. Of course, you’re always welcome to modify these techniques so that they suit your own methods and desires.

The index card method

This is what my dad has done for years to keep track of who is bred to who, when they’re due to deliver, how many babies were born and at what weight. It works pretty well because it doesn’t take a lot of time or effort, and because you can clip the cards to the front of most cages to prevent yourself from losing track of your own records, though it does have a downside (in my opinion) in that the records are not easily digitized and therefore are difficult to analyze en mass.

Here’s something quick and easy to try: buy your standard index cards and fill them with any identifying information you deem pertinent. We list the cavy’s name, birthdate and ear number a the top of each card for quick identification, but you can obviously choose to use more or less information. Make one card for each of your cavies, then clip the cards to the cage containing the cavy to which each card corresponds. You can do this easily with those tiny binder clips you can buy at most office stores. When you’re finished, each cage in your caviary should have a small collection of cards attached to it identifying each cavy in the cage.

Now, pick one of the female cavy’s cards and write an X (our symbol for “crossed to” or “bred to”) on one of the blank lines on the body of the index card. Next to the X, write the name and/or ear number of the boar to which the sow in question was bred. Then write the date they were paired together and, if you like, the date of their anticipated due date (roughly 72 days in the future). That’s all there is to it! Now, when you clean pens or go to check on your cavies, you have an automatic record of when to expect your next litters. And as time goes on and you repeat this process for new crosses, you’ll have a running record of who you bred to who, and what the results looked like.

The Calendar Method

This is essentially a simplified version of the index card method. It requires a lot less maintenance, but lacks the benefits of being attached to each individual cavies’ pen, and so doesn’t put the information at your fingertips quite as effectively. It may, however, help you better track the big picture of what needs to happen when in your caviary.

Here’s the basic idea: Buy a standard 12-month calendar for the current year (you can even get one of those fun cavy-themed calendars if you like!). Hang it up in or near your caviary, so you remember to use it and mark it up. Fill in the calendar with pertinent information such as “bred Fuzzy Wuzzy to Sister Sue” or “Cutie Pie due” on the appropriate days. If you stay up on it, this should not only help you keep track of when your upcoming litters are due, but over time it will also create a year-long record of who was bred and born when.

This method is also helpful if you include the dates of important shows on your calendar. If you do this, you can count backward from the date of those shows to determine when you need to put cavies in breeding to have mature stock at the year’s biggest shows (this is especially important to breeders who raise long-haired cavies).

The MS Excel Method

This is what I personally use, because I prefer digitized records and because I need to have access to my records on multiple computers. But while it has the advantage of making it possible to easily view and analyze lots of data, it requires a little more effort that the previous two methods and it doesn’t put the information at your fingertips in quite the same way.

Here’s what I do: I have a version of Microsoft Excel that I have downloaded for free on my smartphone called “Sheets.” Sheets interfaces with GoogleDocs, so I am able to view my breeding records on my phone, on my laptop, or on any other computer where I can gain internet access.

On sheets, I have created a single spreadsheet called “breeding plan.” I created the document with the following headers across the top: sow’s name, last litter born, current status, next breeding, breed to, and litter due. I fill in the suggested information below each header in descending order. So, for example, when Cindy delivered her last litter, I create a new row at the top in which I fill in her name, the date of her last litter, her current status (“Resting,” in this case) the date on which I next plan to breed her, the boar I will breed her to, and the expected date that litter will arrive. I might also input her daughter’s record on the line above her own. Her daughter would appear as follows: Wendy, no litters, still growing, the date of her first anticipated breeding (roughly 3-5 months in the future), the name of the boar I plan to breed her to, and the expected due date for that future litter.

Obviously, this method requires a good deal of regular maintenance. But if you stick to it, you will end up with a long running list of past litters and pairings, and one that you can sort, search and analyze at your leisure with all the data tools available to you in Microsoft Excel. Not to mention instant access to all of those records anywhere in the world.

These are of course just three methods for tracking, recording and organizing your breeding efforts. There’s plenty of other methods out there. What method do you prefer?

Happy Halloween!

31 Oct

It’s Halloween — the most wonderful day of the year, in my opinion. I’m busy hosting a party and cleaning guinea pig cages today, so I don’t have much time for writing. But as promised, we have some super-adorable, reader-submitted photos of cavies in costume to share with you.

From Sharon, one of our Wheekly readers: cute Pokemon guinea pigs.

My daughter loves Pokemon, so it seemed perfect to dress up our cavies as The Pokemon Pigs. Kio the red roan was Flareon, Ebony the black was Umbreon, and Arlo the broken starred as Pikachu. She selected the right Pokemon characters for each pig, and I created the costumes. We had fun showing them off at our cavy club show.

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We also had some of our readers dress up with their pets, in coordinating costumes. Check out Gail’s Bacon and Eggs costume.

Pretty creative stuff, guys. Let’s keep them coming! If you have cavy costumes you’d  like to include, feel free to email me at thewritingguinea@gmail.com and I’ll be sure to put them up as well. The more pictures the merrier!

And thank you again to everyone who submitted a photo. We love seeing all your fun ideas.

