Living With A Paraplegic Guinea Pig
FootFoot was never the most active of guinea pigs, especially after her fourth year, but she still could scoot when needed to - especially if there was Romaine lettuce on the other side of the room. But one day, she would not move to run to the lettuce leaves. She sat in the open doorway of her cage and squeaked piercingly to be waited on. At first, I thought she was just being lazy.
It didn't take me too long to realize the awful truth. FootFoot, spurred on by her stomach, dragged herself by her forelegs over to the lettuce. Somehow, she had completely lost the use of her back legs.
I never found out for sure just why FootFoot suddenly became a paraplegic guinea pig. It was not due to a fall or any external injury, according to the vet. After she died at five and a half years old, the necropsy discovered that she had cirrhosis. Perhaps there was a connection. Taking her to the vet did not reveal any breaks or even proof that she was in any pain. She let us touch and move her back end without any wriggling or screaming. In fact, she seemed quite comfortable.
Guinea pigs are prey animals. They instinctively try to hide any behavior or signs to a predator that they would be an easy catch. It could be that FootFoot was gradually losing the mobility of her hind legs, but I never knew about it until they were completely paralyzed.
How Did FootFoot React?
FootFoot was very calm and accepting of her condition - much more so than her mistress. She retained her bright eyes clean nose and appetite up until the final week of her life. For over a year, she would be paraplegic. But she never wasted away or became incredibly stressed.
FootFoot lived with a few other guinea pigs in my bedroom. She had a lot of interaction with them and they probably kept her from getting overly scared or upset. One of the other guinea pigs, an older female named Gweeker, decided to become FootFoot's nurse. If FootFoot seemed to be in trouble or needed a bath, Gweeker would scream at the top of her lungs until I came to find out what was going on.
FootFoot still tried to be active, by dragging herself around with her forelegs. Occasionally, that meant she got stuck, so I had to gently extract her. If it wasn't for Gweeker, I'm not sure how long FootFoot would have survived. Gweeker groomed FootFoot as best as she could and cuddled together.
Guinea pigs need to eat a certain kind of pellet they excrete, or else they get very sick. TIf they can't groom their rear ends, they can't get to eat these pellets. I worried how FootFoot was going to get her vital nutrition. I needn't have worried. Gweeker gave FootFoot her own pellets to eat.
Quality Of Life
FootFoot always had a high quality of life. She had interactions with her friends, enjoyed food, was still able to get to the water bottle and enjoyed snuggling. She kept her front end clean by herself. Her back end was kept clean by Gweeker and a once or twice weekly bath by me.
Quality of life is very important for a paraplegic pet. Since FootFoot dragged herself around by her forefeet, I daily checked her belly for any sores. Fortunately, she never got any. I made her space softer and less abrasive by adding old towels and T-shirts to the guinea pig enclosure.
You also need to trim the nails of the hind feet more than the forefeet.
You need to make sure your paraplegic guinea pig can get to the water bottle. I was able to lower the spout, and so that was no problem.
I was extremely lucky to have a nurse in Gweeker. If your paraplegic guinea pig can't eat the soft pellets needed for digestion, then you have to hunt through any piles of poo and find them and offer them to him or her to eat.
You also need to interact and talk more to your paraplegic guinea pig, just so they don't waste away through boredom. FootFoot always enjoyed lap-time. She was always a sedentary kind of piggie, anyway, content to let others run around like nut cases.
Please don't use this article as a substitution for veterinary advice. If your guinea pig is limping or is paralyzed in any way, please take him or her to the vet at once.