Sunday 23 October 2016

My guinea pig broke his leg playing in my back garden

Puddin's back leg was at an odd angle, so Emma took her to see the local vet

Emma's family have two pet cats, but this springtime, she decided that she wanted a pet of her own. The family's cats are independent creatures who only allow themselves to be petted when it suits them. Emma wanted a pet that she could spend time with whenever she feels like it.

After some discussion, she went to the DSPCA with her parents, with the idea of taking in a pair of rescued rabbits. When talking to the DSPCA staff, they came up with a different idea: why not take two guinea pigs instead? Guinea pigs are ideal pets for children of Emma's age. They are small, cute and playful, and they enjoy the company of humans. Emma came home with two guinea pigs: Puddin and Olly.

The guinea pigs settled well into Emma's home: they have their own house and run, which is moved around the lawn in the back garden.

They are voracious grass eaters, and the two guinea pigs are doing a good job of mowing the lawn. Emma also feeds them pelleted food that is enriched with vitamin C: guinea pigs are unusual in that they must eat vitamin C every day, or they will suffer from a disease called scurvy.

All other pets (such as dogs, cats and rabbits) manufacture vitamin C internally, so there's no need to give them it in their food.

Emma gives her guinea pigs a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit as well: their favourites are watermelon, kiwi fruit and peppers. These are all rich in vitamin C, so there is no risk of her new pets suffering from a deficiency.

Earlier this week, Emma noticed that Puddin was holding her back left leg to one side, at an odd angle. She seemed normal otherwise, eating well and being as active as ever, but her leg just looked "wrong", so she brought her up to see me.

When I felt the leg, it was swollen, so I decided that an X-ray was needed. This showed me what had happened: Puddin had a broken leg. Her thigh bone had snapped, which was why the leg was sticking out awkwardly.

It's hard to know how this could have happened, although guinea pigs can be surprisingly active, running and jumping, and they can hurt themselves in play.

They have fragile bones, and you need to be careful when handling them. Even then, accidents can easily happen.

If Puddin was a dog, a cat or a human, the broken thigh bone would need to be repaired using internal metal work, with stainless steel plates to hold the fragments in correct position.

In theory, this could also be done with a guinea pig, but special tiny plates would need to be ordered, and the cost of the complex surgery could be €1,000 or more.

The realistic answer is much simpler: Puddin just has to be quiet, confined to her hutch and a small run, for the next two months.


Her leg will heal (just as wild animals recover from broken legs over time) but it will not be perfect: it's likely that it will always stick out at an odd angle.

I have prescribed some strong pain-relieving drops for Puddin: it's important that she's kept as comfortable as possible, especially for the first few days of her recovery.

The medicine tastes sweet, like honey, so it's easy to give it to Puddin. Guinea pigs do make lovely pets for children, but like any living creature, they can fall ill, and they can suffer injuries.

Adults always need to be closely involved with their care, but these ups and downs of pet ownership bring useful lessons to children about the ups and downs of life.

> Broken legs are a common injury in small pets

> Complex and expensive surgery is the ideal answer

> Strict rest and good pain relief is often used instead

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