 

Cavy Costume Contest

26 Oct

Since this week’s post will land on Halloween, I wanted to try to do something special. I know many of you, on one occasion or another, have dressed up your cavies for Halloween. Well, this is you chance to show your creativity to the entire cavy community! Send your photos and perhaps a brief bio to thewritingguinea@gmail.com, and you may find you costume featured on the Wheekly Reader this week.

Big bonds with small creatures: my favorite cavies

24 Oct

There’s this thing going around on Facebook right now where cavy fanciers tag their five friends and ask them to post pictures of their five favorite cavies. I know a lot of people who breed and show cavies, so, naturally, I’ve been tagged.

But rather than share the pictures with a few Facebook friends — I choose to keep my Facebook closed to all except those I know in person — I decided to share a couple pictures and memories with the world.

I don’t have pictures of all of them. Sorry about that.

Aragon

Aragon was a self red Abyssinian, and my very first cavy. I got her for free from some kids my mom knew after months and months of begging my parents for a guinea pig. They had finally relented, agreeing that I could have a guinea pig if I could find a way to pay for one. So I scrapped up my pennies, and found a free guinea pig, for which I then bought a commercial pen, bedding food, hay, toys — all the necessities. I think my parents figured it was a phase, something I would grow bored with, eventually. I didn’t. I read everything I could find about cavies, and after some time of demonstrating that I could and would take good care of my new pet, my parents allowed me to get two more cavies. Even though I desperately wanted a long-haired cavy, I ended up with two more mixed-breed short hairs. That’s a long story I’ll have to tell you some other time.

I had Aragon for several years before she died after being treated for dental issues. She was old, and didn’t handle the procedure as well as she had others in the past. I, of course, bawled my eyes out. And my dad, doing what most dads do in this situation, offered to take me to a cavy show the next day and let me buy any guinea pig I wanted.

We came home with my first breeding pair of Peruvians.

Once we got our first little caviary set up, my dad made a big sign that read “Aragon’s Legacy” to put on the biggest pen we had. We later derived the name of our caviary, Legacy Caviary, from the sign.

Legacy Lloth

Lloth, a black-and-white Peruvian, wasn’t my first show pig, but she was the first I managed to get into some semblance of showable coat condition. Those of you who have tried to show long hairs know this in and of itself would make any guinea pig special. But Lloth also had the genetics to back up my fledgling grooming ability, and she became my first grand champion by the time she hit breeding weight. She gave us one litter, a pair of sows, and then subsequently refused to allow any other boar near her ever again. Since she wouldn’t breed, I decided to clean her up and coat her out again — an effort that earned her three additional legs, the equivalent of earning a second grand champion status.

Legacy Tycho

Tycho was born for the show table. He came out of a long line of show animals, going back to Lloth and those original Peruvians, but he came out as a silkie, which wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I went with it, anyway. Tycho was not only a stunning show animal, but also a bit of a character. He more or less tolerated being groomed, unless you were my dad, in which case, you weren’t allowed to touch him. Naturally, my dad took over the effort to coat Tycho while I worked an internship away from home for a few months. When he and my sister did manage to get all the hair out of his wraps, Tycho made a habit of spinning around and sitting on top of his hair so no one could comb it. He later tamed down and became quit persistent in his demands for attention: Whenever someone walked by his pen, Tycho would stick up his nose and wait for you to pet him. If you didn’t, he would chatter and wheek in protest.

Tycho just passed away while we were at a show two weeks ago. He had grown rather elderly, so it wasn’t entirely unexpected.

Legacy Gapper

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It’s not his best picture, so he doesn’t look very impressive, but Gapper was the first Peruvian satin I had tear up the show table — or at least, he came as close to doing so as any Peruvian satin I have every owned. Gapper took best of show, once, after a rather amusing exchange. During the show’s best of show round, with all of the breeds on display, the judge paused to admire Gapper and remark that he was a rather nice Peruvian Satin. “But,” he said, “let’s compare him to this Peruvian over here.” The judged walked over to the Peruvian on the table, ran his fingers through its coat, and, with a rather shocked expression, pointed to Gapper and said “that one’s best of show.”

Gapper never bred for us; we sent him to a veterinarian friend of ours who thought she could persuade him to produce some offspring. We now have his son, David, and several grandchildren.

Legacy Padma

Padma is one of my most recent Peruvian satins, and also my most recent national champion — Padma took best of breed at the 2014 ACBA Specialty. He recently retired from the show circuit and is now in breeding.

Legacy Marshall and Legacy Rodney

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I’ve included these two together because they’re brothers, and because that is an important part of their history. Marshall is the oldest; we knew almost as soon as he was born — a singleton boar — that he would be a phenomenal animal. But after a month or two, Marshall contracted pneumonia. We caught it early and began treatment, but the prognosis for pneumonia in cavies is not good, so we didn’t think he would survive. Worried we would lose possibly the best Peruvian we had ever bred, we put his parents back together and hoped for the best. Marshall not only survived and went on to a long and successful show career (though he always has had a funny wheeze ever since), but his brother, Rodney (the black and white one), turned out even better and had an even more spectacular show career. Both are retired and in breeding, with litters on the way.

 

So that might be more than five. Oops. I guess I have trouble with basic math. Or, more likely, I can’t narrow it down to five favorites. I have felt a special bond with each of these animals, and I couldn’t narrow it down any further.