These are very popular animals to keep as pets as they have a docile temperament, are relatively clean, don’t tend to bite or scratch and are widely available. They are social animals and have a tendency to live in groups. They eat only plant food and generally live for 4-5 years. Guinea pigs can be trained by their owners eg. they can be toilet trained or to come on demand and even retrieve toys.
Handling and restraint:
Guinea pigs rarely violently struggle when they are being picked up but often make a “squeal of protest”, which sounds like a pig squealing. A guinea pig should be picked up using both hands, one under the chest and abdomen, and the other supporting its hindquarters. Adults and pregnant females should receive total support gently and firmly. One of the most desirable features of guinea pigs as pets, is that they rarely bite when being handled or restrained.
Guinea pigs can be housed within enclosures made of wire, stainless steel, durable plastic or glass.
Bedding must be clean, non-toxic, absorbent, relatively dust-free and easy to replace. Pine wood shavings and recycled paper kitty litter are preferred bedding materials. Sawdust should be avoided because it tends to collect within the external genitalia of males, forming impaction. Cedar shavings should be avoided because although it has a pleasant odour, this same odour is toxic to guinea pigs. Straw should also be avoided as it stays wet giving them skin conditions and they will often eat the straw which will make them ill. We have trialled several types of bedding and found that Woodypet Animal Bedding made from pine is the best – we use it in our shop and recommend it because it absorbs the urine and odours better than any of the others we trialled.
Guinea pigs seem most comfortable when they are not exposed to excessive noise, needless excitement and other stresses. Sudden movement should also be avoided. They have two reactions when startled by a loud noise or sudden movement, or when placed in a strange environment. They may “freeze” completely motionless (for up to twenty minutes), or they may panic. Panic involves erratic running and leaping, often accompanied by shrill squealing.
As a general rule of thumb, the enclosure and all cage furniture should be cleaned and disinfected once weekly. Food and water containers should be cleaned and disinfected every day. More than one set of containers should be maintained and the soiled set washed thoroughly and left to air dry completely. It is important that guinea pigs are kept clean and dry as they are very susceptible to skin conditions if left wet.
Food and Water:
Good-quality food and fresh, clean water must be readily available at all times. Commercially available guinea pig food mixes are available and provide all of the essential nutrients, as long as it is fresh and wholesome when offered. (Rabbit pellets are not equivalent to Guinea pig food mixes.) Unlike most mammals (including rabbits), guinea pigs require a high level of the vitamin, folic acid and cannot manufacture their own Vitamin C and must therefore receive them from an outside source. Guinea pig mixes generally contain 18-20% protein, 16% fibre and about 1 gram of Vitamin C per kilogram of the food. Even when the fresh pellets are properly stored in a cool, dry place, approximately half of the vitamin C content is degraded and lost within 6 weeks of manufacture. Therefore, the diet should be supplemented with Vitamin C as follows: 200 mg of ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) should be added to about one litre of drinking water, made up fresh every 12 hours or a single guinea pig should be offered one handful of kale or cabbage or ¼ orange daily. It is recommended that fresh greens and small amounts of fruit be offered daily with several precautions: these items should not exceed10-15% of the daily diet and the fresh items must be thoroughly washed to avoid pesticide residues and possible bacterial contamination.
All foods should be provided in heavy ceramic bowls that resist tipping over. The sides of the bowls should be high enough to keep bedding and faecal pellets out of the food or they should be elevated slightly above the bedding.
Water is most easily made available and kept free from contamination by providing it in one or more water bottles equipped with “sipper” tubes. Guinea pigs tend to contaminate and clog their water bottles more than any other pet rodent by chewing the end of the sipper tube and “backwashing” food particles into it. For this reason, all food and water containers should be cleaned and disinfected daily.
Guinea pigs tend to be creatures of habit and do not tolerate changes in the presentation, taste, odour, texture or form of their food and water. Pet owners should avoid making radical changes in the food and water containers. Any changes in the food itself should be made gradually. Failure to do so usually results in the guinea pigs’ refusing food and water, which can lead to disease. Wooden chews are essential for the wellbeing of their teeth.
Hair loss or thinning of the hair is a common problem of female guinea pigs that have been repeatedly bred. These sows tend to lose hair with each successive pregnancy.
Heat Stress (Heat Stroke):
Guinea pigs are especially susceptible to heat stroke, particularly those that are overweight and/or heavily furred. Signs of heat stroke include panting, slobbering, weakness, refusal to move about, delirium, convulsions and eventually death. Heat stressed guinea pigs should be immediately sprayed or bathed in cool water and advice sought from a veterinarian.
Prevention of heat stroke involves providing adequate shade from the sun (if guinea pigs are housed outdoors) and adequate ventilation (if housed indoors). A continuous light mist or spray of water and/or fan operating over a container of ice can be directed at a guinea pig within its enclosure to lower the air temperature, whether the guinea pig is housed indoors or outdoors.
Mite and Lice Infestation:
Lice and mites are the most common external parasites of guinea pigs. Lice are tiny, wingless, flattened insects that live within the hair coat. Both the adults and their eggs are found attached to individual hairs. Mite infestations usually cause intense scratching and significant hair loss. Both of these diseases can be avoided by using small animal Mite and Lice Spray according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Female guinea pigs reach maturity at 2-3 months and males at 3-4 months. If you plan on breeding your guinea pigs, you should start doing so before the female reaches 8 months of age as the pelvis will not separate to give birth in an older female. Guinea pigs are pregnant for approximately 65 days and have litters of 3-6. The young can be weaned off their mother at 5-6 weeks of age.
* The information in this care sheet is intended as a helpful general guide only.
Yippeeio Pet & Aquarium Centre is an Accredited Member of the Pet Industry Association and abides by its Code of Practice.