Guinea Pig Care Info
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
Lifespan: 4 - 8 years
Behaviour: Guinea pigs can make great companions due to their docile nature and easy handling ability. They are prey animals by nature so most still need to be handled gently and firmly as they can scare quite easily. Since they can be startled easily, they might not make ideal pets for very young children who make a lot of noise or are overly grabby. Guinea Pigs usually do not like to be lifted into the air so when you are picking them up, make sure to have one hand under them for support and one over top to make them feel more secure. Guinea pigs can be quite vocal and because of this, they are good at letting you know how they feel! They will be sure to let you know when supper is late but they will also let you know when they are uncomfortable with an array of squeels and grunts. Guinea pigs are group animals which means they like to live with other guinea pigs. When adopting, it is best to adopt more than one so that they can keep each other company. Most guinea pigs get along well together, although there will always be some that don't. If you adopt a pair of guinea pigs under the age of 6 months and they are the same-sex (siblings or not), you will be risking the fact that they may not get along in the future. A male/female pair where one of them has been fixed is often a good choice or a pair of females. Any problems with getting along are usually temporary and resolve shortly after, but keep in mind that if it is permanent you will need seperate cages for each.
Housing: An adult guinea pig can get quite large, so you must have a roomy enclosure, but they aren't very agile and do not climb so a cage with different levels isn't required. They are very timid creatures and do need at least one proper sized hiding spot to retreat to in their cage, as well as when they are out of the cage during playtime. This helps them to relax and feel safe and secure. If possible, you should have a separate cage or “playpen” where you guinea pigs can have more room to run about and play to get more exercise. If you do not have the space for this, you should make sure you take your guinea pig out once a day to allow it to run about and get some exercise in a room with no plants or exposed electrical cords. It should also be noted that guinea pigs tolerate cold better then they tolerate heat. Be very careful as to where you place your guinea pig cage, and if you take them outside in the summer make sure they have plenty of water and shade. Do not leave your guinea pig unattended outside and always make sure they are secure, whether it's in a playpen or homemade pen. The cage bottom should be lined with an appropriate type of litter such as aspen or a paper based bedding. Some Guinea Pigs are able to be litter trained as they usually like to use the same corner to use the bathroom. If you want to litter train, make sure to use appropriate pelleted litter such as Yesterday's News. Stay away from clay or cedar based litter as they can be toxic if inhaled or eaten.
Maintenance: Your Guinea Pig's cage should be cleaned at least once a week, with spot cleanings done daily. Spot cleaning is removing the soiled bedding/shavings and droppings from the cage. The litter box should be spot cleaned daily as well, and the box should be cleaned weekly. Fresh food and water should be replaced every day. When cleaning their cage, you should start by changing and replacing all soiled bedding/shavings in the cage. Wash your Guinea Pig's cage with a warm water and antibacterial soap mixture to kill the bacteria that is in the cage. Make sure to rinse all surfaces thoroughly to be sure all the soap has rinsed away. Do no use any harsh kitchen or bathroom cleaners and stay away from bleach since these are toxic to your pig. As you are cleaning, you can also wash the other items that are kept in the cage and use this as an opportunity for exercise outside of the cage. Your Guinea Pig will likely need nail trims every 4 - 6 weeks but this will vary between individuals. You can have your Veterinarian show you how to do nail trims at home or you can bring them to your vet or most local pet stores to have them trimmed.
Nutrition: Like us, Guinea Pigs cannot produce their own Vitamin C. Guinea Pig specific diets will have added Vitamin C but it may not be enough so you will sometimes have to supplement them with more. There are several products you can give that you can discuss with your Veterinarian. Young Guinea pigs should have an unlimited supply of hay offered to them daily and Guinea Pigs up to six months should be fed unlimited pellets of a high quality brand such as Oxbow to encourage proper growth. You must feed Guinea Pig specific diets. Once your Guinea Pig has matured (approximately one year old) it should receive a combination of unlimited timothy hay and a limited amount of pellets, along with fresh greens and veggies every day. Domestic Guinea Pigs are prone to weight gain and should be monitored closely. Most should have no more than ¼ cup of pellets per day and often times even less depending on the size of your pet. It's a good idea to divide this daily amount into two meals, breakfast and dinner, to promote healthy and regular gastrointestinal movement.
Health Concerns: Some of the main concerns for Guinea Pigs are skin problems, sore hocks, overgrown teeth, abscesses and lumps. Many skin problems in guinea pigs are caused by an external fungus or an infestation of mites or lice. These infections usually start on the face and spread to other parts of the body, with symptoms including loss of fur, itching and scabs. Guinea pigs can develop sore hocks from living on a wire-only cage bottom, which is why proper bedding is important. Their hind legs become red and swollen at the bottoms, and they can lose some of their hair in that area. If the problem is bad enough, the Guinea Pig may not want to move around because of the pain and should definitely be seen by a Veterinarian. It is important to have a relationship with a Veterinarian who is able to do annual physical exams for your Guinea Pig. During these exams your Vet will be able to check your pets teeth for any abnormalities or overgrowth. If the front teeth (incisors) or back teeth (molars) have become too long, your Guinea Pig may have trouble eating and you may notice that they start to lose weight. These teeth can be trimmed by an experienced Veterinarian and in most cases requires anesthetic to be done properly. In some cases overgrown molars can lead to an abscess which is a localized infection within the tissue that usually happens close to the jaw or on the upper part of the neck. Abscesses will need to be drained and treated with a course of antibiotics and your Vet will have to determine where the infection came from to fix the problem and hopefully prevent recurrent growth. Lumps on your guinea pig can be a numerous amount of things like cysts or even tumors. There is no way to prevent these from happening. The only thing you can do is check your Guinea Pigs every so often to see if you feel anything new. If you notice any lumps, have your veterinarian examine them as soon as possible.