Another installment in the long suffering of a poor little capybara who never hurt anyone, my adorable Garibaldi Caplin Rous. And it is the worst one so far. The photo above was taken the day before we went to the vet. He looks both healthy and happy but apparently he is neither.
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that we have been fighting this dental issue for about a year now. I’m not going to go through the whole history of Gari’s dental issues. You can read the full story by following these links:
2012/10/30: Garibaldi is Sick
2012/11/06: Garibaldi is Sick: The Diagnosis
2012/11/10: Garibaldi is Sick: Vet Visit 1
2012/11/14: Garibaldi is Sick: An Update
2012/11/15: Garibaldi is Sick: A Turn for the Better
2012/11/24: Garibaldi is Sick: Update 2
2012/12/29: Garibaldi is Sick: Vet Visit 2
2013/02/03: Garibaldi is Sick: Vet Visit 3
2013/03/14: Garibaldi is Sick: Vet Visit 4
2013/06/07: Garibaldi is Sick: Vet Visit 5
2013/09/27: Garibaldi is Sick: Vet Visit 6
Please forgive any typos or poorly edited files in this post and any future posts. My vision has been adversely affected by my recent stroke.
The xray image above shows Garibaldi’s teeth and jaw last October versus this month. The red arrows point to the jaw bone and the blue arrows point to his right lower incisor. The big change evident here is that the jaw bone has become infected and is now larger and less dense than it was last year. This prompted our vet, Dr. Hoppes of Texas A&M Vet School and Dr. Dodd, who is a veterinary dentist to strongly suggest that the incisor be removed.
You cannot imagine how strongly I resisted this. What is a capybara without his teeth? How much pain would he experience? What would happen if the tooth were not removed? What would happen if the tooth did come out? I hated the answers to all of those questions.
Question: Can a capybara live without its incisors?
Answer: Probably, but we’ve never done it before and don’t know of any cases where it has been done. Rabbits get along fine, generally, if given proper care.
Question: How much pain would Gari be in if we removed the tooth?
Answer: Lots. Maybe so much that he would not eat and his digestive tract would shut down, which would kill him. Capybaras have bacteria in heir intestines to digest cellulose and when those bacteria do not get enough food, they die. When they die they release toxins that kill their host. On the other hand, if the tooth was dead, maybe there would not be so much pain.
Question: What would happen if the tooth were not removed?
Answer: While it was possible that removing the tooth might kill Gari immediately, the vets agreed that not removing it would result in a slow and probably even more painful death. But it appeared that the gum was not attached to the tooth which would make the extraction easier and less painful. It also created a pocket that allowed rotting food and other debris to collect and fester, promoting infection. Taking the tooth out would allow that pocket to be thoroughly cleaned and packed with antibiotics that might help stem the bone infection.
I hated being placed in this position. I have said that I would not allow Gari to suffer if there was no hope, but how could I know if there was hope or not? And I was not ready to let him go, so I approved the tooth removal.
Once Dr. Dodd began removing the tooth. It was hardly attached to the surrounding tissue. The pocket went all the way down to the bone and was full of old, rotting food.
When the tooth came out, it was obvious that the vets were right; the tooth was dead and it was making Gari sick.
After Dr. Dodd finished with the incisor, it was time to trim some of Garibaldi’s other teeth. At this point it became clear that at least two of the molars on the lower right are probably dead and will need to be removed in the near future. Ultimately, probably all of the teeth on the lower right will need to come out. Once that is done, the next step would be to remove the lower jaw. Antibiotics used to treat bone infections in people and other animals are lethal to rodents.
I guess you can see where I am going here. Gari’s condition is incurable and progressive. The only questions are how far am I willing to go and how much can Gari tolerate. I don’t have the answer to either of these questions. So far Gari is struggling to overcome the pain associated with the loss of his tooth and with the surgery in general. He is eating small amounts and taking his medications, which is good. We are also giving him Critical Care and probiotics. I think he is going to make it through this stage okay and gain at least a few weeks of relatively good health. He should go back to the vet in about six weeks but I will probably stretch that to eight since I can’t stand to see him suffer like this.
The bottom line is that Gari is going to die, probably within the next six months and almost certainly within the next year. We are doing everything we can but there isn’t much we can do.
All of this was preventable. Let me explain.
The first issue the found was that Gari had a rotated molar on his lower right that was cutting into his tongue. Because the molar had rotated, it allowed food to become trapped underneath it. That rotting food allowed an infection to become established in his gums. While we treated that infection, unknown to us, it migrated into the surrounding bone. Over the course of the last year, the infection traveled through the bone to the adjacent teeth and ultimately to the right lower incisor.
This cascade of horrible events was made possible by the fact that Gari has low bone density. The reason he has low bone density is because he was malnourished when he was a young, growing capybara. This was exacerbated by the fact that he was kept strictly indoors and got very little natural sunlight and so probably had a vitamin D deficiency. When I got Garibaldi at almost ten months old, he weighed only 45 lbs. This is just over half what Caplin Rous weighed at that age. Although he did not look emaciated, he was basically starving.
After I got him, Gari started getting a better diet and lots of sunlight. I was surprised that he was able to overcome his early malnutrition to achieve an adult weight of 120 lbs, which is at the lower end of the documented weight range for wild common capybaras. But the damage had already done.
Garibaldi’s health issues come at a particularly bad time for me since I am still recovering from my stroke. I hate that I cannot see him clearly, that I cannot photograph him well and that I am at such a disadvantage when caring for him. I can hardly see his little mouth in order to stuff a syringe full of Critical Care or medication into it. I cannot tolerate the thought that he might not live long enough for us to spend another summer of long afternoons with him resting on my lap in the pool. Somehow I have to give him–give us–that.
One final word. Please respect our religious beliefs. We are atheists and while you ay find prayers and stories about reunions at he “rainbow bridge” comforting, they bring no comfort to us. Please try to find some other words to express your feelings. Or you can make a donation to the ROUS Foundation for Capybara Veterinary Medicine or make a purchase from my online store.
I am not sure what I am going to do with this blog going forward both because of my vision problems and because of Gari’s medical issues.