Tuesday, March 31, 2009

kazula blue eyes

When she was new to us, Kazula's eyes were very blue. Now they're darker but in some light the blue (and red) shows up:

Monday, March 30, 2009

Harmony's best side

There are few things funnier than how Harmony's bum wiggles when she runs full speed around the cage!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

going going gone

Harmony's philosophy: eat and run.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

rabbits popcorn too!

Please welcome a special guest star to our blog today: Eli the popcorning bunny!

When we first got Eli, we weren't sure what this crazy jump was all about. Eventually we realized that it's his way of jumping for joy, the same way happy guinea pigs do. And it's certainly entertaining.

Friday, March 27, 2009

meeting on the bridge

The piggies always make time to stop and chat:

They have several distinct sounds they use for conversations.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

the poser and the runner

Kazula ("Zuzu") likes to stop and pose for the camera:

Harmony, on the other hand, tends to whip right by:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

12 weeks update

You know things are settling in nicely with our piggies when I can finally get clear close-ups. Yay!

Here's some notes from our week/wheek:

Twice this week I noticed Harmony waking up and wheeking in a wee panic that she didn't know where Kazula was. She gets up, runs wheeking to find her buddy, then calms right down. I think she's the most sentimental and bonded of the two. I also think she's strongly bonding with me. She seems to really enjoy it when I dote on her, talking and praising her. But we're still on a hands-off basis, all talk and no touch. But if I was a G.P. Whisperer/psychic, I'd say I'm certain she wants to be petted but is just overcoming her skittish instinct.

Sexual Maturing
It's confirmed: along with the low purrs and circling around each other, I saw Kazula do the hip sway which indicates maturation. Welcome to the door or womanhood, piggies. Please note that it will be beyond difficult to ever find a good man in your cage. This first occurs in females at 2 months old, so I may have missed the first cycle or two.

Eating Styles
Kazula likes to hand feed, hoard a pile of food, and then eat.
Harmony takes one item at a time, gobbles it up, and then gets more.
If Kazula wanders off from her stockpile, Harmony helps herself.
It kind of works out since Harmony is much plumper than skinny Kazula.

When I was cleaning the cage this week, for the first time I blocked off the top of the ramp so the piggies would stay up top while I cleaned down below. This seemed to startle Harmony. Both were curious about the blocked door, but Harmony seemed skittish from it: a little less trusting of me for a few minutes afterwards. She also seemed a little jumpier the rest of the day. I'm not sure if that's what caused it or it was coincidental, but it does seem that while they love having existing and familiar things in the cage changed up each day for variety, they are very vary of entirely new things or changes. If I change too much at once, they stick to one area of the cage, near the food for a day or so.

We tried hanging a play toy with a bell on it and romaine attached. Kazula first ran away, as she always does, and then continued to investigate, gaining a little more courage with each sniff. I have video of this which I'll put up. I hope to compare it to future footage of them playing with the toy (so optimistic!). Eventually she did nibble some of the romaine off but the movement of the toy seemed too much. Harmony would have no part of this new adventure. I took it down. I'm sure in the future some time they will be ready for such silliness but not yet. Small steps. Their happiest play time is still cage cleaning time: they love to sniff around my hands and run and popcorn. Id' popcorn too if someone was cleaning my house for me every day!

New Idea for a Simple Cozy
I found some fleece children's winter hats at the thrift store. By adding a similar sized embroidery hoop near the opening, it creates a nice cozy house that stays open. It's a good compromise between snuggling and hiding. We'll see what the girls think....

Update: It took about a week for the piggies to play with these hats. I eventually removed the hoops and now sometimes they run under them and then fling them up (fun).

Think Before You Buy
Snack Shack: edible hut for small pets. If you read the ingredients listed on the packaging, you will learn that this item is made from sawdust and honey. Now, clearly those two items are not on any credible list of a guinea pigs dietary needs. It was a kind gift, but it's now out of the cage.

We've started trying to touch the piggies a little bit. The occasional touch here and there. They certainly like to approach my hand on the bottom of the cage but tend to flee if I move it toward them. I know most pigs don't like to be picked up but some don't mind the holding and petting. It's just the transportation that's the issue. We'll be patient and just keep trying.

This week's surprise hit is green pepper. Kazula in particular gobbles it up. Each pig is also very fond of apple. I give tiny bits from my finger tips to build trust with this special treat (it's high in sugar so can't be given too often).

