How do you end the suffering of a sick guinea pig at home?
As far as we know, dying guinea pigs can’t balance their suffering against the opportunity to spend more time with the humans who care for them.
They cannot make decisions about the end of life on their own. It is up to the adults in their human family to make those decisions for them.
It is only natural to hope that a sick guinea pig will somehow just die peacefully in its sleep. But veterinarians tell us that very few animals die in their sleep.
And when they do, it is usually after a long period of needless suffering that continues until their bodies just can’t go on. A peaceful death for your beloved pet is usually only possible with euthanasia.
In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about a simple, painless, and kind veterinarian-approved method of euthanizing a sick/old guinea pig – CO2 asphyxiation.
We will also discuss the fact that guinea pigs can grieve, too. But first, let’s go over how you can know that your guinea pig has come to the end of its life.
How to Give Your Guinea Pig CO2 Euthanasia
Euthanasia with CO2 (carbon dioxide) is an inexpensive, simple, painless way to end your guinea pig’s suffering.
Guidelines from the American Veterinary Medical Association recommend CO2 euthanasia because it has an anesthetic effect that stops pain before it causes death.
Lower concentrations of CO2, 25 to 50 percent, do not cause shortness of breath, or uncomfortable slowing down of the rhythm of the heart before the animal loses consciousness (although 100 percent CO2 does).
There are two ways to use CO2 to euthanize your guinea pig, one of them is simple, and the other is a lot more complicated.
Simple CO2 Euthanasia For Guinea Pigs
Dry ice is frozen CO2.
The “smoke” you see when dry ice sublimates into its gaseous form is tiny supercooled water droplets.
CO2 can asphyxiate people as well as animals, but it is not a problem when it is used for special effects, because it is heavier than air.
Unless you happen to be lying down on the floor next to a block of dry ice, you are not affected by it.
But a guinea pig in a tall, narrow container (like a pitcher or a gallon jar) with a piece of dry ice “smoking” on top will be.
Find a container that is taller than it is wide for your guinea pig.
Make the container comfortable for your guinea pig’s final moments. Place some timothy hay or a favorite toy in the container with your sick pet. The scents will be comforting.
Then place the dry ice at the top of the container (not directly on the animal) and let the CO2 do its work.
Loss of consciousness occurs in less than a minute, and death about five minutes later. This is a humane and painless way to euthanize your guinea pig.
CO2 Euthanasia for Guinea Pigs When Dry Ice Is Not Available
If you can’t find dry ice, you can make your own CO2 from vinegar and baking soda.
It helps to read through all of these directions so you will know what you are doing before you start.
To euthanize a guinea pig at home, you will need a one-gallon (4 liters) plastic bag, a vinyl hose, a twist tie, and a container for your guinea pig.
You will also need half a cup (about 120 grams) of baking soda and 2 cups (about 500 ml) of vinegar.
Place your guinea pig in a tall, narrow container, like a pitcher or a gallon jar. If your pet is responsive, give it a bed of timothy hay and include some of its favorite toys.
The scent of other guinea pigs on cloth toys will help it not feel alone.
Place one end of the vinyl hose into the container, above your guinea pig, and tape around the hose to create a seal.
Then put the container with your guinea pig on the floor.
Once you have your guinea pig situated on the floor, place the bag with the baking soda upright on a nearby, flat surface.
Add the vinegar to the baking soda with the bag still in its upright position, and insert the other end of the vinyl hose so it is just above the surface of the bubbling mixture.
Tie the bag around the hose with the twist tie, and lay it on its side so the end of the hose stays just above the bubbling baking soda and vinegar.
CO2 is heavier than air, so it will flow out of the bag into the hose and then into the container where you placed your guinea pig.
If you have the bag where you are making the gas at the same level as the container where you have the guinea pig, CO2 will not flow into the second container.
If you have a good flow of CO2, your guinea pig should lose consciousness without pain in about 30 seconds, and expire in 5 to 10 minutes.
There are many other methods of euthanizing pets. Your veterinarian is likely to use a high dose of anesthetics.
