By Savannah Verdon, RedRover Development and Engagement Coordinator

Last fall, Katie was having a very difficult time in medical school. She saw firsthand the huge toll the COVID-19 pandemic had taken on healthcare providers, and how it had robbed her of the hands-on education she deserved to become the best physician she could. To release some tension, she joined her friend on Black Friday for some shopping and a visit to Petco.

On a past visit to this Petco, she felt a connection with a handsome little guinea pig with a white stripe down his face. But on subsequent visits, the guinea pig was no longer there. That Black Friday morning though, she was surprised to see him back at the store, returned and marked 75% off.

“I knew that for a rodent to be 75% off, it was not a good thing. From my reading on guinea pigs, they weren’t too quick to open up to people. So when I held Chewy at the store and he curled up to me immediately, I was very surprised and knew he was meant to be my pet.”

Katie took Chewy home without hesitation, and with him he brought nothing but joy to her life. She said, “Being able to come home to an animal who is excited to see me, and who can play, and who can snuggle on the couch has really lifted me up.” Just like any cat or dog owner, Katie considered Chewy to be her fur baby. 

In the spring, Chewy developed GI stasis (a slowing of the passage of food through the gastrointestinal tract due to a change in GI bacteria) after being misdiagnosed with a urinary tract infection and completing a course of antibiotics. He lost 20% of his body weight in two days due to profuse diarrhea and was becoming hypothermic. After a week, his labs showed signs that the stasis had passed. Chewy also developed bumblefoot (a bacterial infection and inflammatory reaction) during his hospital stay, but the veterinarian considered it low grade and did not treat it before Chewy was discharged to go home with Katie. 

Just a few days later, Chewy was still exhibiting the same symptoms, only much worse. He was lethargic, in pain, and still suffering severe diarrhea. This time Katie took him to a different veterinarian who diagnosed Chewy with dysbiosis (an imbalance in GI bacterial populations) and higher grade bumblefoot. He would need additional supportive care, including feedings, fluids, and pain control, regular wrapping of his feet, and an antibiotic, a probiotic, and a toxin binder to treat his condition. If he could get all of the care he needed, his prognosis was good. 

Katie had paid thousands of dollars for Chewy’s first hospitalization, using money from her student loans. Now the deadline to extend her loans had passed, so that wasn’t going to be an option this time. After applying for and being denied CareCredit, Katie considered how else she could make sure Chewy got his treatment. It had been incredibly difficult to see him ill, and she was committed to doing everything in her power to pay for his hospital stay until he was healthy enough  to come home.

With the help of a RedRover Relief Urgent Care grant, Chewy remained in the hospital until he was finally discharged with a new course of antibiotics, a probiotic, eyedrops to protect against conjunctivitis, and pain medication for his stomach. His feet were still quite raw and tender, so he received daily soaks to keep them comfortable.

After a few days, Katie had another scare when Chewy suddenly stopped eating and later had severe diarrhea overnight. Back at the veterinarian, it became clear that Chewy was becoming malnourished. Before his first trip to the hospital, he weighed 1,134 grams. By this most recent visit, he weighed only 607 grams – he had lost 46% of his body mass! 

Katie shifted Chewy’s feedings into high gear to get him back up to a healthy weight. After the dysbiosis, he would need more help restoring his gut bacteria. Katie took pains to perform guinea pig fecal transplants using pellets from her housemate’s guinea pig, and with the help of her partner, she increased the amount of his daily critical care feedings. Within a few days, he was eating on his own again. 

As he recovered, Chewy’s happy little personality returned. Though he’s taking it day by day, he’s now getting his favorite greens back into his diet and spending his time running and playing. Eight weeks after leaving the hospital, he now weighs 800 grams and has proven himself to be a resilient little guinea pig who will continue to improve. Katie said he most certainly appreciates all the love and support. 

Thank you so much for your support of RedRover. Because of you, devoted pet parents like Katie and fur babies like Chewy get a second chance at the Happy Tails they deserve. We appreciate your compassion!