Working With Your Vet

Working With Your Vet Part 4 (2006- 2010)

Since writing the original series of “Educating Your Vet” articles some years ago, we decided it was time to update what we’ve been up to since then, and share even more successes that we’ve had!

Here are the links to the original articles:

Educating Your Vet: Part 1 (2003)

Educating Your Vet: Part 2 (2004)

Educating Your Vet: Part 3 (2005)

Comings And Goings

  • James Brooks moved to the Active Vetcare Referral Center in Maidenhead, and in 2009 he moved up north – gone but never forgotten for all his good work with guineas.
  • Alison Twitchen then became Clinical Manager, and agreed that a Piggy PM (open day) specifically aimed at raising guinea pig care awareness would be beneficial to the community, Reading Guinea Pig Rescue, and of course, the practice. As a practice that sees a lot of guinea pigs, it made sense for Active Vetcare to want to promote that. Asking Alison if I (Karen) could hold an open day at the practice was a nerve racking experience, but at the end of the day the worst thing she could have done was said “no”! I am so glad I plucked up the courage to ask her if Reading Guinea Pig Rescue (RGPR) could go ahead with this. Since then, the Cats Protection League have also asked if they could hold a day for cats because they were in awe of our open day. RGPR are to this day still holding Piggy PMs with the aim of raising awareness (as opposed to on the spot rehoming) in the community. Rainbow is proving a great favourite with the public and is earning her keep here!
  • Jenny Towers became Clinical Manager at Tilehurst Veterinary Centre in November 2007 when Alison moved to another CVS practice within the group. Jenny achieved this just 3 years after she graduated from Vet school.
  • Hannah Hetreed arrived in 2007, fresh out of Vet School and is very good with guineas thanks to training from Jenny.
  • Sally Ward arrived in 2008 and was already an experienced surgeon and used to seeing guinea pigs. Soon after arriving, she did her first castrates for Reading Guinea Pig Rescue and all the boars sailed through their “little ops”.


To date RGPR, has had 70+ castrates done on rescue boars using 5 different Vets at Tilehurst Veterinary Centre with no complications – including post castrate abscesses. Typically, I (Karen) have had a post castrate abscess with one of my own boars though! It was treated effectively and without fuss or drama.

Having a Vet or 3 that you can rely on to do castrates is vital when running a rescue, it gives the boars a greater chance of finding a home as they have the option of selecting a female friend or a male one. As it is, the boars are here for longer than the sows and boars are always given priority for new homes where possible because of the odds of rehoming a boar. As always, our boars are left for two wheeks to allow for the skin (and internal stitching) to heal as well as for sperm to dry up. We took this advice from the Cambridge Cavy Trust when we had our first boar castrated approximately 8 years ago and have not had any “accidental pregnancies” or injuries to boars. Other rescues have expressed the same preference, though the medically “safe” period of time is 1 month.

Castrate operations differ greatly from Vet to Vet, it is unwise to generalise too much on them. There are basic “rules” that apply, but as incisions are made in different places depending on the Vet it is impossible to generalise. Find a Vet that has recently done successful castrates and is confident about doing them. Guinea Pig Welfare has some questions you can ask before signing your guinea pig over for the operation. It is also important that the nurses are aware of the needs of post op guineas. At Tilehurst Veterinary Centre the nurses are aware that syringe feeding is necessary if guinea doesn’t start to eat immediately, and they report back on whether the boar is eating well or not. Quite often, although he has eaten something, the boar will tuck into his food when he gets home. I have never left a boar overnight at the Vets because he is not eating very well. They are much better off in their home setting, and wherever possible they take a friend with them. I like the actual stay at the surgery to be as short as possible, it has seemed to be the best thing for guinea pigs and healing over the years, with a better response when they are at home.


Abscesses are often treated by the Vets at Tilehurst Veterinary Centre. They can usually be lanced without anaesthetic (depending on where they are), saving a lot of time, money, and worry for the Humans. They require flushing out and antibiotics until they have healed from the inside out.

