My guinea pig's bladder stone X-ray

Guinea Pig Bladder Stone Surgery (Cystotomy)

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My guinea pig has unfortunately had bladder stones 3 times. And he went through bladder stone surgery twice. So I get it, as your guinea pig’s caretaker, it’s really hard when your pet has to have surgery.

So in this article, I will share everything I know about bladder stone surgery for guinea pigs. All the information is from my extensive research, personal experience and discussion with my guinea pig’s vet. I even included screenshots from the exact care sheets and emails I received from my vet as well.

So read until the end to find out how bladder stone surgery works on guinea pigs, the benefits, risks, recovery process, and all the questions you might have, I’ll answer.

What are bladder stones in guinea pigs?

In simple terms, bladder stones, or urolithiasis, are hard lumps of minerals that can form inside a guinea pig’s bladder when it’s not empty of urine. It’s very painful and the most common cause of it in guinea pigs is excess amounts of calcium in the bladder that didn’t get urinated out. Over time the calcium buildup becomes stones.

The main symptoms of bladder stones in guinea pigs are squeaking or whimpering in pain when peeing or pooping, blood in urine, and more.

I wrote an article on everything you need to know about bladder stones in guinea pigs. including the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options and prevention methods. So, check it out to learn more because I’m only going to cover the surgery aspect in this article.

Did you know?

Female guinea pigs are more likely to have bladder stones than male guinea pigs (53.2% vs 46.8%)

Guinea Pig bladder stone surgery survival rate

Thankfully, bladder stone surgery is one of the most common surgeries performed on guinea pigs, which means that vets have more experience in it too. Compared to other surgeries, bladder stone removal is not as complicated. Therefore, the survival rate is quite high and the surgery itself is relatively safe.

That being said, guinea pigs have a relatively high risk of anesthetic complications, with a perioperative mortality rate of 3.80% compared with 0.24% for cats and 0.17% for dogs (according to Brodbelt et al, 2008).

For those who don’t know, mortality rate means the proportion of deaths that can occur soon after surgery. So if 1000 guinea pigs have surgery, 38 piggies may pass away. But since this is an average of all surgeries and cystotomy is fairly safe for guinea pigs, the survival rate is probably higher.

Keep in mind that the surgery’s survival and success rate also depend on how many stones there are, the severity, the size, and where the stone is located.

guinea pig bladder stone surgery x ray

Should I let my guinea pig have bladder stone surgery?

Yes, in most cases, bladder stone removal is the best treatment option. That’s because it can guarantee the stone is removed, so your guinea pig will no longer be in pain.

As the stone gets larger, it will cause more irritation to the bladder and thus cause more bleeding and pain. If the stones move out of the bladder and get stuck along the urethra, it will be very difficult to fix.

Plus, there have been some great advancements in veterinary anesthesia in recent years, making it safer for your guinea pigs. These advances include better equipment, monitoring and more.

What are some risks of bladder stone surgery on guinea pigs?

Like every surgery, there are several risks that you need to know too. Your veterinarian should discuss this with you, but here are some factors that guinea pig owners should be aware of when considering bladder stone removal surgery.

The first and most common risk is anesthetic. When your guinea pig is having bladder stone surgery, the vet will put it under general anesthetic. Although this type of anesthetic is quite common and among the safest, like any anesthetic, there are risks.

In a successful cystotomy (which again, has a high survival and success rate), your guinea pig will wake up some time after surgery and it may be a little drowsy. Then, the anesthetic will wear off and your piggy will slowly start eating and drinking again.

What guinea pigs are at a higher risk of complications in surgery?

But why do some guinea pigs have complications with anesthesia and what guinea pigs are more likely to have them?

In my case, my guinea pig Popcorn passed away because he had hypothermia from not eating or drinking when the bladder stones were too painful (see here for what exactly happened, don’t worry, there are no graphic images).

When your guinea pig is undergoing surgery, the anesthesia can interfere with the guinea pig’s ability to regulate its body temperature. This happens to humans and other animals too. That’s when a veterinarian closely monitors your pet’s body temperature and does their best to keep them warm during surgery.

However, because of that, if your guinea pig’s body temperature is already too low going into the surgery, there is a higher chance that it will have hypothermia. Again, your vet will inform you about this.

Older guinea pigs and those with anorexia, weight loss, and hypothermia are less likely to survive.

How invasive is bladder stone surgery in guinea pigs?

Bladder stone surgery in guinea pigs can be invasive because it typically involves general anesthesia and surgically removing the bladder stones. It involves making an incision in the abdomen to access the bladder.

So, this procedure carries risks similar to any surgery, such as bleeding and infection. But in terms of invasiveness compared to other surgeries performed on guinea pigs, it falls somewhere in the middle.

