Guinea Pigs make great pets for beginners and those who just want a new furry little friend to love on. They will interact with you and “talk” by making sounds like purring and such. Guinea Pigs like their homes clean and are pretty easy to care for.
LIFESPAN: Approximately 5-7 years
SIZE: Up to 12” (30 cm) long
EXPERIENCE LEVEL: BEGINNER
Socialization & General Care
- It’s important to get your new friend used to you, and used to being handled. Start by feeding your guinea pig treats by hand and petting him; once he’s comfortable, you can gently and securely pick him up. Hold him for a short time at first, and gradually increase the time. Remember that all pets may bite, scratch, kick or try to escape especially when stressed.
- When picking up a guinea pig, be careful to fully support his body so that he feels secure.
DID YOU KNOW?
A guinea pig’s teeth never stop growing
- Guinea pigs are herbivores and a large portion of their diet should be hay. Guinea pigs less than a year old should be fed alfalfa hay, which is high in calcium and protein. Guinea pigs over one year should be fed timothy hay. Other types of hays can be mixed in to provide variety. Fiber is critical to a guinea pigs diet as it keeps the intestinal activity normal.
- For optimal nutrition, your guinea pig should be fed a high quality pellet diet.
- Guinea pigs cannot manufacture or store their own vitamin C and as a result need to be fed a diet that is supplemented with vitamin C. Adding additional vitamin C in the form of drops or powder is recommended.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables should be offered every day and any uneaten food should be removed before it spoils. Acceptable choices are dark leafy greens (kale, collard, carrot tops), carrots, zucchini, celery, apple, strawberries and oranges.
- Treats should be offered sparingly; once to twice weekly. Acceptable choices are pre-packaged treats made for guinea pigs, blueberries or alfalfa hay.
- Fresh water should be available at all times and food dishes and water bottles should be cleaned daily.
- Never give your guinea pig potato, cabbage or junk food including chocolate.
- Mineral wheels should be provided in their cage.
There is a lot of misconception on the web when it comes to guinea pig bedding. In fact, a lot of products I see being sold for bedding can actually be harmful to them. I’ll start with products to avoid.
Pine and cedar shavings are a big “no no” when it comes to bedding. These products are poisonous to the pigs and can actually cause problems with their respiratory systems. Although sneezing and coughing will happen from time to time, these shavings can sometimes cause uncontrollable amounts of coughing/sneezing. If that happens, switch out the bedding to see if it ceases. If not, take them to the vet because it might be something more serious. Pine and cedar are a popular choice because of their odor-neutralizing abilities, but don’t use them at the risk of your pet’s health.
The most futile thing you can use for bedding may be straw. Not only is it ineffective in odor-control, but it also doesn’t absorb droppings at all. This will ensure your guinea pig is living in a dirty environment, which will surely take a toll on health in the long run.
What I would recommend is Timothy hay. Yes, the same hay I suggested as the primary source of a guinea pig’s diet. If you decide to go with this, make sure to change out the hay every so often so that they don’t consume soiled hay. Also, you can train them to not eat their bedding hay by providing a hayrack with pellets mixed in.
You should also provide great guinea pig toys for their amusement. Toys can include obstacles that promote exercise or give them entertainment. However, keep all obstacles and toys off to the side to ensure they have plenty of space to roam around and get a good workout. Feel free to add terrain objects like rocks if space permits.
Health Issues to Watch For
- Sneezing, discharge from nose or eyes
- Cloudy, sunken or swollen eyes
- Diarrhea or discolored droppings
- Bare patches in fur
- Lethargic behavior
- Weight loss; not eating or drinking normally
- Overgrown front teeth
If you notice any of the symptoms above seek veterinary care.
Fun Guinea Pig Facts
- Guinea pigs “freeze” when they are startled or frightened. They will stand perfectly still.
- Guinea pigs are in the rodent family.
- Guinea pigs are fully developed at birth.
- Guinea pigs, especially young ones, jump straight up in the air from a standing position. This is called “popcorning”.
- People Worshipped Guinea Pigs
Yes, it’s true. The Moche people of Peru had once worshipped these animals. How do we know? You can find several art works of guinea pigs from this group of people in museums or online. Archaeologists have also found a large number of statues and figures of guinea pigs from Ecuador and Peru. It’s believed tha tthese animals were used in both religious ceremonies and folk medicine back in the ancient days of South America.
· Giant Guinea Pigs Once Roamed the Earth
Can you imagine a nine-foot, 1500-pound guinea pig running through your backyard? Probably not. But, that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a reality at one point in our earth’s life.
Scientists have actually found fossils of our pet’s close ancestors from about 8 million years ago, when animals were much larger than they are today. Although the scientific name of the Godzilla-version pig is the Phoberomys Pattersoni, enthusiasts have aptly named the guinea pig “Guinea-zilla.”
Not only was the Phoberomys Pattersoni semi-aquatic, but it also had front teeth as long as 8 inches. Wow, imagine trying to housebreak that beast.
· Constantly Growing Teeth
Can you imagine having your incisors constantly growing? That would mean many more visits to your dentist. Yikes.
Unlike most mammals, the guinea pig’s teeth are always growing throughout its entire life. This is why it’s important to provide chew toys for them, as they will be teething all the time. Next time they accidentally chew up your favorite toy, don’t get too mad. They’re just trying to relieve that itch in their mouth!
- Unusual Sleep Schedule
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night to use the restroom, only to realize that your pet was still awake in its cage? A lot of people ask me the question: Are guinea pigs nocturnal? Let me assure you that they are not robo-rodents and actually do sleep.
However, guinea pigs don’t have a regular sleep schedule like we do. Instead of being awake and then asleep for a long durations at a time, they take naps throughout the day. Expect them to take 20 to 30 minute naps in between their activities. A lot of people don’t notice the mid-day naps because they like to burrow themselves under the hay or hide underneath things to sleep.
- They Can Make a Wide Range of Noises
If you currently own one, you may have already noticed that they’re very vocal creatures (sometimes too vocal). There are several different types of guinea pig sounds that are exclusive to the animal. Their throats are able to produce unique sounds, such as a purr different from a cat’s purr.
These noises helps us, as owners, understand our pet animals on another level. By simply listening to them, you will be able to figure out whether they’re excited, distressed, agitated or even annoyed.
Other sounds include the wheek, rumble, growl, teeth chattering and whine. For more information, visit our page dedicated to their noises and sounds.
· Eating Fecal Matter is Healthy for Them
Yes, by “fecal matter” I do mean, “poop.” Don’t be too alarmed if you see them doing such a thing, it’s completely normal and even healthy. Their feces contain a lot of Vitamin B and amino acids, which are essential for healthy living.
Don’t be alarmed or disgusted. It’s not like they eat the droppings left in their cage. Rather, they eat it directly from the cecum by tucking their heads into the belly to form a ball. If you see this, just step away. Let them handle their “business.”
These are wonderful and mysterious animals that may teach you something new about them every day. I know I learn a lot with every interaction. Of course, there’s much more on guinea pigs that I wasn’t able to mention in this article. If I missed an interesting fact, leave it in the comments section below!