Dealing with Calcium Issues in Guinea Pigs
One of my piggies died because her heart was getting too weak to pump blood through the kidneys and the kidneys had to make too much effort to filter pee, so she got severe bladder grit. It got flushed and she died a few days after, because her heart was too weak. Had the vet checked her heart as I asked them to, they would have seen that the flushing was useless, but they didn’t. She was doomed anyway, there are no heart meds here available for piggies in Belgium anyway, when we noticed that her heart was failing and she was near death. We realised we needed a better vet, but that was the best vet practice we could find in the entire country.
Woozy and Whoopy were my twin Rex piggies. They had Urinary Tract Infections on and off, Whoopy had them more severe than Woozy. I kept them relatively UTI free using the necessary precautions: I have extra absorbent fleece pads under their hideys, which get flipped after a day and washed the day after, on a hot cycle with a dollop of disinfectant added to the washing detergent. That’s how the cage liners are washed here too. I weigh them weekly, so that the slightest indication of them feeling ill would show up. Granted, don’t panic over 30g less, as that’s about the weight of one pee less in an adult pig.
I had the pigs on a 0.6% calcium diet, out of precaution. I never fed large amounts of calcium rich vegs to pigs over 6 months old. They need calcium till then, so their bones can grow well, but after that age, any excess is too much. Still, that low calcium diet wasn’t strict enough, apparently.
I put them on cranberry, as that makes the pee more acidic, which holds back bacteria growth in the bladder. I also put them on Chanca Piedra tea, about 1 cc per pig daily, to prevent bladder and kidney stone formation, because the twins both had gritty pee, a prelude to bladder and stones isssues. The pigs loved that tea, they all wanted some daily. After having the tea for 2 months at home, it seemed to “age” in the tea bags and that made the pigs farty. You bet you raise a few eyebrows when you hear a hootin’ tootin’ concerto coming from the pigs cage! I was just looking into Shininton as a replacement, when Whoopy was struck with new issues after being healed from her recent UTI.
We woke up and heard her whine, she refused to eat too. We took her to the vet, who took an x-ray after a lot of nagging from my part to do so. The vet said a huge stone was in her bladder and it would come out on its own. I knew that was impossible and I also doubted the stone, as it didn’t look like one to me. One of my best friends got me an appointment at the University Clinic of Exotic Pets in Utrecht, 3 hours from here, the best place to go to in the entire Dutch area.
So, the next day, we drove to them. My hunch was correct, there was no bladder stone, but a large blood clot in the bladder. There was a small stone and it got lodged in the urethra, the canal from the bladder to outside. There were calcium deposits in the kidneys and the ureters, the canals from the kidneys to the bladder. They successfully removed the bladder stone and blood clot, Whoopy was set to recovery. Yet, 2 days later, urine tests showed she had kidney failure, which was the basis of her issues. This meant that she couldn’t be saved to start with, but that can’t show when a stone gets blocked, as then the urine tests show the same result as kidney failure. Only further deterioration in the tests made it clear that the kidneys were bad. We lost our sweet girl two days after surgery.
Her death wasn’t in vain. The university vet gave us tips, which can help pigs, including Woozy, who has the same genetic kidney issue as her twin sister. It will extend her life drastically and make it better too. The university vet explained that piggies absorb 50% of all calcium in their food, which is a lot more than humans do. Despite that they are genetically close to humans, that’s one of differences between us and them, besides the different appearance.
He said that the cranberry and the herbal remedies were addressing the problem, not the cause. He was right, of course. The vet said to keep the entire diet to a 0.3% level of calcium. Anything high above is not tolerated, not even as a mini piece of treat, ever.
This meant I had to switch t Timothy hay, which is kinda hard to find here in the Dutch area. Luckily, some online stores sell it.
I had to try a pellet-less diet, but that didn’t succeed. Although I reduced it slowly, it was too hard on the bowels in my pigs apparently. Besides that, I was worried about the lack of vitamins, minerals and some proteins that the pigs need, especially vitamin C. Fresh veggies daily should be sufficient for vitamin C daily, but the quality level of our local vegetables worry me and I can’t guarantee that they would suffice. I got a tip on 0.4% calcium pellets, which I use now. That’s acceptable, especially because I mix them with dried veggies and herbs which contain 0.3% calcium or less.
It took some research to see which veggies and fruit contained 0.3% calcium or less, so I made a new shopping list. I have a sunlight bulb, which goes on 20 minutes a day. That’s the maximum, as it helps to form vitamin D in the skin, which also helps to absorb more calcium. Despite that the pigs need some direct sunlight daily, 20 minutes is enough regarding calcium issues.
I have kept the pigs on a strict low calcium diet and it works. I have seen a drastic change in Woozy. She was sweet, but she was my grumpy pig. She loved her sister to bits and her loss didn’t cause any dominance issues, as she was boss over Whoopy. The cage we have is humongous, it’s not that she was relieved to gain extra space anyway. After grieving for her sisters loss, she became a changed pig. She is happy, cheerful, popcorns at least daily, does zoomies, all things I never saw before, so I can only blame the new diet. She obviously feels better because of it.
I will always stick to this diet, so future pigs will benefit from it, as we can’t ever guess who will have issues with calcium or not.
Editor’s Note: Information on Guinea Pig Today should not be put in place of qualified veterinary care. Calcium issues in guinea pigs are complex, there are still many unknowns, and treatments vary across the world due to environment, food production, and genetics. If you feel your guinea pig has issues due to calcium intake, please consult your veterinarian before changing their diet.
If you have a great idea for an article about guinea pigs, please let us know. Guinea Pig Today is a network of guinea pig lovers and we’re always looking for the next great story. View our submissions page for more information on how to submit your idea.