So you have a small colony of guinea pigs that gets along just swell. Then you find out that one of them needs surgery, and post-op care is going to require a temporary separation. You wring your hands and fret that this might be the end of colony harmony.
Such is the position Scott finds himself in. He recently wrote to me, asking:
"I have three male Guinea Pigs, they all seem to get along well. The oldest is the more dominant one. We have a huge pen with lots of room to run and huts, tunnels, lots of places to hide. We use fleece so we don't have to worry about newspaper or a lot of shavings. My older Male has Cancer and has to have surgery. The Dr says there is a 90% chance of getting it all....I want to know how long I can keep him separate from the others before they might try to re-herd themselves. The Dr tells me he needs to be alone after surgery but for how long? I don't question their ability to do surgery, but I think I know my animals' behavior pretty well. I think the sooner the better. The other two don't really bother him any way. What is a good but minimal time frame to put him back?"
I've used three veterinary groups in the last 12 years, and the common rule of thumb has been that the post-op pig needed to be separated at least until the follow-up visit that occurs 7-14 days after the surgery.
- The patient needs time, space, and quiet to sleep off the remaining effects of anesthesia, and to begin the process of healing from the trauma of surgery (because surgery is physically traumatic, whether you're a guinea pig or a human).
- Stitches and sutures need time to heal/close. The patient doesn't need an invitation to be rowdy with his pals, nor does he need to be hassled by roommates who want their turn in a pigloo or a cozy cup.
- You need to monitor the patient to make sure he's eating (hay, food, veggies), drinking water, and peeing and pooping normally. All of these are critical to watch in the post-op period, and are difficult to observe and quantify with the needed accuracy if you have the patient mixed back in with his herd. If eating, hydration, and/or elimination are off, you need to be able to intervene quickly (e.g., syringe feeding, vet visit, etc.) and communicate effectively with your vet.
You can maintain your pigs' connection with each other during the recovery period by putting your post-op piggy either in a cage that's right next to his regular home or, if your colony is in a large enough C&C cage, in a 2x2 area partitioned off from the rest of the cage. This way, they can continue to socialize, see and smell each other, and generally remain in touch with the current pecking order. Put their food dishes or their hay racks near the divider to encourage interaction and proximity.
It's crucial that you give your older pig room to rest and heal, and not needlessly stress him by rushing his recovery. If the bond in your herd is that good, you likely have no reason to worry about a temporary separation. They may prove the truth of the old adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder.