Care- the one thing that holds families and even societies together. Whether you are yet to get a guinea pig, or they are already in your family, you must know how to care for them. I am here to tell you, taking care of a human baby seems more familiar than taking care of a guinea pig. At least we’ve been watching about those babies in movies since the time we could remember!
So, to get you familiar with the care guide for guinea pigs, I composed this all-in-one article. Roping together all my own experiences, my mistakes and lessons learned from those mistakes, my research on the internet, and input from some veterinarians and animal welfare societies, I gift to you this guinea pig care guide for beginners. You can thank me later, now go ahead and get to know how to keep your buddies happy!
What is a Guinea Pig?
Well, it may sound cynical of me to assume you do not know what a guinea pig is. But still, if I should brag to my blogging buddies that I wrote an ultimate guide, I should include anything and everything about guinea pigs!
So, for the record, guinea pigs are incredibly cute little animals. They are rodents, yet ironically not the least bit as disgusting as sewage rats! More socially-engaged than any similar animal on earth, a guinea pig is the most desirable choice for a pet in my opinion! They are not conventional pets like cats or dogs. But definitely no way less than those choices in terms of their loyalty and love!
The first time my friend suggested that I get guinea pigs as pets, I had no idea what a guinea pig was. I was wondering why he would want me to get a pig from a West African nation. Well, I was wrong! I am telling you what my friend told you that very day. But you probably are smarter than me. Yet, to satisfy my obligation to you to convey all relevant material, I am telling you: guinea pigs are neither pigs nor from Guinea!
There are many different breeds of guinea pigs, read our complete guide to find out which one is the best fit for you.
Who Would be Happy With a Guinea Pig?
Well, the rather relevant question is “who wouldn’t be happy with a guinea pig?”. I’ll answer that in the next section. But to answer the question in hand, the demographics that would enjoy the company of a guinea pig is very broad.
Kids and teenagers would love having a guinea pig leash in their hand. Well, at the same time, they give a conducive environment for the kids to grow their emotions responsibly. Nevertheless, you should practice the utmost caution because guinea pigs are vulnerable to injuries from irresponsible handling!
As emotional support animals, the eligibility of guinea pigs is unmatched by any other. They are easier to carry, and much more fun to hang out with, thanks to their squeaky nibbly cute little sounds!
The point is, guinea pigs are good for all extremes and medians! If you are lonely, the level of social and emotional connection guinea pigs provide would be a great solace for your heart. If you are very social, you would find these little babies reaffirming of your way of life!
Who Would Not be Happy With a Guinea Pig?
The following are the people who would not enjoy the company of a guinea pig:
- Anybody who does not want a regular connection with any form of life
- Anybody who is allergic to hay because it needs to be hay, hay, hay everywhere when you have a guinea pig!
- Anybody who does not have access to any outdoor spaces for the downtime of their pals!
- Anybody who lives in no vicinity to a veterinarian who treats guinea pigs
Where to Get a Guinea Pig?
Guinea pigs are available everywhere! Up for adoption in clinics, in animal welfare organizations, up for purchase in breeder societies. These are the reliable sources that you can get a guinea pig from. Although, you are not restricted to these choices.
Guinea pigs get pregnant as early as six weeks of age in their lifetime. So many people who buy or rescue guinea pigs do so only to find out that their young pet is already pregnant! Obviously, they do not want an extra litter of baby guinea pigs when they are already beginners. So people are always looking to find homes for the unexpected litter of baby guinea pigs. You can find such people everywhere!
How Many Guinea Pigs Should You Get?
You may think that choosing the number of guinea pigs to buy would not even be an issue. It is obvious that we want to spend less and get more benefits. So the apparent choice would be to buy one guinea pig, right? WRONG! Guinea pigs are social animals. It never gets said enough even though I’ve mentioned that statement dozens of times already on this site. They need connection. They need pals to hang out with, besides an owner! So it is vital that you own at least two guinea pigs.
A weird yet heart-warming fact: It is against the law to own only a single guinea pig in Switzerland. God, I love the Swiss. When every country in the world is struggling to enact legislation that guarantees human rights, the Swiss have already enacted laws to protect the right to emotional stability for guinea pigs!
