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Guinea Pigs (also known as cavies) are a species of rodent native to the South American Andes. They are social inquisitive creatures and make lovely pets. Although they are commonly thought to be easy first pets for children, they require plenty of attention, care and time, and a well-researched approach to their care.

Ideally, your guinea pigs should be desexed, but if not it’s a good idea to keep only females or only males to avoid unwanted breeding. Guinea pigs are natural herbivores, who would spend their time foraging and grazing in small herds in the wild. This is usually supplied sufficiently by the fresh leafy green veggies, but it is safer to supplement this with small quantities of Vitamin C rich foods such as citrus or kiwi fruit. High quality commercial ‘Guinea Pig’ pellets (minimum 16% fibre content) may be offered in small quantities, but these should not form the main part of the diet. It’s important to also know what not to feed a guinea pig, as there are plenty of items that might seem harmless but can in fact cause significant health issues. Guinea pigs should have as large an enclosure as possible, ideally with the right amount of lined, covered space and soft grass hay to provide cushioning. During grooming take the opportunity to check your guinea pigs’ health and to ensure that they are free from external parasites, such as fleas and mites which cause itching and skin irritation. Guinea pigs need exercise, mental stimulation, environmental enrichment (e.g. toys, tunnels etc), and the ability to express normal behaviours. For example, in females desexing will prevent ovarian cysts, and in males desexing can prevent or limit the development of a condition called ‘boar butt’ (this is where the muscles around their bottom stretch, this can lead to the accumulation of faecal material in their rectum causing discomfort and health problems). Guinea pigs who are ill or injured must receive appropriate treatment from a veterinarian that will relieve any pain or distress.

Are guinea pigs easy to take care of?

Guinea pigs are easy to care for.. They require hay, fresh water, fresh vegetables and a small amount of pelleted food formulated for guinea pigs, plus a vitamin C supplement each day. They also need a fairly large cage lined with paper-based bedding.

Is it OK to keep a guinea pig alone?

To summarise, a guinea pig can live alone, but ideally shouldn’t. This is because they are social animals that want and need the companionship of other guinea pigs. A piggy on its own requires a lot of care and interaction, which is why experts recommend keeping at least two guinea pigs together.

Do guinea pigs like to be held?

Guinea pigs are social animals and enjoy human interaction, including petting, stroking and playing. However, it’s important you learn how to handle your guinea pig correctly to avoid any injuries. It’s not uncommon for guinea pigs to be skittish around their owners.

What are the basic needs of a guinea pig?

Solid-bottom cage (minimum 24 x 12 x 12 inches).Water bottle..Food bowl..Hay rack..A hide house (store-bought, or use a small flower pot).Chew toys..Aspen, pine, or recycled paper bedding (but NOT cedar – it’s toxic for your pet!).Timothy hay, orchard grass, or oat grass.

Guinea pigs are social companion animals who require daily interaction. They are rodents who have an extensive vocabulary and communicate by vocalizing various sounds that have different meanings. One of the most unique behaviors they express is “popcorning,” in which they jump and twirl in the air when they are very happy. There are both haired and hairless guinea pigs and more than 20 recognized breeds.

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Guinea pigs are herbivores. The most important part of their diet, like rabbits, is GRASS HAY. Grasses are particularly great for guinea pigs because they’re teeth grow continuously throughout their life and grass hays are abrasive to the teeth. Grasses also provide a number of nutrients for the guinea pig, as well as both indigestible and digestible fiber. Indigestible fiber keeps the intestinal tract moving at a normal speed and digestible fiber is used the GI bacteria to produce vitamin B and amino acids. Any grass hay is good to feed, such as timothy and orchard brome. You should avoid legume hays, like alfalfa, because they are too high in calories, calcium and protein for your guinea pig. Provide hay in a hay feeder or simply put it in the corner of the cage.

Generally, an adult guinea pig should eat no more than ¼ cup of pellets a day, with unlimited grass hay and a small amount of fresh foods. AVOID FEEDING foods high in starch, like peas, beans, corn, nuts, cakes, cookies, cereal, grains and bread. Of course, it is important for your guinea pig to always have fresh, clean WATER available to them at all times, either in a sipper bottle or a heavy bowl to prevent spilling. Examples of acceptable bedding include wood shavings, shredded paper, processed ground corn cob, and commercial pellets.

Companionship

Guinea pigs are very social animals, and are happiest when kept with other guinea pigs. Ideally, your guinea pigs should be desexed, but if not it’s a good idea to keep only females or only males to avoid unwanted breeding. Please see more about guinea pigs’ companionship needs here.

