Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs are not pigs at all! They got their name from Elizabethen times, where they were thought to look like little pigs and were each valued at one Guinea. First bred 3,000 years ago by the Incas, Guinea Pigs were brought by the Spanish from South America to Europe in the 16th century.

Modern day Guinea Pigs are popular pets, loved by both adults and children. They rank high among the social animals and prefer to live in groups, yet also appreciate human affection. This animal is crepuscular, which means that they are most active during the periods of dusk and dawn. They tend to lead busy lives; feeding, grooming, and moving around in their cages. The exercise requirements of a Guinea Pig are moderate and their grooming needs are low, making them an easy-to-care-for pet.

Information about Guinea Pigs

  • Average size: 8 to 11 inches
  • Average Weight: 1.65 to 2.65 lb
  • Fur Colors: Black and white, red and black, silver, red, and white, red and white
  • Grooming Needs: Low
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Good tolerance to Heat and Cold: Guinea Pigs are affected by extreme heat or cold
  • Good Pet: Yes
  • Safe with Children: Yes
  • Good with Other Guinea Pigs: Yes
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable for First-Time pet Owners: Yes
  • Training: They learn tricks with proper training
  • Exercise Needs: Moderate need
  • Weight Gain: Can become obese
  • Health Concerns: They tend to have diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary infections, and vitamin C deficiency
  • Average Life Span: 5 to 7 years

Physical Appearance of Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs are stout with short legs and a small head and equally small ears. The eyes of the Guinea Pig are located on the sides of the head to allow them to see in front and behind without straining. 

The front legs of Guinea Pigs have four toes each while the hind legs have 3 toes each. The front legs are usually shorter than the hind ones. It’s also worth noting that unlike other rodents, Guinea Pigs have no tails.

Temperament of Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs are docile pets that will rarely bite or scratch. The pet is also very timid and any frightening sound or movement makes it quickly run into hiding. Guinea Pigs enjoy living in groups because they are very social animals. A Guinea Pig constantly growls, purrs, or even squeaks to try to communicate to the other Guinea Pigs.  

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Training Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs are smart and can learn awesome tricks just like dogs or cats with proper training and patience. The best way to reinforce commands is by giving your pets rewards. 

When your Guinea Pig performs a trick correctly, give them a healthy treat and they’ll be more likely to repeat the same trick. Remember to keep training sessions short and fun so that your Guinea Pig doesn’t get bored.

A Guinea Pig can learn to stand on its hind legs, sit down, and spin on a wheel. Training sessions should be consistent and frequent for best results.

Their Compatibility with Children

Guinea Pigs are great pets for kids because they are funny and active which can entertain children. Before bringing home a Guinea Pig, teach the children on how to handle them correctly. Show them how using both hands. 

Since Guinea Pigs can live for about 8 years, it’s important to put into consideration that the kids can outgrow their interest in the pet. It is possible a parent may need to take care of the Guinea Pig if this happens.

The kids can feed the Guinea Pig but they shouldn’t be allowed to clean the cage because it requires attention to detail. If done incorrectly, you may end up having a cage full of sick Guinea Pigs due to poor hygiene.

Best Habitat for Guinea Pigs

The minimum size cage should measure 36 inches by 30 inches and a height of 18 inches. The materials used to make the cage can either be plastic, wire, or metal. The best temperature to keep the cage is 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Inside of the cage should be a smooth tray on the floor of the cage to protect your Guinea Pig from having leg injuries. Having a tray also makes cleaning easy because you can quickly remove the tray for cleaning and place it back into the cage.

The Guinea Pigs will need some kind of bedding. The bedding should be made of shredded paper or hardwood shavings. Avoid cedar bedding because they have a strong scent that could give your pet respiratory irritations.

You can also use towels to line the floor of the bedding and then place some fleece on top. Make sure that there aren’t any hanging strings that can tangle your pet and injure their legs.

A hay rack is also a good idea to have in the cage because it protects the hay from contamination with water, urine, and poop. Toys are also a must have in your Guinea Pig cage to help them play and exercise.

Guinea Pigs

Habitat Maintenance

If you use hay as bedding for your pet, replace it every morning because the Guinea Pig may also chew on the hay. Depending on what type of bedding you use, clean and reuse or replace when necessary. 

