Guinea pigs, or cavies as they’re often lovingly referred to, are among the most popular family pets thanks to their cuteness and fun, affectionate natures.
They’re also relatively easy to look after and don’t require much special care.
However, as with all of our other animal friends, it’s pivotal to understand what you need to do to keep your tiny furball healthy and happy.
But there’s no need to panic and buy every guinea pig care book Amazon has to offer…
We’ve got you covered with our ultimate guide to looking after a pet guinea pig.
It’s 100% free, and it’s right here.
So just settle in and read on, as we cover the following topics:
- An introduction to guinea pigs
- Buying or adopting
- Preparing for the arrival of your guinea pig
- Picking up and playing
- Telling if your guinea pigs are happy and healthy
Table of Contents
Introduction to Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are a species of rodent, which is believed to originate from the Andes region of South America. Think Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.
They were initially bred and kept for their meat, but that didn’t last long…
And we suspect it was all because of their adorable little faces melting peoples’ hearts.
As Spanish traders introduced them into Europe in the 16th century, they quickly emerged as a desirable pet among the wealthiest and most influential people of that time. It’s even said that Queen Elizabeth I kept one of her own.
Over the next few centuries, guinea pigs emerged as popular pets among the wider, less wealthy population.
But it was only in the 20th century that this species of fluffy rodents really boomed in popularity, becoming the go-to small pet choice for families with young children.
This popularity can be explained by several factors:
- They’re easy to look after
- They’re smaller than many other pets
- They have docile temperaments and love being handled
- Their lifespan of up to eight years is longer than many other rodents or small animals.
And speaking of docile guinea pig temperament…
Guinea Pig Behavior
Guinea pigs are gentle, social creatures.
Ask guinea pig owners, and you’ll hear words like:
- Cutie pies
You bet. Guinea pigs have developed a unique range of sounds, which they use to communicate their feelings and emotions with other guinea pigs, as well as their human owners.
It’s super cool, and it gives them a real edge over other small pets.
Guinea pigs are happiest when they’re kept in groups of two or more, as they enjoy cuddling, playing, and getting up to no good with their furry accomplices. Just remember that groups should be made up of guinea pigs of the same sex to avoid hormones getting in the way of peaceful coexistence.
N.B. Male and female guinea pigs should only live together until they’re 3 weeks old (unless you plan on breeding them).
Quick Breed Guide
Did you know that guinea pigs come in a wide range of different breeds?
Many people don’t and simply assume there’s only one kind of guinea pig.
However, that’s not the case.
There are 13 major show breeds, each with its own peculiarities and slightly different care requirements.
For example, breeds like the American Guinea Pig and the Himalayan Guinea Pig have short hair and require little grooming, whereas long-haired guinea pigs like the Peruvian have luscious fur coats, which require many grooming sessions and can cause them to overheat in the summer.
You can even find hairless guinea pigs (known as Skinny Pigs) that need rubbing with a non-toxic, aloe-based lotion rather than the usual brushing.
This infographic gives you a quick overview of 12 principal breeds:
If you’d like to find out more about the different breeds, don’t miss our Guinea Pig Breed Guide.
Buying or Adopting Your Guinea Pig
If you are looking to bring one or two guinea pigs home, you have two main options:
- Buying, or
Quick Guide To Buying Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are relatively inexpensive, costing somewhere between $25 and $40 each, depending on where you buy them from, their family history, and the animal’s age.
However, before you yell, “Wow, that’s cheap!” you should consider the various other costs responsible guinea pig owners incur.
For example, you’ll need to purchase:
- A cage or hutch for your guinea pigs to live in
- A food bowl and a water bottle
- Various types of foods
- Bedding and/or cage lining
- Grooming equipment and toys
- Guinea pig-friendly cleaning supplies
It all adds up, especially if you consider vet bills.
So don’t decide to buy guinea pigs without carefully considering whether you have enough room in your budget to care for one.
You can find out more about the costs associated with buying a guinea pig in our guide, “How Much Do Guinea Pigs Cost?“
Quick Guide To Adopting Adult Guinea Pigs
The main alternative to buying a guinea pig is adopting one.
This usually consists of you stepping in when somebody else cannot continue caring for their guinea pigs. This process is typically referred to as adoption or rehoming, and it’s a delicate process that needs to be handled carefully.