Housing

Guinea pigs are natural herbivores, who would spend their time foraging and grazing in small herds in the wild. Their teeth are continuously growing, which is one of the reasons why they need plenty of roughage to encourage chewing, which wears down their teeth and helps prevent serious dental problems.For your guinea pig to be happy and healthy, they need plenty of the following basic components in their diets:It’s important to also know what not to feed a guinea pig, as there are plenty of items that might seem harmless but can in fact cause significant health issues.More information on feeding your guinea pigs can be found here.

Wellbeing

Grooming

Daily grooming is essential for long-haired guinea pigs to help keep their coat in good condition, and is good for short-haired guinea pigs too. Using a suitable brush, brush the coat gently in the same direction as the hair grows, and gently remove dead hairs, tangles and pieces of twigs, dry leaves or burrs. During grooming take the opportunity to check your guinea pigs’ health and to ensure that they are free from external parasites, such as fleas and mites which cause itching and skin irritation. Also check the length of your guinea pigs’ toenails (ask your veterinarian to teach you to assess whether the nails need clipping). If the toenails are found to be overlong, have them clipped by a veterinarian or someone experienced in clipping guinea pigs’ toenails (you can also ask your veterinarian to teach you how to safely clip the nails).

Handling

Daily handling and grooming is important in building your guinea pigs’ confidence and for developing friendly and social guinea pigs.It is best to handle guinea pigs when they are young to help them feel comfortable. Make sure that you handle them carefully, securely, and gently. If they want to, you should allow guinea pigs to retreat and hide. Try never to remove them from a hiding area and force interaction or handling with them; they need to feel that their hiding areas are safe and secure.

Exercise and enrichment

Guinea pigs need exercise, mental stimulation, environmental enrichment (e.g. toys, tunnels etc), and the ability to express normal behaviours. The normal behaviours that guinea pigs need to be able to express include social interaction with other guinea pigs, walking, running, tunnelling, exploring, playing, stretching horizontally, retreating to a shelter and hiding, foraging, chewing, gnawing, and jumping.More information on exercise and enrichment for your guinea pigs can be found here.

Health care

Guinea pigs reproduce from a young age, as early as 4-8 weeks old. So, to prevent unwanted litters of guinea pigs it is important that they are desexed before they can reproduce, at around 3-4 months of age. Before that time, undesexed male and female guinea pigs should not be kept together from 3 weeks old (males must be removed and weaned from their mothers at 3 weeks of age). Desexing your guinea pigs will not only prevent unwanted litters but will also prevent some health problems. For example, in females desexing will prevent ovarian cysts, and in males desexing can prevent or limit the development of a condition called ‘boar butt’ (this is where the muscles around their bottom stretch, this can lead to the accumulation of faecal material in their rectum causing discomfort and health problems).Guinea pigs who are ill or injured must receive appropriate treatment from a veterinarian that will relieve any pain or distress. Guinea pigs are good at hiding illness and pain. Get to know your guinea pigs’ behaviour; if they are behaving abnormally this may be a sign that something is wrong. If your guinea pig is behaving abnormally please contact your veterinarian promptly.Guinea pigs should also have regular veterinary check-ups; this can help to pick up problems such as overgrown teeth or parasites before these become a major health conditions for your guinea pigs.More information on health care for your guinea pigs and health problems can be found here.

Planning ahead

It is important to undertake some advance preparation to ensure your guinea pigs’ wellbeing in the case of an emergency or disaster, including assembling an animal specific evacuation kit (e.g. travel cage, at least 2 weeks supply of feed and fresh water, bedding and animal specific medication that your animal needs). You should also think about what arrangements can be made to ensure good care of your guinea pigs if, for some reason, it is no longer possible for you to look after them.

Guinea Pig

Table of Contents

Guinea pig habitat

Habitat size

A minimum 36″L x 30″W x 18″H escape-proof, well-ventilated habitat with a solid flooring to prevent foot sores from developing and plenty of room for exercise and play makes a good home for one guinea pig. Provide the largest habitat possible.

Feeding

Guinea pigs acclimate well to average household temperatures; environmental temperatures should not exceed 80°F, as guinea pigs are likely to overheat at high temperatures. The habitat should never be in direct sunlight or in a drafty area.

Supplies

Where to buy a guinea pig

Guinea pigs are available at Petco. Call your local location ahead of time to check availability.

Habitat mates

Guinea pigs may be kept in same-sex pairs if they are raised together; otherwise, keep adult guinea pigs housed separately. Males and females should not be housed together unless the males are neutered or the females are spayed, as guinea pigs reproduce quickly after just a few months of age. Different species of small animals should not be housed together. In particular, rabbits and guinea pigs should never be housed together, as each carries bacteria in their respiratory tracts that can cause illness in the other one.

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