Monday, July 10, 2017

Guinea Pig Cuddle Cloning

We recently did a post on guinea pig cloning--something that's not quite available yet for guinea pigs, but is available for dogs and cats, so it's probably not too far off in the future. Until then, there is another option for those who can't wait: a guinea pig Cuddle Clone! As their website explains:
"We make soft, adorable, customized stuffed-animal versions of people’s pets called Cuddle Clones. All you have to do is submit at least one picture (although several are preferred) and choose a few customization options (eye color, ear position, tail position) and we’ll send you your very own Cuddle Clone."
Unlike ViaGen Pets, Cuddle Clone does offer a guinea pig "cloning" option:
Here is Bear and his Cuddle Clone.
Gypsea & Cuddle Clone.
Like real cloning. Cuddle Cloning seems expensive. (At least, we think it is. Even after all this time, it's hard to wrap our minds around that money stuff that humans care so much about.) The regular price for a Cuddle Clone is $249, although they're current having a limited summer sale of $149 for a guinea pig. Even though this is a lot less than the $25,000-$50,000 that actual cloning costs, we still don't think our humans will go for it. It's always an option for the future, though, since you just need pictures rather than genetic samples!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Guinea Pig Cloning

Ever since Dolly the sheep was cloned in 1996, the idea of animal cloning has been moving more and more from the realm of science fiction to science reality. There is now a company in the United States that offers pet cloning services called ViaGen Pets.

Our humans recently had a chance to speak with a company representative, and they said that they only currently offer their services for cats and dogs. This is because it takes a lot of research and development work to discover a reliable cloning process for each animal species, and it's probably no surprise that there are a lot more cat and dog owners out there to sell their services to. Also, their services are currently pretty expensive; they currently charge $50,000 for dog cloning, and $25,000 for cat cloning, although they hope to bring the cost down to $5,000 in the future. (They also offer genetic preservation services for $1,600 to save your pet's DNA for possible future cloning.) However, given how far animal cloning has come in the 21 years since Dolly, who knows how this will change in the next decade or two? Guinea pig cloning could become both available and affordable for the average human.

Here's the process works, according to one of their brochures:
No guinea pigs yet..
Of course, we may want to step back and ask an obvious question here: Why would you want to do this? Why wouldn't someone just accept a guinea pig (or other pet) created the way nature has been making them up to this point? According to veterinarian Alice Villalobos, “As a veterinary oncologist also focused on palliative care and hospice for dogs and cats, I see how this could become a more accessible opportunity for those who want to have an option for a continuum with a genetically similar pet who they are on the verge of losing.” These sentiments seem to match the user reviews on the ViaGen Pets Facebook page:
  • "Thanks to Viagen and their great staff I have peace of mind knowing there is a piece of my angel out there waiting for me! I can hardly wait to hold her in my arms again."
  • "It's never easy losing a "pet", especially when you think of them as family and their health declines almost overnight. Preserving our cat's cells helped with the grieving process because even though she is no longer with us, her cells are preserved! No matter what we decide down the road as far as cloning, it's nice knowing there are options."
  • "You gave Casanova a second chance at being able to continue his lineage (as Casanova is almost 17 now and his sperm are inactive). Casanova 2.0 one day will be able to continue Casanova's family tree"
We think this is all understandable. I remember how painful it was to lose our cage mates Buffy and Lola 1, and perhaps having a clone of them would have made the loss easier to accept. On the other hand, if you have room in your home for another guinea pig, creating a new cloned guinea pig in a surrogate mother seems like a missed opportunity to adopt one of the many guinea pigs who are out there and needs a good home.

What are your thoughts on guinea pig cloning? Let us know in the comments below!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Ask a guinea pig: Are lime peels safe for guinea pigs?

It's time for another installment of our Ask A Guinea Pig feature! Andi Rogynous asks: "Columbia doesn't like limes either, but she did eat the rind. do you know if that's safe?"

Thanks for the question, Andi. It's always good to do your research before feeding something questionable to your piggy. As you know, we did a review post on limes a while back, which included the rind. Of course, we hated limes and barely touched them, so eating the rind was a bit of a moot point for us. Still, just in case there are some piggies out there who feel differently, let's dig into this lime peel issue.

Research has shown that citrus peels are "a good source of molasses, pectin and limonene," and have lots of health benefits. Lime peels in particular are a good source of fiber compared to other citrus peels:
Of course, this seems to be human nutrition research, and doesn't necessarily mean that guinea pigs should have it. We've read that a study showed that limettin, a substance found in lime peel, was not found to be toxic to guinea pigs, but haven't seen any other research specifically on guinea pigs and lime peels.