That’s why it’s best to turn to animal welfare charities for support.
Sometimes you might need to put down a small payment (to prove you’re serious and committed to caring for the animal), while other times, adoption can be completely free.
Either way, adopting is significantly more cost-effective.
You might even save on the cost of key equipment, as the animal might come with a cage or a hutch. That being said, you may still need to purchase equipment and accessories, and you’ll surely still need to consider the ongoing costs, like food, bedding, cleaning, and vet bills.
There are several other things to consider when adopting.
First, guinea pigs that have been living together in groups should be kept together. Don’t break them up, or you’ll have some really sad piggies on your conscience.
Second, you 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.
Third, some adoption processes require you to apply and then wait until the charity or association finds you to be the most suitable owner for one of their guinea pigs, meaning a lot of patience is necessary.
How To Prepare for the Arrival of Your Guinea Pig
We’ve already mentioned that guinea pigs are relatively easy to look after.
You’ve surely got that much out of this article.
But you’re still going to have to prepare for their arrival and learn how to take good care of guinea pigs before you can call yourself a responsible owner.
Let’s show you how.
But first, let’s celebrate your decision to bring a cavy home with an ultra-cute picture of a festive piggie!
Alright, enough celebrating, back to reading. 😊
Guinea Pig-Proof Your House and Garden
Making sure your house and garden are safe for your guinea pig to live in is one of the most essential parts of proper guinea pig care.
Because guinea pigs cannot distinguish between something dangerous and something fun.
To their beady little eyes, everything is a toy. And that’s a massive risk if you let them roam in a messy room filled with electric wires or small objects.
So what should you do?
- Pick a room for your guinea pigs to live in and make a vow to keep it tidy at all times
- Keep plants, shoes, and small objects (like legos) out of reach
- Block off access to cables and wires
- Set up a designated toilet area by placing a litter box in the corner of the room
Suppose you decide to keep your guinea pigs outdoors. In that case, you need to invest in a quality hutch that will protect your pets from wild animals and potentially terrifying predators (never forget that your beloved guinea pigs are prey animals).
Also, make sure the hutch is secure, sturdy, and blocks direct sunlight or extreme weather of any kind.
Consider Adopting Other Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are very social animals.
They thrive when they spend most of their time with their owner or with other guinea pigs.
And that’s what makes it such a good idea to get a furry friend (or more) for your furry friend!
You’ll find that your cavies will be much happier than if they lived alone, especially if you spend over half the day at the office and can’t pop in for an unplanned play session!
Get Yourself a Quality Cage or Hutch
It’s pretty much mandatory to buy a cage (read indoor enclosure) or a hutch (read outdoor enclosure) for your guinea pigs.
It will keep them feeling safe and protected, as well as giving them a warm, cozy place to call home.
There are a considerable number of factors to consider when picking the right cage, including budget, space restrictions, solid flooring, design, and much more.
But rather than getting lost in the details in this post, we’ve decided to write a Complete Guide to the Best Guinea Pig Cages, so check it out if you’re interested in more details and reviews of specific models.
Order Some Soft Bedding
A cage isn’t enough on its own, no matter how great it is.
Guinea pigs require warm and comfortable bedding.
You know, like you require bedsheets and a duvet. 😜
And since sleep is fundamental for the health and wellbeing of your guinea pigs, you shouldn’t cheap out and buy them inadequate bedding.
We recommend avoiding pine and cedar wood shavings and sticking to hay bedding, fleece liners, paper bedding, or aspen-based wood bedding.
Each material has its own pros and cons, so dwell on the subject by jumping over to our article on the Best Guinea Pig Bedding for Your Pet and learning about the different types of guinea pig bedding.
Add Cage Accessories to Your Cart
Aside from providing your guinea pigs with a cage and comfortable bedding, you should also think about several cage accessories that can help keep your guinea pig safer and healthier.
- Food bowls
- Water bottles/water dispensers
- Hay dispensers
- Hideout houses
- Transport carriers
- Decorative elements
Only the first three items are necessary, so it’s up to best judgement to decide whether or not to fork out on the other options.
But please note that if you have more than one cavy, you should consider buying multiple food bowls and water bottles.
