Thoughts on End of Life Care for your older pigs?

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Post   » Sat Nov 24, 2012 5:30 pm

I'm a hospice chaplain, so my whole way of approaching life, and end of life issues is through that lens.

I have a herd of 10 pigs. I adopted 8: 4 with LWS and 4 over age 6. I have 2 that I acquired as babies, that are now about 14 months old.

As the older pigs get older, I've wondered about end of life care for them. I have a great exotic vet, and when I've talked with him about the pigs with LWS we both agree that we'll play things by ear, but that heroic and extraordinary measures are just not in my way of thinking. Let's keep them healthy as possible, and happy, but not medically tormented and poked and prodded.

I know many people go to the wall for their piggies, and will do whatever it takes and however much it costs.

For me, it's not about the money, though let's face it, finances do count. But I do feel like there's a time and place for medical care, and also a time and place when medical care can no longer "cure" but can in fact be used to palliate and bring comfort.

It's hard with piggies, since they often don't show obvious signs of illness, and once they do the decline so quickly. It's hard to tell if they're in pain often.

I'd just love to have a discussion about how you approach old age and end of life with your pigs. How do you decide to go for vet care and when do you decide to just let them live out their days in their cage. All of this provided there's not some sort of acute crisis happening.

A broken leg, or sudden seizure is one thing. Gradual weight loss, slowing down, loss of appetite, cold just be those more subtle signs of old age and EOL. Yes, they could be signs of cardiac disease, and could be treated. But if the pig is 6, 7, or even 8 years old, does that change whether you treat or not?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Supporter 08-09 & 11-13

Post   » Sat Nov 24, 2012 8:20 pm

Well, I think it all depends on the pig and what is wrong.

I've had 16 pigs over the last 7 years. All but 2 of them were adopted or rescued from a bad situation (or taken in when their owner was set to abandon them)

Most of my piggies have lived to between 6-9 years old. I have lost 2 at about 1 year old.

I have only had one PTS and that was because she had numerous abdominal tumors and the vet said she was suffering...she was 7.

I knew I was in for a bad run when I looked at my herd and realized that all but 2 were 5+ years.

I pretty much go by the rule, if they are not eating with gusto and running around the cage, they go to the vet. If the vet makes a diagnosis that is terminal, we treat to make comfortable and let nature take its course OR if the piggie is suffering, we PTS. (like I said, that has only happened once).

We also go to the vet if I notice something loss, lumps, UTI, URI symptoms. I usually have a sense before the piggie gets bad enough. My husband cannot understand how I can say "I think there is something wrong with XX" and then the next day there is something obvious. I have learned to go with my instinct on this.

I adopted a Satin from CC who had osteodystrophy. He was diagnosed at about 1.5 years old and was treated with pain meds which seemed to perk him up. He was eating and running around the cage in the morning and I found him on his side that evening. I held him while he slipped away.

I have had several at 7+ year who have lost weight gradually as they aged. I don't worry about gradual weight loss because this seems to be the norm as they age. Keep in mind, a gradual weight loss but still at 1100-1200g is not something I worry about. If an older piggie loses weight quickly and drops below 1000g, this would trigger a vet visit.

Everything really depends on the piggie, the age, and the medical history and current medical status. I don't think I have any set rules.

My Norbie had a cyst removed at 6 years and it made a dramatic difference in her. She was popcorning around like she was a baby. She passed away a couple months later but I felt that the surgery made her last few months better so I would certainly do it again for another piggie at that age.

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It started with Louie...

Post   » Sat Nov 24, 2012 8:38 pm

I've had lots of piggies and feel the same way as you do which is sometimes all we can do is keep them comfortable and accept they are leaving us soon.

The worst feeling I ever had was taking a foster pig to the vet and he died within an hour at the vets while he was poked and prodded and moved all around. My little voice told me to keep him home and keep him warm and let him go but of course I didn't listen. He died in my arms in a cold vets office after an hour of being scared.

So when my little Bowie was close to death last year after years of medical issues, I listened to that voice. He refused water and food and was drooling. I knew the was near so I laid him on my warm chest in a dim lighted room and let the metacam help him drift off to death. It was a sad few hours but I wouldn't change a thing because he left me naturally and peacefully.

So I always say to listen to that inner voice. If they need to be PTS, you'll know. When they have a few months of life left, well then, you'll know that, too. Either way, we will always try to give them our best and that's what really counts.

