Sunday, March 29, 2015

Guinea Pig Food: Safety in Pet Food Products

In January of this year, an advocacy group called The Association for Truth in Pet Food announced the publication of their Pet Food Test Results, where they had laboratory testing done on a handful of dog and cat food products for harmful substances/pathogens.

According to the Association's report, there were many potentially-harmful things found in the pet food samples they tested. For example:
Select results from the Association for Truth in Pet Food Study.
Afterwards, the Pet Food Institute, an industry association, attacked the study, characterizing it as flawed. The Association for Truth in Pet Food then released a statement defending their study. The scientific debate they raise is a bit over the heads of these three guinea pigs, but we did want to make our readers aware that a debate exists over the quality of pet food.

Although we're not aware of any major guinea pig pet food quality incidents as bad as the infamous one that affected dogs and cats in 2007, that doesn't mean there haven't been any quality issues affecting guinea pig food. In July 2012, the company PMI Nutrition International issued a recall for several of its products, including their "Guinea Pig Diet" pet food, for having elevated vitamin D levels; "The recall was initiated after receiving a small number of customer complaints, which involved animal illness and small bird mortality."

Guinea pig food recalled in 2012 (on the left). Image from Guinea Pig Today ("Image courtesy of Purina Mills, LLC"),
In July 2012, the company expanded the recall to include several other guinea pig food products; "Although no customer complaints have been received to date, the products are being recalled due to analytical test results that indicate a potential for elevated levels of vitamin D." We have to wonder if more testing in the first place would have prevented the "animal illness," and thus the need for a recall. We're also left to wonder what would be found if the Association for Truth in Pet Food did a similar study on guinea pig food. Would there also be worrisome/controversial results for guinea pig foods, perhaps leading to even more recalls like the PMI International one?

Unfortunately, until regulators, watchdog groups, and/or manufacturers start regular lab testing of guinea pig food for safety and sharing the results with the public, we'll just have to use our best judgment as to which types of guinea pig food to buy. Guinea Lynx recommends Oxbow and KMS Hayloft brand pellets based on the ingredients listed on the label; it seems safe to assume that if a company is choosing which ingredients to use carefully, they will probably also be more careful when it comes to ingredient quality.

We tend to prefer Oxbow since they put a lot of emphasis on their relationship with veterinarians. When it comes to other brands, make sure you do your research; if you see issues raised here or on other reputable guinea pig sites, think twice before buying that brand. For example, we've been critical of some Kaytee brand products, and we've found that their pet foods (although not guinea pig food specifically) has been recalled before.

Finally, you should be aware of the signs of illness in guinea pigs. If your guinea pigs start showing signs of illness and you suspect it may be connected to a food product, be aware that you can report the incident to the FDA:
(This only applies to the United States. If you're in another country, you'll have to determine which regulatory authority to report the incident to.)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Guinea Pigs in Europe in the 1500s

It's time for another guinea pig history lesson! You may remember that in a previous post, we pointed out that the earliest guinea pig portrait is from the year 1580, and depicts Elizabethan children holding a guinea pig. Here's a painting from the year 1615 (so 35 years later than the last one) that we found in a National Geographic article :

Article caption: "A detail from a 1615 painting by Jan Brueghel the Elder shows multicolored guinea pigs. PAINTING BY JAN BRUEGHEL THE ELDER, STAPLETON COLLECTION/CORBIS" (source: National Geographic News)
I'd be scared if I were those guinea pigs! It must be scary to be surrounded by much larger animals like that.

The National Geographic article discusses how archaeologists dated guinea pig bones in Belgium to the 16th or 17th centuries, soon after the Spanish made contact with South America (where guinea pigs originated).

Looking at a variety of evidence, the article claims that guinea pigs were mostly kept as pets in Europe, and were not just pets for the upper-classes. The only other guinea pig skeleton from the 16th century in Europe was found in a wealthy manor in England, leading archaeologists to think guinea pigs may only have been a pet for the rich. However, this new evidence suggests otherwise.

So even in 16th-century Europe, people knew what great pets we are!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Can Guinea Pigs Eat Purple Carrots?