I feel like they eat a lot of hay and produce. I'm curious if this will slow down when they're done growing. Sometimes the volume of hay bobbled up is really amazing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Homemade Piggie Tunnel

I admit my enjoyment of our new guinea pigs went way up when I realized I could sew stuff for them. It's fun to see how they play and then devise safe toys to make for them.

This is one of their fabric tunnels. We were going to sew hidey houses but noticed they are skittish enough that they seem to like two exits on any hiding space, so they won't feel trapped. Hence, the tunnel.

It's about 12" long and the opening is about 6" across.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Our Cage - Still Under Renovations

We're still renovating the cage to suit the piggies but here's how it looks today. These C&C homemade cages (Cubes & Coroplast) are named according to how many cube grids are used. In our case, the cage is 2x5 on the lower level, with two 1x2 cubes on the upper level, plus the bridge adjoining the two lofts. The base of the cage is approximately 6' long by 30 inches wide. In other words, these two sweet piggies have lots of room to run around.

Coroplast is another name for corrugated plastic. It can be scored and folded to fit the cage base and provide protective sides. The waterproof surface keeps the cage from getting stinky because under the fleece, towels, and newsprint, it can easily be wiped clean with diluted vinegar and/or water.

As you can see from the photo, our piggies enjoy using a lot of fabric tunnels. I sew these myself using faux/synthetic sheepskin-like fabric, and cotton scraps, plus some polyester quilt batting inside. Every day when we're cleaning the cage and spending time with the piggies, we move some of the tunnels around which they enjoy a lot.

They love to explore safe, new combinations. In fact, they are so comfortable with their tunnels, that I use them to introduce them to anything new: just aim the tunnel at the new item and they run through and sniff out the new addition.

Here in Canada, I found Rubbermade cubes (sold as make-your-own stackable shelving units) in the storage department at Home Depot (13 grids with connectors for $19.99 CAD). I also saw them at WalMart. There are other ones at Canadian Tire, in a chrome finish.

The corrugated plastic comes in a few sizes. I picked the biggest pieces that I could still fit in my car. At Home Depot, it's found in the Door Department along with plexiglass type panels.

I had to piece sections together for the cage so I joined them with duct tape, being sure to place the tape on exterior surfaces that the piggies couldn't come into contact with.

A package of small zip/cable ties is also useful for joining various sections and cubes together. I also used them to secure the ramp to the loft and attach the ramp roof (which makes the piggies feel safe to travel up and down).

I'm thinking about adding a second bridge under the existing one and doing some cosmetic work to make the whole thing spiffier. Stay tuned, piggie lovers.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

hand feeding Harmony

Harmony will just about always break (and brake) for parsley:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

11 weeks - patience rewarded

Big changes have been happening this week. First of all, the piggies are really warming up to us.

Food and Handling
We've gone from initially having to leave food and step away for them to eat, to gradually hand feeding them at the side of the cage. And now this week I have been able to put my hands right in the cage and hand feed them from there. Our patience is really paying off.

Harmony really loves apple, and while she shouldn't have much of it, I use tiny pieces to hand feed her. Because she has such a skittish nature, it's very touching to have her trust me this much. While we're hand feeding, a person might make a noise or cough or something and that might send them hiding, but they always come back right away and continue on. It's as if their nature is becoming a background situation and their desire to interact with us is starting to overpower it.

I will remain patient because I see the payoff already but I can't tell you how much I want to be able to eventually hold them on my lap and pet them. It seems we're on our way. Small steps.

Sexual Maturation
I think my girls are coming of age. If I was a betting woman, I would say that Harmony is perhaps two weeks older than Kazula, though we'll keep their guesstimated dates of birth as January 1, 2009, and Harmony seems to be getting her first glimpses of womanhood.

I haven't read up on it much but here's what I've noticed:
Harmony started doing this deep purr in recent days. Kazula sometimes answers it with her own purring. Sometimes they are sitting still when they purr but other times they are actually running and playing. I can't tell if it's sexual, contentment, or something else. My gut tells me it's a hormonal thing and they are happy.

Along with the purr, Harmony started nuzzling Kazula's neck. She'll do about three strokes with her nose and purr deeply while doing it. I can't tell you how many times I've checked for a penis, worried that she's actually male and ready to reproduce! NO. NO. NO. There are zillions of unwanted pets on this planet and I do not want to breed more. That's why we got two females: no breeding, no accidents. Just two loving pets in a caring home.