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Post   » Sat Nov 24, 2012 9:03 pm

I am currently in the EOL stage with Sakura. She is almost 5 and has multiple medical issues going on, two of which could be fixed with surgery, but she would not likely survive because it would be a complicated procedure. I am just giving her pain meds, monitoring her weight, and syringe feeding if needed. I am keeping her comfortable until its time to let her go. Technically her problems are fixable but the odds of her survival arent great.

4 the Good of all Pigs

Post   » Sat Nov 24, 2012 9:12 pm

I am also of the mind that it depends on the situation and the pig. I recently said good bye to a 3 1/2 year old with a tumor in his neck and quite possibly cancer throughout. I could have tried surgery but he would likely have not survived that. I didn't think the risk was worth it. He had several more months with us. When he really started to struggle moving around and his poos got soft, I knew it was time. Never did his appetite waiver but he was going downhill fast and it was not fair to keep him around any longer.

There have been a couple that I waited too long and I don't want to make that mistake again if I can help it.

It's all about quality and weighing the risk vs the prognosis. I don't see anything wrong with keeping them comfortable until time to say goodbye. But with that, you also have to ask yourself are you strong enough to make the decision when it comes time. As care givers we need to be able to give them the dignity of a peaceful passing, for them...not us.

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Post   » Sat Nov 24, 2012 10:03 pm

What very thoughtful and sensible responses. Thank you all. I agree that it does depend on the pig and the situation.

There are surely no hard and fast rules, but that's sometimes what makes it hard. Some times it seems very clear, and that voice inside is strongly telling us to do, or not do, something. Other times it isn't so clear.

The reason I have stayed here at this forum so long (for me) is that while people have their opinions, there is still room for others to do what they feel is right without being harshly judged or ridiculed.

Is there some info, perhaps a link, about what the "normal" signs and changes in an aging guinea pig are? I knew about the weight loss, but would like to know more about that in detail, and also see what other changes are part of regular aging.

4 the Good of all Pigs

Post   » Sat Nov 24, 2012 11:24 pm

My old people tend to sleep more often and more soundly as they age. One very nice thing about older gents is, in my experience, they become cuddlier, more appreciative of lap time.

Let Sleeping Pigs Lie

Post   » Sat Nov 24, 2012 11:54 pm

There is a great link to an article on this page:

Cinnabuns Legacy

Post   » Sun Nov 25, 2012 12:28 am

So far I have eventually had to have my seniors humanely put down. They all started having deadly problems that were most likely genetic ranging from heart problems, to serious GI problems they were born with, to kidneys starting to go combined with a secondary illness. They would have suffered very horribly and the deaths would have been long and drawn out had I not taken them to exotics veterinarians for humane euthanasia.

Right now I have my oldest current cavy, Cinnabun, at 7 years old. She developed an inoperable tumor. We are doing our best to keep her comfortable. She is on metacam, has two cuddle cups on opposite ends of the cage with pellet and hay dishes right next to them for easy reach, gets a lot more veggies (not so much that they cause loose stool but we're spoiling her with the organic greens since we could have anywhere from only one to six more months with her according to the veterinarian). When she stops eating on her own despite pain medication and adding something tasty to the pellet mash, we will know it is time. Until then we are spoiling her and keeping her very comfortable.

I really feel it depends on the situation. Some seniors are able to pull through rather miraculously, while others will continue to go into a horrible downward spiral. I take each case individually, but I always end up spending hundreds of dollars trying to save them, sleepless nights staying up all day and night to do hand feedings, only to have them get to the point beyond any help. I feel we must try, but if they get to the point where they can no longer fight something I feel it is cruel to just let them languish feeling miserable waiting for the innevitable.

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Post   » Sun Nov 25, 2012 5:14 am

Tracis - thanks for the link - it was very informative. And cinnabuns, thanks for sharing your experiences. It sounds like Cinnabun is living it up. She's lucky to be with you. I always tell my patients that they're Queen (or King) for the day for as many days as they have left.

Cinnabuns Legacy

Post   » Sun Nov 25, 2012 5:01 pm

You're welcome. And in my post focusing so much on the cavy issues, I forgot to add, you are wonderful for working with these people. Thank you for providing such a valuable service to them.


Post   » Sun Nov 25, 2012 7:51 pm

Good for you being a hospice chaplin.

I think the question you have answer honestly if, "Am I doing this for the guinea pig or am I doing it for myself."

