Guinea pigs make lively and inquisitive pets, but they are very different from dogs and cats. Here are a few pointers to make sure your guinea pig stays happy and healthy.
Guinea pigs are very social creatures, and are best kept in groups of 2 or more. If keeping a mixed sex group and you are not intending on breeding them, we recommend castration of the males to prevent unwanted pregnancies. It is important to handle your guinea pig frequently from the day that you adopt it, so that they get used to human contact. When picking up a guinea pig, ensure the whole body is supported or the pig will struggle. Guinea pigs also love to interact with people at their level – on the ground. Guinea pigs are most active at dusk and twilight, and tend to enjoy napping through the middle of the day. Don’t be alarmed if you notice your guinea pig eating his or her own poo – this is a normal behavior to ensure a healthy digestive system!
Guinea pigs are “prey” species – so they need to feel safe and protected from predators at all times. We recommend a large, well ventilated cage with plenty of areas to hide (such as a hutch, boxes or PCV pipes). If keeping your pet outdoors, ensure they are sheltered from sun, rain and wind and make sure the cage is secure enough that they cannot escape. Wire cage flooring can cause foot problems, so it should be covered with a layer of towels and newspaper. Grass is also a good substrate, as long as the cage is moved regularly. Bedding may be provided in the form of good quality hay (we recommend Timothy hay) and changed regularly when soiled.
Guinea pigs are herbivores – this means they only eat plant material. They have a specialized digestive system that requires them to eat constantly to maintain healthy gut bacteria. If your guinea pig stops eating even for 24 hours this can be quite serious, and you should contact your vet immediately. A good diet for guinea pigs should be largely made up of hay, grass and small amounts of fruit and vegetables.
Good quality hay and grass is important for its fibre content – we recommend ‘Timothy Hay’ and it should be available at all times. Young, pregnant or sick guinea pigs may also benefit from some alfalfa hay in their diet. Leafy green vegetables, salad leaves and herbs are good sources of fibre also.
Guinea pigs cannot produce vitamin C themselves, and need it to be supplemented in their diet each day. Good vitamin C sources include turnip greens, kale, brussel sprouts, parsley, broccoli leaf, strawberries, melon, broccoli and spinach. Vitamin C can also be supplemented in the drinking water if changed fresh every day. Guinea pig pellets can also be used as part of a balanced diet – we recommend “Vetafarm” brand pellets which are nutritionally balanced.
Breeding your guinea pig
Guinea pigs are pregnant for 59 to 72 days. If females are not bred before 6 months of age, the pubic symphysis (the join between the two sides of the pelvis) may have fused, making a natural birth difficult. Females that have their first litter after 6 months of age usually need a caesarean section – consult your veterinarian for further information. Baby guinea pigs are born fully furred with open eyes, and they normally wean at about 3 weeks of age.
Common health problems and things to watch for
Many problems with guinea pigs are related to nutrition, digestion, obesity and dental disease. Mites are a common skin problem, and foot problems are common with inappropriate flooring. Contact your veterinarian if you notice any of the following:
- Loose or soft stools
- Sneezing or trouble breathing
- Blood in the urine
- Small, dry or infrequent stools
- Overgrown front teeth
- Bald patches in the fur or excessive scratching
- Abnormal eating or drinking
- Anything else unusual for your pet
Regular vet checks are important to pick up any health problems early and answer any questions you may have about husbandry and nutrition.