The key to keeping any pet animal happy lies in our efforts to imitate their natural habitat. Keeping this fact in mind will make sure you easily understand all animals and their respective needs.
I am telling this in this section because understanding it helps you understand why guinea pigs cannot stay in solitary. In the wild, they are constantly exposed to a wide range of predators. Their life hangs in the balance. Their survival depends on how smart they devise plans to escape their predators. Eagles, hawks, snakes, vultures, wolves, wild dogs, and many other vicious predators will not think twice before ruthlessly killing and eating these cute little guinea pigs. So the guinea pigs would prefer the upper hand that they would get in “strength in numbers”.
Nevertheless, the fear of being killed engulfs their hearts and minds every single moment of days and nights. As a result, they do not even close their eyes in their sleep! In such a fragile state of mind, with fear wrapping the heart, soul, and the body, they could find solace in some company!
When these “strength in numbers” and “solace when in some company” concepts got etched in the brains of guinea pigs through generations, those became their natural traits! So now you have a clear picture of how guinea pigs evolved to be such socially connected animals.
Since guinea pigs roamed in the wild in groups of 2-7, it is advisable to have guinea pigs as pets in similar strength.
Choosing Guinea Pigs Based on Their Sexes
Like said earlier, guinea pigs attain sexual maturity within the first six weeks of their life. So not even mother is safe from getting impregnated by her own just-born kids. That said, the other factor in choosing sexes of guinea pigs is with respect to the difference in emotions in males and females.
Having more than one male together is widely ill-advised because of their aggressive behavior. Territorial fights and turf wars would be inevitable when more than one male is in a group.
In terms of females, you can have as many individuals as you want to.
When having males and females together, there are two types of people who do that. One, you are someone who purposely wants an extra litter of baby guinea pigs. Two, you are someone who wants females and males together, but you don’t want an extra litter of baby guinea pigs. If you are the first type, go ahead and have males and females together without any worries. You can confirm pregnancy in the female within a week of being together. If you belong to the other type, you MUST get the male neutered.
Another point to note would be the period of time which is necessary for neutering to take effect. For about 6 weeks after neutering, the neutered male still could be potent of impregnating females.
Choosing the Right Habitat for Your Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are not couch potatoes. They roam around, jump, play, take nap in different places, and even ‘popcorn’. Well, if you are wondering what popcorning is, let me begin by telling that it is good news. If your guinea pig popcorns, it means he/she is happy with where they are. Popcorning is the gesture where the guinea pig hops in the same place accompanied by squeaky happy sounds!
Carl over at Hutch and Cage wrote a great article about guinea pig popcorning. So, if you want to learn more about this interesting fenomenon check out the post Carl wrote here.
So, coming back to the point, guinea pigs need SPACE! All animal welfare societies recommend against keeping guinea pigs in cages all the time. In terms of space needed, the cages for carrying during transport should be at least 120cm in length, 80 cm in breadth, and 80 cm in height. These are the dimensions as recommended by the BlueCross for carrying two guinea pigs while traveling. In terms of regular habitat, you should obviously have at least double the dimensions as mentioned above. Nevertheless, you should not hesitate to give the maximum possible space for your furry pals!
The cage should be chosen with more than just the dimensions as parameters. The material should not be very rough on its surface. Guinea pigs are known to nibble on anything and everything in sight. When they nibble on cages made of coarse wood, it could injure them leading to bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.
The bottom of the cage on which the guinea pigs walk and run should never be perforated or grill type or anything other than solid. Guinea pigs are like babies literally. These babies have very sensitive feet which could get hurt easily while walking on a surface that is not solid. For example the cages of birds where even the bottom is identical to the walls. This is why I suggest you buy habitats from shops that have people who know what they are selling. Else, you may end up in some pet store that doesn’t understand the difference between any bird cage and a proper guinea pig cage.
When having the guinea pig habitat indoors, it is best to leave the lid open. Nevertheless, when kept outdoors, you should leave the lid closed to prevent an attack from a predator.
Cages are available in several models. When buying cages that have more than one level, make sure that there is no possibility of your guinea pig falling down from the higher floors. As stated earlier, guinea pigs are like babies. They are to be treated like fragile products. They are vulnerable to several injuries if proper care is not taken in choosing their habitat.
