guinea pig care

Guinea pigs are lively, lovable pets that require relatively easy care. They make great family pets and usually get along well with other guinea pigs.

Background Information 

The guinea pig (Cavia porcellus) is a docile rodent native to South America. Guinea pigs are lively, lovable pets that require relatively easy care. The most common types of guinea pigs are the English or American Shorthair, the Peruvian (long-haired), and the Abyssinian (swirled hair). The average weight of a guinea pig ranges from 500 to 900 grams (1 to 2 pounds). The average lifespan of a guinea pig is 5 to 7 years.

Diet Recommendations 

It is essential that Guinea pigs be fed large amounts of grass-based fiber in order to keep their teeth and intestinal tract healthy. To achieve this, they should have unlimited access to Timothy hay or other grass hays. Additionally, high-quality guinea pig pellets (such as Oxbow Cavy Cuisine®) and fresh greens should be fed.

  • Hay
    • Adult guinea pigs should be fed unlimited Timothy hay or other grass/oat hays. Alfalfa hay should be fed sparingly.
    • Guinea pigs should eat a pile of hay twice the size of their body daily.
    • Hay is essential for intestinal health and to keep the molars trim.
  • Greens and vegetables
    • Offer dark, coarse greens such as romaine, carrot tops, red leaf lettuce, parsley, cilantro, bok choy, radish tops, watercress, escarole. Avoid high calcium greens such as mustard greens, dandelion greens, collards, kale and broccoli as these may cause bladder stones.
    • Vegetables that have high vitamin C content such as carrots and peppers may be offered as treats.
    • When offering new vegetables to the diet, add one at a time and eliminate any item that causes soft stools or diarrhea.
  • Pellets
    • Offer only plain pellets specifically formulated for guinea pigs (about ¼ cup per pig). Avoid the “deluxe” pellet mixes with seeds and dried fruits. These types of foods are high in sugars and can cause gastrointestinal disease.
    • Young guinea pigs should be fed alfalfa pellets until they are 7-8 months old.
  • Vitamin C
    • Guinea pigs are unable to synthesize vitamin C, so they need vitamin C supplementation to avoid serious health problems.  Although commercial guinea pig pellets contain vitamin C, the vitamin degrades quickly and may not be effective. It is best to give a vitamin C supplement to your pig directly, rather than putting it in the water source where it is rapidly degraded. Give a liquid vitamin C syrup at 50 mg per day, or vitamin C tablets for guinea pigs (available from Oxbow®) daily.
  • Treats (sparingly)
    • Herbs such as basil, dill, and mint
    • Fruit and vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, citrus fruits (oranges), apples, and berries

Housing 

Guinea pigs are social, active creatures and should be housed in cages or pens with a large surface area.   The enclosure should include an area to hide, and pigs should be able to move around comfortably.  Since guinea pigs are not able to climb or jump well; the sides of the enclosure do not need to be very tall.  Do not house guinea pigs in aquariums, since they do not provide adequate ventilation.

  • Food
    • Timothy hay should always be available.
  • Water
    • Water bottles or heavy water bowls that cannot be tipped
  • Flooring
    • Flooring should be solid, non-slip, and lined with towels, carpet remnants, paper pulp bedding (such as carefresh®), and/or newspaper. Avoid pine and cedar shavings, as these can cause respiratory issues.
  • Hide spots
    • Guinea pigs are a prey species and need a safe space to escape potential stressors. Cardboard boxes or commercially available huts make great hides.
  • Enrichment
    • In order to satisfy the guinea pig’s inherent chewing behavior, you may offer willow and apple branches and/or guinea pig chew toys. Do not offer cherry, peach, apricot, plum or redwood as these are toxic.
    • Paper bags, cardboard boxes, and tunnels provide hide spots and a space to crawl, scratch, and chew.
    • Hide treats, greens or hay in newspaper or paper towel tubes.

Handling

Guinea pigs are very social animals and are best kept in small groups or pairs. If housed alone, they need adequate time with people for socialization.  Pigs of the same sex usually get along if given appropriate cage space. Males and females may be housed together, but it is recommended to have one of them neutered to prevent pregnancy.

The guinea pig’s natural curiosity and friendly disposition make it fairly easy to handle. Most guinea pigs will approach a hand introduced into their cage and can be easily scooped into the palm of the hand. We recommend holding your guinea pig with both hands, always.  Guinea pigs that are not accustomed to being handled may attempt to jump and run and very rarely show aggressive. The best way to interact and play with your guinea pig is on the floor.

Veterinary Care 

  • Common diseases in guinea pigs include dental disease (molar elongation and tooth root abscesses), bladder stones, GI stasis and bloat, lice or mites, respiratory infections, and cancer in older patients.
  • We recommend spaying and neutering pet guinea pigs. Female guinea pigs have a very high incidence of uterine disease/cancer and spaying will prevent these problems. Intact male guinea pigs can exhibit unwelcome, reproductive behaviors, such as mounting and spraying. Older males can develop impactions around the anus and overactive grease glands.
  • We recommend yearly physical exams for all guinea pigs to catch any developing disease as soon as possible.
  • If your pig ever stops eating suddenly, stops producing feces suddenly or is having trouble breathing, these can be signs of life-threatening diseases and should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Fun Facts 

The average lifespan of a guinea pig is five to seven years.

Guinea pigs make a sound called “wheeking” when they are looking for a treat or purr when being pet or held.

Guinea pigs “popcorn” or bounce excitedly when excited and happy.

 

Sources and Additional Information:

Lafeber Vet Guinea Pig Information: http://www.lafebervet.com/small-mammal-medicine/guinea-pigs/basic-information-sheet-8/

Oxbow Animal Health: http://www.oxbowanimalhealth.com/pet_care/guinea_pigs

Veterinary Partner: http://www.veterinarypartner.com