Are Guinea Pigs Good ‘Starter Pets’ for Kids? No—Here’s Why

Do guinea pigs make good “starter pets” for kids? From the abuse they’re subjected to by breeders and pet stores to the specialized care they require, there are many reasons why not.

Cute black guinea pigs eating dandelion greens from a bowl

First, caring for an animal isn’t like taking a practice test. Small animals shouldn’t suffer in order for a child to learn responsibility. Animals can become sick, get injured, and even die when children aren’t able to give them appropriate care. And people who think that smaller animals are easier to take care of and less expensive than dogs or cats are in for a rude awakening.

Are Guinea Pigs Easy to Care For?

The short answer is no. It requires a massive amount of time, energy, and money to keep guinea pigs healthy, clean, and happy.

My adopted pigs, Duke and Bogart, are adorable, sweet, and funny, but I’ve found that caring for them requires more time, energy, commitment, and money than caring for my 75-pound German shepherd mix did. I love them, but I would never recommend guinea pigs as companion animals for a child—especially if the child would be expected to provide them with most of their care—for a number of reasons.

Guinea Pigs Need Time to Get to Know You

My colleague Elizabeth, who has also adopted two guinea pigs, put it this way: “One thing I found difficult is that you have to convince your pigs to like you.” Guinea pigs put you through an approval process, and young children likely won’t have the patience to earn their trust slowly. Some of them never like to be picked up or held by humans and always prefer “hands-off” guardianship, although this largely depends on their personality.

Guinea Pigs Are Messy

After caring for a large dog, I thought that cleaning up after a 2-pound animal would be a cinch. I was wrong. Guinea pigs have to spend a great deal of time chewing in order to wear down their constantly growing teeth. And all the food pellets, hay, vegetables, and chewing blocks add up to a baffling amount of waste. Since most can’t be trained to eliminate in a certain area, the waste ends up everywhere. Ideally, someone should spot-clean the habitat several times a day, but if no one is home during the day, the enclosure has to be cleaned out at least every night. I find it easiest to use a fleece cage liner and cover it with a towel, which I change every day, and then change all the bedding every few days.

Guinea Pigs Require Loads of Laundry

As you’re changing towels and bedding, guinea pig laundry starts to pile up. You may also need to wash cloth toys, ramp covers, and snuggle blankets. Plan on doing about two large loads of pig laundry every week and then cleaning fur and hay out of your machines afterward. Elizabeth has found that a guinea pig laundry bag (or two) helps keep her machines cleaner.

PETA Business Friend GuineaDad has plenty of fleece bedding options for easy and frequent laundry rotations.

Guinea Pigs’ Sharp Teeth Can Be Piercing

When guinea pigs are chattering their teeth at you, it means exactly what you think it means: “Don’t even.” But even if they aren’t chattering, most don’t enjoy being picked up and will run, burrow, and hide when people try. It may be because predators such as owls would come at them from above if they were out in nature. When trying to pick them up, guardians have to be careful, because the animals frequently squirm and can fall and hurt themselves. Often, once they’re picked up and wrapped in a blanket so that they feel secure, they will relax and can be petted and given treats. But if they aren’t in the mood to be held, they may nip your fingers, and their tiny, sharp teeth can break the skin.

They Need Monthly Manicures

Guinea pigs’ nails grow quickly. Unless their guardians are extremely competent at giving nail trims, the animals will need to be taken to the vet about once a month for them, at a cost of about $15 per trim.

Guinea Pigs Should Always Be Adopted as a Pair

In the same way you can’t eat just one potato chip, you can’t adopt just one guinea pig. It isn’t healthy for them to be alone—they need a companion of their own species they can “talk,” play, and cuddle with. Companionship is so vital to their well-being that Switzerland has made it illegal to keep only one. If you’re going to adopt a male and a female, the male must be neutered at least six weeks before they are allowed to cohabitate.

Frequently Asked Questions About Guinea Pig Care

Every animal deserves to have a loving home, and PETA is dedicated to ending the homeless-animal crisis. We try to inform people so that they won’t purchase animals on a whim and then leave them at shelters when they become “too much work.” But for people who are seriously considering adopting guinea pigs and providing them with a lifetime of care, here are a few tips:

  • What Can Guinea Pigs Eat?

