We currently have 73 cavies residing at
the shelter. A good portion are senior citizens - cavies 5 years
old and older. Living with older pets is a bittersweet experience.
You've gone through a lot together and have grown very comfortable
with each other. Oldsters are usually mellow and better behaved
than those pesky young whippersnappers - content to sit quietly
and enjoy your company. They're less demanding of your attention
and more appreciative of it. The sad part is watching your shorter-lived
companion age before your eyes. As he becomes frail and fragile
you realize your life together grows short. Each day is time
to be cherished.
I find myself in a unique position to
learn firsthand the many changes and problems that can affect
older cavies. The average cavy life span is 5-7 years. I consider
3-4 to be middle aged, 5-6 is getting up there, 7 and over is
pretty darn old. Much can be done to help cavies live longer
and more comfortably. The trick is to catch problems as early
as possible. Much of the following observations apply to cavies
of any age, but just a little more so for the old guys.
Be aware of how your cavy looks and acts
normally, so that anything abnormal will be noticed immediately.
Oldsters often cannot fight off disease as well as cavies in
their prime, or bounce back as quickly. Body parts are wearing
out and may not work quite the same. Catching problems early
gives you a better chance of curing it, preventing further damage,
or at least making your cavy more comfortable. In many cases
you will find the help of a cavy knowledgeable veterinarian invaluable.
Changes in your cavy's appetite and weight
are important signs that he may not feel well. Frequent weigh-ins
are a good idea. I feed my cavies fresh pellets each day. By
dumping leftover food from the previous day and measuring in
the same amount of pellets each day - I have a good idea of what
each cavy normally eats. If one morning somebody's pellets are
still in the bowl, I know I have a sick cavy. If a cavy that
normally loves parsley or carrots suddenly isn't interested,
I worry. A cavy hasn't been eating well for awhile if ribs and
hipbones can easily be felt.
Attention to water consumption is also
important. My cavies get fresh water twice daily. This encourages
them to drink more, which helps keep them hydrated and "flushing"
through nicely. If your cavy is suddenly drinking much more or
much less than usual, check your water bottle first. Sometimes
bottles leak, sometimes the balls stick in the tube - blocking
water in. Replace the bottle if necessary and see if that changes
the water consumption. If your bottle checks out fine and the
water consumption remains abnormal, your cavy has a problem.
Oldsters front teeth should be routinely
examined to make sure they keep straight and even.
Sometimes teeth grow more brittle and
break off easier. Broken teeth usually grow back within a week
or so, but may need trimming to avoid growing back jagged or
uneven. With nothing to work against, the tooth opposite the
broken one might overgrow and also need to be trimmed. Your cavy
should be able to eat pellets just fine with one broken tooth,
but you need to chop fresh food into bite-size pieces.
If your cavy is having trouble chewing
but the front teeth look fine, a molar may be broken, overgrown
or misaligned. You will need the help of a cavy vet, with an
otoscope, to check the molars and determine what treatment is
needed. Cavy cheek pads make getting at the molars difficult.
Sometimes a cavy must be anesthetized for a short time to safely
trim or file the molars. Occasionally a cavy will require regular
trimming to keep teeth aligned and working properly. Your vet
can show you how to trim the front teeth and what tool to use.
Molars are best done professionally.
You may notice changes in
your senior's eyes.
As cataracts form eyes gradually become
hazy, bluish or whitish, opaque. A vet exam is a good idea, but
often there isn't much you can do about this. Cataracts are not
generally painful and cavies do adapt to the decreasing eyesight.
If one or both eyes suddenly becomes white or opaque, inflamed,
starts to bulge or have discharge - see your vet immediately.
Quick eye treatment is needed to clear up the condition or prevent
further damage to the eye. Occasionally older cavies need their
eyes lubricated, but not medicated, daily to avoid becoming overdry.
A sterile eye lubricant (such as Stye) available at most pharmacies
in the eyedrop section can be used.
Sometimes oldsters become a bit stiff
with age. Their legs are not as limber as they once were and
walking over loose bedding becomes increasingly difficult. Using
a large soft flat towel on the cage floor instead of bedding
can make a world of difference. Getting around on a smooth solid
surface is much easier for them. The towel does need to be changed
once or twice daily depending on how soiled it gets. Avoid putting
anything into the cage oldsters could get tangled in. Keep toys
small and compact, cut hay into shorter lengths if necessary.
Footpads must be watched for signs of
irritation or sores.
A triple antibiotic ointment applied twice
daily will help clear up minor problems. If it doesn't clear
up or gets worse, see your veterinarian for advice. Foot sores
can develop into an ugly, chronic, stubborn condition called
Bumblefoot. To help avoid irritation buy the softest, cleanest
bedding you can find (I prefer kiln-dried pine). Towels may be
a better choice if foot sores are present. Keep nails trimmed
to avoid undue stress on the feet. Hard callous-like protrusions
off the side of the front paws are not uncommon in older cavies.
While unlovely, this is rarely a problem. Unless the growth is
long enough to interfere with walking or is at risk of catching
on something, it can be left alone.
Regular grooming is still
needed to help your oldster feel and look fabulous. Use a good
quality conditioning-type pet shampoo.
If you see a lot of dandruff, Selsun Blue
Moisturizing Shampoo for people works well. Coats tend to get
dry with age. A dab of Nexxus Humectress rubbed into the coat
after towel drying will help condition the coat and skin. Blow
dry well before returning your pet to his cage, then cover the
cage with towels for awhile to prevent chills. Bathing is a great
time to thoroughly check your cavy over for lumps, bald spots,
redness, scales, etc.
Just because your cavy is old, a health
problem doesn't necessarily mean it's his time to go. Everything
dies and everything dies of something. You can't fix everything.
But, with vigilance, awareness and concern - many problems can
be treated or controlled, allowing your oldster to spend more
quality time with you. Notice everything! Be nosy! Even stool
and urine - does it look normal, is your cavy having trouble
going? Listen to his breathing - do you hear clicking or wheezing?
Is there discharge near his nose, is his chin wet? Consult your
vet ASAP if you notice any warning signs.
When it is finally your pet's time to
go, you'll have the comfort of knowing you did your very best.
You fixed what you could. You cherished him and made his life
as wonderful as possible. You will grieve, of course, but I hope
also feel pride and joy that your beloved pet shared your life
for so long.
This article and the JPGPR.com
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Pig Rescue. No copyright is asserted herein regarding the illustrations
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