When Chrissie’s guinea Chatterbox had an abscess that would not clear up (due to a tooth root infection), Jenny suggested trying antibiotic beads which are used for soft tissue infections. These are small, ceramic beads impregnated with antibiotics that are stitched into the cavity where the abscess is. They work from the inside out and Jenny had successfully used them in rabbits, but not in guineas. So, Chatterbox was the first guinea to undergo this procedure at the practice. The operation went well and Chatterbox was home a few hours later and happily eating grass. Within a week, the abscess had cleared up and Chatterbox lived for another year without any further problems, and went on her way at the age of 6.

Soon afterwards, Wendi at Thistle Cavies Rescue had a guinea with a similar problem. Wendi’s guinea-competent Vet Richard had not used the antibiotic beads before, so he contacted Jenny to find out more information. As a result of this sharing of information, he has since gone on to do several successful operations to treat stubborn abscesses with antibiotic beads.

Abscesses are perhaps one of the issues that Karen experiences more often than anything else. Abscesses are, in general, easy to deal with. They are lanced and flushed and then the flushing is carried on at home, usually twice daily.

When Calista, one of her own sows, got a tooth root abscess, her first thought was to treat with everything available! Thankfully Jenny remained calm and took the least invasive route first, but discussed other options should this one not work. At times like this, Karen is not as removed from what is going on as she is with the rescue guineas, and is brought back down to earth with a bit of a bump. It made her realise how lucky she was to have a Vet that also had a mind and opinion of her own, and didn’t just bow to popular opinion. It was when this happened that Karen realised how good a Vet Jenny really was, she wasn’t just acting and treating to my will/desire, her treatment was (as it should be!) medically based and with reason.

Calista was treated antibiotics and needed some dental work on her now 3 incisors, but completely overcame the abscess.


Guineas with skin problems regularly turn up at the practice and after seeing the good results produced by the Gorgeous Guineas range, the key products are now stocked at the practice, and recommended by them (Lice ‘n’ Easy / Manuka & Neem Shampoo, Lavender & Myrrh Lotion and Aloe Vera Gel). They also usually recommend the Xeno range of products for Mites rather than painful injections – unless it is a very bad case that has not been caught early and treated promptly.

Difficult Stone Operations

James and Jenny have both done some long operations on guineas with stones. One guinea had a stone that was blocking his ureter (the tube connecting the kidney and bladder). This is a very small tube, but James decided to operate as it was a do or die situation. After a long operation, the guinea came round and made a successful recovery, but took much longer to get back to normal levels of activity than after a simple bladder stone op.

Jenny also completed a couple of more complicated bladder stone operations. These usually happen when the stone is not removed as soon as it was discovered and has either caused a lot of damage to the bladder wall, or become embedded in it. Where there is any suspicion of bladder stones, an X-ray without anaesthetic will confirm if they are present. In my experience, where stones are removed as soon as they are diagnosed and before they do any more damage, the prognosis is usually good. Sometimes a second stone can form just a short while after the first operation (as happened with Marvellous Marbles), but this is fairly rare. Trying to treat your own guinea and thinking that the problem is cystitis rather than a bladder stone is not recommended, particularly if you have a boar as they rarely get urinary tract infections.

Information Sheets – Ratewatchers / Syringe Feeding

Diet in guinea pigs is a particular interest of Karen’s. It has been an ongoing project from 2002 to find a “suitable” guinea pig diet. Much information is available on the internet, and after trawling the websites with reliable data and compiling it into an easier format, Ratewatchers was born. Fresh food is not the major part of a guinea pig’s diet but it can have a major impact if fed incorrectly… Karen did a survey of nationwide guinea pig diets before compiling Ratewatchers to find out if diet was possibly the problem. Every single guinea pig that took part was on an unbalanced diet. Those that changed their diet to Ratewatchers have had a chance at a healthier life. Karen makes no claims to the diet being a “cure” – many bladder issues are inherited, all that can be done is to maximise bladder health. Although previous documents were handed to Active Vetcare for information, they were never recommended to the general public, but Ratewatchers is handed out as an information sheet and as a post operative advice sheet.