Clean the feeding bowls every day and wipe dry any urine on the floor of the cage. As you clean the bowls, discard any leftover food and water and replenish with fresh supplies to avoid contamination. 

On a weekly basis, the entire cage should be completely cleaned. First remove the pet(s), bowls, bedding, and tray. Thoroughly clean the cage using Guinea Pig safe disinfectants and some warm water. Tackle the corners where the pets tend to drop their waste. Clean the flooring tray and wipe it dry. 

Any toys and other accessories should also be cleaned or replaced. Once you’re done cleaning, spray a disinfectant before placing your pet back to the cage.

The Attention Requirements of Guinea Pigs

Guinea Pigs are generally cuddly pets that enjoy human contact. Guinea Pigs should be handled for at least a few minutes every day. As you handle the Guinea Pig, you can check them for any signs of illness.

The best way to handle a Guinea Pig is by placing one hand near its hind area while the other hand holds it from the mid-section of its upper body. Never hold your Guinea Pig using one hand because you risk dropping it and hurting it. It’s normal for the pet to jump or even run if it’s not used to handling but with time, it will enjoy being petted.

If you can, it would be great for their health to place your pet in an open room with toys it can use to exercise. Obesity is a common problem among Guinea Pigs and plenty of exercise time is necessary for their well-being.

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Health Issues

A healthy Guinea Pig has clear eyes, shiny fur, eats well, walks normally, and is active. As a precaution, it is a good idea to take your Guinea Pig for a full body and fecal examination every 6 months.  

Exercise is also a great way to keep your pet healthy because they tend to become obese especially if overfed. Here are some of the health problems to watch out for if you have a Guinea Pig.

Diarrhea/Gastrointestinal Stasis

Guinea Pigs have a very sensitive digestive system that gets irritated by drastic changes in diet. The pet may end up having loose stool. Another cause of diarrhea in Guinea Pigs is the presence of parasites such as coccidia in the digestive system. 

The imbalance of good bacteria in the intestinal tract slows down the digestion process and fills the tummy with gas which is painful for your pet.

A Guinea Pig with gastrointestinal stasis may also lack appetite, appears unhappy, and may lose weight. It’s possible to know when your pet has diarrhea because the poop tends to stick on the pet’s bottom and has a terrible smell.

If you notice signs of diarrhea on your Guinea Pig, seek medical attention from your vet because your pet could die. Avoid treating diarrhea with over the counter treatment because antibiotics are known to worsen diarrhea in Guinea Pigs.

Pneumonia

Pneumonia is the most common respiratory infection that afflicts Guinea Pigs. The illness is often caused by the Bordetella and Streptococcus bacteria. Most Guinea Pigs have these bacteria but only get sick if stressed by conditions such as overcrowding. Young Guinea Pigs are also susceptible to pneumonia.

Sick pets show signs of labored breathing, discharge from the eyes and the nose, wheezing, and sneezing. As soon as you realize your pet may have contracted pneumonia, visit your veterinarian for proper diagnosis because treatment is given depending on the causative bacteria.

Urinary Tract Infections

The most common urinary system related infections are stones in the urethra, bladder, or ureter. The stones may lead to a life threatening situation due to obstruction of internal organs. Here are some of the signs to look out for if your Guinea Pig has a urinary infection.

  • Hunched posture
  • Blood in urine
  • The pet urinates small amounts taking pauses as though in pain
  • Inability to urinate if obstruction of the bladder occurs
  • Lack of appetite

Urinary tract stones in Guinea Pigs are dangerous and should be treated immediately. Usually a veterinarian may have to perform a surgery on the pet to remove the stones.

Scurvy/Vitamin C Deficiency

Guinea Pigs cannot naturally produce their own Vitamin C. If they don’t eat foods rich in vitamin C, they may become sick. Vitamin C plays a very vital role in the body of Guinea Pigs without which they may contract scurvy. 

A Guinea Pig with a vitamin C deficiency shows the following signs.

  • Weak joints
  • Skin and gum infections
  • Lack of appetite
  • Swollen feet
  • Diarrhea

A sick Guinea Pig should be taken to a vet immediately because the illness can quickly lead to death. As a preventative measure, give them about 10 – 30 milligrams of Vitamin C each day. Most Guinea Pig pellets are enhanced with Vitamin C. 

