I adopted my guinea pig Alfalfa impulsively. I was presented with an animal that was in desperate need of a good home and didn’t think before I jumped. When I examined him, I discovered that he was bad shape… Alfalfa’s teeth were too long. His diet consisted of only pellets and carrots. His nose ran. His nails were too long. They were starting to curve under. His feet were sore from living on dirty bedding. His ears were full of wax. His cage was too small and too dirty. His hair was matted with pellets on his underside and butt. His male part area was unmentionably unclean. His eyes ran a bit. He had this weird cough. Oh, boy did he stink. And to make matters worse, he had spent the first nine months of his life on cedar chips.
When I got home that first day, I cleaned him up the best that I could. I trimmed his nails. I gave him a bath. I trimmed the fur that was matted and too dirty to come clean easily. I un-caked and cleaned his waxy spot on his butt with a bit of olive oil. I cleaned out the tons of wax in his ears. I gently cleaned the caked on buggers on his nose. I checked and cleaned his eyes ensuring that no gunk was matted around them to irritate them again. I even made sure his male area was in tip-top shape. I put together a cage that was three times the size he was used to and threw out the old one. I filled the cage with Carefresh bedding, a variety of good fresh food, fresh water, and lots of timothy hay. After several hours of work, he looked like a brand-new guinea pig in a brand-new home. There was only one problem…the neglect had already taken its toll.
When I was done, Alfalfa spent a bit of time exploring his cage. Things were quiet in the house and I noticed that he sneezed a lot. I also heard an odd wheezing coming from him when he breathed. Sometimes that wheezing turned into a mucus filled cough. It sounded like he was going to choke to death. I was planning on taking him to the vet sooner than later. However, the noises he was making made me very concerned… Guinea pigs do not make noises when they breathe. Guinea pigs should not cough. Finally, it is not a good sign when guinea pigs sneeze. So, I scheduled a vet visit for him. I adopted him on a Tuesday and had at the vet on Thursday. I went to bed that night concerned for my new pet. I prayed that he would get better now that he was cleaned up and in much, much better environment.
On Wednesday morning I was encouraged by Alfalfa’s progress. He was no longer audibly wheezing with every breath. He seemed to have much more energy. He even let out a bunch of squeals at me. They were weak and usually ended with a mucus filled cough. However, I was encouraged by his progress. I left for work in a good and hopeful mood. When I got home from work, I noticed that Alfalfa had some crust around his eyes and nose. It was a sad sight. The poor thing was clearly suffering. I picked him up and gently cleared the gunk from his face. I used a warm wet cloth and managed to get most of it off. He was still not audibly wheezing and the sneezing seemed less frequent. But there was that mucus cough. It was not getting any better.
Thursday afternoon arrived and I swept through my apartment, gathered my new pet, and rushed off to the vet. Alfalfa was not handled much during the first months of his life. So, this vet experience was very traumatic for him. When we got the vet I was greeted with the usual paperwork. Most of it I left blank. The receptionist at the desk was not too happy with my lack of information on my pet. She said that she would ‘try again’ with me on my next visit. I was escorted into a room with Alfalfa. He let out a small wheek followed by a mucus filled cough. “Oh, that doesn’t sound good,” the receptionist said with great concern.
“Yes,” I stated in as calm as a voice as I could muster, “That’s why we’re here…”
I sat with Alfalfa in his travel cage for about five minutes before being greeted by the vet tech. He weighed and got Alfalfa’s temperature. He remarked that his temperature was a bit high and at the top of the normal range for a guinea pig. When he was done with Alfalfa, he put him back in his travel cage. Alfalfa let out a horrible series of mucus filled coughs. The tech was taken aback by the noise and backed away from the table. Unfazed, I reached in and put Alfalfa on my left shoulder. I gently patted his back to help him clear the mucus in his lungs. He stopped coughing after several pats. “There you go,” I said gently to my suffering pet.
The tech had a concerned look on his face as he said, “I’ll get the vet right away.” He slipped out of the room without another word. I continued to rock Alfalfa on my shoulder as we waited for the vet. The vet came in minutes later with the same tech in tow. He introduced himself briskly and asked me to put Alfalfa down on the towel on the examination table. He poked and prodded Alfalfa to the animal’s chagrin. The guinea pig did not like to be handled. Finally, he took out his stethoscope to listen to Alfalfa’s lungs.
The vet took a long time to listen to Alfalfa’s lungs. I was very scared as a sat and watched. He told me, “I need to get an x-ray of his lungs…now.” The statement was made with such authority that I didn’t even question it.
“Ok,” I replied without thinking. With that, he whisked Alfalfa out of the room with the tech following close behind. I was left alone in an examination room to wait for my new pet and the results of his x-ray. Alfalfa returned about 10 minutes later in the tech’s arms.
“He was a bit squirmy for us…but, he did well,” the tech explained handing my guinea pig back to me.
“Give us a bit to read the x-rays and the vet will be back in to explain what’s going on…” the tech explained.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I’ll let the vet explain to you the issues with his lungs…” the tech said.
“There is an issue with his lungs?” I asked with even greater concern.
“Uhmmm,” the tech mumbled back to me, “I’ll let the vet explain it.” The tech quickly exited the room.
Little did I know that Alfalfa was in a potential life and death struggle as I sat there in there in the exam room….
Please come back next week for Part Two of this story…