Guinea Pigs As Pets
- Guinea pig facts you need to know
- Which breed?
- Handling your guinea pig
- One or two?
- Male or female?
Guinea Pigs are inquisitive, loveable little animals that enjoy being handled – making them ideal pets for children. They originate from the grasslands and lower slopes of the Andes in South America (Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia) and were kept by the Incas. In South America today groups of guinea pigs are often kept in people's homes and kitchens. They were brought to Europe by Spanish and English traders in the 1500s and Queen Elizabeth I had a guinea pig as a pet - which no doubt helped their popularity.
Guinea pigs can be long or short haired and come in a variety of colours. On average a pet guinea pig lives between 4 – 6 years, but if they are well-loved and looked after they can live for longer.
Guinea pig facts you need to know
- Guinea pigs must be kept out of extreme heat or cold. Temperatures above 26°C can cause heat stroke and below 15°C can cause them to become chilled so it is best to move your pet guinea pig indoors in the winter.
- Guinea pigs are very active and like to explore although they are not very agile and are poor climbers. In the wild guinea pigs have a territory that can cover 1500 square metres so it's important that they have plenty of space to run about in to keep them fit, healthy and happy. They are very good at remembering pathways to food sources and while they don't dig or make burrows they use shelters in the dense grasses or burrows that other animals have made.
- Guinea pigs are always on the alert for predators and are naturally timid and startle easily. They will either freeze in place or run for cover when they sense danger. Your pet guinea pig will need a safe and secure hutch to hide away from things that scare them like dogs, cats or ferrets. Guinea pigs are active up to 20 hours per day and sleep only for short periods so your guinea pig hutch needs to be in a quiet spot so your guinea pig can sleep peacefully.
- Guinea pigs do not like to be wet or cold so your pet guinea pigs hutch needs to be draught free, cosy, waterproof and free of damp. Guinea pigs that live in wet, draughty and dirty conditions suffer and become ill.
- Guinea pigs are highly sociable and live in large family colonies in the wild. Pet guinea pigs can get very lonely and stressed if they are left in their hutch by themselves for long periods of time. They will need a companion or lots of your love and attention to keep them happy.
- Guinea pigs are very talkative! They have a wide variety of sounds that mean different things. When they are excited they will wheek noisily and often do this to greet you. They can also purr by grinding their teeth.
- Guinea pigs are inquisitive and intelligent and can get bored easily so give your pet guinea pig lots of exercise, toys and activities to keep them busy.
- Long haired breeds of guinea pig such as the Peruvian or Sheltie will need daily grooming as their fur can become dirty, tangled and matted if not looked after.
- Guinea pigs need Vitamin C in their diet.
- View our Guinea Pig Products section for our range of guinea pig hutches, runs, toys and grooming accessories
There are over 40 different breeds of guinea pig recognised by the British Cavy Council and they come in a variety of colours and lengths of coat. Different colours and patterns of guinea pigs are Black, Chocolate, Cream, Lilac, Red, Beige, Buff, Saffron, Slate, White, Tortoiseshell, Brindle, Belted, Bi-colour, Tricolour, Roan (Roans have a mix of white hairs with other colours spread throughout their coat), Dalmatian, Himalayan (similar to Siamese cats Himalayans have a white body with dark markings on the nose, ears and feet), Agouti (Agoutis have a different colour on the tips of the fur to that of the roots) and Argente (similar to Agoutis but with gold tips to their fur).
Guinea Pig breeds can basically be categorised into 6 different coat types: Smooth, Satin, Crested, Abyssinian, Rex and Long haired. Fully grown guinea pigs weigh between 700g – 1.2kg and measure between 20 - 25cm in length.
- Smooth Guinea Pigs are the most common type of guinea pig and have short smooth fur. They have a soft undercoat with a coarser outer layer.
- Satin Guinea Pigs are similar to smooth coated guinea pigs but their coats are softer, shinier and thicker. The satin like appearance of their coats is actually caused by hollow hair shafts that catch the light.
- Crested Guinea Pigs have a tuft of fur on the tops of their heads which radiates out from a centre point. They are sometimes known as Crowned Guinea Pigs.
- Abyssinian Guinea Pigs have whorls of rosettes in their coats where the hair radiates out from a central point giving them a tufty appearance. Their fur is coarse and they also have a little moustache of raised fur over their noses.