It is also possible to euthanize pets with blunt force trauma to the head, decapitation, poisons, electrocution, carbon monoxide (which unlike CO2 can float upward into the air), and gunfire.
All of these other methods, however, are traumatic for the family and potentially dangerous for the person using them.
Veterinarians typically charge $50 to $150 to euthanize a guinea pig.
How Can You Tell Your Guinea Pig Is Dying?
When you give your guinea pig nutritious food and clean water, it has plenty of space to run and play, it has chew toys to keep its teeth healthy, and you keep it in a cool place protected from other aggressive pets, it will probably live to be five or six years old.
Some guinea pigs will reach their eighth birthday.
Healthy guinea pigs will have bright eyes. They will have shiny coats. They will eat and drink, and also poop and pee, with regularity.
Healthy guinea pigs will enjoy interacting with each other and with their humans, and they will love to play.
It is not hard to tell when a guinea pig is sick. They won’t be interested in playing. Their fur may be patchy.
They may have areas of bare skin. They won’t eat, they won’t drink, they won’t eliminate waste on a normal schedule, and they may just scrunch up in a corner of their cage. But how can you tell if your guinea pig isn’t just sick but is dying?
Guinea pigs don’t usually die young. However, about 80 percent of female guinea pigs that are not spayed develop painful ovarian cysts by the age of three. These cysts can grow so large that they become fatal.
Other conditions that can lead to death in guinea pigs if they cannot be successfully treated by you or your vet include:
- Bloat. A guinea pig with a painful bulge in the tummy may be suffering from bloat. This condition most commonly occurs when guinea pigs get into sweet treats intended for humans, or when they are fed fruit and grains. It can also occur after intestinal infections.
- Diarrhea. Most commonly a problem of pups, diarrhea can quickly cause dehydration and death in young guinea pigs.
- Heatstroke. Never leave a guinea pig in a hot car during the summer. Temperatures inside a car with its windows closed can quickly reach 120° F (49° C) or more, quickly fatal for these natives of the high Andes. Guinea pigs can also suffer heat stroke when their cages are placed in sunny windows or too close to fireplaces or space heaters.
- Injuries from other pets, or from being dropped. A guinea pig that stops eating and drinking after it is attacked by a larger animal or accidentally dropped or stepped on may have serious internal injuries that are a threat to life.
- Pododermatitis. This condition of sore, inflamed feet results from walking on wire floors or abrasive bedding. The bottoms of the feet can become infected, the infection eventually moving to bone.
- Respiratory diseases. Guinea pigs sometimes catch infections that lead to bronchitis or pneumonia.
- Complications while giving birth. It is not unusual for sows to have problems giving birth. Anytime a female guinea pig is in labor for more than 20 minutes, there is a high likelihood of life-threatening complications.
Ideally, guinea pig owners would take their pets to the vet at the first sign of these problems to get effective treatment.
But the reality is that guinea pig owners often don’t realize that there is a serious problem until it is too late.
If you add to the symptoms of one of these conditions the signs of old age, like cloudy eyes, inability to figure out games and how to use the exercise wheel, lack of interest in other guinea pigs, and gray hair around the mouth, it is possible that your guinea pig is dying.
The clearest sign that death is imminent, however, is any combination of these symptoms plus labored breathing.
You should also consider euthanasia when your guinea pig is in obvious pain after a serious injury.
Guinea Pigs Can Grieve Too
The same way that you can mourn the death of your pet, your guinea pig can grieve over the loss of its cagemate.
Guinea pigs have been known to stop eating and drinking after the death of a friend.
Under these circumstances, the health of your surviving guinea pig can deteriorate rapidly.
That is why it is always best to keep guinea pigs in colonies of three or four. Eventually, every pet dies. But keeping more than two guinea pigs means that the survivors will have each other for as long as possible.
Guinea pigs are always happier when they have other members of their own species for company.
If you have just one guinea pig left, try to make sure that it has toys and other objects that have the scent of its missing cagemate.
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