Guinea Pig Advice

About Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs are intelligent, curious and friendly animals when handled and treated correctly. They originate from South America and there are eight species, but only one – the domestic cavy – is kept as a pet.

Guinea pigs live for around four to eight years, so their care is a long-term commitment. Males are known as boars and females are called sows. Guinea pigs need company of their own kind and can be kept in same sex groups or in pairs. Don’t forget, if you’re planning to keep a male and female together, it’s essential that the male is neutered to avoid unwanted babies. It takes around four weeks for a male to become sterile after being neutered.

The Cat and Rabbit Rescue always have guinea pigs that need good homes.

How to make your guinea pig comfortable in your home.

Guinea pigs are curious, like to see what’s going on and have a sensitive hearing, so they are usually happiest outdoors but can also live inside a quiet home.

They need a large predator-proof hutch and run. Each hutch should have a separate sleeping area where the guinea pigs can retreat out of sight to get some peace and quiet. The hutch and run should be out of direct sunlight in a weatherproof, draught-proof shed, as guinea pigs are vulnerable to all extremes of weather. The accommodation should be cleaned regularly as unclean bedding can cause health problems.  Do not keep guinea pigs – or any other animals – in a garage used to keep vehicles because the fumes can kill them. Our accommodation requirements can be found on the website. If you are interested in adopting a guinea pig from us, please check that your housing is suitable and would pass our home visit.

Extra shelter and bedding must be provided during the winter months. Soft straw can be used but has no nutritional value and can be a bit sharp near their eyes, so the best bedding you can use is hay, which also makes up the largest component of their food. If you use wood shavings, they must be dust-free and you should avoid cedar shavings as they can cause health problems. Never use fluffy bedding because it can get wrapped around limbs and injure a guinea pig and it doesn’t dissolve if eaten.

What should you feed them.

As guinea pigs are naturally grazing animals, it’s important that they always have quality, bagged, non-dusty hay to keep their digestive systems working, along with a small amount guinea pig mix. We recommend that they are fed a complete pellet as with maize food they do tend to only choose the bits they want which mean their diet would not be balanced. They also need some fruit and vegetables to give them a source of vitamin C because guinea pigs lack the enzyme to produce this themselves. Melons, oranges and dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, kale and cabbage are all good sources, but too much of the same thing can cause problems, so a variety is important. Never give your guinea pig lettuce as this can cause diarrhoea. Hay and vegetables are just as important as guinea pig mix so don’t rely solely on mix to feed your pet. Hay or grass should make up the majority of their diet.

Put food in bowls which are hard to tip over, or bowls that clip on to the front of the hutch. Clean, fresh water from a gravity bottle or bowl must be available at all times and changed every day. Do not give guinea pigs rabbit food because they have different nutritional requirements. Guinea pigs can become obese if they are fed too much.

Vegetables

Asparagus
Beetroot (smaller amounts as it can cause gas)
Broccoli leaves
Brussel sprouts
Carrots (not too many as they are high in sugar)
Cauliflower
Celery
Courgette
Cucumber
Curly kale
Lettuce
Peppers
Spinach
Spring greens
Swede
Radish tops
Rocket
Water cress

Fruit (In Moderation – High in Sugar)

Apples
Apricot
Banana
Blackberries
Cherries
Grapes
Kiwi
Mango
Melon
Nectarines
Peach
Pear
Pineapple
Plum
Raspberries and leaves
Tomatoes
Strawberries and leaves

Herbs

Basil
Coriander
Dill
Mint
Oregano
Parsley
Sage
Thyme

Not Safe

Avocado
Bread
Cereal
Chocolate
Mushrooms
Potatoes
Rhubarb
Sweetcorn
Yogurt Drops

Guinea pigs in hot and cold weather.

Guinea pigs can live happily outside all year round but it is important to ensure they don’t overheat in the summer or freeze in the winter.

Warm Weather

During the hot season always make sure your guinea pigs are out of the sun and there is plenty of shady space for the guinea pig to rest in its run and accommodation.

If it is exceptional warm and you think your guinea pig looks like it is feeling too hot you could consider:

  • Setting up a circulating fan that will breeze past your guinea pig without blowing directly on them all day.
  • Put down a damp towel for them to lay on or place a cooling pad for them to lay on (beware they don’t chew them)
  • Place a ceramic tile or Marble Square in the cage or in guinea pig’s favourite laying place.
  • Brush out excessive fur.
  • Fill bottles with water and freeze them, alternately freezer ice blocks and place in the rabbit accommodation. To avoid ice burns, place a cover around the ice.