If you aren’t feeding your pet on the commercial pellets, give them Vitamin C supplement either as a liquid or tablet. Avoid mixing the supplement with water because it loses its potency when mixed with water and left out for a long time.

Skin diseases

Most skin diseases are caused by external parasites such as lice, mites, fleas, and ticks. Ringworms also cause skin infections in Guinea Pigs and affected skin areas may develop itchiness and the fur may fall from the skin.

Overcrowding is also a major cause of external parasites in Guinea Pigs. Once you overcrowd the cage, the pets become stressed which exposes them to the risk of attack by parasites. The external parasites may cause so much discomfort to your pet that it could even have seizures. An infested pet should be taken to the vet for diagnosis and treatment.

General Body Grooming for Guinea Pigs

Bathing and Brushing

Guinea Pigs are clean and rarely need baths. Baths should be limited to about three times in a year because frequent baths can easily disrupt the natural bacteria and oils on the skin. 

Brushing of the fur is necessary to help distribute the natural oils on the skin evenly throughout the body. Short-furred Guinea Pigs should have their fur brushed approximately three times a week. The long-furred Guinea Pigs need daily brushing because their fur could easily tangle and make them uncomfortable.

When cleaning your Guinea Pig, avoid human based shampoos because they have harsh chemicals that will irritate your pet’s skin. Go for shampoos meant for Guinea Pigs and which are readily available at the pet stores.

Nail Trimming

If needed, clip your pet’s nails every 3 weeks making sure not to trim too close to the blood vessels. If by accident you injure a blood vessel during nail clipping, make sure to apply some cornstarch to stop the bleeding.

If you aren’t sure about how to trim the nails of your Guinea Pig, visit your vet who can do it for you. You could even ask your vet to teach you how to trim the nails at home without injuring your pet.

Guinea Pigs
rodent food

Feeding Guinea Pigs

Feed your Guinea Pig with commercial pellets meant for Guinea Pigs. The pellets should also contain vitamin C because unlike other rodents, Guinea Pigs aren’t able to produce Vitamin C on their own.

Hay should constitute the largest part of your Guinea Pig’s diet because it helps trim teeth and at the same time gives your pet dietary fiber. The front teeth of a Guinea Pig tend to grow throughout their lives and the only way to trim them is through the chewing action. Fiber is necessary for your pet because it aids in digestion.

Timothy grass makes the best hay for adult Guinea Pigs and can also be used as bedding. Other types of natural hays you can feed your pet include the Botanical hay, Oat hay, and Orchard grass. 

Alfalfa grass is also a great supplement to the diet of your pet but should only be given occasionally as a treat to reduce picky eating. If you have a pregnant Guinea Pig or small babies, then Alfalfa is the best for them because it’s highly nutritious and helps promote faster growth.

Feed your Guinea Pigs fruits such as melons, strawberries, and oranges. Citrus fruits are a great source of Vitamin C for your Guinea Pig. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale, and cabbages should also be part of your pets’ diet for proper nutrition. 

Clean water should always be available for your Guinea Pig in a sipper bottle. A sipper bottle is great because they won’t tip it over, and it is one less thing to clutter the cage with as it is attached to the side.

Feed your Guinea Pigs food in ceramic bowls because they’re heavy and not likely to topple over on to your Guinea Pig. Another option is to use stainless steel dishes that can be clipped on the cage preventing spillage of the food.

Related Questions:

Can I keep Guinea Pigs with rabbits?

Guinea Pigs and rabbits should never be kept together because rabbits harbor germs that can cause illness to Guinea Pigs. Rabbits are also bigger than Guinea Pigs and by accident may step on or kick the Guinea Pig and kill it.

Can Guinea Pigs live together?

Guinea Pigs are social and can live together peacefully. In some cases, the males in one cage may fight over the females. The best way to keep more than one Guinea Pig in one cage is having same sexes or having a male and a female as long as the male is neutered.

If you keep a male and a female without neutering the male, you may end up with many baby Guinea Pigs within a short time. Having so many baby Guinea Pigs in one cage is another problem entirely to deal with!

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