When You Thought You Were Getting Baby Guinea Pigs But Instead … You Get Gas
What do you do? Well, first (and quite logically), you berate the fraudster mom-to-be. In my case, two pig fraudsters. Looking at these faces, it’s pretty hard to imagine the cruelty that lurks in their furry little bodies.
I foster pregnant guinea pigs. They give birth in my home and then live with me for at least three weeks, often more, until they are ready to be separated from their mom and adopted. Since last March, we've taken care of — and loved — four moms and thirteen babies.
In December I got a call that a new pair was pregnant. Two bonded Abyssinians, both pregnant at the same time (likely by the same father, but we can talk about that another time). These gorgeous creatures were named after Starbucks’ drinks, but we didn’t hold that against them. My daughter and I googled pictures of Abyssinians and immediately started swooning.
Here are grown-up Abyssinians:
And here are big and little Abyssinians:
Pumpkin Spice and Latte's babies would be adorable!
But first, we had so many questions about the pair of preggies. Would the moms nurse one another’s babies? Would they treat all the babies the same? Would they even know which babies were their own? In fact, if we were not present at the birth (or didn’t capture it on our PigCam), would we know?
We couldn’t wait til the babies came. Which, according to the vet, would be soon.
So we took Pumpkin and Latte home, and we waited.
They ate their alfalfa hay and pellets, packing on the caloric nutrition to feed the babies. At first, Pumpkin and Latte were not as round as expected for impending mamas, but within a few weeks, we could see and feel bulges, and watch the pigs waddle around. And it was pretty hard to see what was going on under all that fur.
So we waited for the babies to be born. And waited some more.
A guinea pig’s gestation ranges from 59 to 72 days. The more babies, the shorter the pregnancy. With the long length of this pregnancy, it seemed Pumpkin and Latte were only going to have one or two babies. This was welcome news indeed. Far too many guinea pigs and other small animals already are in need of homes (just check out the situation in the Bay Area). While each baby guinea pig brings my daughter and me much joy, they eventually join the queue of pigs waiting for their forever home.
I counted how many days they had been with me. 28, then 35, then 40. I started researching the pregnancy stages of guinea pigs. It must be soon, I told Tom at the guinea pig rescue. They had reached the point where they spent loads of time lying around, and I sent him photographs. On day 44, Tom said, “I think it’s time to send them to the vet for an ultrasound.”
All that day, I tried to imagine what the vet would say. Were they having a difficult pregnancy — although they seemed healthy enough? Would she need to keep them overnight for observation? Would she need to induce labor? (Can you even induce labor in a guinea pig?) Maybe the babies had grown too big and would get stuck? Yes, I saw myself paying for two guinea pig C-sections.
What I didn’t imagine was the diagnosis: “I didn’t see any babies. The girls are fat and gassy.”
They … were … never … pregnant … at … all.
It’s not easy, the feeling of being betrayed by guinea pigs. Trust me on this.
What happened?! As best as we could figure out, when they came into the rescue, the girls put on weight quickly, and possibly developed gas bloat, which made it look like they were getting very round. Even for vets it is difficult to diagnose guinea pig pregnancy without an ultrasound, and ultrasounds are expensive, especially for a rescue. You can see where I am going with this…
Since we thought they were pregnant, we treated them as if they were pregnant. Unlimited high-caloric food. Extra treats. When they first came to my house they were still running up and down ramps and popcorning (which is a unique and adorable guinea pig habit of leaping straight up into the air so all four feet leave the ground at once). No more. Pumpkin and Latte’s round and bulging bodies were going on a diet.
Fast forward a week, Pumpkin and Latte have already slimmed down. Yesterday I heard the scampering of feet that means zooming around the ramp. But our hearts are still heavy with the loss of the baby pigs, even though they never existed. No matter how much I tell my daughter (who has threatened to eat the fraudsters) that this is better for the greater guinea pig good, we still mourn.