Guinea Pig

 

 

Guinea Pigs As Pets

 

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

 

Which breed?

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.

Health

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.  

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.  

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?

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.

Check List

 

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

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.  

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!  

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.

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.  

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Bedding, food bowls and water bottles

Bedding

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).

Food Bowl

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.

Water Bottle

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.

Grooming

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.

Toys

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.

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.

 

Feeding your Guinea Pig

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.

Vitamin C

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.

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.  

Water

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.

Greens

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: 

Root Vegetables

Root vegetables can be fed daily such as carrot, parsnip, turnip and radish. 

Fruit

Fruit should be fed occasionally as a treat but always in small quantities as it is high in sugar. 

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.

Treats

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. 

Dangerous Foods

Never feed your guinea pig chocolate as it is toxic to most animals.

Plants which are harmful to your guinea pig if eaten include:

 

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.

Cosy and comfortable

Guinea pigs like to have separate rooms for eating and sleeping just like we do.  

Safe and secure

Your hutch needs to be sturdy, well ventilated, draught-proof, damp-proof, escape-proof and predator-proof.  

 

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.  

 

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