Guinea Pigs, or cavies as they are often known, are popular family pets due to their fun and affectionate nature. They are relatively easy to look after and don’t require a lot of special care. But as with all pets, its important to understand what it takes to keep your little friend healthy and happy. Read on for our ultimate guide to looking after your pet Guinea Pig
In this article, we’ll look at the following
- Choosing your Guinea Pig
- Bringing your pet home
- How and what to feed your Guinea Pig
- Health and Cleanliness
- Grooming your guinea Pig
- Playing with your Guinea Pig
Introduction to Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are a type of rodent, which are believed to originate from the Andean region of South America. After being introduced to Europe by Spanish traders, they emerged as a desirable pet among the rich and powerful in the 16th century, with even Queen Elizabeth I keeping one of her own. Over subsequent centuries, guinea pigs have also emerged as popular pets among the wider population all over the world, especially among families with young children.
This popularity can be explained by several factors. Guinea pigs are relatively easy to look after, smaller in stature than many other pets, have docile temperaments, are able to be handled and have a longer life-span than many other rodents or small animals. Our article 10 Reasons Why Guinea Pigs Are Good Pets for Kids explains more.
Guinea Pig Behaviour and Temperament
Guinea pigs are regarded as gentle, docile and social creatures. They are affectionate, intelligent and able to recognise and respond to their owner(s). Additionally, they have developed a range of sounds, which they use to communicate their feelings and emotions with other guinea pigs, as well as their human owners.
They are generally kept in cages and are happiest when they live in groups of two or more. However, if you are keeping more than one, it is recommended to stick to guinea pigs of the same sex. They tend to respond well to being picked up and handled, especially when conditioned to it early in their life, and their lack of tendency to scratch, claw or bite people helps to make guinea pig care easier than it is with many other rodents and larger pets.
It is not recommended to house guinea pigs in the same cage as gerbils, hamsters, mice or other similar pets, as they can fight and spread disease. It is also important to keep them separated from cats and dogs.
Quick Breed Guide
There are a wide range of different guinea pig breeds to choose from and they all have slightly different care requirements. For example, breeds like the American guinea pig and the Himalayan guinea pig are short-haired and require little in the way of grooming, whereas Peruvian guinea pigs have long hair, which can cause them to overheat in the warmer months of the year if they are not groomed. Different breeds are also more susceptible to certain diseases.
You can find out much more about the different breeds of guinea pig by reading our Guinea Pig Breed Guide.
Furthermore, you will find more detailed information about specific breeds by clicking the following links:
Buying or Adopting Your Guinea Pig
If you are looking to acquire a guinea pig or several guinea pigs, there are two main options: buying and adopting.
Guinea pigs are relatively inexpensive, costing somewhere around the $25 to $40 mark each, depending on where you buy them from and the age of the animal(s). However, you must also consider the various other costs involved.
For example, you will need to buy a cage or hutch for the guinea pig(s) to live in and you must then equip that living space with food bowls, a water bottle, bedding, cage lining and other essential items. While these are the main upfront costs, you also need to factor in on-going costs too, such as food, and replacements for some of the aforementioned items. Moreover, the cage will need to be cleaned using the right products and bedding will need to be kept fresh.
Other costs involved include vet bills and optional items, such as grooming equipment and toys. You can find out more about the various costs associated with buying a guinea pig in our guide: How Much Do Guinea Pigs Cost?
The main alternative to buying a guinea pig is adopting one. This will usually occur when somebody else is unable to continue to care for a guinea pig, meaning it needs to be re-homed. Adoption options are often managed by pet shops or animal welfare charities and while some may require a small payment, adoption can be completely free.
For this reason, it may be significantly more cost-effective, and you might even save on the cost of key equipment, like a cage or hutch. With that being said, in some cases, it may still be necessary to purchase equipment and accessories, and you will still need to consider the on-going costs, like food, bedding and cleaning products.
There are several other things to consider when adopting. Generally, guinea pigs that have been living together in groups are kept together. You are also likely to have less choice in terms of breed, age and gender, as you will be limited to the guinea pigs that happen to be up for adoption at that particular time. Some adoption processes require you to apply and the guinea pigs are put up for adoption on a first come first served basis, while others will try to allocate guinea pigs to the home that is most suitable, based on a guinea pig’s specific needs.
Guinea Pig Care
Guinea pigs are usually described as being fairly easy to look after, at least in the grand scheme of the various pets available. Yet, there are still some significant things you will need to understand and learn about how to take care of a guinea pig, so that you can ensure your pet lives a happy and fulfilling life.
Read on for some useful and practical information about how to care for a guinea pig.
How to Set Up for Your Guinea Pig
As with any pet, there is a certain amount of preparation required to get your home ready and to make sure everything is in place. This can be broadly divided into two sections: guinea pig-proofing your house and taking safety precautions, which is especially important if you have other pets, or are planning on introducing new pets in future.
Guinea Pig-Proofing House and Garden
It is vital that you guinea pig-proof your house and your garden. Although guinea pigs are less curious and less prone to escaping cages than some other rodents, it can still happen. You are also going to want to have the ability to take your guinea pig(s) out yourself, so your room will need to be safe and made suitable for free roaming.
