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        A Medical and Care Guide for Guinea Pigs



    Antibiotic Intolerance


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Antibiotics are an essential part of disease treatment. But not all antibiotics are well tolerated by all animals. And sometimes the antibiotic prescribed is the wrong one. Check Pinta's cautions and advice on antibiotic use.

How Long Does It Take For Antibiotics To Have An Effect?

Antibiotics should take effect within 2 to 3 days. Sometimes you will see an improvement as quickly as within 12 hours. The pig should NOT get worse.

    I usually expect to see a response to an antibiotic within 48-72 hours, and if the situation is no better or progressing at that time AND if there is indication that it is bacterial, I often change antibiotics. I definitely do not like to jump from one antibiotic to another (that can promote microbial resistance), so it depends on the situation. Whatever the drug, it is very important that the appropriate dosage be used - that means not overdosing but also not UNDERdosing.

- Connie Orcutt, DVM, Angell Memorial Animal Hospital, Boston, MA

How Do You Know If You Are Using The Right Antibiotic?

If a culture is taken, the bacteria can be identified and the appropriate antibiotics suggested. Labs will list all drugs and their sensitivity but it is up to your vet to make sure the drugs listed are safe for guinea pigs.

How Can You Tell If Your Pig Is Intolerant To The Antibiotic?

If a loss of appetite, diarrhea or lethargy develops while on the antibiotic, it may be an indication that the pig is intolerant to it, or the infection is resistant to it, requiring a change in medication. If the pig remains on a drug it is intolerant to, the results could be fatal. Kleenmama almost lost her Ollie to antibiotic intolerance:

    When Ollie got a URI, the vet put him on Orbax. After 3 days, his appetite diminished, and he had almost completely quit drinking water. By the 5th day, he was fluffed up and looking very sick, was off all food and water, so I determined, along with Pinta, that if the URI didn't kill him the cure would.

I had several people telling me to continue with the antibiotics, including my previous vet. That if he did die, he was going to anyway and it wasn't because of the antibiotic. Well, I disagreed. This is why it is so important to research and try and get yourself familiar with your pig. There is no doubt in my mind that had I kept giving Ollie meds, he would be dead now. So, I made the decision to stop the antibiotics and started hand feeding Ollie with Critical Care from Oxbow and giving him fresh picked grass, which I soaked down with water. Grass and Critical Care were the only things Ollie ate for almost 5 days. He had no poops for 2 days, and I really thought I was going to lose him. But I just kept forcing down the critical care, and he would eat the fresh picked wet grass on his own.

Somehow, he pulled through and is doing fine. Ollie is a big pig. He weighed in at 54 ounces right before he got sick. He lost more than 10 ounces during his illness, and I am convinced that a thinner pig might not have had the time to recover. He was back up to normal weight in about a month.

Kim also has a pig with antibiotic intolerance:

    I have one cavy who is sensitive to bactrim and baytril. When he was on baytril after a surgery he quit eating for 15 days, and when he was on bactrim for a urinary tract infection he lost 50 grams. A friend of mine has a cavy who also quits eating if she is put on baytril (enrofloxacin) or if she is put on its sister drug ciprofloxacin, but this pig handles bactrim just fine.

According to my vet it is rare to have a pig that is sensitive to all antibiotics, but it does happen. If a pig quits eating on one antibiotic she will try another, if they are just sensitive she'll give them a lower dosage for a longer time period.

We did have a pig who was intolerant to all oral antibiotics. Her gut was so sensitive that she would get worse within hours of her first dose. The only way she could take meds was by injection. Another of our pigs couldn't take sulfa drugs. She had heart problems and sulfa drugs increased her heart rate to the degree she required a beta blocker (propranolol) to bring it back to normal. And only one of our pigs, so far, can tolerate chloramphenicol. Three pigs who have been on it have lost appetite, puffed up and become lethargic within 12 hours.

Unfortunately, not all vets recognize that antibiotic intolerance can be life threatening to a guinea pig. Although they certainly recognize that bacteria can be resistant to the antibiotic chosen, they often assume a pig has the stamina to deal with intolerance like a cat or dog.

When Guineapapa's boar, Patches, became extremely ill in Sept. '99, his vet failed to recognize the infection was resistant to Baytril. By the time the vet was finally convinced to switch to a sulfa drug, Patches had been severely weakened by a urinary tract infection that had, in essence, gone untreated for 10 days.

Although the sulfa was effective against the UTI, Patches couldn't handle the drug. But if the UTI wasn't stopped, it would have put an end to Patches. Because he'd gone so long untreated, it was necessary to keep him on the sulfa for as long as possible to give him a fighting chance of recovery. But after 8 days of the 15 day course, the sulfa was taking its toll and Guineapapa stopped the medication (against his vet's recommendations). Luckily 8 days on sulfa was long enough. Patches turned the corner and headed toward recovery.

    As much as vets are right in suggesting a course of action with medicine, they should also be challenged if something is not right. No one know a pet better than its owner (guardian). Patches is alive for many reason including the fact that he is strong willed and able to fight through illnesses that most other animals would succumb to.

But being given the correct medicine can tip those scales. His urinary tract infection was not going away with Baytril. Although it is a good 'first step' to take, it may not be the right way to go. There is a fine line between letting the medicine take effect (10 - 15 days) and the amount of time a little guinea pig can hold out with an infection. I pressed my vet to consider changing him to sulfa after 7 days, I believe if Patches continued with Baytril for a full 15 days before switching to Sulfa, he would be fondly remembered instead of being petted on my lap as I write this letter.

- Guineapapa

For background information, read the correspondence between Pinta and Guineapapa.

Note: the article on this page was generously contributed by Pinta.

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