Bladder stones in the Urethra

According to the Veterinary Partner website, bladder stones that find their way into the urethra can pose a challenge. It has a rough surface and it can get stuck in the tissue of the bladder or urethra. So trying to move a stone out from the urethra back into the bladder is very difficult.

That being said, there are methods to address them. Sometimes, these stones can be gently pushed back into the bladder for surgical removal. If they’re located close to the opening of the urethra, your vet might be able to pluck them out directly.

guinea pig

Sometimes, if the stones get stuck in the tube where pee comes out (the urethra), the vet can help. They might use a flexible catheter tube and put fluid through it to push the stone back where it came from, like washing dirt off a driveway.

If that doesn’t work, the vet might need to use a more direct approach to make a tiny cut in the urethra to get the stone out.

To ensure your guinea pig’s comfort during this process, they’ll receive pain relief injections before the surgery, which will provide relief for up to 24 hours.

This is typically very difficut to fix and I’ve had some guinea pigs where I’ve been unsuccessful reaching the stone(s) or moving them back into the bladder.

Dr Chow, my guinea pig’s vet

What happens if you don’t remove a bladder stone?

There are a few treatment options for guinea pigs who have bladder stones, but most other methods are only to slow down the growth of the stone, which doesn’t benefit your guinea pig and can even hurt it in the long term.

It’s like letting a ticking time bomb sit in your guinea pig’s bladder. Picture this: the stone just chilling there, causing all sorts of trouble.

First off, it can block the pee from coming out properly. That’s like trying to pour water through a clogged pipe – not fun at all! Your poor little buddy will be in pain and discomfort, and no one wants to see their pet in pain.

But wait, there’s more. These bladder stones can also lead to infections. And if that’s not bad enough, ignoring a bladder stone can even cause permanent damage to your guinea pig’s bladder. It’s like letting a leak in your boat go unchecked – eventually, it will sink.

At the end of the day, the decision should be thoroughly discussed with you and your vet, because your guinea pig’s condition and other factors are different. So while surgery is the best option, your vet will tell you all the best options for your piggy.

guinea pig bladder stoness

How do vets remove bladder stones in guinea pigs?

To summarize, in a cystotomy, the vet will carefully make a small incision in your guinea pig’s abdomen to reach the bladder. Then, they’ll delicately remove the bladder stones one by one.

After all the stones are out, your vet will stitch up the incision and wrap up the surgery. Your guinea pig will be under general anesthesia the entire time.

Note: When you’re finding a vet to perform the surgery on your guinea pig, make sure to find a surgeon who has lots of experience in bladder stone removal surgery in guinea pigs. This might seem obvious to some, but I just want to put it out there just in case.

Here’s a more detailed explanation of the process, simplified for the average person to understand more easily.

My guinea pig's bladder stone X-ray
My guinea pig’s bladder stone X-ray

1. Pre-surgery check

This is very important because the bladder stone(s) in your guinea pig’s bladder may have moved places between the time of diagnosis and surgery. My guinea pig Popcorn passed the stone BY HIMSELF before the surgery (so proud!), and if my vet hadn’t done the pre-surgery x-ray, they would’ve operated on him empty.

2. Shaving

Your vet will carefully trim the fur around your guinea pig’s surgical site (where the tummy/bladder area is), like a mini haircut. This is to create a clean and sterile area for the surgery. That way, the vet can see the skin better when operating and also reduce the risk of contamination.

Don’t worry though, it’s painless and your piggy’s fur will grow back fully in just a couple of weeks.

shaved guinea pig for bladder stone removal surgery
my guinea pig’s tummy was shaved for the surgery. You can see the tiny stitches too

3. Anesthesia

The guinea pig would be placed under general anesthesia to ensure it doesn’t feel pain during the surgery. Don’t worry though, the sedative is administered by inhalation. Meaning they breathe in gas that makes them “fall asleep”.

4. Insert IV

After your guinea pig is unconscious, the vet will carefully insert an IV to give fluids, medications and other necessary substances needed during the surgery.

5. Incision

Once everything is set up, the veterinarian will make a careful surgical cut in the abdomen to access the bladder. It’s very small, about 5-10mm.

6. Access and open bladder

With the abdomen opened, the vet will gently locate and separate the bladder from the surrounding tissues in the bladder. They will then make a small opening in the ventral bladder wall.

cystotomy surgery - stitching

7. Stone removal

Once the bladder is open, the vet gently takes out the stones one by one. They also make sure to get every single one so the bladder can go back to normal without any blockages.

8. Cleaning

After removing the stones, the bladder and the surrounding area are thoroughly flushed with a sterile solution. This cleansing step helps to remove any remaining debris or potential contaminants and minimize any risks of an infection.

9. Stitching

Now that the surgeon has taken out the stones, the vet sews up the bladder opening nice and tight, making sure nothing leaks out and everything stays where it should be. Then, the vet carefully sews up the incision, almost like zipping up a jacket.

