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SMALL mammals such as rabbits and rodents constitute a small, but nonetheless significant, part of veterinary practice, and are valued pets and show animals in many households. In Europe, figures collected by the pet food industry indicate that there are 21.25 million small mammals, including guinea pigs, kept as pets in the European Union, which is about 10 per cent of the pet population (FEDIAF 2012). In the UK, an estimated 0.7 million pet guinea pigs make up 1 per cent of the pet population (PFMA 2015) and 1.36 million are kept as pets in the USA (AVMA 2012).
Guinea pigs can make challenging patients; they are adept at masking signs of disease and are extremely sensitive to the effects of stress and pain, often becoming depressed and refusing to eat when hospitalised (Fawcett 2011, Quesenberry and others 2012). Many veterinary practitioners will have received minimal training in guinea pig medicine and surgery and may feel lacking in knowledge, confidence, and expertise when faced with this species. As guinea pigs do not require routine veterinary visits for vaccination, preventive medicine including routine neutering and regular health checks are far less widely employed than in other companion animals such as dogs, cats and rabbits, and some owners will be reluctant to spend much money on treating what they may perceive as a ‘cheap’ pet. The old adage that ‘common things are common’ and an appreciation of the conditions likely to be encountered can therefore provide valuable guidance for clinical examinations and diagnostic investigations.
Poor husbandry and diet are recognised as a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in guinea pigs (Fawcett 2011). Most veterinarians and many owners will be aware that guinea pigs are unusual among companion animals in requiring exogenous vitamin C, but the importance of other aspects of diet, …
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