You can read our post dedicated to choosing the right cage and location, to learn even more.
This part is quite important and also the part where most guinea pig owners make mistakes.
Bedding is essential to keep your guinea pigs comfortable and cozy. But when done with the wrong materials, it could lead to lethal effects on your guinea pigs.
Most owners find it easy to make the bedding out of newspapers. Of course, it makes sense. Newspaper is cheap, easily available, and not necessary for more than once. Well, I don’t deny that newspaper is a fine and easy solution to the bedding necessities of your guinea pigs. But what I do disagree is with claims that it is the best available solution.
Some people do not mind shelling out money in buying their guinea pigs an actual bed. Well, small pet beds are available in mattress stores. But they may be good choices for dogs or cats. But not for guinea pigs. This is because guinea pigs find it difficult to walk in surfaces that give extreme cushioning. Nevertheless, the cleaning will be a nightmare!
So I have ruled out the cheapest as well as the most expensive options of bedding to be ill-advised. You may ask now then what should be used to make the bedding of guinea pigs.
Before I tell you that, let me also tell you the two other things that people misconstrue to be good bedding materials. It is cedar and pine shavings. NEVER use either of those.
A great bedding alternative is Kaytee Extreme Odor Control Pet Bedding, check it out on Amazon here. If you want to see other alternatives and read more about how to choose the perfect bedding, read this post next.
In What Temperature Should You Keep Your Guinea Pigs?
It is essential for your guinea pigs well-being that you keep them in a temperature in which they are comfortable living in. They prefer it in moderation- neither too cold nor too hot. And NEVER expose them to direct sunlight or direct cold winds. Maybe the early morning sunlight and the bleak sunlight at dusk would not hurt your guinea pigs. But even in that case, you should be sure that there are no wind currents that are too cold.
According to several veterinarians and animal welfare societies, 65-75 degrees Fahrenheit is the optimum temperature range for guinea pigs to live in. Going below that range could cause respiratory problems. And going above that range could lead to strokes. So according to the temperature of your neighborhood, you must be able to regulate the room temperature either with a radiator or an air conditioner- whichever is appropriate.
What and When to Feed a Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs basically eat anything and everything in their sight. They are rodents, hence their teeth never stop growing in their lifetime. So as a naturally evolved mechanism to keep the teeth growth in check, they chew on anything! But that does not mean that you should let them.
So, cutting right to the chase: the answer to this question is in four parts. The major part of guinea pig diet should be hay. The second part should be fresh water. The third part is constituted by fruits and vegetables. The fourth part is the supplement pellets.
This is a tricky concept. Hay is very cheap and abundantly available. But there are also several types of hay available. And you should know which to choose. Timothy hay is regarded to be the best choice for guinea pigs for a regular diet. Within timothy hay, there are types based on the order of their cut. The first cut is gonna be rough as hell. The third cut is gonna be fine as heaven. So the second cut, which is neither hell nor heaven but just earth, will be the best choice. The second cut is neither too coarse nor too fine. Neither too hard to chew nor too easy to swallow. So it gives just the right amount of nutrients that are necessary.
In terms of quantity, there are NO terms! Short of drowning your guinea pig in the hay, you can surround them with hay anywhere they are probable to be present!
Personally, I always make sure that I have a big pack of Kaytee Timoty Hay (Amazon affilaite link) at hand, which is a high quality Timothy hay, ready for my little pals at any time!
Some readers wonder if the water is more important than fruits and vegetables in terms of quantity. The answer is yes, water is more important. Fruits and vegetables are supposed to be treats in small quantities in less frequent intervals. But water should be made abundantly available to guinea pigs. I’d describe guinea pigs as ‘water-monsters’. Because they drink, drink, and drink all day any day!
And it goes without saying that guinea pigs need fresh water just as much as we do. Contaminated water could have adverse effects on guinea pigs, much worse than it could have on humans!
3. Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and Vegetables: Yeah, the never-ending bitter relationship between man and shopping for fruits and veggies, continues here too! Fruits and vegetables are less of a necessity and more of an abundance of caution. Not all vital nutrients can be provided by hay and supplement pills. Nevertheless, fruits and vegetables can be used as treats when training guinea pigs to do actions that we want them to do.