- Rex Guinea Pigs have a curly coat that is coarse and stands upright from their bodies. The fur on their heads is much shorter than that on their bodies. The Teddy breed of guinea pig has a similar rexoid-type coat but is not curly and is softer to the touch than Rex coats.
- Long haired Guinea Pigs have fur that is long, silky and flowing – sometimes as long as 50cm! Grooming is essential to keep their coats tangle free and clean, and some breeds such as Peruvians, Silkies, Shelties, Merinos and Coronets are often trimmed regularly to keep their fur under control. Breeds such as the Texel and Alpaca have long, thick and curly fur and their coats will need a lot of attention.
- View our Guinea Pig Breed Guide to learn more
- View our Guinea Pig Health Advice to find out more on grooming your guinea pig
Some guinea pigs are prone to genetic diseases or abnormalities due to inbreeding. Recent research has suggested that Satin guinea pigs can suffer from bone problems. You should never mate a Roan guinea pig with another Roan or a Dalmatian guinea pig with another Dalmatian as their genes can result in babies with congenital eye disorders, dental problems, deafness and problems with the digestive system.
- Visit our Guinea Pig Health Advice to learn more
- Visit our Guinea Pig Breeds section for more details on guinea pig breeds
Handling your guinea pig
Guinea pigs are naturally nervous and excitable so spend time letting your guinea pig get to know you. Guinea pigs enjoy human company and once they have become used to you they make loving pets.
- When you pick your guinea pig up use both hands, place your thumb across their shoulders with your fingers wrapped gently around the ribs; place your other hand beneath the hindquarters for support.
- Guinea pigs can get very frightened by sudden movements or loud noises and will scratch or bite in panic. Be gentle and slow in your movements and you will soon gain your guinea pigs trust and affection.
One or two?
If you are able it is always best to have two guinea pigs rather than one. Guinea pigs need company and are happiest when they are in a group. It's not recommended that you keep rabbits as companions for guinea pigs as rabbits can hurt guinea pigs if they kick out or jump on them. Rabbits and guinea pigs also have different means of communicating and different dietary requirements. Dried guinea pig food contains Vitamin C, but dried rabbit food does not. If you do have a single guinea pig make sure you spend lots of time with them and you'll end up with a friend.
Male or female?
Two female guinea pigs (sows) are the ideal match as males (boars) can become territorial if they are not neutered and also scent mark. Sows can become pregnant at 2 months of age and boars become sexually mature at 2 months. Boars can be neutered at 3 months or older. It is not common to spay sows as the operation is more complicated so it's best to seek advice from your vet if you are considering spaying.
Getting a New Guinea Pig?
- Indoors or outdoors?
- Bedding, food bowls and water bottles
- Settling in your guinea pig
We have a great guide to help you make bringing your guinea pig home stress free and smooth with some handy tips for you to help settle your guinea pig in to their new life happily. Our check list below will ensure that you have everything for your new guinea pig's arrival.
- Guinea pig carrier
- Guinea pig hutch
- Hutch huggers and snugglers
- Guinea pig run
- Guinea pig hygiene products
- Grooming brushes
- Water bottle
- Feeding bowl
- View our guinea pig Products section for our wide range of guinea pig hutches, runs and accessories
Indoors or Outdoors?
Indoor Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs need to be brought indoors in cold winters and keeping in an indoor only guinea pig as a pet is becoming more and more popular. If you are planning to keep your guinea pig indoors you will need to guinea pig proof your home!
Guinea pigs like to chew so keep all trailing electrical cables out of reach
- Breakable ornaments should be moved well out of the way
- Move all house plants up a level as some of them can be poisonous if eaten
- Place a guard round an open fire
There are indoor plastic cages available for guinea pigs that are kept inside but your guinea pig will need a box or igloo that they can hide in within the cage.
- The cage should be in a quiet, draught free spot and there are different types of bedding available that are suited to indoor life.
- The cage should also be away from direct sources of heat such as radiators and sunny windows. A room temperature of 17 - 20°C is ideal.
- Your guinea pig will still need outdoor exercise and the freedom to run about in the garden. Make sure that your garden is secure and that your guinea pig has a safe place to hide if they become scared – a cardboard box or activity tunnel would be ideal.
- View our guinea pig In Winter advice to learn more
- View our guinea pig Products section for our range of guinea pig cages, hutches, runs, bedding, litter and hygiene products
Outdoor Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs don't enjoy being cooped up all day in very small hutches and quickly become depressed and unhappy if left alone. The bigger the guinea pig hutch the better!