However, we also know that guinea pigs can eat the rinds of other citrus fruits. For example, guineapigcages.com's food chart has orange peel listed as a 2-4 times per week food. In addition, when asked about lemon peels, their diet expert said: "The rind can be fed in small quantities as well."

In addition, we found a thread on the Guinea Pig Forum where someone fed their guinea pig a small lime slice, peel intact, and no one on the forum raised this as an issue:
Image source: PiggieWigs12 on the guinea pig forum; caption: "so apparently special needs Norman loves limes but especially loves lemons!"
Therefore, although the evidence is not 100% ironclad, we're going to say that lime peels are probably safe to feed occasionally (assuming your piggy actually likes them!). However, we should note that limes may have waxy coatings added to them, and should therefore be organic and cleaned very thoroughly. In addition, citrus peels may be high in oxalates, and should therefore only be fed in small quantities.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Guinea Pig Psychology: Understanding Guinea Pig Thinking and Behavior

You spend a lot of time with your guinea pig. You probably have gotten to know their personality to some degree. But how much do you know about what science knows about the guinea pig mind and behavior?
What's going on in Broccoli's mind? Does science hold the answers?
Here's a few interesting things to know about guinea pig psychology, according to academic research:
  • A University of Münster research paper found important differences between domestic guinea pigs and our wild relatives (Cavia aperea, AKA the Brazilian guinea pig). 
    • First, "wild cavies are more exploratory and take more risks than domestic guinea pigs. When put in an open field, the cavies explored further, and when put in a dark box they came out of the box and spent more time in the light." 
    • Second, "domestic guinea pigs were more sociable. Although both cavies and guinea pigs were interested in the unfamiliar infant and female, the guinea pigs engaged in more social interaction with the infant and more courtship behaviours towards the female."
  • A Colorado State University research presentation found a few notable behavioral trends. 
    • First, removing huts from the cage led to a decrease in active behaviors, and an increase in putting front limbs on water bottles. However, after a day or so, guinea pigs grew accustomed to the change. and their behavior evened out. 
    • Second, some behaviors were common to most guinea pigs (stampeding and freezing), while other behaviors (popcorning, attempting to climb out of the cage, and excessive water bottle manipulation) are performed only by specific individuals--think of this as part of your piggy personality. Jumping/popcorning tended to be performed by younger piggies.
    • Third, "Guinea pigs are highly active immediately after lights go out, which may indicate that a sudden loss of lighting is a significant stressor."
  • A University of São Paulo study looked at guinea pig courtship by exposing 4 adult males to a pregnant female for 4 sessions, and then a different female during a 5th session, and recording their behavior. They found that the males decreased their investigative behaviors (licking and sniffing) in the 2nd-4th sessions, but the investigative behaviors returned with the new female in the 5th session. They conclude that: "These results are consistent with the hypothesis that guinea pig males recognize individual females and that courtship responses may suffer a habituation/recovery process controlled by mate novelty."
Bottom line: these studies suggest we're risk-averse, social, we don't like change, guinea pigs have both common behaviors (such as freezing) and unique personalities, and males can be quite... amorous.

These findings may not be too surprising to people who have guinea pigs. It only takes minimal exposure to guinea pigs to know that we're freaked out by the unknown. I can also relate to disliking changes in the environment; I can remember how stressful it was when my new humans first brought me home. I also remember having to put up with plenty of Broccoli's "investigative behaviors" when I was the new pig on the block. But now that we've put all that drama behind us, we've become good friends, showing that "more sociable" side that the first study mentioned.

Turning off lights causing stress in guinea pigs might surprise humans, though, since you probably don't see what we do after the lights go off. Maybe it would help if you tried dimming the lights slowly rather than turning them off suddenly?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Guinea Pig Attractions Around the Word: Perth Royal Show Cavy Racing

It's time for another look at guinea pig attractions around the world! This time, we're taking a look at a guinea pig competition down in Australia.

The Perth Royal Show is "an annual event that is a mix of amusement park rides, markets and agriculture shows." One of the annual attractions at the Show is Cavy Racing, which "has become a tradition at the event and never fails to draw crowds. While it isn’t a race that stops a nation, when the cavies hit the track there will be plenty of excitement and laughs."

Here's a video of one of the races:

Turns out this one wasn't much of a race, but we're guessing some races are more competitive than others!

Long-time readers may recall that this isn't the first guinea pig race we've showcased on our blog; the guinea pig attraction in Colombia was also a race. Colombia's race seemed more like an informal street performance, compared to this giant community event. We should also point out that while these races are cute, there could be some issues with events like this--see our post on guinea pig pageants.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Guinea Pig Volunteering as Therapy Animals

We previously talked about flying with guinea pigs, and in the course of that discussion, briefly touched on the different special classifications of pets (service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals), and what implications they had for flying. We'd like to talk more about the therapy animal classification in general, not just in the context of flying.