How long does guinea pig bladder stone surgery take?

Typically, the more bladder stones and the bigger they are, the longer the guinea pig bladder stone removal surgery will take. The location of the stones plays a big factor too. So even though the exact duration of the surgery varies, it typically takes about 30-60 minutes.

Remember that there are also pre-surgery checks, anesthesia, post-surgery monitoring, and so much more. Therefore the total time it takes is a lot longer.

For example, the last 2 times my guinea pig was in bladder stone surgery, I dropped him off at the vet’s office at 9 am and picked him up at 3 pm. But the vets only started examining my guinea pig at around 11 am because they had other patients (I mean, they are incredibly busy).

guinea pig in a carrier for surgery

What happens on the day of my guinea pig’s bladder stone removal surgery?

On the day that your guinea pig will be operated, there’s no need for it to be fasting before you drop your piggy off at the vet’s office. The entire process typically takes half a day in total, and your vet’s office will give you a call when they start the surgery.

My vet also called when the surgery was finished and updated me on my guinea pig’s condition. Then, the office will tell you when to pick your guinea pig up.

When you pick your guinea pig up, the vet or their assistant will explain any diet adjustments and medication for your guinea pig. They will also set up at least one follow-up appointment to check up on the incision.

This is just my experience, and I’m sure every vet is different, but this is the general procedure.

Can guinea pigs recover from bladder stone surgery?

Yes, your guinea pig can make a complete recovery in just a few weeks if you take good care of it.

Your vet will give you instructions and tips to help your guinea pig’s recovery and keep it healthy and happy.

That being said, there’s a high chance that your guinea pig can have bladder stones again. Once a guinea pig has had it, the chances of reoccurrence

Guinea Pig Bladder Stone Surgery Recovery

You just learned that your guinea pig can fully recover, but following the steps is important to ensure a good healing process.

When I got my guinea pig Popcorn back home, he was tired and didn’t want to play. That is completely normal, so let your guinea pig have some peace and rest.

My guinea pig didn’t need a culture removal because the sutures that were used under the skin would dissolve in time. But it’s important to monitor the incision every 12 hours to check for swelling, discharge or an opening of the surgical site. If there is any, contact your vet ASAP.

What is a suture?

A suture is a stitch or row of stitches holding together the edges of a wound or surgical incision.

If you have a hard time organizing medication, weight records and health checks, I highly recommend downloading a printable and digital guinea pig care package to note down all the details. Trust me, it helps a lot.

guinea pig post surgery - bladder stone removal (cystotomy)

What’s normal and not normal after my guinea pig’s bladder stone surgery?

There may be a bit of blood in your guinea pig’s urine over the next few days after the cystostomy. Your piggy just had a whole surgery in their bladder after all. But their urine should become less bloody every day. If you see a sudden increase in the amount of blood, contact for vet immediately.

Now on to the alarming things that might happen after your guinea pig’s surgery. If you see any of these things, contact your vet as soon as possible:

  • swelling or discharge at the surgical site
  • licking or chewing at the surgical site
  • the surgical site has opened
  • loss of appetite
  • lethargy (extremely tired)
  • diarrhea

There are obviously other signs that signal your guinea pig’s not well, but these are the most common ones.

(Yes, I copied it from the email my vet sent me after Popcorn’s surgery.)

What should my guinea pig eat after bladder stone surgery?

In most cases, bladder stones in guinea pigs are caused by too much calcium. So to prevent your guinea pig from having bladder stones again, your piggy should be on a low-calcium diet. That means avoiding certain foods with high calcium content like spinach, parsley and dandelions.

Feeding foods that are higher in vitamin C can also prevent bladder stones. Some vets might recommend vitamin C tablets, or even critical care if your piggy doesn’t have an appetite. Others may suggest feeding more foods rich in vitamin C, like carrots and bell peppers.

Oxbow vitamin C tablets

As for medication, my vet prescribed my guinea pig some meloxicam (for pain and inflammation), tramadol (for pain) and cisapride (to simulate GI mobility and appetite). After the surgery, Popcorn was prescribed potassium citrate as a supplement to feed every day to prevent bladder stones.

Remember that your vet will prescribe suitable medication for your guinea pig’s needs.

Lastly, give your guinea pig lots and lots of water. This is important for all animals and humans after surgery, but especially after bladder stone removal. More water can prevent stones from forming again, so choosing a good water bottle for your piggy is a must. Here’s how to encourage your guinea pig to drink more water.

Conclusion

So, there you go, almost everything you need to know about your guinea pig’s bladder stone surgery. I spent much more time on this article than I thought I would have (more than two weeks), so please consider subscribing to my monthly newsletter on interesting facts, articles, videos and discounts about guinea pigs.

If you have any thoughts or questions, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer you as soon as possible. Have a good one!

guinea pig

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