In August 2020, Stevie came into our lives. He was the last of his litter left behind in the pet shop because his eye looked a bit different. I could not leave him there not knowing what would happen to him. We were told that he was blind, but it soon transpired that this was not the case. His eye was perforated (probably by a piece of hay) and needed removing. The whole process has been hugely emotional, but also very educational. Here I share the top five things I have learned from having a special-needs guinea pig.
Stevie with post-surgery stitches
1. Trust your instincts
Nobody spends more time with your piggy than you do. As such, nobody can know your piggies better than you. With your special needs piggy, you will very quickly get a sense of what is normal (and what isn’t). This won’t always be the same thing for your non-special needs piggies. With Stevie, for example, he regularly gets little bits of discharge from where his right eye was. After many vet visits, we came to learn that this was part and parcel of his post-surgery life. We learned to manage this ourselves at home bathing it regularly with a homemade saline solution. He also regularly gets boogers coming from his right nostril, also thought to be connected to his surgery (it’s on the same side). These things are pretty normal for Stevie and can be managed at home. However, if they were to be accompanied by heavy breathing, for instance, then a vet visit for some antibiotics is crucial. You will come to learn what is normal and thus manageable at home, and what isn’t for your special needs piggies.
2. The importance of having a guinea pig savvy vet
I think this is probably true with all piggies, regardless of whether they have special-needs or not. However, the sheer frequency of our vet trips with Stevie has given me a newfound gratitude for having a cavy savvy vet to hand. Stevie required someone with a strong understanding of guinea pigs so that the eye removal surgery would be successful in the first place. His post-operative care however was just as crucial. Stevie required regular follow-up appointments to monitor his recovery process. Our cavy savvy vet has also been really great with our constant stream of questions; he definitely has played a fundamental role in Stevie’s recovery journey!
Nursing Stevie back to health
3. Not to compare special-needs guinea pig with other piggies
Again, I think this goes without saying for all piggies, regardless of whether they have special needs or not. Each guinea pig is unique and will develop at their own pace. This is, however, especially true with special needs piggies. For example, Stevie reached weight milestones at a different pace to his house mate Marvin. He is now within 20g of Marvin’s weight, but it has taken many months for him to catch up. This does, however, work both ways. Stevie developed a great amount of trust and confidence in humans very quickly because he was having a lot of one-on-one time while we were syringe feeding him, giving him medication, bathing his eye, and generally nursing him back to health. It would be unfair to expect the same rate of progress with Marvin’s confidence because he hasn’t required such a huge amount of one-on-one time.
4. To enjoy the moments, however big or small
Looking after a special-needs piggy can be a very emotional process, and it doesn’t always have a happy ending. With Stevie, we got lucky. But there were times when it was touch and go. That’s why I think it’s important to celebrate every moment you have with your piggies (special needs or otherwise). Enjoy the first time they lick your hand, the first time they fall asleep on you, the first time they climb on your lap. Savour every little moment you share together, these moments are incredibly precious.
Charlotte & Stevie
5. Just how special your bond with a guinea pig can be
We’ve been through so much with Stevie, emergency vet appointments at midnight and staying up through the night administering critical care on the hour every hour. This kind of process creates an incomparable bond. Stevie seems to intuit when I’m sad and comes and snuggles up to me. He climbs up on my lap during floortime, he falls to sleep on me. Every single time this happens I am filled with a huge wave of emotion. I don’t think everyone realises just how intuitive and intelligent guinea pigs actually are. We celebrate the bond that man has with his canine ‘best friend’, but I feel an equally strong bond with my piggies, if not more so. They are incredibly special creatures.
Stevie, now a happy & healthy boy :)
In spite of everything Stevie has gone through, he lives a very full and happy life with his buddy Marvin. Stevie is the dominant piggy of the two, and can regularly be found bossing Marvin around and making sure he gets the best napping spot.
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