Cold Weather

During the winter months, older guinea pigs and guinea pig with limited fur may feel cold especially if their hutch has a draft or it is very windy – this can also be the case for younger guinea pigs when the winter is extra harsh. As a guinea pig owner it can be a good idea to winter proof your guinea pig’s accommodation before the winter arrives. You could consider doing the following:

  • Raise the hutch off the floor
  • Put in blankets or fleeces for them to snuggle into or to line the floor with some cheap carpet samples for them to sit on (make sure the edges aren’t fraying)
  • Get a cardboard box, close all 4 sides and cut a hole big enough for your rabbits to get through, and fill the box with hay.
  • Buy them a ‘Snugglesafe Heatpad’. You warm it up in the microwave and it releases heat for up to 8 hours.
  • Cover their hutch over with old duvets or tarpaulin (you can buy used duvets in our charity shops).
  • Insulate their water bottle or place bowl on heat pads
  • Moving their accommodation away from wind and frost by putting it in a shed or in a garage (with no car fumes).

Guinea Pig Accommodation

Guinea pigs require a lot of space to run and hop. At the rescue centre we will only rehome to homes where the accommodation meets our minimum housing requirements, this is includes how much space for an outside area, how much space for a bed area and what the accommodation is made of as it must be fox proof. Please click below for more information on guinea pig accommodation requirements.

Guinea pigs should be kept in secure accommodation outside or can be kept as house guinea pigs. Even with house guinea pigs it is a good idea to allow guinea pigs access to grass to graze on and natural sunlight.

Guinea pigs do like to chew so whether they live inside or outside. Their accommodation must be ‘guinea pig-proofed’ so that they can’t chew or eat anything dangerous – or valuable!

Some guinea pigs can be very tidy indoors as with a litter tray and encouragement many of them can be litter trained!

How to check if your guinea pig is healthy.

A healthy guinea pig is alert, with bright eyes and a good coat. One of the most common problems in guinea pigs is bumblefoot, where the foot becomes swollen due to a bacterial infection, often caused by dirty bedding. They are also prone to eye problems, so it is important to use dust-free bedding. Other conditions to watch out for include mange (itchy skin), dental problems caused by not enough fibre or vitamin C and obesity from being fed too many treats. Skin problems are common in guinea pigs. If you have any concerns about your guinea pig’s health, seek your vet’s advice.

Grooming is a vital part of the routine care of guinea pigs. Long-haired varieties need daily grooming as their coats can quickly become matted and uncomfortable. Female guinea pigs reach sexual maturity at four to five weeks old and males at eight to nine weeks. Do not be tempted to allow your guinea pigs to breed, as there are risks associated with pregnancy and birth. Females that do not breed by the age of six to eight months can become pregnant, but they are physically unable to give birth as the pelvic bones fuse by this age, this can be fatal to the female. Male guinea pigs should be neutered if you want to keep them as a pair with a female without breeding. At the rescue centre we encourage same sex pairing with guinea pigs.

How to keep them active.

Provide your guinea pigs with as much floor space as possible, our minimum housing requirement is 15-16 sq.ft.  part of this can be an outdoor run accessible from the hutch so they can graze. They can be allowed to run free indoors under supervision. Make sure all doors are closed, there are no escape holes and that cats and dogs are kept out of the room. You can read more about guinea pig accommodation here (LINK)

Guinea pigs are not usually very interested in toys but some enjoy exploring cardboard boxes and running through tubes or pipes. You could also try hiding small amounts of food around the cage to help keep your guinea pigs alert and active.

Never alone.

Your guinea pig should never be alone and only have other guinea pigs as companions. Never keep guinea pigs in the same hutch or run as rabbits, as there is a risk the guinea pigs will be bullied and seriously injured, they also have different dietary needs. The best combination is a pair or small group of the same sex, although neutered males and females may get along.

How to interact with your guinea pig.

Guinea pigs are friendly and most are happy to be handled once they have got used to their new surroundings. Always use both hands to pick up a guinea pig. Place one hand across their shoulders with your thumb tucked behind the shoulder and fingers wrapped around the ribs. Hold tightly enough to be secure without squeezing and place your other hand underneath the hindquarters for support. Hold the guinea pig close to your body or sit down and put them on your lap so they feel secure. Guinea pigs are often easier to handle and interact with for children compared to rabbits.

Guinea pigs and children.

Guinea pigs can make good pets for adults or children. As guinea pigs are active during the day, you can have lots of fun just watching them.

They communicate vocally and different noises have different meanings. A cooing sound gives reassurance, while a squeak can be a warning – a sign that the guinea pig is frightened or anticipation that food is coming! They’re unhappy when left alone in a hutch in the garden because they need company.

Guinea pigs are gentle animals and make good children’s pets but you need to think about the fact that they have quite a long lifespan. They can live as long as seven years, so they might outlive a child’s interest. This is why it is important that the adults in the household share the children’s interest in the guinea pig. As with all small pets, an adult needs to be responsible for ensuring that the children provide the correct care and attention.

A sum up…

  • Guinea pigs have a long lifespan compared to other small animals
  • Guinea pigs need company of their own kind, either in a pair or in a small group of the same sex
  • Do not keep a breeding pair. If you are planning to keep a male and female together, talk to your vet about having the male neutered
  • Do not keep guinea pigs and rabbits in the same hutch or run, as the guinea pigs may be bullied and severely injured
  • Make sure your guinea pigs always have dust-extracted hay to keep their digestive systems working and, a constant supply of clean water and clean accommodation
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