Select the room that your guinea pig will be kept in and make sure the room is tidy at all times. Keep plants out of reach and avoid leaving out shoes or other similar objects a guinea pig could climb into, hide in, or get stuck in. Try to keep any wires and cables neat and tidy, and block access to them off as much as you possibly can.
If you are going to have your guinea pig roaming free indoors a lot, set up a designated toilet area too.
Some people prefer to keep their guinea pigs outdoors and if you do this, you will need to guinea pig-proof your garden instead. You will need to invest in a hutch that will protect your pet(s) from wild animals. Make sure the hutch is secure, sturdy and keeps your guinea pig out of the way of direct sunlight or extreme weather of any kind.
Other Pets and Safety Measures
It is also essential that you take certain safety precautions, especially if you have other pets. For example, you need to make sure your guinea pig cage is secure and cannot be broken into by a cat or a dog. Some people opt for open-topped guinea pig cages, but these will not be suitable if you have other pets, irrespective of how much you trust them.
When you take your guinea pig out of its cage, make sure other pets are kept away. Even if you are sure your pet does not want to attack your guinea pig, it can still be a hazard, due to the size difference. When separating pets, make sure all doors providing access are securely closed and cannot be opened by a simple pushing action.
Every person in your household needs to know and understand the importance of these safety precautions. This is especially important if you have children, who may accidentally put your guinea pig at risk when left to their own devices. Speak to everyone in the house and emphasise the importance of keeping all of your pets safe.
Finally, it is absolutely critical that you do not try to solve the problem of having multiple pets by putting your guinea pig in an isolated area of the house, where people rarely go. Your guinea pig needs to have regular contact with you and the rest of the household. Guinea pigs are social creatures and they suffer when left alone for too long.
Cages and Hutches
You will need to purchase either a cage or hutch and the precise type you opt for will depend on a number of factors, including the amount of space you have, whether you are keeping your guinea pig(s) indoors or outdoors, and your budget. In most cases, cages refer to indoor cages, whereas hutches refer to outdoor enclosures.
Our Best Guinea Pig Cages guide offers further information about the different types of cages and hutches, complete with reviews of specific models and details about the ideal size and type for your circumstances.
While a cage or hutch is crucial, you may also need to consider a run, which will provide more room for your guinea pig(s) to move around. This can be invaluable, because guinea pigs need exercise and space to roam. Purchasing the right run or playpen can help to make sure your guinea pig is happy and safe when exploring.
You also need to think about accessories, with some of these being mandatory and others being more optional.
Sleep is very important for guinea pigs and your pet(s) will require warm and comfortable bedding. Essentially, this bedding replaces the nesting that a guinea pig would usually create for itself in the wild. There are several main bedding options, including hay bedding, fleece liners and paper bedding, each with their own pros and cons.
Find out more about the Best Guinea Pig Bedding for Your Pet, complete with advice on how much bedding you should provide and information on the different types of bedding that is available.
When people consider how to care for a guinea pig, they sometimes overlook the need for mental stimulation and entertainment. Toys are a great way to prevent your guinea pig from becoming bored, unhappy or depressed, and this can be especially important if you are keeping one guinea pig, rather than two or more.
Read this Best Guinea Pig Toys article for more information, as well as advice on the best toy options on the market.
Aside from providing bedding and toys, there are a number of cage accessories that can help to keep your guinea pig happy, safe, and healthy. Food bowls and water bottles or dispensers are two of the most obvious examples.
If you have more than one guinea pig, you may need to consider buying multiple food bowls and water bottles. Some guinea pigs will happily share, but others prefer to have their food and water divided up. To play it safe, it is best to provide a food bowl and a water bottle each and then make adjustments based on how they behave over time.
Other accessories to consider include hay dispensers and any decorative elements you want to add. You might also need to buy a transport cage or carrier, so that you can easily transport your guinea pig or take it to the vet.
How to Play With Your Guinea Pig
Playing with your guinea pig is a good way to keep your pet happy and provide mental stimulation. In truth, the ways to play with your guinea pig are almost endless, with examples ranging from simple ball games to more complex puzzle-type play. The best thing to do is try a range of different methods and see which your guinea pig likes the most.
One example of a game you can play with your guinea pig involves creating a maze, using blocks or similar obstacles. Put a treat at the end of the maze and watch your guinea pig work through the maze to find the treat.
A simple ball can be made by scrunching up a sheet of paper or even a tissue. Some guinea pigs will roll it around, while others may get more enjoyment from the noise that is produced by them scrunching it up further.
A great alternative to this is to buy a treat ball, which will contain small holes. With this particular toy, you insert treats and encourage your guinea pig to roll the ball around. You can join in with this too and as the ball moves, the treats will gradually drop out, rewarding the guinea pig for demonstrating curiosity.
How to Feed Your Guinea Pig
Perhaps the single biggest aspect of learning how to take care of a guinea pig is focused on feeding your pet properly. This means understanding both the feeding schedule and the actual food guinea pigs require.
