Caring for guinea pigs

Guinea pigs make wonderful companions. Guinea pigs have generally docile temperaments, rarely bite and make charming squeaking or “wheeking” noises when they catch sight of their favorite people.

Guinea pigs can weigh a couple of pounds and usually live six or seven years. The three most common breeds are the Smooth-Coated guinea pig with short, glossy fur; the Abyssinian (the ones who appear to have terrible cowlick problems, with tufts of hay growing in several directions) and Peruvian pigs, which have long, silky hair flowing to the ground.

This is a brief overview of what you will need to consider before adopting a guinea pig:

Housing

Guinea pigs are social animals and prefer to live in small groups. Two females will become great friends; males are trickier and it is preferable to choose two male baby littermates. You do NOT keep a male and female together as they multiply rapidly and there are plenty of homeless guinea pigs out there to adopt.

Get (or make) a 2X3 foot cage, with a solid bottom (wire floors will injure their feet) and never use a glass aquarium which provides little ventilation and allow the buildup of ammonia fumes from the urine in the bedding. The cage must be kept indoors away from direct sunlight and drafts. Guinea pigs are prone to heatstroke and prefer temperatures of 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

The cage bottom needs to be lined with hardwood shavings (NO pine or cedar) or wood pellets (made without propellants) or grass hay or other safe bedding. Your pig can also be trained to use a litter box with time and patience.

Remove soiled bedding, droppings and stale food daily. Once at week (at least) scrub the bottom of the cage with warm water. Make sure to dry it well before adding the new bedding.

Your pig(s) will still need daily supervised out of cage time in a safe environment.

Furnishings

Guinea pigs love to hide when playing. Empty plastic coffee cans, large cardboard tubes and plastic flower pots work well for this. Bricks to climb around on are also welcomed. All guinea pigs must have their own “bedroom” for sleeping and relaxing; a flowerpot or other sleeping box (available at pet stores) will do.

Diet

Good quality commercial guinea pig pellets should be offered twice daily, along with small amounts of fresh produce daily. Make sure to clean up any leftover food within the hour to avoid spoilage. Fresh clean water (changed daily) and timothy hay or orchard grass should be available at all times.

Interestingly, guinea pigs cannot manufacture their own vitamin C, so you’ll need to include a daily ration of this. A quarter of an orange will work, but other foods high in vitamin C include kale, dandelion greens and strawberries.

NO SUNFLOWER SEEDS as these pose choking hazards for guinea pigs.

Teeth

Guinea pigs’ have those aradicular (constantly growing) teeth so they MUST have something to gnaw on at all times. Untreated wood blocks will be fine for this purpose.

Handling

Always handle your pig carefully but securely. Feed them little treats to get them used to you and once they are comfortable with you, you can carefully pick up one pig, supporting its bottom with one hand, and having the other hand over their back.

Grooming

Guinea pigs are very clean, meticulous groomers, but brushing them regularly with help them keep their coat clean and remove any loose hairs. Long-haired pigs need daily brushing to prevent tangles and mats.

Veterinary Care

If you think one of your guinea pigs is sick, seek medical attention immediately from an exotics veterinarian (and don’t wait til they are sick to look for an exotics veterinarian, either. Line up your veterinarian as soon as you adopt a pig). If your pig is sneezing, coughing, has diarrhea, is sluggish or lacks an appetite, you need to get it to the vet right away. Guinea pigs can also have external parasites such as mites and lice which require professional treatment by a veterinarian.

Cost

They’re not that cheap. The pig itself can be adopted from a rescue facility for not a lot of money, but you are going to need $40 or more (probably more) for a cage, $75 a year for pellets, $25 annually for toys and treats, $20 or more for an annual veterinary check-up and $400 per year for litter and bedding material. Heaven forbid you get a pig with dental issues. These are all things to consider before adopting a guinea pig.

They really are quite lovely, affectionate pets, but they do require time and care, and are NOT pets for young children. They should NOT be in a child’s bedroom; they need to be in a family room or other area where the whole family can keep an eye on them. If your older child or teenager loses interest and does not properly care for the guinea pig, guess what? It’s now YOUR job, mom or dad! All things to consider before adopting.

If you are still interested in adopting a guinea pig, the Humane Society of Greater Dayton has two lovely year-old guinea pigs looking for homes (Louise and Huey - see the slideshow).

Subscribe!

To receive email notifications when my new articles post to the Dayton Small Pets Examiner page, please use the "Subscribe to Email" link (under my name, above), or follow me on Twitter to receive notification of all of my articles. Please feel free to email me at [email protected] with questions, comments or suggestions.