Carrots are probably our favorite food, and we recently discovered that carrots come in colors other than orange, such as white. Today, we're going to be reviewing our third type of carrot: purple. Purple carrots are similar to orange carrots in terms of flavor and nutrition, although according to the World Carrot Museum, they have even more health benefits:
"Purple carrots (usually orange or white inside) have even more beta carotene than their orange cousins, and get their pigment from anthocyanins, these pigments act as powerful antioxidants that protect key cell components, grabbing and holding on to harmful free radicals in the body. Anthocyanins also help prevent heart disease by slowing blood clotting and are good anti inflammatory agents."
Like all carrots, you can feed us the equivalent of one baby carrot per pig per day.

Orange on the inside, purple on the outside! 
The contrasting colors on these things looks so cool!
Human, we're going to need a refill soon!
We loved purple carrots! 5/5 stars!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ask A Guinea Pig: Should I Sneak Guinea Pigs into College?

Q: Matilda, Sunny, and Stella asked on behalf on their human, Emily: "Our mom will be heading off to college next Autumn and we're going to miss her very much. We'd love to come with mom, but her school probably won't let us. Is it worth it to sneak in with her? Do you guys have any thoughts on this? We're not sure we'll get the best care when she's away."

A: There are some places where pets, even ones as adorable as us, just aren't allowed. There are many apartments where pets are not allowed, for example, and if you get caught, the landlord is "entitled to act upon the consequences laid out in your lease – so if your lease states that your landlord can evict you, keep the entire security deposit, charge you for property damages, and hold you responsible for covering rent for the remainder of the lease, guess what? You have to pay up AND move out."

The situation in dorms is pretty similar to regular apartments, but even worse in many ways. According to an article in the GW Hatchet, students with pets in dorms have to worry about surprise visits from Facility Services, and usually have one day to give the animal to a friend or family member if they get caught. Articles from NYU Local and The Harvard Crimson point out some other considerations:
  • College students tend not to have a lot of money. Can you afford a guinea pig on a student budget?
  • Some dorms have security guards at the building door, and/or have security officers patrolling the hallways. Are you prepared to sneak in your guinea pigs (as well as their cage and other supplies)?
  • In addition to room checks, you'll also have to worry about loose-lipped neighbors and visitors snitching on you. And, unless you have your own room, you'll probably have a dorm roommate. Are you being assigned someone randomly? If so, how do you know this person will be okay with living with guinea pigs? 
  • Even if your roommate is okay with you having guinea pigs in your dorm room, what if they turn out to be allergic?
  • At NYU, pet policy violations have no assigned penalty, "Which means you’re subject to any sanctions deemed reasonable, ranging from a written referral to dismissal from housing." (Although they also say that the most likely punishment is you'll be forced to get rid of your pet, rather than being kicked out of dorms altogether. It is possible they could go for the harsher option, however.) Harvard appears to be similar.
  • Colleges have long breaks built into their schedules, in which your guinea pig will still need to be cared for. Will you stick around during the breaks? Will you entrust your guinea pig into the care of someone else during the breaks (assuming you can even find someone)? Will you transport your guinea pigs back and forth every single break?
Another factor to consider is whether your guinea pig is considered an emotional support animal (ESA). If a mental health professional diagnoses you with a major impairment that a pet would be helpful for, then the pet can be considered an ESA, and the human can bring the ESA into some places where the pet might not normally be allowed, such as airplanes and dorm rooms. Having your guinea pig be designated an ESA could remove the risk of getting caught, although you would still have to deal with the various pet care issues.

We can't tell you exactly what to do since we don't know the specifics of your situation, but we can say that you should fully consider your options to determine which one is best for the guinea pigs. Ask yourself if the care your piggies would receive back at home would be worse than being in a dorm environment where you'd have to worry about all the issues we've mentioned. If neither option looks good, perhaps you can look into a third option, like educating your parents (or whoever would be looking after the guinea pigs) on how to care for us properly, or finding a pet-friendly apartment off-campus. In the end, you should ask yourself, "What's best for the guinea pigs?"