Some guinea pigs are happy to share, but the majority prefer to have their own source of yummy foods and fresh water. So play it safe and start by providing a food bowl and a water bottle for each of your cavies; then make adjustments based on how they behave over time.
Consider a Guinea Pig Run
While a cage or a hutch is crucial to your guinea pig’s everyday life, you might also want to think about buying them a run.
Because guinea pigs need to get plenty of exercise daily and a run is a fantastic way to create an escape-proof environment for them to run, play, and frolic in.
Trust us, free-roaming cavies with tons of extra exploration space are far happier companions.
Get Your Guinea Pigs Loads of Toys
Don’t forget toys! Ever!
Many owners overlook the importance of mental stimulation and entertainment, and their guinea pigs are at risk of suffering from boredom and depression.
So rather than take that gamble, order your furry cavy some of the Best Guinea Pig Toys on the market and watch as they play to their little heart’s content.
Take Safety Measures if You Own Other Pets
Do you own other types of pets?
Then this section is for you!
If not, feel free to skip it and head over to “How To Feed Your Guinea Pig.”
So how can you keep your guinea pigs safe in a multiple pet environment?
- Ensure your guinea pig cage is secure and cannot be broken into by a cat or a dog (and avoid open-topped guinea pig cages).
- Don’t house your guinea pigs in the same cage as gerbils, hamsters, mice, or other similar small pets, as fights and diseases can break out.
- Keep other pets far away from your guinea pigs when they’re in free-roaming mode. Cavies are easily injured, and you never know when a playful lunge could turn into a fatal injury.
- Avoid the temptation of placing your guinea pig in an isolated area of the house, where people (or other pets) rarely go. Your cavies will suffer from being left alone for too long.
Alright, so you’re ready for guinea pigs to arrive. What next?
How to Feed Your Guinea Pig
Learning how to feed your cavy properly is perhaps the single most significant aspect of mastering how to take care of a guinea pig.
And the word “properly” refers both to the right feeding schedule and the right foods.
Guinea Pig Feeding Schedule
Guinea pigs require regular feeding sessions.
Maintaining a consistent schedule is the best way to ensure your guinea pig maintains beneficial eating habits and a healthy weight.
You can feed your guinea pig daily by following a simple schedule like this:
- Fresh vegetables (and a tiny portion of fruit) in the mornings for breakfast
- Guinea pig pellets in the evening for dinner
- Uninterrupted, around-the-clock access to grass hay and fresh water
You should replace your guinea pigs’ water bottles and hay dispensers daily to make sure they’re only consuming the freshest and cleanest possible ingredients.
Grass hay can easily get soiled, while water can spoil or get moldy. Yucky either way.
What to Feed Your Guinea Pig
80% Grass Hay
Just like for rabbits, grass hay is the most important food for guinea pigs.
You should provide them with unlimited amounts of hay (we recommend Timothy hay or orchard grass/orchard brome) and watch them chew and nibble around the clock. It’s fantastic for both their dental and digestive health.
Please note that alfalfa hay should only be given to young, growing guinea pigs or pregnant/nursing female guinea pigs. It has too much calcium for healthy adult guinea pigs, which could lead to bladder stones.
10% Guinea Pig Pellets
Guinea pigs cannot produce their own vitamin C, so they commonly suffer from vitamin c deficiency if their owners don’t supplement their hay-based diet with fortified pellets or vitamin c-rich foods.
A high-quality, specially-formulated guinea pig’s food is your best bet for providing your cavy with all the vitamins and micronutrients they need to thrive.
Just make sure you pick a pellet that isn’t alfalfa-based, and you offer it in limited quantities (about ¼ cup per day).
10% Fresh Food
Finally, you should also provide your guinea pig with:
- About ¼ cup to ½ cup of fresh vegetables every day
- An occasional piece of fruit as a treat (too much sugar can lead to serious medical conditions)
Great choices for fresh foods include:
- Bell peppers or sweet peppers
- Mustard greens
- Collard greens
And remember to avoid potatoes and rhubarb leaves as these are potentially toxic or harmful foods.
How To Groom Your Guinea Pig
Grooming is another fundamental aspect of responsible guinea pig care.
