The Peter Gurney Guinea Pig Health Guide
Kidneys in guinea pigs.
The kidneys are multi-functional organs, they're kind of 'all singing all dancing' filters which deal with the body's waste products and water, regulate the blood and electrolytes and keep the acid balance correct in the body.
As I stated in the heart section, the heart and kidney functions are so interrelated that it can sometimes be difficult to correctly diagnose just where the problem lies.
If there is a problem with the heart and it is not pushing the blood through the kidneys at the normal pressure this can seriously reduce their effectiveness. On the other hand, if there is a problem in the kidney which makes the heart work harder to pump the blood through, this is not good news for the heart.
The symptoms for both heart and kidney ailments can be very similar. The one big difference is that blood in the urine is seldom indicative of a heart problem but can often be of one in the kidneys. The blood is more likely to come from the bladder or the urinary tract which has become infected by bacteria. Sometimes this is the result of the kidneys failing to function as well as they should.
The use of diuretic drugs, particularly Frusemide, can be as helpful to deal with kidney problems as they are with heart problems. In many cases they only need to be used for a very short time and can cure the problem by the effect of flushing out the kidneys.
If it is determined that the guinea pig has a chronic problem, it can be controlled with very low doses of Frusmide but it is far better to find a herbal alternative which is less likely to deplete the body's potassium. Cleavers, couch grass, dandelion and bearberry are the most commonly used. Upping the intake of diuretic foods such as celery and particularly parsley is another way to deal with the problem without using conventional drugs.
Kidney and ureteral stones are as common in guinea pigs as they are in human beings. The prognosis for sows with this problem is far better than it can be for boars. Blood in the urine can also be a symptom of these.
More often than not, when a sow has this problem the stone will travel down the urethral tube when it is very small and be flushed out. However, it can sometimes lodge near the opening where it will grow as more mineral crystals are flushed around it in the urine.
If the sow is seen to strain a little more than she was wont to do, lifting herself high on her back legs as she crouches and sometimes squeaking in pain, when she is passing urine, palpate just above the opening of the urethra. You can sometimes detect a very small stone, and even see part of it, chalky white in the opening. At this early stage, with the help of some K.Y. jelly as a lubricant, it can be gently expressed out.
Once these stones get to about the size of a small pea then surgery may be required. This is a relatively easy procedure, even if the stone has become much larger.
If upon first examination there is no stone, rub your finger around the urethral opening to try and find out if the urine is at all gritty. If it is then this as an early warning that trouble could be brewing and anti lithic drugs or herbs should be considered.
The reason stones are more of a problem for boars is because when they are very small they do not pass down the urethra as easily as those that form in a sow's bladder. Consequently those that stay and grow in the bladder are much harder to remove surgically.
Sometimes, when the penis is extruded, the whole of the shaft is coated with what appears to be the kind of lime scale that is found on the inside of a kettle.
There are several drugs that can be used to break these stones down but they are not always successful. The success rate of veterinary surgeons who specialise in small animal surgery, in removing these stones is usually very good, but the big problem is how to stop these stones reoccurring.
The only sure way to prevent the stones reoccurring is to get the stone that was removed analysed to find out the main substance it is made of. If it appears that it got there via the diet, then a change in diet may help. However there is a theory that the calcium oxalate ones, and these are what most of those found in guinea pigs are formed of, could actually be caused by a lack of calcium in the diet!. The theory goes that calcium is needed in the filtering process of the kidneys and if there is not enough in the diet it will come from the bones.
What I am trying to say is that preventing reoccurrence of stones is not an easy matter for there are so many factors to be considered, and what will work on one animal will prove negative on another.
All in all I prefer to stick to the herbal methods. I choose them because most anti-lithic herbs are also diuretics and as keeping up a good flow of urine is also helpful in dealing with this problem which makes them a kind of double wammy!. Hydrangea, cornsilk, gravel root and parsley piert in varying combinations can prove effective. I do not have a set formula, because there simply isn't one, such is the variation between individual cases. However, the two herbs I always use in equal amounts are cornsilk and hydrangea.
If the tinctures are used, one ml night and morning for the first couple of weeks is the dose which can then be reduced to a ml a day from then on.