As we said in our previous post, therapy animals "provide affection and comfort to various members of the public, typically in facility settings such as hospitals, retirement homes, and schools." Although this does not entitle you to special access on airlines, it does make a difference in people's lives. The organization Pet Partners has a page on the benefits of the human-animal bond. Here are just a few of the benefits they cite:
  • "A therapy dog has a positive effect on patients’ pain level and satisfaction with their hospital stay following total joint arthroplasty (Harper, 2014) [1]."
  • "The presence of an animal can significantly increase positive social behaviors among children with autism spectrum disorder (O’Haire, 2013) [4]."
  • "Pet owners have higher one-year survival rates following heart attacks (Friedmann, 1980, 1995) [8,9]."
Some of these health benefit citations are dog-specific, but did you know that guinea pigs are able to become volunteer therapy animals through Pet Partners? Pet Partners "is the nation’s largest and most prestigious nonprofit registering handlers of multiple species as volunteer teams providing animal-assisted interventions." They accept volunteer applications from 9 species: dogs, cats, equines, rabbits, guinea pigs, llamas and alpacas, birds, pigs and rats. Guinea pig volunteers must be at least 6 months old, have lived in the owner's home for at least 6 months, and be well-behaved. They even have worksheets they use to evaluate prospective volunteers:
Not struggle to leave? That sounds like a tough exam. Strangers can be scary!
Guinea Pig Today featured an article on some piggies who participated in the Pet Partners program, which showed how not every piggy is cut out for this line of work:
"Why didn’t all of Erin’s guinea pigs join her? Being a therapy pet requires very special traits. Erin’s three other female cavies are fun at home but don’t have personalities suited for therapy work. Rosie, an albino with striking red eyes, was considered for therapy registration, but there was concern that her red eyes might make people feel uneasy. Val, adopted from a friend who could no longer care for her, is the most active guinea pig and never sits still. Sally, their newest addition, is still a bit skittish and shy. Erin tells Guinea Pig Today, “Her personality reminds me of that of a cat – she can be affectionate or stand-offish, depending on her mood.” 
Daphne and Sienna have a special talent for sitting long periods at a time and Erin decided only these two sows would be registered. After supporting hospice for 25 years, Erin had a hunch guinea pigs would work well with patients who benefit from animal visitation but have difficulty working with the therapy dogs. Daphne and Sienna weigh less than two pounds and can gently lay on patients while being stroked."
There were a lot of hoops to jump through, but they eventually were approved and became therapy animals:

Photo caption: "The therapy animal teams at Hospice are wonderful. Here we are with two of our friends, Kelly and her handler (left), and Gus and his handler (right)."
 And how did the hospice patients react to Daphne and Sienna? Quite well, according to this Casper Journal article:
The guinea pigs’ hospice visits are also different from the dogs’. Whereas most of the canines sit beside the patient’s bed, the guinea pigs have more direct contact.
“They’re light so they can be on people’s laps and chests,” Erin said. “Some people sing to them.”
She recalled her first visit, to a woman who had been unresponsive for a while.
“I put the guinea pigs on her lap, and she sang to them, in her own language,” Maggard said. “Those experiences are just delightful!”
There were only 21 registered therapy guinea pigs with Pet Partners in 2013. Do you think you have what it takes to join the elite ranks of therapy guinea pigs? If so, feel free to reach out to Pet Partners about volunteer opportunities!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Can Guinea Pigs Eat Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchoke)?

Hi everyone. Lola (2) here. I have to share a source of some minor frustration for me. Since I'm a bit of a latecomer to the Cavy Savvy family, I missed out on the opportunity to review a lot of foods out there. Sometimes I'll just list off foods that I'd like an excuse to eat--Apples? Blueberries? Corn? But after I list each one, Broccoli will inform me that they've already reviewed each of them before I got here. It took some digging, but I finally found another food that guinea pigs can eat that hasn't been done already: Jerusalem artichokes. So let's do the review!

Jerusalem artichokes are also known as sunroot, sunchoke, earth apple and topinambour, according to Wikipedia. They can be eaten by guinea pigs, but this should be considered a special, rare treat only. This is because they have high sugar, low vitamin C, and a not-so-great calcium-phosphorous ratio. So you'll only want to feed this one in small portions 1-2 times per month.
This is a Jerusalem artichoke. Doesn't look like much, does it?

Make sure your human peels and cuts it for you.

Food review time! It's been too long!

Crunch, crunch, crunch! I love it!
Aside from the poor nutritional profile, we've got nothing bad to say about Jerusalem artichokes. They're delicious, and we wasted no time in gobbling up our small portion. We look forward to the possibility of having more next month. 5/5 stars!