So, no penis on that girl but lots of desire in her, I think. Kazula doesn't nuzzle Harmony but she deep-purrs too. I don't know if she's just imitating Harmony or her time is coming too. If I'm way off on this, feel free to leave a comment telling me what's actually going on.

First Feud
When I'm hand feeding the piggies, I try to keep them both eating so they can trust what I'm doing and not squabble about equal portions. However, once this week I gave Kazula a piece of romaine. Harmony was hungry and zotted over and took it from her. Kazula took it back. Harmony lashed out. I don't know exactly what she did because it was over in a flash (less than a second) but it seemed to be a sort of growl/hiss/bite gesture of some kind. It was interesting because this is the first annoyance they've shown each other besides escaping the other's butt sniffing. I gave Harmony her own romaine and that ended that. It was a very minor episode but a new behaviour, for sure.

Mom Love
This week when I was cleaning the cage, taking my time so I could entice them with my charms, both piggies came over in turn and nudged my hand with their noses. They each then ran off but it was another huge step. I know they look forward to cuddles as much as I do. Lots of times when I'm passing by the cage I'll flirt with them, using my voice to lure them over and have a little hello. They're very receptive to this and so cute. We're become fine friends.

These are not pets for the impatient or insensitive. And I'd never leave a child in charge of their own guinea pigs. It takes a lot of care and supervision but it's also very enjoyable. I find it very relaxing to clean their cage and chat with them each day.

Emergency Preparedness
It recently occured to me that one downfall of having such a big, comfy cage is that it is not portable. I'm going to keep a suitable carrier cage (with a towel in it) under our cage table. If there was ever an emergency where we had to hurry to the vets or flee the house, I could quickly pick up the piggies and bring them to safety.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Piggie Cam: The East Wing

I've dubbed the loft areas the West and East Wings. For reasons only known to guinea pigs, the girls spend a lot of their time in the East wing. Perhaps half the fun is running across the bridge to get there.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Piggie Cam: Coming When Called

I could tell around 8 weeks that the piggies seemed to be recognizing their names. Each name sounds distinctly different (Harmony versus 'Zuzu') and they respond accordingly. In this footage, Kazula (Zuzu) comes over when I call her. At the end, Harmony is on the bridge behind her and patiently waits to get by.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Piggie Cam: Food Cam

Harmony is not aggressive with Kazula, but whenever Kazula wanders away from her food, Harmony helps herself.

Off-camera, Kazula came over and sniffed my hand by the camera. Guinea pigs are very sweet, curious creatures.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

10 weeks - training the pigs

Let's get something straight right here. Training a guinea pig should be a mutually enjoyable thing. I would never do any of it if I didn't feel certain that the piggies like and desire the experience. We have sort of fallen into word command training (or whatever you want to call it) as we noticed that the piggies instinctively seem to do things that suggests they enjoy the process. They seem to be teaching me and I follow along.

For instance, as the girls have warmed up to us, they are now accepting some hand feeding. Along with this, when they have gobbled up some romaine and want some more, they wait at the side of the cage near us and stand on their hind legs. We have used this opportunity to teach them 'stand'. They now stand up for food.

Here are the voice commands (with food incentives) that we have decided to try:
1. Stand Up - they can do this now
2. Circle - we'll start this when they are hand feeding from within the cage
3. Upstairs (to get them to come upstairs in the cage to say hello)
4. Downstairs (to get them to come downstairs to the food area at meal time)
5. Their own names (they seemed to recognized their different names around 8 weeks)
6. Shake hands (later when they are comfortable with climbing on our hands)
7, Kisses = almost touching my nose to theirs at side of cage. They do this now though I hesitate to really touch in case they think my nose is food.

We thought it would be a good idea if we all used the same words and approaches for these commands. I do the most cage care so they are most responsive to me so far but they definitely like our whole family which is great.

We had a big change this week. While I was cleaning the cage (sweeping the hay and poops off the fleece with a little dustpan and broom), Harmony came right up to me and licked my hand. Considering she is by far the most skittish of the two pigs, this was a big event. I was quite honoured to have her trust me this way.

