Vinnie – Home is Where the Heart Heals

If guinea pigs were given personality tests, they would score into the amiable range. These social, furry members of the rodent family are cherished by those who own them due to their docile, friendly and affectionate nature.

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Guinea pigs are such little diplomats that even when angered, they often communicate it by simply chattering their teeth. If guinea pigs ruled the world, we probably wouldn’t have another war, and we would likely all benefit from having a vegetarian diet and a regular routine that allows everyone to nap more frequently. In fact, guinea pigs are so gentle and undemanding that to properly care for a guinea pig, owners have to really know and understand the behavior and body language of their pet in order to identify a potential problem.

When we see patients regularly for check-ups and trims, we often develop close relationships with both the animals and the owners. This was certainly the case with Vinnie, a guinea pig we have been seeing ever since his family moved to Palm Coast in 2014.

Aside from having a previous ear infection, Vinnie was a healthy, happy guinea pig until 2015 when he was a little over four-years-old. Vinnie developed a mass on his bottom near the base of his tail that his owners noticed was increasing in size and had swiftly grown to the size of a quarter.

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Vinnie’s mass grew rapidly.

Vinnie was brought into the clinic for an exam which included a physical, fecal, and CBC. Since guinea pigs are prone to anxiety and stress when their routines are disrupted, Vinnie was given anesthesia while blood was taken. His white blood cell count was high, and our doctors believed this was possibly the result of an infection in the mass. Vinnie’s owners were informed that Vinnie would need to have surgery for the mass to be removed and biopsied.

Vinnie was sent home, and his owners were given medications to help build his immune system prior to surgery. By the time our doctors performed surgery, the tumor had already grown to four centimeters, and extraction was difficult because it was attached to Vinnie’s skin and underlying tissues, leaving less skin available to close with sutures over the extraction site.

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Vinnie came out of surgery a bit woozy but still sweet. After surgery, he needed to be monitored in order to ensure that he would not pick at the sutures and to make sure that he could defecate due to the location of the surgery site. Vinnie was described as sweet and overweight on all of his exam forms and patient notes at the time, and everyone enjoyed caring for Vinnie because even during uncomfortable treatments and examinations, he never lost his gentle, loving disposition.

Vinnie was sent home to heal, and we were all overjoyed when the results of the biopsy revealed that the tumor was benign which meant that he could return to being the healthy, happy guinea pig that we all knew and loved.

Life went back to normal for Vinnie. His owners kept us updated on his progress and told us that he was happy to be home with them and his bunny sister named Blackie.

However, this past September, Vinnie and his owners faced more hardships concerning his health. Vinnie’s behavior changed drastically. The once portly guinea pig’s appetite dramatically decreased, and Vinnie was now depressed and hiding instead of happily running around begging for treats.

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Vinnie was brought to us immediately, and during his exam, our doctors noticed that his breathing was rapid and seemed to cause him great duress. Vinnie was hospitalized so our doctors could begin the process of identifying the cause of his sudden decline.

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During hospitalization, Vinnie was given fluids and medications and was handfed four times each day to encourage him to build an appetite. He was also given anesthesia which allowed doctors to perform several tests to determine the functioning of his organs as well as radiographs to give us a picture of what was happening internally.

Diagnostics revealed that Vinnie had an enlarged heart, and his lungs were dense with either fluid or pneumonia. An ultrasound showed he was suffering from congestive heart failure, possible pneumonia and liver congestion. Vinnie’s harsh, labored breathing was particularly concerning, and as a result, he was kept in an incubator on oxygen.

Once the tests were complete, our doctors adjusted Vinnie’s medications and gave his owners the troubling diagnosis. Vinnie’s owners languished over the sad news and drove to the clinic to visit him everyday despite the long drive. They spent several sleepless nights worrying, and the situation was so dire that they even tried to mentally prepare for the worst outcome of all – a life without Vinnie. They explained that they did not want Vinnie to pass away alone in an incubator, and since we knew Vinnie very well, we were aware that he was miserable without his family.

Miraculously, within the next few days, Vinnie began to display a glimmer of his former self. He started to show an interest in the hand-feeding formula and exhibited a little more resistance to some of the treatments in his own passive, sweet way. His breathing improved, and his heart rate steadied. It seemed that the dedication of his family was strengthening Vinnie’s resolve to overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds.

Once it was apparent that Vinnie was not ready to give up, his family was determined to bring him home. Despite the fact that it was likely that he would need to remain on oxygen indefinitely, Vinnie was homeward bound. As if he sensed that his time at the clinic was coming to an end, Vinnie perked up, and we were reintroduced to the once happy guinea pig we all loved. We didn’t take it personally. We knew that no matter how much we all loved Vinnie, we were an inadequate substitute for his family.

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Although they do not play together, Vinnie’s sister Blackie wondered where her brother was during his absence.

Vinnie’s caring owners built an oxygen tank for him and rented an oxygen concentrator by the month so he could receive a steady air flow while at home. They took over the treatments that we had performed at the clinic including hand-feeding Vinnie, giving him his medications, and placing him in his oxygen tank each evening.

Within a few months, Vinnie regained his appetite. We are relieved and incredibly happy to report that he no longer needs to be on oxygen. Although he will need to remain on medication, his family feels it is a small price to pay for additional time with their beloved furry family member. Since his appetite has been restored, Vinnie now stands on his hind legs and squeals in anticipation of his favorite foods which are mixed greens, parsley, kale, cucumber, carrots and sometimes apple, blueberries, pears and oranges.

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When he is not eating or spending time with his family, Vinnie can be found peacefully napping while awaiting his next playtime or treat. In celebration of his miraculous recovery, Vinnie’s owners built him a large mansion. Like the Jeffersons sitcom from the 70’s, Vinnie is moving on up, and he just celebrated Christmas with his family.

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Vinnie’s mansion was designed and built by his family, and he loves it!

Vinnie’s story is a testament to the healing power of love. If Vinnie’s owners had been less attentive and less determined, this story may not have had such a happy ending.

Small mammals like Vinnie and his bunny sister Blackie have a lot of needs including a spacious cage or enclosure that is regularly cleaned and a special diet including grass hay, fresh greens, fruits and vegetables and a small amount of pellets. These small, somewhat delicate mammals need gentle, careful handling. Vinnie’s owners are a good example of how a little creativity can go a long way in providing enrichment whether it is by designing a living space or even making toys. Also, as Vinnie’s story proves, routine preventative care is essential for ensuring long-term health. These good-natured, social pets thrive in loving homes full of enrichment, attention and good nutrition. Vinnie is a lucky little guinea pig, and for Vinnie, the old saying “Home is where the heart is” is certainly true.

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Vinnie celebrating Christmas.