Premature birth can happen in numerous species, including guinea pigs. Sylvester is a guinea pig who was born about 10 days early. That might not sound like much, but their gestation time is 59 to 73 days, and guinea pigs are born fully furred with their eyes open and able to walk. Taking away 10 days of development time is a big deal. Guinea pigs born full-term nurse until about 3 weeks old, but they are able to nibble at solid food just two days after birth. Sylvester didn’t have time to develop normal abilities, even for basic things like eating. So how did he survive?
Judith Allen, his caregiver, saved Sylvester by devoting her life to him for four weeks and getting guidance from her veterinarian, Dr. Sam Munn of Jameson Queen Animal Hospital, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Judith is from Ontario, Canada, and is a former guinea pig breeder and current owner. Judith calls her miracle survivor Baby or, more formally, Sylvester-the-Preemie-Who-Lived.
“His survival is remarkable and a rarity, and I will share with as many people as I can so that fewer rejected babies are euthanized unnecessarily,” Judith says. “Saving them can be done.”
The Struggle To Survive Begins
Baby’s story begins on May 24, 2018, when his mother, Delilah, went into premature labor and delivered four babies. They weighed in at only 65 grams. Normal babies typically weigh 100 grams at birth.
“One died shortly after birth,” Judith says. “By the morning of May 27th, it was clear that something was going seriously wrong. The three remaining babies were listless.”
Judith noticed that Delilah wasn’t producing much milk or doing much to help the babies. It was time to intervene. Her veterinarian’s office wasn’t open because it was Sunday, so she began feeding the babies a homemade food mix (ground up guinea pig food pellets, applesauce, and electrolyte solution) and put them on a warm heating pad. She got up twice during the night to feed them. Sadly, one of the babies died during the night. The next morning, Judith got a ride from a neighbor and rushed the two remaining babies to the veterinarian.
“The vet administered sub-Q fluids and sent me home with EmerAid IC Herbivore, a sub-Q fluid kit, and a warning that the two babies were unlikely to survive,” Judith says. “I lost one more that night. It stayed long enough for me to wake and sing it goodbye and wish it well on its journey. That left me just one baby to care for, and I was absolutely determined that Baby would not die, too. Sylvester got his name as a play on “s’il vit” — French for ‘if he lives’ — but he will always be Baby to me.”
Feedings Keep Baby Going
For the next three weeks Judith and Baby fell into a feeding routine that kept Baby going but took over Judith’s life. He was fed EmerAid every two hours around the clock. Judith lost a lot of sleep and missed planting her garden, which meant buying her vegetables all winter instead of eating her own. She also kept him warm in her shirt whenever her hands weren’t busy. When he was 3 weeks old, he was able to go four hours between feedings.
The only drawback Judith found to feeding the EmerAid was that excess formula got stuck on Baby’s fur.
“Little Sylvester-the-Preemie-That-Lived had ‘balls’ of formula goo that were impossible to clean off,” Judith says. “Eventually, his fur grew out long enough that they could be carefully cut away with scissors.”
Despite this excellent care and near-constant attention, health scares popped up.
Battling A UTI And Edema
At 2 weeks old, Baby had his first urinary tract infection (UTI). Judith suspected something was wrong when she saw blood on her shirt where he was carried. She took him to see Dr. Munn, who prescribed a two-day dose of antibiotic. The timing was short because Dr. Munn was concerned that more antibiotic could hurt the good bacteria in Baby’s GI tract too much. He also advised Judith to put a bit of poop from one of her healthy guinea pigs into Baby’s food. Judith did this by dissolving a poop pellet from a healthy guinea pig in 20 mL of electrolyte solution that she then used to mix the EmerAid. This was done to get good bacteria into Baby’s GI tract.
At 3 weeks old, Baby suffered edema.
“His little belly and legs were swollen like sausages. I thought he was going to die,” Judith says. “It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day, and I thought it would be nice for him to feel the sun before he went. So I took him outside and put him in a playpen and sat with him for a while. I was astonished to see him produce three huge puddles of urine in as many minutes.”
This tipped off Judith that Baby needed a warmer environment. She placed him in a smaller habitat with a 100-watt, chicken brood-lamp 18 inches above him.
“After 36 hours, the edema — all 20 grams of it — had resolved, and he seemed to be well again,” Judith says. She had been weighing Baby daily, and he lost 20 grams in the 36 hours it took the edema to go away.
Return Of The UTI
When he was about 4 weeks old, Judith noticed Sylvester’s bottom was very wet. She did a dip urine test using a urine test strip she had on hand. The test strip is for humans, but it confirmed the presence of blood, which indicated Baby had another UTI. It was Sunday, so Dr. Munn wasn’t available, and she didn’t have the money or a ride to get to the emergency veterinarian 1.5 hours away. She did an internet search and found the GuineaLynx website, which gave a formula for dosing guinea pigs with a UTI antibiotic she had on hand.
“The challenge was getting a small enough dosage,” Judith says. “I have since bought a scale that weighs as little as 1 mg. He was off to the vet the next morning, where the nice Dr. Munn gave him medicine of the correct dose.”
With all that was happening, how was Baby progressing with his growth? Judith shares his ups and downs.
“It took him 5 weeks to begin to act like a guinea pig,” she says. “All the while he was receiving EmerAid IC Herbivore — up to 6cc at a feeding and up to six feedings a day. He began to try to eat greens at the same time. The EmerAid was what kept him going. I believe that the highly digestible fiber, protein, and fats in it were gentle enough on his premature intestinal system that he could properly digest them.
“Baby will always be a special little guinea. He is blind and needs a safe, enclosed environment. He is also fearless. He still has difficulty regulating his body temperature and has a heating lamp on a corner of his cage at all times — or he gets icy-cold feet.
“I still feed EmerAid IC Herbivore to Sylvester — as part of our morning cuddle time. He loves the taste of it and would eat it exclusively if I would let him. It has saved his life.”