Syringe Feeding information sheets are also available at the practice if Humans are required to help their guineas out until they get back to eating on their own again.

Golden Oldies

Being a Golden Oldie is no barrier to having a good quality of life and excellent Veterinary Care. Mr Happy became a Gorgeous Guinea at the age of 5 and was paired up with Mr Cool. They had both recently lost their boar friends and were about the same age. When Mr Cool died about 6 months later, the question was what to do with Mr Happy? I took him to see Sally to discuss having him castrated. Despite the fact that he was 5 1/2, he was in very good condition. Sally was happy to do his “little op” and he was booked in with her a couple of days later. Mr Happy sailed through the operation and Sally did a very neat job of the stitching. After the 2 wheek post-op wait, Mr Happy was introduced to Little Miss Nosey who was already a Gorgeous Guinea. They got on well and became good friends. Mr Happy lived for another year and for the first time in his life, he wasn’t living off his nerves.

Heart Problems

Recently, Mr Magic wasn’t very well and was having problems breathing. He was taken to see Hannah the Vet as he was lethargic, his breathing was very fast and his sides were heaving with the effort. After Hannah had taken quite some time to listen to his heart and lungs, she decided to check with Jenny to see what her thoughts were. Guinea pig hearts beat very quickly, so it is often difficult to tell what is going on. The verdict was that there was something “not quite right” and he was initially given Lasix (diuretic) for a week to see if that would help. Although he did improve slightly, he went back for a check up a wheek later and Hannah decided to put him on Fortekor (heart medication). After just 3 days there was a marked improvement – he had got his energy back and started popcorning again:) After another couple of days decreasing the dose of Lasix, he came off that and is now just on Fortekor, doing well and has started to gain a small amount of weight. The diagnosis was achieved with the minimum of fuss and no expensive X-rays or scans.


Chrissie: having worked closely with our Vets at Tilehurst Veterinary Centre for the past 8 years, you can see some of the excellent results that we’ve had – all thanks to their willingness to try new things and apply their knowledege of cats and dogs to guinea pigs. Vets have come and gone, but there has been continuity of care and it is fantastic having 3 guinea-competent Vets at one practice. Wherever possible, they will offer more than one treatment option and discuss the pros and cons of their recommendations. The Vets are also very good at NOT injecting guineas unless it is absolutely necessary as can be very painful for the guineas. The majority of drugs used for guinea pig are available in tablet, liquid or spot-on form. They regularly treat “little customers” from all over the South of England – as far away as Oxfordshire, South London, Bath, Bristol, Southampton and Gosport because of the experience they have gained from seeing a lot of guineas over the years. Sharing their knowledge with other Vets is also a regular occurrence. The nurses and receptionists are also a very important part of the fantastic team at this friendly local practice.

Karen: the articles started out as “Educating Your Vet”, more preferable to that is “Working With Your Vet”, but hindsight is a wonderful thing! I feel cooperation works both ways and by taking tiny steps we have come a long way. For me, running a guinea pig rescue is much more than about finding guinea pigs new homes. I have a privileged position in that I see lots of guinea pigs in lots of “conditions” and am able to expose my Vets to guinea pigs! Castration is the single most important operation to me as a rescue. It enables me to take in more guinea pigs (no single boars), it allows the boys to have company and move forward in their little lives (a single boar will still need to be socialised by his new Human), lone sows looking for company can also choose from the boars giving them a wider range of choice.

Piggy PMs have come into their own and are promoting good guinea pig competent Veterinary care. More recently The Hay Experts have been present, they are very like minded when it comes to guinea pig care and simply don’t stock anything that is guinea pig unfriendly 🙂

I like that we have no agenda with this, no pressure on anyone, and therefore no disappointment. Working with your Vet is, given the cooperation, something that can be achieved anywhere by anyone. With every Vet visit you are educating your Vet…listen to them and be listened to 🙂