The bulk of a guinea pig’s diet should be high-quality grass hay, such as timothy or orchard, and timothy hay–based food pellets with no added seeds or colored pieces. Guinea pigs should also have a variety of fresh vegetables and herbs, and fruits can be offered sparingly. For a breakdown of what guinea pigs should eat, how much, and how often, see PETA’s guide to guinea pig nutrition.

Two cute guinea pigs sharing lettuce leaf

  • What Bedding Do Guinea Pigs Need?

You’ll need to line your guinea pigs’ habitat with comfortable fleece cage liners (covered in towels, if you find they make cleanup easier), which should be changed and laundered frequently. Be sure to use an unscented, cruelty-free detergent, as fragrances can be irritating for guinea pigs.

They should also each have a small-animal igloo or small box with a doorway, a large pile of hay, and other areas where they can engage in their natural burrowing and hiding behavior. Most feel more secure when their habitat is at least partially covered with a light sheet or blanket. Don’t use cedar or pine shavings for bedding—they’re toxic to guinea pigs.

  • Are Guinea Pig Vets Expensive?

Your vet may not have much experience with exotic animals and may refer you to an exotic-animal specialist for routine checkups and other care. This could cost twice as much or more than going to a vet who sees dogs and cats.

  • Do Guinea Pigs Need Chew Toys?

Yes. Apple branches and specialty wood chewing blocks—available at pet supply stores—are great for keeping guinea pigs busy and engaged and helping to keep their teeth from growing too long.

  • What Is the Best Cage for Guinea Pigs?

Their habitat should be as large as your space can accommodate and should be at least 5 feet by 2 feet for two guinea pigs. Most cages sold in pet stores are too small, and using them would be the equivalent of forcing a human to live in a bathroom. Never force guinea pigs (or any other animal) to walk on wire flooring. Flooring made of wood, tile, or linoleum (i.e., anything that’s slick) is also not ideal. To avoid sore hocks and other foot problems, provide your guinea pig with soft, flexible flooring that will mimic the natural feel of the earth.

My pigs like having two Guinea Habitats by MidWest Homes for Pets, connected with an open door so that they can visit each other. They should be let out of their cage every day in an animal-safe area for exercise.

  • How Do I Give My Guinea Pigs Water?

They should have at least one or two heavy ceramic bowls that are cleaned daily and always filled with fresh water. You should also provide them with water in a bottle with a sipper tube—guinea pigs have their preferences. Having both ensures that if the bottle breaks or the bowl spills or becomes dirty, your pigs will still have a clean water source.

  • How Often Should I Brush My Guinea Pig?

Long-haired guinea pigs need to be gently combed once a week to prevent painful mats.


If your family is ready to give a pair of guinea pigs a permanent home (which can mean seven or more years), you’ll definitely want to adopt. Duke and Bogart came to PETA after an eyewitness found them suffering along with many other animals at a PetSmart store in Nashville, Tennessee. The store’s management refused to provide sick and injured animals with needed medical care, saying, “There’s no point in me paying that for a $15 animal.” Their road to recovery has been long and expensive. PETA eyewitnesses have found the same callousness and abuse at every pet-store supplier that we’ve investigated.

Where Do Stores Like PetSmart and Petco Get Guinea Pigs?

As PETA has frequently exposed, guinea pigs and most small animals sold at pet stores usually come from squalid breeding facilities. At PetSmart and Petco supplier Sun Pet Ltd., for example, a PETA eyewitness documented the violent killing and abusive handling of hundreds of animals. Workers put animals in a bag and bashed them against a table in an attempt to kill them, gassed them in a filthy tank, and set out poison that was ingested by those who got loose.

At Great Pets—a breeding facility in Licking County, Ohio, that supplies guinea pigs and birds to Petland—a 2021 PETA eyewitness investigation found that guinea pigs were crammed into small metal tubs that had not been sanitized in weeks and reeked of ammonia. The animals had been denied adequate care for upper respiratory infections, paralysis, and other medical issues, and they were often left to die. A guinea pig with a suspected upper respiratory infection struggled to breathe for at least three weeks before she was finally released from her suffering. Another apparently had a uterine infection or a dead pup still in her womb, but workers left her to languish for two weeks before her suffering finally ended.

guinea pigs at great pets supplier

For adopters, there are many reputable guinea pig–rescue groups and humane societies that would be happy to help match your family with the right pair. The Guinea Pig Adoption Network, Cavy Spirit, and Petfinder are great places to start. If you can provide two guinea pigs with everything that they need, they can be funny, sweet, and cuddly lifelong companions.

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