Sunday, January 15, 2012

Rescue Tales: Barn Bunnies

Ashlynn & Topher
It was just past dusk on a fall day in 2009 when two SUVs full of volunteers pulled up to a farm off a pothole-ridden dirt road. The gate had already been locked, and it looked like the owners of the horse ranch hadn't wanted to wait for us. We pulled off the road and began loading our arms with as many carriers as we could. One by one we slipped through the gap in the fencing, under the thick chain and padlock. Carriers were hoisted over and we made our way up the dirt road to the large stables.

It was hard to see in the dark barn, but we wandered past the stalls of horses until we stopped and gazed into a stall that contained only small wire cages. There were maybe 40 or so of these cages, stacked three or four high on top of each other. The urine and feces from the rabbits on top fell down to the rabbits below.  Inside, close to 20 rabbits sat in their tiny wire prisons.

We tried to work fast, but with every bit of light fading and the thick mass of spider webs, it was hard to make out what we were doing. We grabbed the water bottles, but they were filled with green sludge and would need to be sanitized and cleaned.  Most just had to be thrown out. We left the crumbly bag half full of pellets, along with the hay bale that spilled out cockroaches whenever it was disturbed.

We all expected the rabbits to be terrified - to fight and thrash at the hands invading their tiny spaces. Instead they huddled in their corners, defeated.

After three trips to and from the cars, our arms loaded and carriers stacked high, we made our way back to Ally's home. There the rabbits would stay in their newly-made condos. They would get their first taste of freedom running around in their pens. They would play with their first toys, eat their first greens. Their sore hocks could heal on solid ground. Their cages would be kept clean and stocked with fresh food and water.

Slowly, all of the rabbits were spayed and neutered. They found loving homes and were finally living lives they could not have previously imagined. All of the rabbits from that barn have found the love of families. All but two.

Ashlynn and Topher have been with us for a long while now. Topher's sore hocks have long since healed. He doesn't like to be picked up, but loves to cuddle. Ashlynn now has a wonderful coat and is just the sweetest little bunny. The life they lived in the barn is behind them.  The only reminder is the ear tattoo that bears Topher's name.

Both bunnies have the snuffles, but their flare ups are quite minor and they have not needed treatment in years. As middle aged bunnies, around 5 years old now, their chance of adoption is slim. We never give up hope that someone will give them a real, loving home. Ashlynn and Topher just need a chance to show someone what a sweet and loving pair they are.
If you are interested in giving this lovely pair of bunnies the forever home that they deserve, please visit our website for adoption information.

For more information about Ashlynn and Topher, please visit their Petfinder profile.

Rescue Tale contributed by Amber, a dedicated volunteer at 4 Lil Pigs n Buns

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Buy this, not that: Guinea pig products

Have you ever seen the "Eat This, Not That" book?  Well, I'm going to write this blog with a similar theme.  As a rescue group, we tell people a lot of what NOT to buy, which I will do here, but I also want to supplement it with what TO buy (or make!) for guinea pigs.  I will do one for rabbits in a future blog!

In our adoption questionnaire, we ask if the potential home has purchased any supplies for a future pet, and so often the answer comes back that they've purchased a "nice big cage" that "comes with everything".  Chances are, if you bought it at a pet store, and it supposedly comes with everything you need, it is not a nice big cage.  Here is a typical example that makes every guinea pig rescuer cringe:

Best thing you can do - return it to the store.  If you can't return it, you could use it as a (very) temporary quarantine or transport cage.  It is far too small for one, much less two guinea pigs, and we only adopt out piggies in same-sex pairs (or bond to your current piggy).

So, as a rescue group, what kind of housing DO we want to see your pet in?  Our FAVORITE kind of guinea pig housing is what is commonly known among guinea pig people as a "C&C" cage - short for "cube & coroplast".  They are relatively inexpensive and simple to build, and if you don't want to go around collecting the materials yourself, you can buy C&C cage kits here:  An excellent "how-to" site (the original C&C site) is

For a lot less money than you would spend on a commercial cage, you can have an appropriately-sized, infinitely customizable cage.  The possibilities are endless!  It's a lot of fun to design your piggies' habitat!  Here are some examples from our volunteers:
Surprised at the lack of wood shavings in those habitat photos?  None of us with the rescue actually use them.  So first - what NOT to use.  We do not want to see guinea pigs housed on cedar, pine, or corn cob bedding.  Cedar and pine (non-kiln-dried) contain harmful aromatic oils that can be toxic, and corn cob bedding can be harmful if ingested.

