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Older Guinea Pigs - Considerations

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Older Guinea Pigs - Considerations

Older pigs can sometimes get over-looked in favour of young guineas, either in their own household, or when a potential owner is choosing a new pet.

There are pros and cons in caring for, or choosing, an older guinea (for the purposes of this article I am including any guinea that is already adult, say over 1 year) but I hope that in reading this article, anyone would think hard about choosing an older pet and giving them the chance of a long and happy life.

This article concentrates on the pig's character and compatibility, as health care will be covered in other articles

Pros and Cons

If you acquire a pet from a rescue, or from someone who unfortunately due to circumstances beyond their control, has to give up their beloved pets, they can be old or young: many litters are born in this situation.

Once you have squealed your way round the skittish youngsters, take a moment to consider the older pigs that are available.

With a youngster you have no idea of the personality they will develop - this will depend on a complex mixture of nature and nurture.

The nature part is set and you can't influence it.

Their nurture will depend partly on how well their mother has taught them, partly on their experiences so far, and partly on how you treat them from now on, if you were to chose them.

2 out of 3 of those factors are out of your control, so as much as you think that you are choosing a pig with certain attributes (eg you may think you are choosing the quiet one of the bunch to suit your quiet household), they are an unknown quantity, and may only be quiet in that group - they may turn out to be a boss pig in another environment.

And if they didn't develop the type of personality you sought, would you be disappointed?

Then consider the older pigs: their nature is known.

Their nurture is usually known: it may have been less than ideal, but their adult character will already show how they have coped with it. If their conditions improve from now on, with regular handling, a shy pig can be brought out of it shell, a nervous pig can be taught to trust, a bossy pig can be tamed down, but you will already have an idea of the basic characteristics from the information the rescue staff, or the previous owners who are surrendering their pet, can give you.

Their full health history may be a mystery, depending on their circumstances, but their recent history will tell you of any chronic conditions, acute problems or items that need monitoring.

Puzzle and Pickles' Story - by Sue

Puzzle & Pickle came from the RSPCA last year. Going on advice from the members of this site, I think they must be at least three years old now, although they're showing no signs of old age. Puzzle is mainly honey-coloured, with white fur round his bottom (often dirty..!) and a black face, with a white rosette on the top of his head. He is a large pig, weighing in at approx.1400g. Pickle is a stripy tri-colour: honey, white and agouti, no rosette, a clean bottom and weighs about 1200g. They are both extremely fond of food, and "popcorn" about if they think there's something nice coming. Being adults when they came, they were large enough for a proper cuddle on arrival; now they are even tamer they both enjoy a snuggle up on an old towel while their fur/skin is inspected, although Pickle can be a little difficult when it comes to clipping his claws.

They do occasionally have a bit of a disagreement, but there is plenty of room for them to spend time apart so it has never come to bloodshed yet! They went to the vet for the first time last Saturday, and both were very well-behaved

In Sue's story she knew what she was taking on, as the boys were already paired up when she got them. She didn't have to go through introductions and possible fighting and maybe eventual separation.

She makes a good case for taking on an older pig, especially for children, as finding pigs who are all ready for proper cuddles can be a distinct advantage over taking on youngsters who can be very skittish.

Stanley 's Story

Stanley was a rescue pig of at least 3 years old - he had been the victim of a cruel owner and was very emotionally (and physically) scarred by his early life. He was estimated to be about 3, and had been in foster care for quite some time during a court case, and he couldn't be housed until that was settled. We met him cowering in a cage at a Guinea Show with a notice on, saying he was looking for a quiet, stable home. I went to find the rescue helper and she told me he could barely be held as he had so many problems and for that reason could only go to a very experienced piggy-keeper. We walked over to towards the cage as she was saying he was too nervous to be held, and she was stopped in her tracks at the sight of my teenage daughter standing cuddling a relaxed Stanley ! She has considerable skills in handling animals and this unconscious demonstration spoke volumes about us as suitable new owners for Stanley . It turned out that the rescue and I had several mutual contacts in the guinea world and a couple of phone calls later, my experience with guineas had been established, and Stanley came home with us. Stanley basically didn't want to be handled, so we respected this (I think trying to turn him into a lap-pig after his circumstances would have been sheer vanity on our part) so we gave him safety, security, warmth, a clean hutch, healthcare and lots of lovely fresh food, and peace and quiet. He was a lovely pig and I was happy to know he was safe with us after a traumatic start in life.

It doesn't always work out into a long-term commitment, as the next, sad, tale from Gail shows, but the new owners seem to have a common bond in that they are just so glad they took action to make the older pig's life better, even if it led to some heartache for the owner, they are comforted in knowing that pig's last days were full of love and care.

Sadly, I could probably find as many tales of how a young guinea didn't survive long: it is the nature of small animals to be around for an unpredictable length of time, but I think it is also true to say that the success stories are less likely to be known-about, as their owners may not turn to a site like PWS for information if all is going well.

