Guinea pigs, grief and why I can’t have a dog

As a big fan of guinea pigs, they’re the only pets I’ve ever wanted. Until recently.

I used to be quite frightened of dogs. But in recent years I’ve seen how special they are to people, how much joy them give them. I started to like dogs. Then, one day, I realised I really wanted a dog. I’m not alone in this. My younger son wants one too and even my daughter has started to want one.

But, for various reasons, I’m not allowed a dog just yet. Perhaps the biggest reason is that I can’t handle my grief over animals. Because animals die. Even animals that you really love.

When we got our first guinea pigs, Eric and Daisy, back in the summer of 2014, one of the factors which made us choose guinea pigs over other pets was the ‘fact’ that they live for six years. So, according to that, Eric and Daisy should still be alive – or should have left us only very recently. But the fact is that we’ve had four guinea pigs die in the last four years, three of them in just over two and half years.

Daisy died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2016 and that was hard but, in truth, the grief was fairly short-lived. Eric was always our favourite and, most importantly, we didn’t have to watch Daisy die over a period of days or weeks.

For me, knowing a pet is going to die, but not knowing when and watching them suffer and decline is every bit as bad as them actually dying. But the alternative – to have them put to sleep by the vet – is absolutely heartbreaking. That moment when you have to hand over your beloved pet to the vet, knowing you will never see them again, is devastating.

It took me a long time to recover from Eric’s death. That one hit the whole family hard as he was our original guinea pig. As the kids have got older, the guinea pigs have become less ‘ours’ and more ‘mine’. The kids have been less engaged with each subsequent guinea pig. But I have loved every single one.

Wilfred’s death hit me just as hard as Eric’s did. And I lived with grief and uncertainty over Cedric for 10 days. My husband and son told me that a vet had never saved a guinea pig, but I lived in hope. Cedric bounced back quickly on medication from the vet, but it only lasted a day. Every day when I got up in the morning, I was convinced he wouldn’t be with us any more. I was scared to look in the hutch, but it was the first thing I did every day. I cried that he was still alive. That I had one more day with him.

And I cried so many times because I thought he was going to die.

Cedric, Guinea pig, Worrying about Cedric, Ill guinea pig

And it was affecting my sleep badly. For night after night, I was awake from 2.30am, potentially locking myself into a cycle of insomnia that could last for months or years. My insomnia had improved hugely over lockdown and worry over my beloved Cedric brought it right back.

My family were supportive and practical. They helped feed him and give him medication. They were kind to me.

But they thought I was over-reacting. He’s ‘just’ a pet. ‘Just’ a guinea pig. I know that guinea pigs don’t last long. I can’t get upset every time.

Cedric, Guinea pig, Garden, 366

But I can’t stop myself getting upset every time. I don’t want to go through it. But if I don’t go through it, what do I do? Give up having guinea pigs because I can’t handle the grief? I love having guinea pigs and a life without them would be boring. They give me so much pleasure with their squeaks and their little furry faces and funny personalities. Just sitting and stroking a guinea pig helps me to relax and unwind.

Weighing up all the positives against the negative of not having them, I feel like I have no choice but to deal with the grief. But I wish it didn’t come round so often. It feels like a roller coaster. One dies and I have to replace him for the sake of his friend, who can’t be left on his own. But I’m setting myself up for more grief in two or three years’ time. Because every one of those guinea pigs is going to die sooner or later.

And that’s why I can’t have a dog. Much as I love my guinea pigs, I know that losing a dog would be so much harder. A guinea pig is a friend, but a dog is a whole other level of friend. A dog really is part of the family.

On the plus side, my husband thinks Henry will be my ‘six year guinea pig’. While I desperately fed Cedric in a bid to keep him alive, Henry was very happy to help himself to all of the extra food. He’s been putting weight on ever since we got him as a baby in November last year and is still showing no signs of slowing down. If Henry gets ill, all of that extra weight will buy him lots of extra time.

Cedric, Henry, Guinea pigs, Worrying about Cedric

 

Author: Sarah Mummy

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8 Comments

  1. I know how hard it is. They are part of the family. I feel for you so much. Big hugs xx

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    • Thank you very much! It is so hard. My next challenge is keeping Henry company and ensuring he stays happy and healthy until we can get a new friend for him. Then the roller coaster starts all over again! X

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  2. I completely get this and I thought I would be the same about losing a dog, we have always had cats. And yes, I was completely devastated when the dogs died, but equally happy that I’d had them. Especially as they were rescue dogs. The way I look at it, if people didn’t take on rescue dogs, more dogs would be needlessly put to sleep just because they didn’t have a home. So, not having a pet because of my grief isn’t fair on the dog that gets put to sleep because of my decision. Also, you are very attached to the guineas, they’re part of the family just like a dog is, especially if you are the one that does everything for them and spends time with them. I think you would cope a lot better than you realise. It’s often the fear of not coping that is worse than the event itself.
    Nat.x

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    • Thanks very much. That is a lovely thought about the rescue dogs and you giving them a life. I’ve talked to my husband about possibly getting a rescue dog, but he says when/ if we get a dog he would rather get a puppy. Either way, that is still a long way off yet.
      You’re right about the fear of not coping often being worse than the reality. I’m a worrier and I always think I won’t be able to cope with various things, but I do! In the end, Cedric’s death wasn’t actually as hard as the 10 previous days I’d spent being upset and desperately trying to get him better. X

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  3. I do totally get what you mean, Liberty drives me to distraction at times but she is so much a part of the family now and I love coming home to her as she is far more excited to see me than the kids ever are. I suppose the advantage of a dog is that most of the time they do live for quite a few years but it would be devastating to lose any pet. I’m not surprised you find it so upsetting when you lose a guinea pig.

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    • Thank you! It is very hard and I seem to have lost too many guinea pigs in recent years.
      It’s lovely to hear how much joy Liberty gives you. Part of the reason I love my guinea pigs is that I can hold them and talk to them like babies, which I clearly can’t do with the kids!

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  4. Losing a dog would be no worse than losing any beloved pet. It is heartbreaking to lose any pet but the fear of future grief doesn’t feel like a reason not to make that commitment. By that logic, you would never allow any love or joy into your life which would be very sad indeed.

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    • Thanks very much. That is a good point. When we got our first guinea pigs in 2014, my son who was 10 at the time decided he didn’t want them because he was worried about them dying. He has always been the least interested in them and doesn’t get upset about them dying. I think I will get a dog at some point in the future, but probably not for a few more years.

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