In early March 2000, my little guinea pig Hazel rapidly
developed cataracts in both eyes. She was 18 months old. We took her to the vet
who performed urine and blood tests, then diagnosed Hazel with diabetes.
We began giving Hazel insulin injections, 1/4 unit twice daily (7:00 a.m. and
7:00 p.m.). Within 2 to 3 weeks, her blood tests showed glucose levels that were
very close to normal in the mid-afternoon. Unfortunately, these injections were
not easy for us to administer because Hazel is an unusually squirmy piggie who
hates having her neck and back touched.
(left) and Ginger. Two diabetic guinea pigs.
I had been doing urine tests at home on Hazel and, as a precaution, I tested all
of the guinea pigs. We discovered that Ginger, Hazel's half-sister, was also
diabetic. I put out a plea on the Internet for information and I was contacted
by a number of diabetic piggie owners who told me about an oral medicine that
works for most diabetic guinea pigs. Here in Canada, this drug is called
My vet was reluctant to use the oral meds at first, partly because we'd had
unusually rapid success with the insulin, partly because the oral meds only work
infrequently in cats and almost never in dogs. However, after consulting with
another vet who is using the oral meds successfully on a guinea pig client, our
vet agreed to give it a try. We had the medication compounded with fruit
flavouring added, and the piggies loved to take it.
Ginger responded immediately to the low starting dose we put her on. Hazel
needed her dose increased slightly, but responded well within a couple of weeks
after switching from the insulin. We continued taking the piggies to the vet for
frequent blood tests to monitor their glucose levels. Eventually I purchased a
glucometer and learned to do the blood tests at
home, along with the ongoing
home urine testing. After a couple of months of "low-normal" BG
readings, the vet suggested that we cut Hazel and Ginger's glyburide doses in
half by eliminating their evening dose.
Ginger continued to do well on the half-dose of medication, with future BG
readings in the high-normal range. Hazel's body kicked in so well that we had to
take her off the meds altogether. She had a hypo incident -- violent shaking and
staggering around, trying to eat but not being able to stand still long enough
to chew and swallow. We gave her some syrup and hand-fed her fruits, veggies and
wheatgrass until she stabilised. She's been off the medication since July 2000
(4 months after starting them), with her glucose levels controlled by diet alone
and with BG readings consistently in the mid-normal range.
Informal discussions with other diabetic guinea pig owners made me aware that
approximately 1/3 of diabetic piggies eventually lose the need for medication to
control their glucose levels.
In August 2001, almost 18 months after starting the glyburide therapy, Ginger
also lost her need for the medication. Her hypo symptoms were not as severe as
Hazel's -- she seemed a bit "off", lethargic and nervous. All blood
glucose tests since taking Ginger off her meds have been normal.
We continue to monitor both Hazel and Ginger with weekly urine
Diet changes we made include the following: - no treats with added sugar, though
we were allowed us to continue providing a small quantity of fresh fruit or
unsweetened juice every day - no high-fat foods such as seeds and corn -
increased fibre in the form of unlimited quantities of hay -- we had to reduce
the amount of green food we were offering the piggies to encourage them to eat
-- Contributed by Patricia Simon, February 2002
For more information about diabetes and guinea pigs, please see Patricia's
Contributed February 2002
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