One of the most common questions asked by people when they know I have guinea pigs is how long do they live for? This is a extremely difficult question to answer but the rough guide is between 4 and 8 years old, on average. There is a big diference here between 4 and 8 so why is that?
Meet Itsy! She is part of the original piggy trio at The Piggy Lounge. As my first guinea pigs they were a purchase from a pet shop, a fact I quickly realised was wrong and vouched never to do again. Itsy was excess stock from the guinea pig showing world and I was assured the genetic material for Itsy would be far superior than conventional pet shop guinea pig (all balls, I’m afraid). People who breed to show do it to “better” the breed and eliminate health issues, or so they say. I think it’s all to do with looks. Itsy’s white crest is not very perfect so she probably wasn’t deemed a perfect example of the breed and, therefore, became surplus to the showing world and dumped in a pet shop for a quick profit.
So let’s talk about age and health in my allegedly genetically superior health Itsy.
In June 2014 at the age of 2, I found 2 lumps on her belly. A trip to vet was followed by surgery to remove the bigger lump with a view to send to the lab to find out what it was. The results came back and it was an aggressive cancer, so surgery was booked to remove the 2nd lump. All there was left now was the uncertainty whether all cancerous tissue had been removed or not. There was no way to tell and we would just have to go with it and see how she progressed. Still to this date I don’t know.
A few weeks later Itsy started losing weight and the first thing to cross my mind was that the cancer playing up. I started syringe feeding but then one day I noticed a huge swelling on her right back cheek. Abscesses grow in size very quickly but the start of the infection can go unnoticeable for a while. Itsy found it hard to chew on that side of her mouth so her teeth started growing and, therefore, she lost weight. Off to the vets we went and she had an op to open and drain the abscess. And then a long process of syringe feeding and abscess flushing a few times a day started. Abscesses should be left open and flushed/ cleaned daily as the aim is for the wound to heal from the inside so as not to trap any source of infection inside, which can perpetuate the problem. Wound healed, vet happy and a month later the dreaded abscess is back. Off to vets again to open and start the above process again, this time with meds for longer and guess what? It came back a 3rd time. This was Itsy 5th op under general anaesthetic in 6 months. The infection, found deep in muscular tissue, and all these re-0currances changed the bone structure of her jaw and her teeth started growing in funny shapes. It’s been over a year and to this date the abscess hasn’t returned but Itsy is on long term medication to manage this and still needs dental work done every 3 weeks.
A couple of weeks ago, after noticing Itsy sitting on her heels I asked the vet to feel for arthritis. Spot on! Itsy not only has arthritis on both her back paws, it’s quite severe on her back left paw and hip and has a very limited range of movement on that leg. All we can do is manage this and she is on metacam 2x daily for it and also for mandibular pain (to help her chew and wear those teeth out). I also give her Joint Support Oxbow supplement, it contains glucosamine which is beneficial.
Itsy has also developed fatty eye, a harmless condition which the vet associates with age (some younger pigs have it as it can be genetic and overweight piggies can develop it as well). Over time she has also had fur loss issues that improved on their own. Vet has indicated she might have the start of ovarian cysts but due to her fragile health we’re not doing anything unless they increase or symptoms develop.
Even though she is a fragile girl she is a happy girl and with all her conditions managed leads a happy life. She also has the most high pitched week imaginable!So, here we have a “genetically healthier purposefully bred” guinea pig who at 4 yrs old the vet reckons has the body, health and immune system of a 8 year old guinea pig and sadly will most likely not live to that age. Although I hope she does as she is a very special girly for me! Age is relative!