By Claire Aerts on 13-03-2018 at 18:18
The guinea pig is a small rodent native to South America, specifically Chile and Peru. If you’re thinking about adopting one of these rodents, here’s a few things to know.
Adopting a guinea pig
There are many different species of guinea pig. Hair can vary from smooth and short to long and curly, while some even have no hair such as the Skinny or Baldwin breeds. Much like hair, there is a large variation of coat colours to choose from.
Guinea pigs are not solitary animals so will be happier sharing their cage with another. This is even the case for two guinea pigs not known to each other, although a settling in period will be required for them to become comfortable and familiar with one another.
Like many animals, a hierarchy must be formed between guinea pigs, therefore it’s not uncommon for small fights to break out at the beginning. If you adopt two guinea pigs at the same time however, they should settle quickly. If you want to introduce other members to the family later on, start by sharing various items that have each guinea pig’s scent on it for the first 48 hours. After this, you can introduce them into the same space. It’s also recommended to adopt guinea pigs of the same age and build.
Keep in mind that the bigger the cage, the less cohabitation there will be, although you will still need to provide them with adequate space to live comfortably. If ever your guinea pigs are unable to live together, you will need to buy another cage to keep them separate.
Unlike the Chinchilla, guinea pigs are diurnal meaning they operate predominantly during daylight hours. As such, they will likely adapt well to your lifestyle. However, take care with their sleep cycles and try not to disturb them when they’re resting.
Guinea pigs typically live between four and eight years.
Further reading: How to take care of your Guinea Pig
Behaviour of a guinea pig
Guinea pigs love to communicate, both with their owners and their fellow friend/s. Play close attention and you will learn to understand their sounds and accompanying behaviours.
If stressed, guinea pigs will tend to bite the ears of their housemates or eat their hair. The problem may be with the cage, especially if there are too many guinea pigs for the space.
An angry guinea pig may bare its teeth by raising its head. If this is directed towards a housemate, they will retain this posture whilst moving closer to the animal. This will either trigger a fight or result in submission with the other backing away.
Further reading: How to understand your Guinea Pig
Daily care of a guinea pig
Guinea pigs require daily care. You will need to learn how to clips their claws, brush them, and check their eyes and nostrils. They will also need fresh food and water daily, and a clean environment in which to live.
When adopting your first guinea pig, it can be highly worthwhile talking to your vet about how best to look after them.
Further reading: 8 Things you didn’t know about Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs and their environment
Choosing a guinea pig cage
There are a number of different sized guinea pig cages to choose from. Make sure you choose one large enough to accommodate running space (minimum one meter in length). A large wire cage for rodents will be perfect for your guinea pig. When choosing the best one for you and your pet, remember to think about the areas for which your guinea pig will need: dining area, litter corner, play space and bedding.
You may also wish to choose a C&C cage (Cubes and Coroplast cage), which can be adapted and modified to suit your guinea pig. Similar to a DIY kit, these cages can be extended, reduced, and divided into sections, and are collapsible when not in use.
If you want your guinea pig to have access to the outdoors, especially during the summer months, a wooden hutch is a good option for them to enjoy being out in the fresh air (except when it is either too hot or too windy). Ensure that the hutch can be properly secured so that predators are unable to access the inside of the cage. We also recommend bringing your guinea pigs inside at night for their safety and comfort.
Inside the guinea pig cage
With regard to items inside the cage, avoid food bowls, toys, drinking nozzles, and other items made of plastic. Being a rodent, they may gnaw on these, not only damaging the item but also posing a health risk to them. Stick with ceramic and stainless steel items.
For bedding, avoid wood chips that are toxic to rodents. Choose hardwood options such as hemp, flax, or straw. Pine, cedar, and saw dust options might seem ideal but these can be harmful to your guinea pig and cause respiratory, liver and other serious conditions. If in doubt, talk to your vet.
For your guinea pig’s litter corner, you can place a litter box in an area away from its bedding. It’s possible that your guinea pig will not use it immediately as its litter area, however you can encourage its use by collecting and placing any droppings in the cage in the litter box. If it continues to be ignored, you may like to try moving the litter box to the area where your guinea pig most goes to the toilet and use the same method of collecting and placing droppings inside the box.
Where do I put the guinea pig cage?
Guinea pigs need feel secure in order to maintain wellbeing. The location of their cage will play an important role in helping to keep them engaged.
It’s best to place their cage in a relatively quiet room, although not somewhere isolated. Avoid corridors or passageways, entryways, spare bedrooms, humid rooms or areas exposed to draughts. Ideally, the best location is often the living room, but be careful not to play loud music or have the TV turned up too high.
Further reading: Where should I place my Guinea Pig’s cage
Feeding your guinea pig
It is important to be strict about your guinea pig’s diet. Guinea pigs are strict herbivores and must eat only hay, greenery and pellets to maintain a well functioning digestive system.
Like rabbits, guinea pigs have complicated digestive systems and must be able to nibble on food throughout the day to maintain proper digestion. Ensuring a proper diet and stress-free lifestyle will help to avoid gastrointestinal stasis in your guinea pig, which can lead to death. This is when the digestive system slows down or stops altogether.
What food can I give my guinea pig?
An essential food of guinea pigs is hay. It should be green, fragrant and available at all times for your guinea pig. Chewing on hay will encourage your guinea pig to use their molars (good for teeth health) and help with digestive maintenance.
You should also give your guinea pig fresh vegetables and fruit to provide them with a broad range of vitamins and minerals. Ensure that you do not give them any vegetables and fruit that are going off. Also take note that there are some vegetables and fruits toxic to guinea pigs, therefore check with your vet about what foods to avoid or give less often.
Pellets can also be fed to your guinea pig, however it is not necessary. If you do buy your guinea pig pellets, make sure you select a high-quality product designed for guinea pigs and not other rodents.
If you ever want to change your guinea pig’s diet or introduce a new food, remember to allow for a transition period and make any changes gradually. It can upset your pet’s digestive system if done suddenly.
Further reading: Should I give vitamin C to my guinea pig?
Guinea pig health
Guinea pigs are more prone than some animals to develop various ailments. However, these can be prevented and managed.
Dental problems most commonly affect rodents. As their teeth grow continuously they need to use them regularly to avoid dental malocclusions (misalignment of the upper and lower teeth), breakages or other problems. Ensure your guinea pig has a high quality diet, as well as any suitable chew toys to maintain healthy teeth. Regular trips to the vet will ensure help ensure everything is in working order.
Thanks to its complex and somewhat fragile digestive system, digestive illnesses can easily affect your guinea pig. Again, the quality of your guinea pig’s diet plays an essential role in maintaining a healthy gut. You can monitor bedding and their litter tray to see if everything is working well. Also ensure your guinea pig has access to fresh water and that they are drinking enough.
Dermatological issues in guinea pigs are often caused by external parasites. It’s important to ensure your guinea pig receives preventative treatment once a year to protect them from fleas, scabies and ringworm. Even if your guinea pig does not have access to the outdoors, it is still recommend to apply any treatments as a precaution. Indeed, cohabiting with other animals in the house could be a source of infestation.