Of course, there is always doubt I should have done, I should not have done, but I do want to give my guinea pig a chance. Sometimes I'll delude myself that by throwing money at the problem it will disappear. But I don't want to say I could have spent $300 and saved my guinea pig but that was just 'too much money.'

True love is knowing when to say goodbye. It hurts me so. I know the guinea pig will be safe and okay at the rainbow bridge. I am the only one who should have to bear any pain.

I'm okay about my own mortality and realize I will die someday. I have a will and I wrote I want to be cremated. I don't know where I will go on life's journey but I know where I most likely will end - Mountain View Cemetery as there is a plot with my name on it (a gift from my parents.) So if I am okay about this, why not other people and animals? In fact I believe animals have an easier passing as they know/recognize they are heading to the good place from where they came.

So in the end, "Am I doing this for the guinea pig or am I doing it for myself?"


Post   » Sun Nov 25, 2012 9:22 pm

That's a good question to ask.

It's never going to be a simple decision. After ten years in rescue, I can't remember one loss where I didn't question if I took the right course, at least a little. If a pig is still eating, I will take every effort to keep them comfortable. If they are still eating but obviously very uncomfortable and nothing can be done, then I have made the "eating" exception (such as when a pig has end stage cancer and cannot walk anymore).

One thing I can say for sure is it always has always been more painful of a loss when I waited too long to take the pig in, and they died in agony in my arms or on the way to the vet. If I know they are going to pass away soon, I will err on the side of taking them in a few days early. I so hate to see them suffer. With people, we don't always have a choice in this -- but with pets, we do have the choice to try to offer them a release from suffering.

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3 Little Pigs

Post   » Sun Nov 25, 2012 11:32 pm

I agree with what Charybdis said about bringing them in a few days early if they're terminal. When Snickers' tumor ruptured overnight, he still seemed just as happy and hungry as usual. But I could smell the necrosis and knew there was no way he would be comfortable for more than another day or two. And I didn't want to do surgery on a nine-year-old pig: the risk of him dying was so high, and even if he did survive, I didn't want him to go through the pain and stress when he wouldn't live much longer anyway (just due to age). So even though he was eating fine and had energy, I went ahead and put him down. As hard as it was, I'm really glad I did that. I spared him a lot of suffering. I'm glad that he was able to be himself and be happy to the end.

Other than cases where the pig is obviously terminal like Snickers, I'll keep fighting as long as they do. When Hannah got a growth on her chin, I kept going with treatment til the day the light left her eyes. When that happened, I decided to have her put down. She wound up passing that evening naturally, though. I think it's cruel to put them through more stress when they've given up. They let you know when it's over; there's no sense in pushing it.


Post   » Sun Nov 25, 2012 11:44 pm

In a human End of Life care means that there is no more aggressive treatment, now on the other hand if the treatment will keep someone comfortable then that is what is done, as long as you are not prolonging the enevitable(sp) by seeking treatment. Now I don't know how far I would go treatment wise with a pig that is old because I am not in that situation yet, but I have worked in hospice and I would think what is engrained in my mind and witnessing other patients pain I would go with treatment that would only aide in the comfort of my pig and not so much agressive treatment.


Post   » Sun May 20, 2018 6:54 pm

I'm in the situation where I do have to make that decision with my nine-year-old guinea pig Chuckles. As of now, he's still eating happily but it's obvious that he doesn't have much longer in this life. As I am still dealing with this I can't offer much advice, only my sympathies. I know what you'll be going through and I wish you and your piggies all the best.

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Thanks for the Memories

Post   » Fri Jun 01, 2018 2:22 pm

I play it by ear as they age. I lost three fairly young boars within months of each other just prior to our break from pigs, but Neal was much older. 6+. For him, we chose to let him go when it was clear that he had no quality of life. He was barely able to stand or eat or take care of himself. It was no way to be, and no heroics would change that he was old and thin and not doing well at all. My rule of thumb with any animal is quality of life, age, and if the treatment would be worse than the issue at hand. I do not regret taking Bad Cat home for one more week, allowing him to bask in his favorite window and then letting him go. It was much more humane than the heroics we tried with Good Cat, who died in an unfamilar place without his family around him. We lost him and we also literally spent thousands trying. Mostly what we bought was more pain for him. I never want to do that again. I'm much more about pain management and hospice type care when a near end is inevitable.

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