Ketosis in Guinea Pigs
Ketone bodies are water soluble compounds, the product of the breakdown of fatty acids in the body – a normal metabolic process. Under certain conditions the level of ketone bodies produced may exceed the body’s capacity to excrete them efficiently, resulting in excess ketone bodies in the blood, clinically referred to as ketosis or pregnancy toxemia. Ketosis usually occurs in the last 2-3 weeks of pregnancy, or in the first week after a guinea pig has given birth.
Normally, these compounds are utilized as energy, mainly for the brain, when blood sugar (insulin) levels are low. The blood sugar may be low because food is not available to maintain blood sugar levels, because the animal is being fed a diet that is lower in sugar levels than it is accustomed to, or because of intentional fasting.
Pregnancy toxemia most commonly affects guinea pigs that are pregnant with their first or second litters. Although it occurs most often in pregnant female guinea pigs, ketosis can also develop in obese guinea pigs, male or female.
Symptoms and Types
The affected guinea pig may die suddenly of ketosis without ever demonstrating signs of illness. In addition, pregnant guinea pigs ketosis may lead to death of the fetuses while still in the uterus. In other cases, a sick guinea pig may display signs such as:
- Loss of energy
- Lack of appetite
- Lack of desire to drink
- Muscle spasms
- Lack of coordination or clumsiness
- Coma; death within five days of coma
Ketosis, also known as pregnancy toxemia, often occurs when a guinea pig’s body produces too many ketones, an otherwise normal byproduct of metabolism. Underlying factors include:
- Loss of appetite during the late stages of pregnancy (leading to low blood sugar levels)
- Lack of exercise near the end of pregnancy (ketone bodies are not used as energy and build-up in the blood)
- Large litter size
- Environmental stress
- Underdeveloped blood vessels in the uterus (an inherited condition)
Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam on your guinea pig, taking into account the background history of symptoms and possible conditions that might have led to this disorder. Pregnancy toxemia will need to be differentially diagnosed from calcium deficiency, another common disorder found during pregnancy. Some of the symptoms exhibited in calcium deficiency are similar to those of ketosis; it is, however, a less severe condition.
A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a complete blood count and a urinalysis. Your veterinarian will be able to determine a diagnosis of ketosis by the results of the blood tests, which will show the number of ketone bodies that are present in the blood. Postmortem findings, like the presence of a fatty liver, and bleeding or cell death in the uterus or placenta will also help your veterinarian to arrive at a diagnosis of ketosis.
Once a guinea pig has begun to show signs of pregnancy toxemia, the outcome is usually not good. Treatment does not usually help, but your options may include giving your guinea pig the medications propylene glycol, calcium glutamate, or steroids.
Living and Management
If your guinea pig has made it through an attack of ketosis and is recovering, you will need to take steps to ensure that it is able to rest in a calm and clean environment. Consult your veterinarian about any special dietary requirements your guinea pig may have during the recovery period, as well as any other recommendations that may be helpful in helping your guinea pig to recover quickly from the pregnancy toxemia.
To prevent ketosis, make sure your guinea pig eats a high quality food throughout pregnancy, while limiting the amount in order to prevent obesity. A measured amount of food that has been specifically recommended for pregnant and nursing guinea pigs, given at regularly scheduled times of the day, will help to prevent complications such as ketone body buildup in the blood. Avoiding exposure to stress in the last few weeks of pregnancy may also help to prevent the development of pregnancy toxemia in pregnant guinea pigs.
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