Copper's Tale

I got Copper from my breeder neighbour who had had her returned because her piggy sister had died. I changed her name from Lily, I doubt she recognised her name anyway as she'd led a virtually attention-free life. I can't describe what I felt about the previous owner, poor Copper had always had her sister with her, for three and a half years she'd had company. Once her sister died instead of them getting another piggy to introduce they took her back to the breeder with the words "Can you take it back, we don't want it now". My neighbour asked if I'd take her on and as she'd already done quarantine she was introduced to my two girls, also rescues, and they all got along fine. She had such character, she was cheeky and funny with her actions, I fell in love with her by day two.

Copper got ill one evening, she seemed to have a cold coming on and didn't seem to want to eat but she'd been eating all day so I wasn't too worried. To prepare, just in case, I went to the vets to get a syringe to feed her with should the need arise. Oh how I wish I'd taken her with me, when I returned it looked like she'd had a stroke, I syringe fed her and made her comfortable for the night but sadly the next morning she died. I'd only had her two days short of four weeks, I still miss her cheeky personality, but I'm glad she experienced love and how it felt to be wanted.

It is surprising (to me at least) how many people let their last single pig go - knowing they are herd animals they are happy to keep them in pairs or groups but when faced with a last single pig, it seems to make them feel guilty about not spending enough time with them and they offer them up for rehoming.

A single pig can live happily with lots of human contact, however this situation means there are often "last" pigs out there looking for caring new owners.

Happily Dwayne and Dibbley's Story is a little different, and was a great, long-term success

Dwayne and Dibbley's Story

Dwayne and Dibbley's first owner had got them as pets for a toddler and after 18 months realised this was not a good situation, so advertised them for rehoming. They had been living in a greenhouse (Yes!) and their hutch was bleached white from the sun, so this was a timely rehoming as they were obviously suffering. They came to us as we moved into our house after being in a pet-free flat so were thoroughly spoilt with long days on the shady lawn in their run, and a secure hutch in a well-ventilated shed for summer-nights and in winter. They were an Abyssinian (aby) tri-colour male with his brown agouti brother, chunky in size and happy to be handled. They were ideal for children to hold. With typical aby characteristics they were adaptable pigs and quickly settled in to enjoy ideal living quarters and plenty of attention. Dwayne fathered two lovely baby abys, Emmett and Bramble, with Emmett being the perfect duplicate of his father, but with slightly softer fur inherited from his Sheltie mother. So once again we had the combination of one tri-colour aby and a brown agouti, Dwayne and Dibbley lived on in the youngsters, Emmett and Bramble.

I hope the stories illustrate both sides of the coin should an older pig be chosen. The older pets have benefited from being chosen over youngsters, and it is obvious some of the benefits they have brought with them, while still being realistic as to the pitfalls.

What Type of Owner?

So who should chose an older pig ...or going on the principle that our pets chose US, what kind of owner should an older pig chose?

I think there are 3 groups of owner particularly suited to older pigs

Group 1 - People who don't know what their future will hold.

By far the main components of this group are young teenagers who don't know if they will go into a job or local college living from home, or off to University (where pets are often not allowed in the digs) or move away from home into rented accommodation.

After maybe a lifetime of caring for guineas, they may find themselves without any, and with parents reluctant to let them take on a long-term commitment at such a changeable time.

Quite rightly, in most cases, for if they take on a long-living pet like a guinea pig at say age 14, who knows where they will be in 4 years time.

But having a pig to cuddle can be great stress-buster to see them through exams etc, so an older, settled pig, who will tuck into the arms of a revising student will make a great companion.

Group 2 - People who want a pet with a particular personality.

Often these people want a pet to pair up with one of theirs, who has lost its companion, and they know the strengths of their remaining pet. By taking on an adult whose personality is known, they stand a good chance of a successful pairing

Group 3 - Kind people

Yes, this may sound like the hard-sell, but it takes a kind owner to walk by the wide-eyed baby, or decide not to breed from their own stock, and decide they want to take on the older (and sometimes more needy) older pet.

Thankfully these people exist, and embrace the opportunity to put right some of the neglect, tragedy, thoughtlessness or unkindness the pet will have gone through, and help restore their faith in humankind.

Group 4 - There but for the Grace of God

It now occurs to me that there is actually a 4th Group - people who hope that in the unhappy unforeseen event of not being able to care for their own pigs any more, there will be kind souls who will consider taking them through the rest of their lives with continued love and care. ( People who believe in the saying "there, but for the grace of God, go I " ) And because of that hope are prepared to do their bit now.

I hope this illustrates some of the aspects of older pigs...if you are still wondering if an older pig would be suitable for you, please come along to the Guinea Pig Forum as members are there with new experiences to share, and can help with your specific questions.