Sunday, July 25, 2010

How to be pig crazy

Raising a guinea pig requires basic knowledge of the animal's characteristics and weaknesses

It is a common phenomenon that many guinea pig lovers who want to keep a pure breed of the lovely rodent end up keeping a fake one. This mistake keeps occurring as long as guinea pig devotees have no basic knowledge of this tiny pet.

Since thorough information about this species is rare in Thailand, many inexperienced keepers easily fall prey to fraudulent sellers who present the impure strain widely known as noo kwan, a kind of rodent that has many whorls of hair along its body. But with information about the breed, buyers can easily differentiate between the pure and impure breeds.

"There are some selfish breeders who breed guinea pigs with a kind of noo tapao. This practice makes the real breed become rarer and its price soars immensely. If the mixed breeding scheme continues, it is possible that the pure breed will eventually become extinct," said guinea pig connoisseur Sujintron Petheium.

Ms Sujintron said the best age for getting a guinea pig is one month because its outward appearance and structure start to be clearly defined. And when it is about three months old, it can be easily identified.

"Noo tapao has a pointed face with straight ears. It has short hair and whorls of hair along its long body while a guinea pig has a round face with drooping ears and its body is rather rotund," she explained.

Buying a guinea pig when it is still tender is also beneficial since the younger it is, the tamer it is.

"Any problems concerning a guinea pig can be prevented in advance if keepers study and search for information exhaustively before making up their minds to adopt one. It's a long-term commitment so any keepers should be well prepared," she warned.

"By nature, a guinea pig is somewhat fretful. It needs extra care and attention from its caretaker all the time. It is very sensitive to all kinds of noises and when it hears a loud sound, it will cry. But when we pick it up, it will stop. So a guinea pig is the kind of pet that is suitable only for those who enjoy taking care of animals," she said.

Ms Sujintron says it is not advisable to keep a guinea pig on grass because parasites and mites on the ground can make the animal fall ill easily. But if owners insist on keeping it on grass, it is strongly recommended to deworm the animal every three months. But guinea pigs kept in a cage can be dewormed every five months.

"The cage should be placed in a ventilated area. To keep the cage clean and the animal healthy, place a litter tray under the cage and clean it every two days. If not, ammonia from urine can evaporate above the tray and the animal can easily catch a cold by smelling it," she explained.

Though small, a guinea pig enjoys playing with toys, too. Its favourites include any toy with a squeaky sound. Some even enjoy playing with dolls.

A guinea pig's diet varies. It includes grass, dry commercial food available in any pet shop, fruit and vegetables that must be cleaned thoroughly by soaking in water mixed with permanganate potassium for at least half an hour. "Dry food can be put in a bowl and left in the cage all the time. Grass can be given to the animal three times a day. Fruit and vegetables can be fed between the main meals," she said.

In addition to major nutrients, a guinea pig also needs vitamin C, which helps prevent hair loss and colds. Vitamin C can be given to the animal two times a day, in the morning and evening.

During the dry season, it is advisable to bathe the animal at least once a week. Owners should also comb its hair every day to remove dead hair and prevent a matted coat. Grooming and cutting the hair should be done before bathing time.

"Warm water is preferable. Use soap specially produced for the guinea pig. While bathing it, place its neck on the edge of the bowl. Clean its hair two or three times to make sure soap is removed from its coat. Then dry its hair immediately to prevent pneumonia. But during the winter, bathe it every two weeks," she suggested.

Ms Sujintron said pneumonia is a very common disease among guinea pig since by nature it likes playing in water a lot. And when it gets wet, it can develop pneumonia right away.

"We need to provide extra care for the animal during the hot season because a guinea pig likes cold weather. A glazed tile can be placed on the cage floor so the animal can seek coolness from it. A bottle with ice inside can also emit coolness, but it must be wrapped with cloth. An electric fan is also helpful," she suggested.

Ms Sujintron said guinea pig owners can examine the animal's health by themselves every week to look for abnormalities. It should be weighed at least three times a week. If it loses weight, pet owners have to take it to a vet because most sick guinea pigs will lose weight. Sudden weigh loss can lead to shock and death.

Its oral health is also important. Normally, lower teeth are longer than upper teeth and whenever the animal can't munch its teeth, it suggests that it might be suffering from a tooth problem. Take it to a vet to have its teeth trimmed.

After checking the teeth, check the gums to see if they are clear or have any mould. When the animal has an oral problem, it can't eat and will lose weight.

Then move to the next step of an optical check-up. Any sick guinea pig will have too much eye discharge, with tears running down all the time. It might start getting a cold. Take it to a vet immediately.

Too much earwax with pus also suggests that the animal is sick. And don't forget to check its skin whether it has any scrape or fungus.

"These are easy check-ups that all keepers can do by themselves every week," she said. n

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