The great guinea pig massacre

I did what most people do when breeding guinea pigs; I started with just one, Nora, a tufted or Abyssinian. To keep it company I bought another female, only to discover Nora was really a Norman. But I couldn’t do that to the poor thing, so Nora he remained. It didn’t seem to faze him. He seemed certain of his sexuality.

I decided to try a bit of planned breeding so separated males from females, well most of the time, and in the end I had around 30 or so. It varied when pups arrived.

I converted my shed with confinement cages and had an outdoor run for socialising. I approached the vet a couple of times for advice, but generally my guinea pigs were very healthy. I had one litter where the mother died late on in the process, but without apparent pain.

Nora had a bit of bottle. I had an inquisitive dog, a Standard Schnauzer. She was gentle and wanted to play with anything that moved. While my attention was diverted, she lifted the lid to the run and stuck her nose in, only for it to receive attention from Nora’s gnoras. The dog jumped up in the air and then proceeded to make the wound worse.

Well named, I thought.

I fed them supplements and out of the bag food but following advice I included grass cuttings for fresh fodder. Friends would bring their cuttings and the animals would smell it as it was brought up the side of the house. They’d squeak and chatter, getting all excited. The one last in the queue would sometimes scrape the door of its cage.

As Nora got older he got a little slower and seemed to be bullied a little by the younger ones. I tended to keep him separate in his own cage in one corner of the shed and, when it got cold, in the house. I got some special food which included fresh material, and it seemed to perk him up a little. He would still come to the front of the cage when I called, or he heard me, but it took longer.

I took one of the other guinea pigs to the vet when it was a bit poorly, and took Nora along, not for the ride but for a check-up. She was around seven at the time, a ripe old age for the breed. I was told that I should consider having him put down if he got slower as his quality of life was becoming poor. My wife and I kept an eye on him.

But then disaster struck. I was given grass cuttings contaminated with weed killer, a paraquat based one I think, despite me asking every time if anything had been done to the lawn. I’d fed it to all them bar Nora, even the couple of pregnant ones, and in the morning all were dead. I was, as you can imagine, devastated. Two days later I had to go on a course, duration ten weeks, returning home every two.

So my attention was taken up but my wife had to deal with the fall out. She brought Nora in to the house permanently.

On the first weekend back she told me that Nora had been very quiet, probably pining, we thought, for the other animals. She came to the door slowly but seemed to perk up a bit on handling. I felt a little lump just in front of her left back leg and thought I’d check it the next time I returned.

As soon as I got home my wife told me that Nora had been off her food – that was a first – and she was concerned. She didn’t come to the door and as I picked her up she seemed to flinch. I looked for the lump. It had grown to twice the size and was easily visible. I phoned my vet despite it being nearly 9pm.

He said that he was very busy and had two litters of dogs to put down due to parvo virus. He expected to be out until early morning. He asked me if I had any pills that I hadn’t used.

As luck would have it, I’d had a skin infection that had become really inflamed. I was prescribed pills that made me sick, leaving me with a tremendous headache. I’d been given something different and I assumed I was allergic to whatever it was. For some reason I had retained the pills.

“Break two of them up in your pestle and mortar,” said the vet, the kit being a requirement for every guinea pig owner. “Dissolve the powder in a bit of warm milk and feed it to the animal with a pipette.” Nice, simple, clear instructions; what could go wrong?

It worked a treat. Nora perked up almost instantly and I left her in her cage while I grabbed something to eat, having put it off to deal with her. I washed my hands thoroughly, was drying them when my wife called me.

Nora was dead.

I phoned the vet but he was out on a call. He was contacted and he phoned me. I told him the news and said I thought I’d killed him. There was a moment’s silence at the other end of the phone.

“Half a dozen of those pills would kill you. What did you think two would do to a guinea pig?”

I gave a feeble “Oh.” Thanked him and hung up. I realised then I hadn’t been thinking.

The vet phoned later that night to apologise, and he told me to take ‘those dangerous pills’ back to the pharmacy. He started to say they were lethal, but stopped himself. By then I was feeling a bit of a fool.

In effect, I’d killed all my guinea pigs.

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