Vegetables That You Should Give Your Guinea Pigs
- Mint leaves
Although there are other veggies that your pet would enjoy, these are the healthier choices.
Fruits That You Should Give Your Guinea Pigs
4. Supplements in Pellets
Vitamin C is the one essential nutrient that guinea pigs cannot get from their diet. There are supplement pellets available everywhere in veterinary clinics, pharmacies, and on e-commerce sites. I usually buy the Kaytee Forti Diet Pro Pellets that’s available on Amazon.com
How to Feed Guinea Pigs?
Obviously, there are more than one ways of feeding guinea pigs. But the one thing that is commonly needed in feeding guinea pigs water or food is the container. You can’t just use a bowl to fill the contents. You need a bottle. This helps in making sure that the abundant amounts of contents do not get contaminated with flying dust and waste.
When to Feed Guinea Pigs?
Guinea pigs do not really have a specific meal-plan or timetable in eating. That is why automatic feeders with large quantities are optimal. So that you do not have to worry about forgetting to feed your guinea pig! Nevertheless, they are not gonna indefinitely cover the needs. There are several products online which can hold enough food and water for two days.
If you want to read more about feeding your guinea pig, the best vitamin C supplement and a lot more – read this post.
Hygiene: Cage Cleaning and Grooming
Guinea pigs are cute, but not very well-educated with hygiene. They don’t care if their home is clean enough. But their home is in your home. So keeping their home clean falls under your turf!
Cage Cleanliness Tips
Of course, the cage is filled with hay, making it tougher to clean. In terms of cleaning, you have to do it frequently. Of course, you need to approach the problem of hygiene differently for each breed and age of guinea pig. But the frequency of cleaning the cage of a guinea pig is widely common and befitting every variant. You have to clean the cage every day. A namesake brush-off is to be done every day. And a thorough cleaning once in a week.
There are insecticides that you can use to kill any parasitic infestation in the habitat. Once in a week using such chemicals to clear the hutch and run of such parasites is important for the health of the guinea pig.
Grooming of guinea pigs should vary based on breeds and hair length. Short-haired guinea pigs do not need to be groomed every day. That bodes well for guinea pigs with coarse hair as well. On the other hand, there are hairless breeds of guinea pigs which do not require grooming of their hair at all. Although keeping their nails in check is not crossed off your list.
The long-haired breeds of guinea pigs are high-maintenance! You have to pretty much groom their hair every single day if you want to prevent an infestation in them. Nevertheless, their long hair is their specialty. No offense to other breeds, but to me playing with the long-haired breeds of guinea pigs is entertainment that never gets old!
Interacting With Your Guinea Pig
As said earlier, guinea pigs are social animals. You can’t just buy them and put them in a cage, feed them regularly and forget about them. If that is your idea of having a guinea pig in your family, I suggest you drop the idea. You should interact with them regularly. Not just to talk for the sake of talking, but with emotions!
Interaction can take several forms. The best of which is to pet them. Guinea pigs love to be petted. But before you can advance to that level where they are comfortable with you petting them, you should gain their trust. Understandably, guinea pigs are preys to several predators- making them overly cautious and frightened even with the lightest of threats. Even a sudden car honk could terrify them.
Be careful while lifting them. Lifting them by holding only their hands or feet could very well lead to bone displacements. Nevertheless, you should remember that guinea pigs do turn aggressive if someone they do not trust tries to approach them. You may feed them with all the delicious treats, give them all the toys they need, but they still have no idea who you are or why they are with you. So, establish a rapport and trust before you approach.
Start by talking to them. They can remain in the cage, you can talk from outside. If they don’t turn away from you, if they run towards your side of the cage, it could be taken as an expression of trust.
Next move can be to take the outdoors with you. To note at this point, you should always monitor them while outdoors to keep them safe from predators. If they don’t run away from you or hide in some box or tunnel, they probably are interested in you. After all this, you may proceed gradually and gently pet them.
So that is it. A guinea pig care guide for beginners! Happy piggy-ing!