Caring for Guinea Pigs
Perhaps because of the perilous misconception that guinea pigs, or cavies, make great “starter pets” for children, these fragile animals, along with other small exotic animals, such as hedgehogs, sugar gliders, prairie dogs, jerboas, and spiny mice, have become popular “pocket pets.” Despite their popularity, guinea pigs aren’t worth as much as a bag of dog food to the stores that peddle them. Pet stores’ negligent policies often result in cruel mistreatment of guinea pigs. PETA has received reports of pet store managers’ instructing their staff not to seek veterinary care for sick guinea pigs, guinea pigs’ being shipped to pet stores when they were too young to be weaned, guinea pigs with fungus around their eyes and noses, guinea pig habitats teeming with mites, and guinea pigs’ dying from mistreatment and neglect.
How to Spot Neglect
Look for the following signs of neglect:
- swollen feet, runny eyes, lethargy, rashes, sores, bruises, hair loss, lice, or matted fur
- filthy cages, cages in direct sunlight, or cages with mesh floors, which trap small feet and are uncomfortable
- room temperature below 70 or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit—guinea pigs can easily develop respiratory infections if the temperature drops below 65 degrees Fahrenheit
- bedding made of cedar or pine shavings, which are toxic to small animals—if wood shavings are used, they should be aspen
- a lack of food or water or dirty water
See PETA’s factsheet “Pet Shops” for more information on alerting authorities to possible abuse or neglect.
If you’re willing to open your home to one or, preferably, two guinea pigs, please adopt from a shelter or rescue group—two are listed below. Before you do, be prepared to care for your guinea pig for as long as seven years or more and to spend about $20 per week on food, hay, bedding, etc. An exotic-animal veterinarian will need to see the guinea pig annually and can also help with regular nail trimming—a must. If you are housing a male and female together, you must also first have them sterilized. However, spay/neuter surgeries are more dangerous to perform on small animals, so it is preferable to house females with other females and males with no more than one other male—three or more males together will fight.
Provide your guinea pig with the following:
- High-quality, soft timothy hay for nesting and snacking—for young, pregnant, or nursing guinea pigs, alfalfa hay is recommended
- Timothy hay-based guinea-pig food pellets (not rabbit pellets), in a heavy food bowl
- Small amounts of fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, apples, and alfalfa hay, and a small salt block (no sweets, meats, or dairy products)
- A source of vitamin C, which is available in various forms from pet supply stores—some commercial guinea pig food, such as Oxbow’s food, which can be found at www.oxbowhay.com, comes stabilized with vitamin C, and kale, cabbage, melons, apples, or vitamin supplements are also safe sources of vitamin C
- A gnawing log, such as an untreated fruit-tree branch, to wear down incisors
- A cage that is at least 30 inches wide, 36 inches high, and 36 inches long should suffice for one guinea pig, but you should make it as large as you can, preferably with two levels for exploring, little ramps, and a “bedroom” made out of an upside-down box with a cut-out doorway—since guinea pigs do not climb or jump, they can also live in open enclosures as long as other animals, including small children, will not have access.
- Daily cage or enclosure cleanings, removing all substrate and wiping the floor with an antiseptic cleaner and then drying with a paper towel
- A brick, rough stone, or cinder block for wearing down nails
- Daily exercise in a safe, securely enclosed room
- Fresh water in a bottle with a sipper tube—check the tube daily for clogs
- Weekly combing and brushing—essential for long-haired angoras
Cavy Spirit Guinea Pig Rescue and Adoption 650-571-1722