Eat, Hay, Love: 9 Things you Need to Know About Owning Guinea Pigs
Have you been thinking about adopting a guinea pig? There’s actually a fair amount of consideration that needs to take place before you set out to bring one home to your family. In this post we’re going to outline some important things to keep in mind if you’re considering becoming a guinea pig parent.
When we brought our guinea pig Patrice home from the RSPCA Adoption Centre it was a very exciting time. So to ensure that it’s as fun an adventure for you, here are some insider tips from us!
9 Things you Need to Know About Guinea Pigs
A guinea pig needs a lot of room to run around. Make sure you house your guinea pig in a large hutch – as large as possible! The floor of the hutch should be smooth, as wire cage floors can hurt your their feet. A clean layer of hay makes great bedding and a healthy snack.
Guinea pigs are sensitive to changes in temperature, so it is best to keep them inside the house. If your guinea pig enclosure is outside, it should be sheltered from the weather and it is very important that it’s snake, dog, and cat-proof.
Guinea pigs are hind-gut fermenters; they are like little horses! As such, they have fairly strict dietary requirements. Guinea pigs require an unlimited source of fresh grass hay (Patrice loves Timothy hay). This is very important for their digestive and dental health.
Your guinea pig will also need a small serving of high-quality guinea pig pellets and a constant supply of fresh water. Avoid any pellets with dried fruit and nuts, as these are too sugary.
Guinea pigs, like humans, get their vitamin C from their diet, so they need a portion of (washed) fresh vegetables (and occasional fruit treats) every day. Patrice has a small veggie snack morning and night – she wheeks loudly whenever she hears the fridge door open!
Unusual Eating Habits
Guinea pigs are coprophagic. This means they eat their own droppings. Coprophagia is important for your guinea pigs’ digestive health, so if you see them eating their poo, don’t judge!
To keep them fit and healthy, you guinea pig will need a well-supervised daily exercise in a large area, free from dangers and predators (like chewable electricity cords and cats). Hiding vegetable treats can make floor-time fun!
You will need to clean your guinea pig’s enclosure every day, as well as washing their food and water bowls/bottles. (Heavy ceramic bowls are great as they can’t be flipped over by an excited guinea pig). If your pig gets a bit smelly, you can give them a bath in warm water using a small amount of baby shampoo (recommended by Patrice’s vet).
We take Patrice to a guinea pig specialist vet every six months for a check-up. It’s important to check the teeth, weight, eyes, ears and general health of your guinea pig. Guinea pigs are very good at hiding when something is wrong, so if you notice a change in behaviour, weight, bowel movements or appetite, it’s a good idea to take them straight to the vet.
Unless they are desexed, keep male and female guinea pigs separate! A female guinea pig can become pregnant as young as four weeks old. Also, if your guinea pig is older than six months, pregnancy can lead to fatal complications.
Hair and Beauty
If your guinea pig has long hair (like Patrice, a sheltie) you will need to brush them every day and cut their hair periodically. We use a beard comb on Patrice’s flowing locks! She also needs her nails clipped. You can buy pet nail clippers at your local pet supply store, or you can use human toenail clippers.
Guinea pigs are herd animals and are happier with other pigs for companionship. Patrice is an exception; she doesn’t play well with other guinea pigs and it was a condition of her adoption that we house her by herself.
It is important to handle your pig every day and spend lots of time with them. Your guinea pig needs a safe, peaceful environment – they are a prey animal, so loud noises are very scary!
While guinea pigs are great pets for children, young children need to be supervised when handling and caring for them. If you are gentle with your guinea pig, it will reward you by purring like a kitten!
Do you have any additional questions for us about buying and caring for a guinea pig? Just as us in the comments below.