Guinea pigs are extremely popular pets for children as they are hardy, relatively low maintenance, easy to tame and very, very cute! Guinea pigs come in a wide variety of sizes, colours and coat lengths!
The following information should be used as a guide to ensure your guinea pig is well cared for and that you can share a long, happy and healthy relationship.
The life expectancy of a guinea pig is approximately 5-7 years. Male guinea pigs reach sexual maturity as early as 3-4 weeks and female guinea pigs reach sexual maturity at 4-5 weeks! Therefore mixed litters need to be separated very early. Guinea pigs have a long gestation period of 60-73 days and interestingly, the piglets are born fully haired and able to walk and eat on their own!!!
Female guinea pigs are called sows, males are called boars and baby guinea pigs are called pups.
Guinea pigs are very social animals and therefore they are best kept in pairs (as a minimum). If you are not keen on breeding, then 2 females is best as males will often fight (even if they are littermates).
Guinea pigs are the only animal species (other than humans) that require vitamin C in their diet. They and we lack an enzyme that makes this vitamin. Without vitamin C, guinea pigs and people develop scurvy. This is the disease that plagued many sailors in years gone by!!
Guinea pigs are herbivores which means that they eat plants and plant products only!
Most commercial guinea pig pellets are excellent well balanced diets. Always ensure that the pellets are fresh as vitamin C degrades over time. Therefore purchase the pellets from a supplier with good turnover and keep them in a cool dark place. Also ensure that the pellets are manufactured specifically for guinea pigs. Rabbit and rodent pellets are unlikely to have enough vitamin C. And finally, choose pellets without nuts and seeds in the mix as guinea pigs can choke on these.
Guinea pigs are very messy eaters and will often tip over the food bowl or worse still, get into the bowl and use it as a toilet!!! It is therefore important to ensure you have a heavy ceramic bowl that is too small for the guinea pig to get into. To be on the safe side, we recommend you change the food daily!!!
Guinea pigs should also be supplied with fresh grass hay daily. This is very important for digestion (is a rich source of fibre) and grazing on hay reduces both dental disease and boredom. Avoid lucerne hay as this is high in calcium and can lead to problems. Always buy hay that smells fresh. Store hay at home in a well ventilated area
Just like rabbits, guinea pigs produce 2 types of faeces. Normal hard brown pellets which are waste and a special type of faeces called caecal pellets which are soft and often green. These are the digestive result of hay. Guinea pigs will eat these caecal pellets as they contain amino acids, fatty acids and vitamins.
NB/ Do not feed straw. Straw is devoid of nutrients and can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
Fruit and vegetables
Fresh fruit and vegetables that are high in vitamin C should be fed daily to supplement the pelleted diet (about 1 cup per day).
Foods that are high in vitamin C include: dandelion leaves, kale, kiwis, parsley, spinach and brussel sprouts. Other fruit and vegies may be offered as a treat.
Avoid apples as some guinea pigs are allergic to them and develop scabs around their mouths. Also avoid celery as the strings can cause choke and nuts as they are high in fat and lead to obesity.
Fresh water should be available at all times. Water should be changed daily as guinea pigs tend to dirty their water supply. They love to climb into it, bathe in it and play in it. We highly recommend the use of water sippers rather than bowls so that you can be sure your guinea pigs always have fresh water.
There are some vitamin C supplements that can be added to guinea pigs water. These are not ideal as the vitamin degrades rapidly in water and it also changes the flavour of the water preventing some guinea pigs from drinking enough. The best way to ensure your guinea pig gets enough vitamin C is to feed a good, well balanced diet as outlined above.
Guinea pigs may be kept indoors or outdoors depending on which you prefer. In both situations, the guinea pigs should have a hutch/cage where they can be kept safe.
Outdoor hutches should have 2 sections - an outdoor run and an enclosed sleeping area or retreat. The general rule of thumb regarding size is 2 square feet per guinea pig as a minimum.
Runs are often made from wire which can be devastating to guinea pigs' feet over time. They need to be protected from this by lining the run with cardboard and then covering this with bedding.
The guinea pigs' food and water should be kept in the run.
The enclosed area or retreat is the place where the guinea pigs can hide if they feel threatened and is most likely the place that they will sleep. This area should be filled with some form of bedding.
Outdoor hutches should be kept in a sheltered area of the garden and need to be strong enough to protect from predators.
There are a wide range of indoor hutches available at pet shops these days. The same rule of thumb regarding size applies. These hutches tend not to be divided therefore it is important to place a small box or a large piece of piping inside the hutch so that the guinea pigs can hide away if frightened.
Hutches should be lined with cardboard, hay or soft bedding.
There are a number of different options with respect to bedding.
* Straw is fine although not very absorbent so we recommend that paper or cardboard is placed underneath.
* Hay is great and often guinea pigs will nibble on it and hide under it.
* Wood shavings are controversial as many are made from treated wood and release volatile compounds which can be toxic to the guinea pigs.
* Recycled newspaper pellets such as cat litter pellets are great as they are highly absorbent and help to reduce odours. They are completely safe.
Regardless of whether your guinea pigs are kept indoors or outdoors, they should always be offered free exercise time in the garden outside. This free time must be supervised to protect the guinea pigs from predators and from getting up to mischief. Guinea pigs love to explore their surroundings. If you are worried that they will run and hide from you, a play pen with bars less than 2cm wide can be used.
Exercise balls and wheels are not recommended for guinea pigs as they can damage their spines and legs.
Guinea pigs get enrichment from their diet and exercise time. They tend not to play with toys but do enjoy a varied and interesting diet. They also love new and different things to hide in such as upside down boxes, PVC pipes, cardboard rolls... It is very important to handle guinea pigs as much as possible. They can be nervous creatures but with lots of handling and love and care they can become very tame little beasts.
Guinea pigs are hardy, stocky creatures however if handled incorrectly or dropped they can break their bones.
The best way to pick up a guinea pig is to scoop it under the chest with one hand and then place your other hand under its bottom and lift it from the floor. Young children should be encouraged to sit with the guinea pig on their lap.
Guinea pigs are very vocal especially when cornered and lifted however tame guinea pigs will quieten quickly once picked up.
If you are unsure how to handle your guinea pig safely, please contact the clinic.
As previously mentioned guinea pigs reach sexual maturity at a very young age. 3-4 weeks for a male and 4-5 weeks for a female. Litters of guinea pigs therefore need to be separated quite early to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Females that are to be bred, must be bred and have their first litter BEFORE they are 8 months of age. After this time, the pubic symphysis stiffens (fuses) and therefore cannot separate properly during labour leading to an obstruction. These guinea pigs need an emergency caesarean which is a dangerous procedure for both mum and the piglets.
NB: The pubic symphysis is a fibrocartilage joint that holds their pubic bones together.
Dental disease -
Just like rabbits, guinea pigs can suffer from dental disease if they aren't supplied with a balanced diet that encourages chewing. If your guinea pig is not eating or is salivating excessively, please contact the clinic for an appointment.
At the Rowville Veterinary Clinic we strongly recommend desexing your male guinea pigs if you do not want to breed and you have a mixed pair.
Castration will not always be successful if you have 2 males and they are fighting.
Guinea pigs can suffer from a mite which causes scabies. This mite causes extreme itchiness and guinea pigs will often be seen to scratch until they bleed and pull their fur out.
If you think your guinea pig has mites, please make an appointment to see the vet at the clinic
Guinea pigs do NOT require vaccination
Guinea pigs do not suffer from pathological intestinal worms and therefore unlike dogs and cats, they do not need to be wormed.
Interesting Guinea pig links:
Photos on this page are used under license from iStock Photo