Losing a guinea pig is always hard. It’s hard for me, of course, but it’s also hard for the guinea pig who is left behind. Guinea pigs are sociable animals who need to be with other guinea pigs. In fact, in Switzerland it’s actually illegal to only own one guinea pig (although you can rent one if one of your pets dies).
Like all the pairs of guinea pigs we’ve had over the years, Cedric and Henry were always together. If Cedric was in his bedroom, Henry was in the bedroom. If Cedric was drinking water, Henry would be right behind him, waiting to drink the water. If they were on the grass, they would always be right next to each other.
So losing Cedric was always going to be hard for Henry.
In the days leading up to Cedric’s death, Henry has an instinct that something was wrong. He sat closer to him than ever and often groomed him – something he had never done before. He was caring for him – and he even bit me for daring to touch Cedric when Cedric was ill and he was looking after him.
Henry was with Cedric when he died. I can never know what that would have been like for him. Henry was sat right next to him on the morning I found Cedric that was never going to wake him up.
When a guinea pig dies, we do two things – we increase their human company and we start to look for a new friend. We make sure Henry goes in the run, either in the garden or in the house, every day and he also comes into the house in the evening to watch TV with us. I pop out to him several times a day to check on him and for a quick chat.
But he was spending more and more time on his own in his bedroom. It didn’t help that we had some terrible rain, which left his hutch damp, even when I’d cleaned it out. Worryingly, he was eating and drinking a lot less.
When Cedric was ill, we’d put different food in the hutch several times a day to encourage him to eat – vegetables, hay and grass. But it was Henry who hoovered them up. The more we tried to feed Cedric, the more food Henry ate. My husband joked that we wouldn’t have to worry about Henry dying at a young age, because he’d got a good cushion of fat from being greedy.
But after Cedric died, Henry seemed to lose his appetite. It might have been the lack of competition – they both used to take their vegetables and eat in different corners of the hutch – but more likely it was loneliness. One rainy day, I didn’t see him go downstairs for his food or drink once.
And he was losing weight. Within three weeks of Cedric dying, he’d lost 70g – over 5% of his body weight. He didn’t feel quite as rounded any more. I put some fresh grass in his hutch, because he’d wolfed it down when we were trying to save Cedric. He wolfed it down this time too, thank goodness.
He was barely drinking at all. So I took to taking his water bottle to him, rather than expecting him to go and find it. I feared I’d end up syringing water to him, like I’d done with Cedric during his final days. I didn’t like the parallels with those days.
Luckily I discovered that putting the water bottle on the run seemed to encourage him to drink more than just having it in his hutch.
Although his health wasn’t yet in danger – he had started out at the top end of a normal guinea pig weight – he couldn’t carry on losing weight. He needed a new friend. But new friends are few and far between.
Because of everyone’s least favourite pandemic, the guinea pig breeder has been breeding less guinea pigs. So there is a waiting list for babies. And we can’t even take the emergency back-up option of a guinea pig from Pets at Home. Because Pets at Home has stopped stocking them thanks to Covid too.
The good news is that a white baby who is the same breed as Cedric has been reserved for us. The bad news is that he isn’t old enough to live with us just yet. In total, Henry will be on his own for about six weeks. That is the longest any of our guinea pigs have ever been on their own. And for a guinea pig who isn’t even a year old yet, that’s not easy for him.
Poor Henry is a lonely guinea pig. We can’t wait for him to get his new friend.