We were not informed of any previous medical history when Gerald arrived in our care (along with his female friends Peggy and Edith) but it was clear to see that his eyes weren’t quite right, and we noticed he would often bump into things within his enclosure. Our vet assessed that he must have suffered a hay poke in his previous home, and it had not healed properly, leaving him with an infection and permanent damage to his eyeballs.
What is hay poke?
Hay poke is when a piece of hay or hay seed gets stuck in a guinea pig’s eye and causes pain and injury. Guinea pigs are very susceptible to this and other eye injuries because their eyes are not very well protected. Initially this can cause the eye to be weepy, red or unable to open fully. The piece of hay scratches the cornea of the eye and in more serious cases can cause a cut, ulcer or puncture. As a reaction to this, the eye will then become opaque or cloudy.
The eye can recover completely from hay poke with the right treatment, but the key is to act fast as the longer it is left, the more damage it is likely to cause. If your guinea pig gets a hay poke you must get them to the vet as quickly as possible as they will be able to remove it and prescribe medicine to help heal the eye. Usually, the eye will continue to get cloudier even after the hay poke is removed, because this is its way of healing itself, but with treatment it will then return to normal.
However, if the hay poke is not treated quickly, it can cause severe damage and potentially lead to the guinea pig losing their eye. You can try to prevent hay poke by using very soft cut hay and if you do use a coarser hay, make sure that any piles of hay in your guinea pig’s cage are fairly flat so there is less risk of it sticking out and poking the eye.
Gerald’s case was very severe, his left eye was cloudy and swollen and his right was red and dry, he was in obvious pain, and it was clear his vision was impaired. Our vets prescribed daily eye drops and pain relief for treatment but also put a plan in place for the possibility of surgery to remove both of his eyes if they did not show improvement.
Can Guinea Pigs live Without Eyes?
Yes! Guinea pigs can live long and happy lives without eyes as long as they are given the care they need and are in a suitable environment. They may struggle to adjust at first, but they are clever animals, and they will soon learn their way around their enclosure. It is important that the layout of their cage does not change much, and they can be aided by using certain scents to associate where certain things are. Guinea pigs are also very social and caring within their herd so the other piggies will be sure to help the blind one out if they need it!
After one month, Gerald, Peggy and Edith had found an experienced owner who was willing to take them home despite Gerald’s uncertain future. By this time, a mother and daughter guinea pig pair called Salt and Pepper had returned to the centre for a second time and were very unhappy, subdued and lacking in confidence so the owner decided to take them home too and bond all five guinea pigs into one big herd.
Gerald's future is bright
Thankfully, Gerald was able to keep both eyes as his regular treatment means he is no longer in pain, but it is very unlikely that his eyes will ever return to normal health. He is given eye drops and medicine every day as part of his normal care routine and while it isn’t exactly his favourite time of day, he is certainly used to it and he knows he will receive a treat once it is done. His owner told us:
“These little piggies are my world, and I am so glad to have been able to give them a home. Gerald is an absolute sweetheart, and he is a right character to watch as he stumbles his way around the cage, bumping into furniture or the other piggies. They all get on so well as a group now, but the girls definitely take advantage of the fact he can’t see and will run up and steal his veggies from in front of him! He doesn’t let his lack of sight get in the way of having a good time as he likes to climb on top of his hidey house even though he can’t always work out how to get down! It’s also amazing to see how happy Salt and Pepper (now called Mabel and Wilma) are now that they are part of a herd and have the space they need. We sadly lost Peggy last year and I think the group really missed her presence as the leader, but they have all slowly grown in confidence and it is amazing to see the dynamics of the herd evolve.”