- The hutch should have two separate compartments - a light and spacious day area and a sleeping compartment that is enclosed and sheltered for your guinea pig to sleep in.
- The hutch should be raised off the ground, be secure enough to protect against predators, water proof and well built.
- You should also have a waterproof cover for your hutch to protect your guinea pig from driving wind and rain – these are called Huggers and Snugglers and fit over your hutch.
- View our guinea pig Products section for our range of guinea pig cages, hutches, runs, bedding, huggers, snugglers and hygiene products
- Visit our guinea pig In Winter section to learn more about protecting your guinea pig from the weather
Guinea Pig Hygiene
Always use cleansing products that are safe for guinea pigs as disinfectants for the home can be toxic and clean your guinea pig's water bottle regularly as bacteria and green algae can build up in a short space of time.
- View our guinea pig Products section for a large choice of guinea pig accessories and hygiene products
Guinea Pig Run
Your guinea pig will need lots of exercise! A large, secure run is great for letting your guinea pig roam freely in safety.
- The run should have an area that is covered to provide shade on hot days.
- Be careful not to place your run in an area of the garden where pesticides, weed killers or lawn treatments have been applied as your guinea pig could become fatally ill from grazing on grass or plants treated with these chemicals.
- View our guinea pig Products section for a large choice of guinea pig hutches and runs.
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Bedding, food bowls and water bottles
Guinea pigs need lots of clean and dry bedding and there are several varieties available from wood shavings and recycled paper to hay (which guinea pigs love to eat).
- Bedding should be cleaned when soiled and completely replaced at least once a week.
- Your guinea pig will chew their bedding so it is important that you only use safe varieties that are not toxic.
- Guinea pigs like to curl up in a cosy nest so put extra bedding in their sleeping compartments – hay is ideal.
Heavy ceramic bowls are great for your guinea pig's dry food as their high sides keep the food clean and they are solid enough not to get thrown around or knocked about.
Most guinea pigs prefer to drink from water bowls but these can be spilt over and contaminated by food or droppings. Water bottles are perfect for keeping your guinea pig's drinking water clean and in regular supply. Water should be changed daily and there are water bottle covers that prevent the water from becoming frozen in cold weather.
- View our guinea pig Products section for our wide selection of guinea pig bedding and feeding accessories
- Visit our guinea pig Feeding advice to learn more
Long haired guinea pigs such as Peruvians and Shelties need to be groomed daily but even if your guinea pig is short haired they will benefit from gentle grooming to keep their coats clean. A small brush, finger brush or fine toothed comb is perfect for grooming. Grooming also helps you bond with your guinea pig and build a good relationship between you.
- View our guinea pig Products section for our range of guinea pig grooming brushes, deodorising shampoos and flystrike protectors
- Visit our guinea pig Health advice to learn more about flystrike
Guinea pigs are inquisitive and love to play. They can get very bored when you are not around to play with them, so it is important that your guinea pig has toys to keep them busy and full of life. There are plenty of toys available for guinea pigs to have fun with - ranging from chew toys that help keep their teeth in good condition, wooden toys, treat balls, kongs, boredom breakers, wooden boxes and tunnels.
- View our guinea pig Products section for our large range of guinea pig toys and boredom breakers
- Visit our guinea pig Playtime advice to learn more.
Settling in your guinea pig
Once you have arrived home with your new guinea pig place them straight into their new home and leave them quietly to settle in. Travelling is very stressful and your guinea pig will need some time to themselves to recover.
- Leave your guinea pig in their new home for 12 – 24 hours to give them time to become accustomed to their new living space and accept it as their own home.
- When you let your guinea pig out of the hutch sit or lie quietly on the floor nearby. Guinea pigs are quite nervous and startle easily. Staying at their level is less intimidating than standing over them! Guinea pigs are also very talkative so talk to your new pet softly. Your guinea pig is a curious creature and will come over to check you out. Try to avoid touching them at first, just let your guinea pig get used to your smell and presence.
- Once your guinea pig is familiar with your presence you can offer them your hand to sniff. As your guinea pig gains confidence you can begin to stroke them. You can encourage this by stroking your guinea pig when they are eating and by offering food in your hand. Guinea pigs seem to like being stroked on the top of their heads or their hind quarters. Once they are used to you they will enjoy being cuddled on your lap.
