Larger than hamsters, but smaller than rabbits, guinea pigs can weigh a couple of pounds and generally live for five to seven years. The three most common breeds of guinea pig are the Smooth-Coated (short, glossy fur), the Abyssinian (fluffy tufts of hair all over the body) and the Peruvian with long, silky hair that flows to the ground.
Guinea pigs make wonderful companions. They are docile rodents that rarely bite. They make great (ecological) lawn mowers and are known for squeaking with delight when seeing their favourite humans. Guinea pigs are excellent pets for older children who have mastered proper animal handling techniques.
We recommend adopting a guinea pig from a shelter or animal rescue group.
Guinea Pig's Social Life
Guinea pigs are social animals that should live in small groups. You can keep two or more females together or, if you want two males, it’s smart to choose two babies from the same litter. Since guinea pigs, like all rodents, multiply rapidly, keeping males and females together is not a good idea. You can have male guinea pigs neutered to solve some of the issues related to raging (male) hormones.
Housing & Exercise
When you first get your pet, you’ll need to buy a cage, toys and treats and allow for the cost of food, litter and bedding material. As a rule of thumb, guinea pigs need a minimum of four square feet of cage space per guinea pig, but please try to get as large a cage as possible. The cage needs a solid-bottom (unless you want them to mow the grass for you). Wire floors can irritate their feet. Never use a glass aquarium, due to the poor ventilation that it provides.
Guinea pigs are very susceptible to heatstroke and changes in temperature (draughts), so bear this in mind when finding the right place for the cage. Line the bottom of the cage with newspaper and then hardwood shavings or some other form of safe bedding, such as grass hay. Do not use cedar or pine chips — the oils they contain can be dangerous to pets.
All guinea pigs need a cave for sleeping and resting, a box or flowerpot will do. Guinea pigs also love to hide when they play and will appreciate cardboard tubes, plastic pipes or a flower pot; bricks and rocks for climbing will also be much appreciated. Make sure the toys you provide are safe with no sharp edges or old plastic that can break, etc.
Remove soiled bedding, droppings and stale food from the cage daily. Clean the cage completely once a week by replacing dirty bedding and scrubbing the bottom of the cage with warm, soapy water. Be sure everything’s dry before putting in fresh bedding.
Once you and your guinea pigs are used to each other, you can exercise them by allowing them to run around in a small room or enclosed area. Carefully check the room or area for any openings from which the guinea pigs can escape, get lost and possibly end up hurt. Indoors, guinea pigs really should be supervised when they are loose because they will chew on anything in their paths—including electrical wires.
Veterinary Care & Health
Veterinary care is a crucial part of being responsible for your guinea pig. Make sure your pets have at least an annual check up. If you think your guinea pig is sick, don’t delay visiting your vet. Common signs that something isn’t right include sneezing, coughing, diarrhoea and lethargy. Guinea pigs are also susceptible to external parasites such as mites and lice. If you think your pet has this problem, take it to the veterinarian.
Food & Drink
Guinea pigs need grass-hay and fresh water at all times. The hay is great for the digestive system, and will also satisfy your pet’s need to gnaw. Unlike other animals, guinea pigs cannot manufacture Vitamin C so make sure your guinea pigs get enough of this essential nutrient every day. A quarter of an orange will do, but you can also include some fruits and veggies that are high in C to their daily ration of fresh foods (kale, dandelion greens or strawberries). Offer half a handful of veggies and a slice of fresh fruit per guinea pig per day. This can include grapes, cucumbers, corn, peas, carrots and pears. Always make sure to clean up any leftover fresh food before it spoils. Commercial guinea pig pellets should make up the bulk of your pet’s diet. Feed your guinea pigs twice daily, in the morning and in the evening.
Guinea pigs’ teeth grow continuously, just like those of rabbits. It is thus important that you provide something to gnaw on at all times. Branches and twigs from untreated trees will work, as will any small piece of wood that hasn’t been treated with chemicals.
Guinea pigs are very conscientious about grooming themselves, but brushing them on a regular basis will help keep their coat clean and remove any loose hairs. Long-haired guinea pigs should be brushed daily in order to prevent tangles and knots from forming.
It’s crucial that you get your guinea pigs used to you and to being handled. Start by feeding them small treats. When they’re comfortable with that, you can carefully pick up one pig at a time. Reach one hand under his tummy and with the other, support his back legs – this will make him feel secure and he will be less likely to scratch. Then lift him up to your chest which gives him a sense of security. Hold him for up to 20 minutes. When he starts to squirm it is time to put him back in his cage.