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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.

Adoption

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

Resources

Cavy Spirit Guinea Pig Rescue and Adoption 650-571-1722

Guinea Pig Adoption Network (GPAN)

GuineaPigs.Info: Guinea Pig Info You Can Rely On

The Humane Society of the United States: How to Care for Guinea Pigs

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  • Lucy says:

    Yes, guinea pigs CAN jump. My curious guinea pig somehow managed to jump out of his open-top cage and broke his teeth in the fall! We took him for an X-ray and luckily nothing else was broken, his teeth grew back quickly and now he’s fine… but his cage now has a lid!

  • Elliott says:

    I am about to adopt a guinea pig. Male he’s black brown and white his name is Elliott he’s neutered and will be living in a 2 by 4 cage by himself. What toys and such can I give him to keep him entertained while im away at school? and what do you say about fleece bedding??

  • Amanda says:

    I have a guinea pig named Louie. Everytime I come home I whistle and he squeaks right back when he sees me, hates fruit (runs away from oranges and strawberries) but loves vegetables. Funny that it says guinea pigs don’t jump or climb, but I had bought a wooden home for my guinea pig and he jumps on-top of it constantly and loves sitting up there. Unfortunately, I have been having trouble with his water bottle where it leeks everywhere at random times, soaking his entire cage bedding, this is about the third time I’ve bought him new water bottles of different makers, size and price range and they all haven’t made a difference. Is this normal, any suggestions?

  • Guinea crazy says:

    My family always tended to get pets like guinea piggies from breeders but now it seems easier getting them from the Pets at home stores or adopting them from people who can’t keep them. :)

  • K says:

    We recently adopted a male guinea pig we named Elvis for our classroom and I havea question about temperature. Is it ok to leave the gua in the unheated classroom overnight?

  • bob says:

    A guinea pig needs to have a guinea pig companion (recommend the same gender unless you want about 50 more) at all times. If one dies, you need to either give the other to, or get a new one from, someone in the same situation, or buy a new one if you want to continue having them for a few years.

    Guinea pigs interact well with all ages, so it’s perfectly ok to have an old guinea pig with an adult one and a baby. The younger one will not be treated well if the cage is small.

    As with any pet, you should make sure to watch your children’s interaction with them (ensure that they aren’t being rough) and make sure that somebody feeds them. If you do that, then any pet is a good starter, though I would recommend one that’s cheaper and won’t be attached to its owner if you give it to someone else, such as a spider or scorpion. If you must have one that can be held, get hamsters, as they only live for two years, which is usually around the time kids get bored with them.

    Guinea pigs need 24/7 access to food, water, and timothy hay. Alfalfa is bad for them unless young or pregnant. They also need a vitamin C supplement. They are prone to diabetes, so fruit needs to be treated similar to cookies in humans. Cabbage and head lettuce gives them gas, but otherwise doesn’t hurt them as a treat. They are picky with foods.

    Their shelter must be 6 square feet, plus 2 square feet for every guinea pig. In other words, a minimum of 8 feet^2 for one guinea pig. The small cages that pet stores sell are ok for very young guinea pigs; the previous measurements are for when they get to be about 8 inches long. I would recommend a rabbit cage, as it’s bigger for multiple guinea pigs. Also, multiple-level cages are ok, but at least one level needs to be 3’x3′ or more.

    They do NOT need annual check-ups. They should have one maybe every 3 years unless you’re rich. Their nails are easy to trim yourself. I trim mines’ nails with human nail clippers. Just be extremely careful. Also, check them yourself for lice, skin conditions (the bald spot behind the ears is normal), ear conditions, and healthy teeth every week. Also, brush the long-haired ones. The short-haired ones generally like brushing too.

    It is, in my opinion, a good idea to tell the manager of pet stores some info that they might not know about guinea pig care. Most are actually really good other than having solitary ones when there’s a gap between shipments/litters. The whole “I’ve seen this/that” is not a good representation of the actual treatment, especially since the manager of the store is the one that determines care. Shelters are still nice.

    Keep in mind that guinea pigs are capable of only basic emotion (content, pain/hunger, anger, and that’s it) and do not display any form of mourning when their companions die.

