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Since kale rose in popularity as a super-food more than a decade ago, it’s become a staple on supermarket shelves. And while the tasty green vegetable is great for human health, over consumption can be fatal for some pets.

Over the last fortnight, Dr Emma Hall has responded to a surge in sick guinea pigs at her Wild Vet animal hospital in Sydney, and they’ve all been suffering from crystals and stones in their urinary tracts. “The stones most frequently are calcium oxalate crystals which will form into stones, and they develop it from high calcium foods such as kale. Kale is one of the main culprits,” she said.

Usually costing less than $50 to buy, the feisty rodents are a popular pet for young kids, but an operation to treat stones can cost upwards of $1,500. “People think that it’s great. Guinea pigs love the taste of it, so they’ll eat it as one of the main components of their diet,” Hall said.

Emma Hall (left) with a large parrot on her shoulder. A guinea pig (right) after undergoing surgery.Emma Hall (left) with a large parrot on her shoulder. A guinea pig (right) after undergoing surgery.

Emma Hall (left) has treated five guinea pigs over the past two weeks at her Wild Vet practice in Sydney. Source: Supplied

By speaking to Yahoo News about the problem, Hall is hoping to spread awareness, and prevent hospitalisations. While its now common knowledge that carrots are high in sugar and should only be given to rabbits sparingly, the link between guinea pig illness and kale is not as well-known.

What are the symptoms of kale over-consumption?

The first sign something is wrong with a guinea pig will often be noticing a small behavioural change. Sometimes this will include making sounds while they’re urinating, or even passing blood. Other times Hall will discover the problem during a routine checkup.

She sometimes goes for months without seeing a patient with these symptoms, and then she’ll suddenly witness a spike in hospitalisations. In the past couple of weeks her team has treated five guinea pigs.

Left - shelves full of kale and other green vegetables. Right - a circles urinary tract stone X-rayLeft - shelves full of kale and other green vegetables. Right - a circles urinary tract stone X-ray

Over-consumption of kale (left) results in stones and crystals inside the urinary tracts of guinea pigs (right). Source: Getty/Emma Hall

What does the guinea pig surgery involve?

The surgery involves creating an incision in the bladder to remove the stone. The area is then flushed to remove any remaining debris, and reduce the risk of further obstructions. Most procedures are successful, but sometimes complications arise after the animal has returned home.

“The recovery time is about a week, but usually the first two days are critical,” Hall said. “They’re frustrating, because you can do everything perfectly, and then they’ll just decide: No, I’m done and give up.”

To avoid the kale-induced illness, the vet recommends feeding guinea pigs a varied diet of different salad greens, herbs, and foods that are high in vitamin C.

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