Guinea Pig Feeding Schedule
It is important that your guinea pig is fed regularly. A simple schedule to follow would be to provide fresh vegetables and/or fruit in the mornings, food pellets in the evening and uninterrupted access to hay. Water must also be continuously provided and water bottles will need to be changed daily, while water bowls have to be cleaned regularly.
Maintaining a consistent schedule is the best way to ensure your guinea pig has all of the nutrients it requires and that it also maintains a healthy weight. You can find out more via our Guinea Pig Weight Guide.
What to Feed Your Guinea Pig
Compared to some pets, guinea pigs have quite a complex diet, as they need fresh vegetables, fruit and food pellets to balance their various nutritional requirements. Some of the best vegetable and fruit options include carrots, apples and lettuce (with the exception of iceberg lettuce).
At the same time, you also need to be aware of potentially toxic or harmful foods, such as potatoes and rhubarb leaves. While fruit is important, consumption also needs to be moderated, as fruit is high in sugar.
Learn more about the Best Food for a Guinea Pig and optimise your guinea pig’s diet.
As previously mentioned, guinea pigs also require a constant supply of hay, as it is vital for maintaining both dental and digestive health. There are several types of hay available, each with different qualities, but some are best avoided.
You can find out more by reading the following Hay Information and Buying Guide.
Grooming Your Guinea Pig
Another fundamental aspect of responsible guinea pig care involves appropriate grooming. In particular, regular nail and foot care is important for both health and comfort. Failure to regularly trim nails can lead to unwanted complications, such as inflammation, difficulty walking and even certain types of infection.
The Little Fury Pets Guinea Pig Nail and Foot Care Guide offers further information and practical advice about the importance of grooming, the best methods and recommended nail trimming equipment.
If you have a long-haired guinea pig breed, you may also need to factor in hair trimming too.
How to Pick Up Your Guinea Pig
Generally, guinea pigs enjoy human contact and they are fairly happy to be picked up and handled, as long as they are conditioned to it slowly. Nevertheless, while they do bond with their owners, some guinea pigs are happier being handled than others. You should exercise careful judgement, be gentle and avoid over-handling your pet.
The basic technique for picking up a guinea pig is to position one of your hands under the chest, and then use your other hand to support the back legs and bottom. As you lift, make sure you continue to support the back legs, rather than allowing them to dangle. In essence, your guinea pig should be sitting in one of your hands, with your other hand supporting the upper body. Be careful not to squeeze your guinea pig, even if it struggles.
If your guinea pig wiggles, or seems uncomfortable, try not to panic. Place it down gently as soon as you can, using the same basic technique you used to lift it in the first place, supporting both the upper and lower body.
How to Clean Your Guinea Pig
Cleanliness is a key concern among those looking for information on how to take care of a guinea pig properly. It is recommended that you give your guinea pig a regular bath, with somewhere in the region of once a month being the optimum. Try not to exceed this, unless you absolutely have to, as it can lead to skin irritation and dryness.
The only equipment you need will be a small bath or washing bowl, some guinea pig shampoo and a soft towel. In terms of water level, the bath should be quite shallow, so that your guinea pig can comfortably stand in it without the water going above chest height. The water you use should be warm, but never hot.
Use your hands to pour water over your pet’s body, but do not pour water directly onto its head. Rub the shampoo into your guinea pig’s fur, but keep the shampoo away from its eyes, nose, ears and mouth. Always use a dedicated guinea pig shampoo, and make sure you rinse the shampoo away thoroughly, to avoid causing skin irritation.
How to Clean Your Guinea Pig’s Cage
In addition to cleaning your guinea pig, you also need to make sure its cage or hutch is kept clean at all times. This will help to make sure your guinea pig is happy, healthy and free to roam around. In particular, you need to clean out uneaten food and keep both hay and bedding fresh. You will also need to clean any excrement and other bodily waste and regularly use a suitable cleaning agent on the cage itself, in order to remove bacteria.
You can find more information on our Guinea Pig Cage Buying Guide, including step-by-step cleaning instructions.
How to Tell If Your Guinea Pig is Healthy and Happy
Finally, any good pet owner places the happiness and health of their pet before anything else. With this in mind, how can you actually be sure that your guinea pig is both happy and healthy? What are the red flags?
In terms of behaviour, you want to make sure your pet has an appetite and is not avoiding food. You will also need to check that he or she is moving around freely, without any signs of lethargy or discomfort.
Guinea pigs exhibit a unique behaviour known as ‘popcorning’, which is where they jump in the air. This is more common in younger guinea pigs and tends to stop as they grow older, but it is a sign of happiness, so do not be alarmed if you witness it. Indeed, this is a positive behaviour and should actually help to re-assure you.
Some of the main visual and audible signs of good health include clear eyes, a dry nose and normal vocalisations. Check to make sure your guinea pig’s body does not have any unusual lumps, sores or patches and pay attention to any changes in how your pet interacts with you and/or any other members of your household.
If you notice any sudden changes in behaviour, any unusual vocalisations, or if you are at all worried about your guinea pig, take it to the vet as soon as you can. Remember, it is better safe than sorry, and it is always best to catch any health problems as early as you can, as opposed to delaying and risking the problem becoming worse.