A good, spacious cage is important, but it's also important that we don't get evicted from it!
Got questions for us? Leave a comment, and we may answer you in our next Ask A Guinea Pig!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Toys for Guinea Pigs: Toilet Paper Roll Pyramids

A while back, we learned that one of our readers from Sweden runs a guinea pig blog of their own called Tresm├ągrisar, which had a toy idea we wanted to try out for ourselves: toilet paper roll pyramids. Our humans used a combination of toilet paper rolls and paper towel rolls cut down to similar-sized pieces. The idea of using toilet paper / paper towel rolls as toys was also mentioned on Guinea Lynx (and previously reviewed by us), so we felt confident that cardboard rolls are safe for guinea pigs. However, we had our humans make one modification to this toy from the way our Swedish friend did theirs: while they made a paste out of flour and water to make the rolls stick together, we read that flour can lead to allergies and bloat if guinea pigs eat it, so we wanted to avoid this. Instead, our humans tried cutting up an extra toilet paper roll into thirds, cutting three grooves into each of these pieces, and then they tried to fit the main rolls into the grooves of these connector pieces:
How it looks from the back.
Then, the humans loaded bits of green pepper into each of the main rolls:
The best toys are the ones with good food in them!
Oh, I see it!
I was a little too enthusiastic about getting that green pepper, and ended up knocking the whole thing over. The humans had to reset it.

What the heck?!
After that, the top toilet paper roll broke off and got stuck on my face when I tried get the pepper out. The humans probably should have cut slits in the rolls like last time, and put the peppers closer to the opening so we wouldn't have to put our faces as far in to reach it. Also, the human's idea of using connector rolls instead of flour paste was a good one in theory, but didn't work out too well in practice since the pyramid fell over and came apart.

We'll give this toy 3 out of 5 stars; something about the pyramid shape made this more of a fun novelty than just a single roll, but there are some design kinks that are going to have to be worked out to make this toy more enjoyable. (Feel free to share your ideas for building a better toilet paper roll pyramid in the comments!)

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ask A Guinea Pig: Is Baking Soda Harmful to Guinea Pigs?

It's time for another installment of Ask A Guinea Pig! 

Today's question comes from GiannaPiggies, who asks: "I read that many people complained about baking soda in beddings like carefresh and said that is not good for piggies or bunnies ..What is your opinion on that?"

The FDA notes that while baking soda is generally safe for humans, "Studies of mice suggest that large intakes of calcium carbonate [a similar substance] may interfere with reproductive performance. Such effects could be indirectly attributable to certain trace nutrient deficiencies." In fact, we even found some websites recommend using baking soda as a rat poison because it becomes carbon dioxide gas in their stomachs, which they are unable to eliminate from their systems. 

We also found an article online claiming that baking soda could be dangerous for rabbits, potentially leading to respiratory damage and stomach rupture. A reputable source (from a Ph.D. in biology) said that rabbits who eat a very small amount of baking soda should be fine, although: "Sodium bicarbonate is used as an emetic (to induce vomiting) because it produces tremendous amounts of gas when it hits the acidic stomach.  Humans can vomit, but rabbits cannot.  So there is the very real risk of stomach rupture if the bunny ingests enough to generate too much for the volume of the stomach."

So what about guinea pigs specifically? One person on a guinea pig message board claimed: "Before I began using the baking soda, I asked the advice of my cavy savvy vet. They said that they've never heard of an instance that proved baking soda to be dangerous, but cautioned me to rinse well and let it sit out for a while before returning my pigs to their cage." In addition, like rabbits, guinea pigs are also unable to vomit, so it would make sense that there's also a risk of rupture from guinea pigs eating too much baking soda.

Another concern that has been raised about baking soda in litter is that guinea pigs might accidentally consume some while cleaning themselves, possibly leading to an electrolyte imbalance

So it sounds like too much baking soda could be harmful to piggies if they breathe it in or consume it. Therefore, definitely don't go pouring baking soda into your guinea pigs' cage to reduce odors! However, just because the loose powder could be bad, does this also mean that products like Sunseed Fresh World Bedding (which you asked about) are bad because they contain baking soda? Perhaps not; Carefresh introduced a bedding formula with baking soda, and when pet owners raised questions about it, they claimed: "our new odor control has baking soda in in it but it is not in a form that can cause any harm, so the bedding is perfectly safe."Hopefully, this is true since we've used some bedding products with baking soda in the past, but it would be nice to see studies confirming this.

Our conclusion is that there's probably no need to freak out if your guinea pig gets exposed to tiny amounts of baking soda, but it could be harmful in large amounts so it's probably best to avoid exposure altogether. Similarly, baking soda in beddings are supposedly in a form that is harmless, but why take a chance? Just stick with regular bedding without baking soda and you'll be fine. And if you're really concerned about cage odor, you can always try cleaning our cages more often.
That litter behind me is safe, right?
Keep those questions coming!