Guinea pigs are a very popular children’s pet as they are gentle and don’t mind being handled. If you are thinking of getting a guinea pig, there are many things you need to know before you buy one, including the correct type of cage, the perfect diet and how long you can expect one to live for.
What you must know about owning a guinea pig
1. Guinea pigs are also called cavies
Incas in South America tamed Guinea pigs over 3,000 years ago. They belong to the rodent family and their Latin name is cavia porcellus which translates to little pig.
2. Be prepared to be a committed owner
A Guinea pig’s lifespan averages 5 to 7 years. This is not as long as a cat or dog lives for but it’s still quite a long time. So make sure you are in a position to commit for this many years and are able to give a guinea pig the care and attention it deserves.
Also, bear in mind that if you get one for a young child they may tire of the care regime as they grow older and you may by default become the guinea pig’s carer.
3. Two are better than one!
You should not have just one guinea pig. These endearing little animals are highly social herd animals, therefore, it’s cruel to make one live in solitude. Ideally, you should get two babies at the same time. A pair of females or a pair of males is best rather than one of each sex so you don’t end up with unwanted babies.
4. Guinea pigs need spacious cages and pens
Many people believe guinea pigs don’t require much space when, in fact, they need a large cage and outdoor enclosure. This needs to be secure and covered to protect them from any predators.
Guinea pigs do not like cold weather and should not be left outside when it’s below 60 F (16 C). You’ll need to ensure they have a dry, well-insulated sleeping space in the winter, ideally somewhere inside.
5. They are quite noisy creatures!
Guinea pigs can be rather noisy considering their small size. They make a high-pitched wheeking sound and they can do this for quite a long time when they are excited.
You’ll hear it as you approach with their food and when you are about to let them out of their cage.
You’ll hear many sounds you might not expect from your guinea pigs: purring, cooing, hiccups, and even burping!
These active little creatures don’t sleep all that much either, so may keep you awake all night if you keep them in your bedroom.
6. Guinea pigs are gentle pets
They make good pets for children as they are known to be gentle and don’t usually bite even when given a lot of attention. It’s best to buy a baby guinea pig that has been correctly socialized by its breeder.
You should handle your guinea pigs gently every day from day 1 to ensure they don’t learn to fear you. Supervise young children and teach them how to handle guinea pigs carefully.
7. Guinea Pigs need a balanced diet
Guinea pigs are herbivorous. If they have access to fresh grass you will notice how much they love it. Vitamin C is essential in a guinea pig’s diet and they can get this from leafy green vegetables. Beware of giving a guinea pig too many green beans and certain fruits.
You’ll notice how much they love hay and that they will happily munch their way through their bedding. Make sure you give them fresh hay every day. You also provide guinea pig food pellets that are enriched with vitamin C. Remember water is an essential part of a guinea pig’s daily diet too.
8. They eat poop!
Guinea pigs eat some of their own feces and because it is essential for their health. They aren’t doing it to tidy up after themselves. They actually absorb nutrients like vitamin K and vitamin B-complex and protein from their waste. You must allow them to do this on a daily basis or they could become ill.
9. Their teeth keep on growing
A guinea pig’s teeth keep getting longer but providing fibrous foods every day helps to wear them down. Hay is ideal.
10. Official terms for guinea pigs
Female guinea pigs are known as sows and males are called boars.Baby guinea pigs, however, are not piglets but they are pups! A herd of guinea pigs is referred to as a group of guinea pigs.
11. Guinea pigs scent mark their territory
Guinea pigs have scent glands in their cheeks and chin and scent mark objects by rubbing these areas across them in the same way cats do. If you see a guinea pig dragging its behind along the ground it is not having a scratch but is leaving little secret secretion messages for other guinea pigs to interpret.
12. Odd numbers of toes
A guinea pig has four toes on each on its front feet but only three on its back feet. This means they are good a digging but not so good at climbing. You will have to check your guinea pigs can’t dig their way out of their outdoor pen as they could end up lost or in danger.
Guinea pigs are intelligent and can get bored in a cage with nothing to entertain them. Make your guinea pig’s area as interesting as possible by giving it guinea pig toys, ramps, tubes and tunnels to keep them happy.
14. Health checks
Keep a check on our guinea pig’s health on a regular basis.
Regular grooming allows you to check for mites. These cause sore spots and can burrow under their skin. If you suspect your guinea pig has a mite problem, ask your vet for the best treatment.
Guinea pigs should have clear, bright eyes. If they ever look cloudy this could be a sign of an ulcer or infection caused by a foreign body such as hay. Take your guinea pig to a vet for urgent treatment if you spot any eye problems.
Guinea pigs generally have clean, dry noses. Any discharge or sneezing might mean it’s caught a cold. Keep it warm and dry and away from draughts.
If your guinea pig’s claws get too long a vet can trim them. You can learn how to do this yourself too.
A guinea pig should have a clean and dry bottom. Wet smelly fur is an indication of a urine infection. Older guinea pigs can get poop stuck on their backsides and can even get constipated. A vet should be asked to sort out any problems in the toileting area.
15. Rescue a Guinea Pig today!
Please consider getting your guinea pigs from a shelter. There are plenty just desperate for good homes. Just check out the rescue centers in your area to see if they can help you if you’re seriously considering getting a guinea pig or two.