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Euthanasia of Guinea Pigs

By: Dr. Curt Nakamura

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Euthanasia (putting to sleep) of a terminally ill family pet is one of the most difficult decisions pet owners may have to make. Some people feel that it is like "playing God" and do not feel comfortable making such a decision. Others feel it is a way of preventing their loved one from suffering, especially when there is no hope of a cure. The decision is centered on the issue of quality of life – quality of life of your pet and quality of life for you. There are many issues to consider when it is time for your guinea pig to be put to sleep.

First, let us discuss the process in general. Euthanasia solution is injected, which gives an overdose of a very potent anesthetic agent. Once given, your guinea pig will go into a deep sleep as though he is going to have surgery, but while asleep his heart and breathing will stop. This happens very quickly so he will not feel any pain. Occasionally, muscle spasms or gasping may occur. Although it may be difficult to watch, these are reflexes (involuntary actions) and happen after the guinea pig has died. Guinea pigs have very small blood vessels, especially when they are sick, dehydrated or in shock. It may be impossible to give the euthanasia solution intravenously. In such cases, your veterinarian may first anesthetize your pet with an inhalant anesthetic, and then will administer the euthanasia solution by an intracardiac injection (into the heart).

Here are several considerations you should think about before having your guinea pig euthanized:

Is it Time?

This is the most difficult question. Unfortunately, your guinea pig cannot tell you when it is time. Consider the issue of quality of life. Is your guinea pig having a good life? Are the bad days outnumbering the good days? Remember what your guinea pig was like four weeks ago or even one week ago compared to right now. Happy guinea pigs are active. Sick guinea pigs are lethargic, hunched, and will not eat or drink.

Do You Want To Be Present?

You can be present when your guinea pig is euthanized. Some people like to be there until the end (they may watch or turn their heads when the injection is given) but it allows them to be there for their guinea pig. Remember that it can be difficult to watch if you have not seen intracardiac injections before.

This is often a very emotional time but it may help with closure. Others like to say their good-byes before the procedure, and then view their pet after he has passed. Take time to make this decision before the day arrives. Your veterinarian may help in your decision-making.

What Would You Like Done With Your Guinea pig?

After your pet is euthanized, you will have to decide what you would like done with his remains. There are several options. One of the common options is to take your guinea pig home to bury. Remember to dig deep enough and in an area where the site will not be disturbed by anyone or stray animals. Another option is to have your veterinarian arrange to have a service take care of the remains, which can be a communal (together with other animals) or individual burial. Some pet cemeteries have individual gravesites that you can visit. Lastly, you can have your guinea pig cremated and have the ashes returned to you. Most services do individual cremation (you will get only your pet's ashes back), but make sure to ask.

Do You Have Any Questions For Your Veterinarian?

Before you make this decision, make sure that you do not have any more questions and that you understand what is going on with your guinea pig (disease, treatment options and prognosis). This way you can make an educated decision and minimize regrets or doubts.

Do You Have Someone Who Can Go With You?

Putting your pet to sleep is a very difficult process to go through, and it may help to have someone there with you to give you support. Being prepared will help things go smoother and be less awkward. Your veterinarian will discuss all of the above with you, but it will be a very emotional time and it will be easier if you have made some of these decisions ahead of time.

Be assured that your guinea pig will not feel any pain during this procedure. In many ways we are lucky to be able to provide this humane act of love to our pets.

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