- Guinea pigs love to be handled once they have overcome their initial nerves. When you pick your guinea pig up use both hands, place your thumb across their shoulders with your fingers wrapped gently around the ribs; place your other hand beneath the hindquarters for support.
Feeding your Guinea Pig
- Vitamin C
- Grass and Hay
- Root Vegetables
- Nuggets and Pellets
- Dangerous Foods
Your guinea pig will need a balanced diet to keep them happy and healthy. Guinea pigs need Vitamin C in their food and we have a useful guide to help you choose the best food available for your guinea pig.
How much do I feed my guinea pig?
Guinea pigs eat little and often but you'll soon find out what their favourite foods are as they will squeak with delight when you feed them. Guinea pigs are normally fed inside their hutches so that their food is kept dry and is readily available. You can feed your guinea pig in their run if the weather is fine and you may find your guinea pig will take food from your hand.
- Guinea pigs need a constant supply of good quality hay and grass to maintain healthy teeth and digestion.
- Feed your guinea pig a tea cup full of different greens every day. Root vegetables can be fed daily too.
- Guinea pig nuggets and pellets should be fed daily – follow the guidelines on the packet as to recommended serving amounts.
- Guinea pigs are picky when it comes to muesli type foods as they will leave out the bits that they don't like. These bits are usually the ones that contain fibre so you might find it is easier to feed nuggets instead to make sure your guinea pig gets enough fibre in their diet.
- Fruit should be given in small amounts as treats.
Guinea Pigs can't produce their own Vitamin C and it must be supplied in the foods that they eat. Most guinea pigs probably need about 10-30 mg of Vitamin C per day and without it as part of their diet guinea pigs can become ill and die.
- If you feed a selection of vegetables high in Vitamin C along with a good, fresh guinea pig pellet or nugget, you can probably meet the vitamin C needs of the average guinea pig. However Vitamin C can degrade over time. Keeping the pellets in a cool dark place helps preserve the vitamin C. You can also get pellets with a stabilized form of vitamin C.
- Vitamin C drops can be added to your guinea pig's water, but there are problems with this method. The vitamin C quickly loses its potency in water (a fresh supply must be made at least daily, if not twice daily). Also, guinea pigs may not drink enough of the water to get their daily dose of Vitamin C.
- View our guinea pig Product section for a selection of nutritious pellets and nuggets containing Vitamin C.
Grass and Hay
A guinea pig's diet should consist of 80 – 90% grass or hay. Your guinea pig needs to eat hay and grass to keep their teeth from becoming oversized and for their digestive system to work properly.
- Timothy Hay mixed with dandelions and marigolds is a good staple for your pet guinea pig. There are also a wide selection of hays and grasses available mixed with chamomile, dead nettle, birch tree leaves and herbs.
- Only give Alfalfa Hay or Clover Hay as a treat as these are high in calcium and too much calcium in your guinea pig's diet can cause bladder stones.
- Don't feed your guinea pig lawnmower clippings as these can upset your guinea pig's digestive system and make them ill. Be careful when giving your guinea pig fresh handfuls of meadow grass as this could contain buttercups which are poisonous.
- View our guinea pig Product section for a selection of nutritious hays and grasses for guinea pigs.
Always provide fresh clean drinking water for your guinea pig and check the water supply each day. Make sure your guinea pig's water does not freeze in cold weather.
- Visit our guinea pig In Winter Advice to learn more
Guinea pigs can get stomach upsets and diarrhea from eating too many fresh greens so introduce them gradually as a treat. Greens should never be fed in large quantities as some dark leaved varieties are high in Calcium and too much Calcium in your guinea pig's diet can cause bladder stones. Make sure any greens have been washed before you feed them to your guinea pigs.
Green leafy plants recommended include:
- Dandelions (sparingly), cauliflower and broccoli leaves and stems (sparingly), turnip and beetroot tops, kale (sparingly), spinach (sparingly), cucumber (sparingly), brussels sprouts (sparingly), watercress, cabbage (sparingly), celery, parsley (sparingly), mint, chard, endive, radicchio, docks, chickweed and chicory.
- Lettuce can be fed sparingly but only use romaine or dark leaf and not iceberg.
Root vegetables can be fed daily such as carrot, parsnip, turnip and radish.
- Potatoes should be avoided.
