Don’t underestimate a guinea pig’s potential to be an engaging pet.
When planning a child’s first pet, many people think of a rabbit or hamster, but overlook the characterful cavie that is a guinea pig. Indeed, such are the endearing qualities of these chatty little creatures that they make great companions not just for kids but for adults as well!
If your knowledge of guinea pigs is hazy and this unfamiliarity makes you hesitate, then fear not. Here is everything you need know about this fascinating, friendly species.
7 Trivia Titbits about Guinea Pigs
Let’s start within a need-to-know over view of guinea pigs facts.
#1: Guinea Pig Lifespan
They live for around 5 – 7 years. This is a nice length of time that means children don’t experience the rollercoaster ride of pet loss too frequently.
#2: Guinea Pigs are Friendly
They are a sociable animal. In the wild they live in groups of five to ten guinea pigs, and several groups live close together in a colony. When socialized as a youngster this means pet guinea pigs love human company and will ‘call’ for attention.
#3: Guinea Pigs Do Best in Pairs
Because they love company, it’s a good idea to take on two guinea pigs so they aren’t lonely when you’re not around. You can keep them singly, but this works best for those able to provide constant companionship (…but great news for the housebound or elderly.)
#4: Guinea Pigs like to Chat
One of the endearing things about guinea pigs are they use their voices to communicate. They have a range of squeaks, squeals, chirps, and purrs to make their feelings known. This gives them an edge over rabbits, as there’s nothing sweeter than a guinea pig calling to you from another room.
#5: Guinea Pigs are a Prey Species
In the wild guinea pigs are near the bottom of the food chain and many animals predate on them. This means they are prone to stress and may not do well in a household that has dogs, cats, or ferrets. They can however make great indoor pets in an apartment, so can be an option in their own right, or for those whose lifestyle makes a dog unsuitable.
#6: Pregnancy is Especially Hazardous for Guinea Pigs
Apart from the obvious reasons of a population explosion, pregnancy is best avoided in guinea pigs. There is a high complication rate (around 25%) from a serious, life-threatening condition called pregnancy toxemia. Not only that but guinea pigs give birth to ‘miniature adults’ and difficulty giving birth is common.
To this end it’s best to keep pairs of females or males together, rather than mix the genders (unless the male is neutered.)
#7: Ask the Shelter about a Rescue Guinea Pigs
Contact your local shelter to ask about a rescue pig. They usually have large numbers looking for homes so you’ll be helping out as well as taking on a gorgeous new pet.
Housing Your Guinea Pigs
Although guinea pigs have little legs, this does not mean they don’t need exercise. Indeed, if you’ve ever tried to catch an escapee pig you’ll appreciate how speedy they are in bursts!
In practical terms this means providing a sleeping area and an exercise area for the guinnies, in either a hutch with adjoining run or an indoor tray-type pen. When kept indoors, it’s also a good idea to regularly allow them to free roam in a pig-proofed room. For a pair of guinnies the minimum size enclosure should be 120cm long by 60 cm wide and 45 cm high.
Avoid wire floors as these damage the guinnies feet, and provide at least six to ten cms of deep straw or hay as bedding. It’s also crucial that each guinea pig their own place to hide, so for two guinnies provide at least two shelters. They may choose to snuggle up together, but if they have a falling out this provides a safe place for each of them and reduces stress.
Spot clean the run and living area daily, scooping out soiled bedding and replacing it with fresh. Then once a week clean out the whole enclosure, disinfect it with a pet-safe disinfectant and restock with clean bedding.
However, when you see large, sticky pellets leave these in the pen. These are called caecotrophs, and are a valuable source of nutrition to the guinea pig. If the caecotrophs are removed this robs the guinea pigs of important vitamins and nutrients.
Make the run an interesting place to forage and explore by providing a range of toys, such as cardboard tubes stuffed with hay.
Feeding your Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs are strict vegetarians, and unusual in that they have a need for high levels of vitamin C in their diet. The ideal foods for guinnies are growing grass and herbage. For the indoor guinnie, a close second is good quality, sweet-smelling, green hay. This contains the ideal balance of calcium and fiber for healthy bones and teeth.
Hay should make up most of their diet and be available 24 / 7 because guinea pigs are awake for 20 hours a day and spend much of that time eating. Pellets are calorie dense and don’t take much chewing, which means their teeth (which grow all the time) become overlong. Each guinnie should have no more than a dessertspoon of pellets a day, with the rest of the food as hay or vegetables.
Offer small amounts of fresh vegetables every day. Broccoli and red pepper are especially high in vitamin C and great choices. Only give fruit as an occasional treat as the high sugar content can be problematic.
Guinea Pig Health Problems
A healthy guinea pig rarely needs to see the vet. The main problems are:
- Dental disease from overgrown teeth
- Itchy skin as a result of ringworm or parasites such as lice or mites.
- Joint pain or bone fractures due to low levels of vitamin C
- Pregnancy complications such as toxemia or difficulty giving birth
- Delicate spines which are prone to injury if the guinnie is dropped or handled roughly.
Most of these health issues are avoidable with a good diet of green hay and gentle handling.
For maximum good health researchers now believe guinea pigs need exposure to natural sunshine on a regular basis. This is to encourage vitamin D production, which is essential to calcium metabolism for strong bones and teeth. Even if yours are indoor guinea pigs, this can be achieved through use of a balcony or harness training the guinnies and taking them outside for a romp around.
All in all, if you’re looking for a friendly companion for an adult or a child, don’t overlook the characterful creature that is the guinea pig.