Fun and Play - Change Things Up Daily
In a way it seems contradictory to their skittish nature, but the piggies definitely enjoy having daily changes to their cage. I spend as much time as I can with my hands in the cage, cleaning up and just being near them, and at each cleaning I move their hideys around, creating new play scenarios. They are always interested in changes and chat about whatever I do and fully investigate it. I love it when they get silly, climbing on their hidey tunnels and racing around.

I've been looking for inexpensive but safe ping pong balls to add to the cage in case they will play with them. Other people seem to use various bird toys such as mirrors and hanging chewy wood toys. I haven't found anything yet at a good price that seems right but I'm on the lookout. It's so hard to trust a product that says 'Made in China' to be truly safe for piggie to chew on.

Many of my photos are taken by leaving my camera turned on, recording video, and then placing it on the floor of the cage. I later snatch still photos from the footage. It's blurry but better than nothing. It seems that the piggies are either racing around and hard to photograph or hidden and sleeping at this point. I'm sure they'll settle down when they're old and plump.

I had used duct tape to hold the corrugated plastic together on the outside of the cage (where they couldn't get it) but Harmony managed to find some she could get to and had a little chewfest. As soon as I found this, I removed it. She then took to chewing the corrugated plastic at the top of the ramp. To stop her, I bought plastic project spines at Staples and covered it up. This plastic is too thick for her to attempt chewing and that seemed to stop it.

Some guinea pig advice says to always have wood available to chew, some warns that treated woods are toxic, but some raw woods are also harmful. I haven't sorted this out yet... For now they have their hay to munch on as much as they like.

Rear Sniffing
Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, they have started sniffing each other's rears. One will get a whiff and follow the other around. It's something they obviously don't enjoy being the recipient of but they enjoy being the instigator. Silly piggies.

By my estimates, they have already doubled in length and weight. They look like pubescent piggies now, not quite teenagers. I still don't have a scale but there's no mistaking how big they're getting.

Ten weeks ended up being another great milestone in their acceptance of us. I can now clean the cage without scaring them. They just play around my hands and sometimes approach me for a sniff. I so look forward to being able to pet them or perhaps have them on my lap.

Piggie Cam
Is it just me or does sweet Kazula look like a sheep? She's very comical and because she's still so slender, she runs like the dickens!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Piggie Cam: Kazula in the loo

These two are very organized with their p&p locations. I'm not sure how I got this lucky but it sure makes for easy cleanup.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Piggie Cam: Kazula loves the bridge

Kazula looks like a very funny sheep with her tiny feet and fluffy body. So cute.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Piggie Cam: Hand Feeding

We knew we had turned a corner when both Harmony and Kazula started hand feeding at the side of the cage.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Piggie Cam: Dinner is Served

This footage captures a variety of sounds: chat and purrs, as well as some funny popcorning. Just because Harmony's a lot bigger doesn't mean she can't jump the highest!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

9 weeks - more renovations

Guinea pigs are very, very sweet. No two ways about it. They are very loving and attentive. And I can't help dreaming up more ways to enhance their lives. I think we've got mutual crushes on each other. They are trusting me a lot more, and always seem excited to see me, and I love spending time with them.

Exercise and Play
Each morning when we come down to the cage, the piggies wake up and become very active. They run really fast laps around the bottom cage, tear up and down the ramp and now, whip across The Bridge.

Yes, we have expanded once again. I bought another package of cage grids ($20 for a pack of 13 at Home Depot in the shelving department). I bent three of them into U shapes to form the bridge and used the rest to create a second loft area on the other side of the cage.

When we introduced the new area, the piggies were so excited I thought they were going to fly right out of it! Because of their extreme popcorning, I added some top guards for now to ensure we don't have any unfortunate events. For whatever reasons, running across the bridge and down the ramp seems to be one of their favourite things these days.

Guinea pigs are nappers. They will play for a while and then take cat naps to recoup. It's always interesting to see where they choose to sleep. Initially, the girls would sleep rather upright with their eyes wide open. As they have become more and more comfortable with their home and us, they sleep in more relaxed positions. They usually conk out in separate hidey houses. In the early weeks they wanted to be side by side in separate houses. Now they will sleep in hideys on either level of the cage, not necessarily near each other. I feel really happy when I see them totally flaked out, their bodies completely relaxed. I take it as a sign that they feel safe and it's also the cutest thing you'll ever see.
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