Safe litters include aspen shavings and Carefresh (recycled newspaper bedding).  However, to save on money and mess, all of us here at the rescue use fleece as bedding.  I was skeptical until I tried it, and I'm never going back!  The basics:  make sure you have washed the fleece fabric a few times (and don't use fabric softener or dryer sheets) - this helps the fabric to better wick urine away.  Start with a layer of newspaper at the bottom - this will absorb urine that is wicked through the fleece.  Next, place a layer of towels.  This also helps absorb the urine.  Lastly, place a layer of fleece on top.  The fleece stays dry, while the urine is soaked into the towel and newspaper layers.  To clean, just brush the fleece off, replace the newspaper, and launder the towels & fleece.  Click here for a forum thread with great information. 

So here's the real "eat this, not that" section.  First, I'll start off with some photos of products we really don't want to see your guinea pig eat:
"Fiesta-type pellets" - full of seeds and other garbage that is NOT healthy!

"Fiesta-type" treat sticks - TERRIBLE for your guinea pig!
 Other commercially available treats:
 (Frosted Donuts?  Really?  Sadly, I found this on a big chain pet store site, and it is laughingly described as a "healthy snack".  In what world are "Frosted Donuts" a healthy snack?  I wish I lived in that world!)

Okay, what DO we want to see your guinea pig eat?  First off, UNLIMITED AMOUNTS of grass hay (timothy is generally considered the staple).  Alfalfa is okay for very young pigs, but its calorie content is much too high for adults (and it contains lots of calcium).  Hay is the most important part of your guinea pigs' diet.

Next - good quality, plain, timothy-based pellets.  Oxbow and Mazuri are examples.  They should be fresh - look at the expiration date.  Vitamin C (which like us, guinea pigs cannot manufacture on their own) breaks down over time.  A good guinea pig pellet will contain vitamin C.
What about carrots and oranges?  Hmm - okay in very small quantities as treats.  Feed these instead of the commercial treats (you'll save money too!)  Your piggies' veggies should mostly look like this:
Lots of leafy greens!

Here is a toy that we do NOT want to see your guinea pig use:
Using a ball like this will HURT your guinea pig.  Their backs are simply not designed for this.  Let your guinea pig have floor time without one of these.

So what kind of toys CAN you give your guinea pig?  Often, their favorite toys are the cheapest - empty cardboard tubes or paper bags stuffed with hay are usually a hit!  You can also give them willow balls to chew and roll around, plastic balls to nudge, and tunnels to run through and hide in!  And if you have a single pig, please consider adopting a friend!  They are social creatures, and do best with another of their own kind (same-sex, no breeding here!)

Confused?  Have questions?  Need advice?  We are here to assist!  You can also check out great sites such as Cavy Madness and Guinea Lynx for excellent care information.  Thank you for taking the time to read - clearly you are interested in giving your piggies the best life possible!
(The author's guinea pigs, Anya and Latte are shown here enjoying their hay)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rescue Tales: Saving Sniffy

Just a word of warning - this blog contains an image which some may find semi-graphic and upsetting.
On Friday, the rescue received a call from someone who said that her guinea pig hadn't eaten for two days and asked for advice on what to do.  Our advice, of course, was to take the guinea pig to a competent exotics vet.  We are not veterinarians, and cannot advise someone (especially without even seeing the piggy!) on treatment.

Well, after some back-and-forth, the owners said that they couldn't afford to take her to the vet.  They didn't want to take her to a shelter, saying they didn't want her to be put to sleep.  We were left no choice but to have her surrender the guinea pig to us - we just couldn't leave her to die an agonizing death due to lack of medical care.  We have limited space and limited funds, but we took on this sick piggy.

Okay, I'm going to switch to writing from my point of view!  It's going to be a bit easier to write that way.  (This is volunteer Sarah writing).  I was at work on Friday when this all went down, and there were quite a few text messages sent between Ally (the rescue's director) and I trying to figure out what to do with this piggy!  Ally lives in St. Pete, I live about an hour and 20 minutes south in Port Charlotte, and the piggy was located in Cape Coral, which is about an hour south of Port Charlotte.  The lady finally agreed to meet me halfway to surrender the piggy.