In particular, you should pay close attention to regular nail and foot care, as both are important for health and comfort.
Failure to regularly trim nails can lead to unwanted complications, such as inflammation, difficulties, walking, or even certain types of infection.
You can either:
- Learn everything there’s to know about guinea pig foot care in our complete guide, and then trim your piggies’ nail about once a month, or
- Take your cavy to the veterinarian immediately for a quick trim and foot checkup.
Aside from their delicate feet, you should also groom their soft fur coats about once a week with a soft-backed brush. If you own a long-haired guinea pig, then you should up your brushing sessions to twice or thrice a week to avoid matting.
How To Pick Up and Play With Your Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs love human contact, and they tend to enjoy being picked up and handled, as long as they’ve been slowly conditioned to the experience.
Don’t rush the bonding experience, and take your time before you rush over to your cavies and whisk them off their feet.
The basic technique for handling guinea pigs is to position one of your hands under their chest and then use your other hand to support their 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, don’t panic. Just place it down gently as soon as possible, using the same technique you used to lift it up, supporting both the upper and lower body.
Once you’ve mastered picking up and holding your guinea pigs, you can cuddle them and really build a strong, loving bond.
Another way to do the same is by playing with your guinea pig and providing hours of mental stimulation.
There are tons of ways to play with a guinea pig, with examples ranging from simple ball games to more complex puzzle-type toys.
The best thing is to try a range of different methods and see which ones your guinea pig likes the most.
How To Clean Your Guinea Pig
Cleanliness is also a key concern among responsible guinea pig owners.
The good news is that guinea pigs are clean animals, and they rarely need help in this department from their owners.
If you notice they’re a bit dirty, you should grab a damp cloth or an unscented baby wipe and spot-clean them by rubbing their coats gently.
Baths should be avoided unless strictly necessary because they lead to skin irritation and dryness.
If your guinea pig makes a mess and you have no other choice, follow this step-by-step process to make the bath as enjoyable as possible:
- Prep the equipment: a small bath or washing bowl, guinea pig shampoo, and a soft towel.
- Add a little bit of water to the bath, ensuring the water level is relatively shallow (below chest level)
- Use warm water (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
- Make sure to rinse the shampoo away thoroughly to avoid causing skin irritation
- Dry your guinea pig thoroughly with the soft towel
And Their Guinea Pig’s Cage, Too
Guinea pig cages are a whole other ball of wax.
You need to help your cavies out by cleaning and emptying their cages or hutches at least once a week. A complete bedding change is also required.
This helps to ensure your guinea pig is happy, healthy and free to roam around without having to step in moist bedding or yucky piles of cavy waste.
Find out more about cleaning in our Guinea Pig Cage Buying Guide.
How to Tell If Your Guinea Pigs Are Happy and Healthy
We all want our cavies to live forever and be perfectly healthy.
Unfortunately, that’s not possible, no matter how hard we try.
The best we can do is to carefully monitor our guinea pig’s behaviors and keep an eye out for a few common red flags:
- Sudden changes in behavior
- A loss of appetite and avoiding food
- Visible signs of lethargy or discomfort.
- Unusual lumps, sores, or patches
- Eye or nasal discharge
- Overgrown teeth
- Unusual vocalizations
- Labored breathing
If you notice any of these, take your guinea pig straight to the vet for professional help. Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and it’s always best to catch any health problems as early as possible instead of delaying and risking their problems worsening.
N.B. Guinea pigs exhibit a unique behavior known as ‘popcorning’, where they jump and twirl in the air (like popcorn in the microwave). This is common in young guinea pigs and tends to stop as they grow older, but it is a sign of happiness, so you don’t need to be alarmed if you witness it.
Concluding Thoughts About Guinea Pig Care
Guinea pigs are fantastic companions, both for adults and children of all ages.
Regardless of whether you decide to buy them at a young age or adopt a fully grown guinea pig, you’re in for quite the ride.
They’re cute. They’re friendly. They’re soft and cuddly. And, of course, they’re easy to care for.
Just follow everything you’ve learned today:
- Preparing your home for guinea pigs
- Picking up and playing
- Monitoring health concerns
And your cavies will live long, happy lives as your furry sidekicks! 🐹 ❤️