Guinea pigs are native to South America. They are very curious, docile, and friendly creatures that come in a variety of colors and patterns. Their average lifespan is 5-8 years.
Cage – Each guinea pig should have a minimum floor space of 6-7 square feet. Enclosures can be made of wire, steel, durable plastic, or glass with at least one side open for ventilation. The tops of the enclosure can remain open if the sides are at least 10 inches high (provided there are no other dangers/pets in the house). The floor of the enclosure must be solid. Broken legs and footpad and hock infections are common in guinea pigs housed on wire mesh bottoms.
Bedding – Bedding material should be clean, absorbent, non-toxic, and mostly dust-free. We recommend paper pulp products (Carefresh or Yesterday’s News), shredded paper, or fleece/towels. Wood chips and shavings (especially cedar and pine) are NOT recommended as they can cause respiratory and liver disease.
Hide Box – Guinea pigs like to feel safe and secure and a hiding area should be provided.
Vitamin C – This is an essential part of their diet as guinea pigs cannot make their own vitamin C. Supplementation can be achieved with an Oxbow Vitamin C tablet or oral liquid vitamin C at 25-50mg per day. Do not use the water additives as the vitamin C starts to degrade once exposed to light and we cannot accurately gauge how much vitamin C your guinea pig is actually receiving. Vegetable high in vitamin C can also be used as additional sources of vitamin C, but are not enough as the sole source.
Hay – Grass hay is important and should always be available to your guinea pigs. Timothy hay is most commonly used, but if your guinea pig is picky, you can offer orchard grass, oat hay, or meadow grass. Alfalfa hay should NOT be offered to guinea pigs over 6 months of age.
Pellets – Pellets are not necessary, but can be used to supplement your guinea pig’s diet. Do not use pellets mixed with seeds or dried fruit as many guinea pigs will preferentially eat the high fat seeds and fruit. Guinea pigs should have no more than 1/8–1/4 cups of pellets per day.
Fresh Greens – Offer daily. Examples include: romaine lettuce, red/green leaf lettuce, escarole, watercress, clover, Swiss chard, bok choy, endive, turnip tops, and herbs (mint, parsley, cilantro, etc). Dark green vegetables (dandelion greens, mustard greens, kale, broccoli, and collard greens) should be given in moderation as they can predispose to development of bladder stones.
Treats – Small pieces of carrots, bell peppers, and other fruits can be offered occasionally.
Water – Guinea pigs should have access to fresh water at all times. They can be trained to drink from a bottle or provide water in a spill-proof bowl. Check water bottles often as they can malfunction and stop working.
Cleaning – Water bottles and dishes should be cleaned daily or every other day with hot soapy water, a dilute bleach solution (1:30 bleach to water ratio), or in a dishwasher.
The most common way to pick up your guinea pig is to scoop under their chest and place your other hand under the back legs to support them and make them feel secure. If children are handling the guinea pig, have them sit on the floor and hold it in their laps. Only allow them to handle the pet with adult supervision.
SOCIALIZATION AND PLAY
Behavior – Guinea pigs are very social and may be housed together in pairs or small groups. If you are housing mixed pairs, spaying and neutering is recommended. Monitor closely for fighting or ear chewing. Solitary guinea pigs need daily socialization
Play – To encourage foraging behavior, try hiding hay or fresh food in little crumpled bits of paper, empty toilet paper or paper towel rolls, or non-toxic baskets. Pellets can be put in small hollow plastic balls with holes drilled in the sides so that they fall out when the guinea pig rolls it around.
We recommend a complete physical exam and fecal by an exotic animal veterinarian for all newly acquire pet guinea pigs. Thereafter, we recommend bi-annual exams and yearly fecal exams.
Spaying and neutering – if you plan on housing guinea pigs together, especially in mixed sex groups, spaying and neutering is highly recommended. Intact males housed together may fight.
Cecotrophs – These soft mucus-covered night time feces are consumed by your guinea pig and are an important source of vitamins and nutrition. Guinea pigs that are arthritic or overweight often cannot reach their rear ends to eat cecotrophs and can result in matting/fecal pasting on their fur.
COMMON MEDICAL PROBLEMS
GI Stasis – A decreased appetite or anorexia in combination with reduced or no feces is an emergency for your guinea pig. There are many causes of GI stasis and if it is not corrected in a timely fashion, it can lead to death. Please contact your vet as soon as you notice signs.
Dental Disease – Guinea pigs have constantly growing teeth. In some guinea pigs, their cheek teeth do not meet up properly and can result in abnormal growth of the teeth that can lead to ulcers, infection, abscess, and GI stasis. Signs include drooling, dropping food, being picky, and weight loss. Dental disease is very common and often requires lifelong teeth trims.
Vitamin C Deficiency – Vitamin C supplementation is critical for your guinea pig’s health as they cannot produce their own. Symptoms include decreased appetite, swollen/painful joints, poor dental development, bleeding from the gums, crusting around the eyes, and respiratory disease.
Bladder Stones – Bladder stones are common in guinea pigs and require surgical removal. Guinea pigs (especially males) with bladder stones are at risk for urethra obstruction if the stone gets stuck during urination. Signs include bloody urine as well as straining and vocalization during urination.
Heat Stress – Guinea pigs are very sensitive to temperatures over 85°F and may overheat. Signs include increased respiratory rate or effort, lethargy, drooling, and convulsions. If you suspect heat stress, please contact your veterinarian immediately.
Upper Respiratory Infection/Pneumonia – Symptoms include eye and nose discharge, labored/rapid breathing, lethargy, sneezing, coughing, and decreased appetite. Pneumonia can develop as a result of upper respiratory infections and can lead to death.
Breeding Complications – A female guinea pig should not be bred for the first time after 6 months of age. The bones of their pelvis fuse at 6 months and their pelvis will be narrow, resulting in the high risk of not being able give birth naturally.
Lice/Mites/Ringworm – Skin parasites and ringworm are commonly seen in newly acquired guinea pigs. Symptoms include itching, red skin, hair loss, and irritability.