  • Michiko says:

    Overall, this is really great information. I do agree that guinea pigs can jump. They also will climb on huts to get out of their enclosures and go exploring. I would highly recommend not feeding your guinea pig any cabbage or any vegetable in the cabbage family because guinea pigs are prone to gas build-up, which can lead to bloat if not caught early. And kale should be a rare treat due to the high calcium content, which can lead to bladder stones. But kudos on giving great information overall.

  • Jamie says:

    We just added to our family a precious solid white guinea pig. He is already spoiled and loves for someone to talk to him all the time.

  • Angela says:

    I’ve seen so many cases of neglect in pet stores myself concerning guinea pigs, as well as other animals.

  • Natalie says:

    We used to/ still do, eat Guinea Pig for various occasions. Have for thousandths of yrs, I didn’t know they were made pets in America. Strange. since they are raised for food everywhere else

  • guinea_pig_princess says:

    When I was in grade 4, my parents let me get a pet guinea pig. When I went to the pet store, the cage was rather small and there were at least 50 guinea pigs in it. I chose the smallest one because he looked like he needed someone to care for him. He was healthy when we bought him, but not every guinea pig was. I named my guinea pig Pepper. I loved him so much, and I took great care of him. Of course, I was still little, so my parents did most of the work. Unfortunately, Pepper died a few weeks before his fourth birthday. I was heartbroken. I thought guinea pigs were supposed to live for at least seven years. Pepper had gotten very sick before he died. We gave him medication to make sure he was ok. We thought he had gotten better, but he soon had a stroke, and then he died. I still haven’t gotten over the fact that he is gone, and he died a year and a half ago. I never will really get over losing him. I never understood why he had to have such a short life. When he died, I remembered the saying “those who glow the brightest, burn out the fastest”. I guess that’s why Pepper had to leave me so soon. RIP Pepper. I will never forget you and I will always love you.

  • Vicky says:

    My female guinua pig, Penelope, is very smart. She is attached to me mostly. When she hears me come home from work she start squealing. I ask for kisses and she gives them to me whether it be licking my finger or licking my cheek if she is close enough. She didn’t like her salt or mineral block at first but the older she gets the more she licks on both. She tends to like them located close to her water bottle. She licks the salt/mineral block then drinks but she does not like the liquid minerals that go directly into her water. She does jump also..if she see’s me she will jump over her food bowl to get closer to me. She is just like a kid and has attitudes. When she is mad about something she bites the opening or inside her igloo house.

  • Gianluca says:

    Guinea pigs are social animals and should never be housed alone.

  • Catty says:

    I had a guinea pig once. Her name was Valentina, and I, at the time, being 9 and knowing nothing at all about cruelty and animal care, purchased her at a pet store. She was the love of my life, but then, one day, while I was away, she died. I sobbed and sobbed, and them looked up how to properly care for a guinea pig. I has humiliated and guilty about how bad I had treated her, making her live in a tiny cage. R.I.P., Baby. I miss you.

  • Wilf says:

    Guinea pigs also enjoy daily grazing and do not always need vet checks, although I know a person who is a vet school who comes to visit a few times a year. Also, temperatures do not need to be so high – guinea pigs have fur coats and can live ( when they snuggle together) in temperatures down to 30 degrees, though not for long periods of time.

  • Rebecca says:

    I would add to this that guinea pigs also need grass and/or edible non-poisinous weeds (dandelions, plantain, smooth sow thistles)as often possible. They do SO much better when fed lots of the above and they love it. They are mainly grazers after all. Of course you need to pick the grass etc from places where it hasn’t been sprayed.

  • Melinda says:

    although this is great information, I know from experience that guinea pigs do have the ability to jump, although not high. It is best to have walls that are higher than a kiddie pool (referencing article) so you never take the chance of them getting out of enclosure.
    I have two guinea’s that are about 2 months old and one of them, Maggie loves to climb onto her hut and attempt to jump out of their large enclosure, especially when she sees me. (She loves to cuddle on my lap)
    Guinea pigs are very smart and emotional creatures :-)

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