Guinea pigs, also known as cavies, make great pets. They are safe for children to handle and can be lots of fun. However, they require plenty of attention to be cared for properly.
Guinea pigs require a hutch to live in that is safe from predators such as dogs and cats, has an area that protects them from the weather and provides enough space for exercise. A suitable hutch design includes a dark area for the guinea pigs to rest and hide, which has a bedding of wood shavings, cellulose fibre, shredded paper or polar fleece and is water proof. The other section of the hutch should be light and large enough to allow for a separate exercise and toileting area. The hutch must be well ventilated. It is best to have a hutch made out of wood as metal hutches tend to heat up more quickly.
It is important to clean the hutch at least every second day by removing soiled bedding and ensuring guinea pigs have a dry area to sleep. Guinea pigs that do not have access to clean bedding can suffer from respiratory infections, skin ailments and pest infestation such as fleas and mites.
Guinea pigs are very sensitive to temperature change and must have a warm place to snuggle in the winter that will not be affected by frost, rain or cold winds.
Guinea pigs can easily suffer from heat stress. Once the temperature exceeds 30ºC it is necessary to regularly monitor your guinea pigs. It is important not to place the hutch in direct sunlight during warmer months. Keep it in the shade even on warm to cool days. It does not take long for heat to build up in small areas. On hot days it may be necessary to provide a frozen drink bottle or ice brick in the nesting area of the hutch to reduce the temperature.
Guinea pigs are herbivores, which means they only eat plant material. They should be fed a constant source of grass hay and some fresh grass each day. A high fibre diet helps to maintain body and teeth health. Guinea pigs' teeth are constantly growing and need to be continually worn down by eating.
Fresh green vegetables such as cabbage, lettuce, carrots, broccoli and celery should be included in their daily diet. Vitamin C rich foods such as citrus or kiwi fruit are a necessary supplement as, like humans, guinea pigs do not synthesise their own vitamin C.
Avoid feeding guinea pigs potatoes, onions, rhubarb leaves and oxalis clover as these species are poisonous. Too many grain products are also unsuitable as they are low in fibre and high in sugar.
Fresh, cool water must be provided at all times.
Guinea pigs are social species and prefer to life in groups. In keeping guinea pigs, always have at least two. To avoid unwanted pregnancies separate males and females. Males will be less likely to fight each other if introduced at a young age.
It is advisable not to house guinea pigs and rabbits together as rabbits can be aggressive and dominant towards guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs can develop dental problems. It is important that they are constantly chewing on something; either grass, hay or a gnawing block as their teeth grow at a rate of 2-3mm per week. Overgrown teeth can lead to weight loss, severe pain and discomfort.
Guinea pigs are susceptible to mite infestations. Symptoms include hair loss and itchiness. A thorough clean out and disinfection of the hutch is required in this situation. The guinea pigs should also be treated by a veterinarian or provided with appropriate parasite treatment.
Swollen footpads, commonly known as bumblefoot (ulcerative pododermatitis) can be a problem for guinea pigs on hard surfaces. To avoid this problem ensure there is soft material such as hay or grass for them to walk on. Avoid uncovered wire mesh floors.
If you are breeding from your guinea pigs ensure they have been vet checked and are fit and healthy. Mastitis of the udder is a common problem for lactating guinea pigs. To prevent mastitis do not over breed female guinea pigs. Ensure they have a rest period between litters that is at least long enough for them to return to a fit and healthy condition. If symptoms of mastitis occur, such as a swollen udder, pain or scabbiness in the udder region, seek veterinary advice.
Any health issues that develop require advice from your local veterinarian.
Depending on the breed, guinea pigs can have short, rosette (spiky) or long hair. If your guinea pig is long haired then regular grooming is necessary for good coat condition. Long hair can easily become matted. Gently brush out dead hair, tangles or burrs and use scissors to remove mattered hair, if necessary.
Guinea pigs make great pets for children as they are gentle and can be tamed easily. However, they must be handled appropriately so they can develop a positive relationship with humans. It is best to pick guinea pigs up with two hands and to hold them close to the chest or on your lap so they can rest their feet and feel secure. Make sure that you hold them firmly as they can jump from your hands or body and injure themselves.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 protects the welfare of all animals, including guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs make great pets but purchasing a guinea pig should be a long term decision as they can live up to seven years.
Animal Welfare - It's your Duty to Care