I picked up the piggy at about 7:30 pm on a Friday, so I was pretty much on my own to get her through the night.  I got her home, set her up in a cage with some nice clean fleece bedding, and let her chill out for a little bit.  In the meantime, I was consulting with Ally, rescue friends on Facebook, and the guinea pig medical site Guinea Lynx.

This piggy had a plethora of problems.  According to the former owners, she hadn't eaten in a couple of days.  To entice her to eat, they had purchased what is basically junk food for guinea pigs.  This is about the worst thing you can do.  If your stomach hurts, the last thing you should do is eat an entire cake, right?  Unfortunately, most of that package of "Mixed Berry 'n Nut Treats" had been used.
All you need to do is do a Google search for "guinea pig not eating", and look what comes up:
On top of not eating, she had extremely mushy feces, which were all stuck to the fur on her bottom (at least she was pooping).  Her bottom was filthy.  She looked like she had been lying in very dirty bedding.  She had urine scald with open sores.  The next problem - she had blood in her urine, which can be indicative of things like bladder stones or a UTI.  Her nails were quite long, but I didn't want to stress her out by clipping them yet.  I just needed her to survive the night.  On top of everything else, the poor girl was infested with cavy lice, which are simple enough to treat.

Luckily, I had some emergency supplies on hand.  I started her on pain medication.  I started her on a course of Baytril (antibiotic).  I syringe-fed her water and chamomile tea - it was very important to keep her hydrated.  I stayed up until 3 am with her, and set my alarm to check on her at 8 am.  To my relief, she did okay through the night, and even ate some romaine, parsley, and hay overnight!  I kept watch on her throughout the day and following night, gave her a gentle butt bath to clean off the stuck-on poo, kept her medicated and hydrated, and today she was transported up to the main rescue in St. Pete, where Ally is set up with more medication and sub-q fluids.

It's been a team effort between all of us at the rescue.  Ally talked with the former owners all day on Friday.  I picked her up and nursed her through the weekend.  Ally stayed up until the wee hours of the morning answering my texts about Sniffy.  Rescue friends on Facebook offered advice and looked up dosage information.  I drove to Sarasota with Sniffy today.  Amber drove from Brandon to Sarasota to pick Sniffy up from me, then transported her to Ally in St. Pete, then had to drive home.

We are cautiously hopeful about Sniffy's recovery.  Her bottom looked much improved this morning.  I think it helped her just to be on clean, dry fleece.  Her feces were much more well-formed, and I didn't see any blood spots on the fleece today.  She will require more care and medication.  She still needs to be treated for the lice as well.

Our rescue is funded through donations and our volunteers' own money.  If you would like to donate toward Sniffy's care, you can send a donation via PayPal to  If you would like to mail a donation, please send an email to for an address.  Thank you!

Here is the precious little piggy:

Friday, January 6, 2012

New toys for our fosters!

We got an exciting package in the mail today!  Baskets for Bunnies did a toy drive for shelter bunnies over Christmas, and we were fortunate to be chosen as one of the recipients!  Pet Rabbit Toys graciously matched donations that were sent, so TONS of shelter bunnies were able to receive toys for Christmas!  Baskets for Bunnies is an amazing organization that helps shelter bunnies - all because one woman adopted an abandoned "Easter" bunny.  Check out the Baskets for Bunnies website and read Flopsy's story.  Thank you Baskets for Bunnies and Pet Rabbit Toys!  We will hopefully post pictures of the buns and other critters enjoying their new toys soon!
New toys make shelter animals happy!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Adoptions Galore!

We ended (and began) the year on a high note!  We had plenty of adoptions this weekend!  Molly and Diamond (guinea pigs) went to their new home, Twix and Snickers (guinea pigs) were adopted and are waiting on their new family to finish building their cage, Larry (guinea pig) went to a home with a new buddy named Bart, Brook (bunny) went to her new home, and Midnight our beautiful black lop was adopted!  Better yet, Midnight's new family might adopt a friend for him!

Here are all the lucky adoptees:

Here's hoping that this weekend sets the bar for a successful 2012!  Thank you to all volunteers, foster homes, and adoptive families who have given all these furry little critters a second chance!