Fruit should be fed occasionally as a treat but always in small quantities as it is high in sugar.
- Recommended fruits include: Apples, grapes (sparingly), pears, apricots and strawberries.
Nuggets and Pellets
Nuggets and pellets can provide your guinea pig with vitamins, minerals and fibre. They also help to keep your guinea pig's teeth trim.
- There are specialist guinea pig nuggets available that have added Vitamin C.
- Visit our guinea pig Health advice to learn more
- View our guinea pig Product section for a selection of nuggets and pellets for guinea pigs.
Some treats are high in sugar and should be given occasionally but there are a wide variety of treats that are based on fruit, vegetables, bark, sticks, leaves and wood that your guinea pig can enjoy on a regular basis.
- View our guinea pig Product section for a selection of guinea pig treats
Never feed your guinea pig chocolate as it is toxic to most animals.
Plants which are harmful to your guinea pig if eaten include:
- amaryllis, anemone, azalea, bindweed, bracken, deadly nightshade, poppies, oak leaves, most evergreens, ragwort, rhubarb leaves, buttercups, daffodils, bluebells, foxgloves, mistletoe, dahlias, lupins, chrysanthemums, delphinium, lily of the valley, tulips, iris, lobelia, juniper, hyacinth, privet, yew, laburnum, ivy, rhododendron, wisteria, clematis, holly.
- If you suspect your guinea pig has eaten any poisonous plants consult your vet immediately – and if you can collect a sample of the plant that they have eaten to help with the diagnosis.
Housing your Guinea Pig
Big is best
Guinea pigs like lots of space and don't enjoy being cooped up all day in very small hutches – so the bigger the guinea pig hutch the better! Guinea pigs are vulnerable to extremes of temperature and ideally when temperatures drop to below 15°C guinea pigs should be housed indoors.
- View our guinea pig advice In Winter to learn more
- Big enough for your guinea pig to stand up on their hind legs without touching the roof.
- Big enough for your guinea pig to run about in and exercise.
- The larger the number of guinea pigs to be kept together, the larger the hutch should be.
- View our Guinea Pig product section for our range of hutches, runs, huggers and snugglers
Cosy and comfortable
Guinea pigs like to have separate rooms for eating and sleeping just like we do.
- Your hutch should have two separate compartments - a light and spacious day area and a sleeping compartment that is enclosed and sheltered for your guinea pig to sleep in.
- Your hutch should have a solid non-slip floor as guinea pigs prefer this to wire flooring. Wire mesh can also cause problems as guinea pigs can get sore feet if kept on wire floors.
- View our guinea pig Product section for our range of hutches, runs, huggers and snugglers
Safe and secure
Your hutch needs to be sturdy, well ventilated, draught-proof, damp-proof, escape-proof and predator-proof.
- Raising your hutch above the ground helps to deter predators and to prevent damp rising up into it off the wet earth. Wire mesh on the outside of the hutch should be heavy enough to stop a predator (or your guinea pig!) chewing through it. All fastenings should be sturdy and strong.
- You should find a nice quiet spot to place your hutch in that is sheltered from wind, rain and direct sunlight. Guinea pigs can succumb to heat stroke very quickly.
- Your hutch should have a sloping waterproof roof to prevent the wood soaking up water and becoming damp and cold in periods of bad weather. Guinea pig hutches that have a plain wooden flat roof are designed for indoor use and should not be used outside.
- In the colder months you can shield your guinea pig from the driving wind and rain by covering your hutch with a waterproof cover – these are called Huggers and Snugglers and fit over your hutch. If the weather is very cold you should move your guinea pigs indoors.
- Visit our guinea pig In Winter advice
- View our guinea pig Product section for our range of hutches, runs, huggers and snugglers
Guinea pig runs
Guinea pigs are active animals and should be kept in a run for 4 hours a day at least. A large, secure run is great for letting your guinea pig run about in safely.
- The run should have an area that is covered to provide shade on hot days and shelter from rain.
- Make sure that your garden is well fenced and that your guinea pig has a safe place to hide in their run if they become scared – a cardboard box, pipe or activity tunnel would be ideal.
- Don't use pesticides, weed killers or lawn treatments anywhere near your guinea pig run as your guinea pig could become fatally ill from grazing on grass or plants treated with these chemicals.
- View our guinea pig Product section for our range of hutches, runs, huggers and snugglers