While caged animals may seem like easier pet choices (or better “starter” pets), they require just as much care as any other animal — and often more given daily cage cleaning, scheduled exercise, and time for socialization.
Guinea pigs are active, gentle pets who love companionship. The three most common breeds are the Peruvian, the American Shorthair and the Abyssinian. Guinea pigs generally weigh between 1 to 3 pounds and their average life span is 5 to 7 years.
Scroll down to read all about guinea pig behavior, diet, caging, and exercise.
Proper nutrition is very important to your guinea pig. Guinea pigs cannot produce their own vitamin C, so it is vital that vitamin C be supplemented in their diet. The best way to incorporate the proper levels of vitamin C in their diet is to offer fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Contrary to popular belief, guinea pig food rarely provides all the vitamin C that your pig requires. Vitamin C can dissipate from traditional pellets in less than two weeks.
Vegetables that are good sources of vitamin C are red pepper, turnip greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, green pepper, kale, brussels sprouts, parsley, collard greens, guavas, broccoli leaves, cauliflower, broccoli florets, tomato, asparagus, raspberries, rutabaga, cabbage, and oranges.
Though not necessarily high in vitamin C, other good treats to offer your guinea pig are coarse cut oatmeal (from health food stores), bananas, apples (no seeds because they contain arsenic), carrots (with or without tops), papaya, mango, kiwi fruit, pineapple, and 1/2 an orange with most of the pulp scooped out. You can also purchase liquid vitamin C at any health food store and add several drops to his water, 3 times a week.
DO NOT FEED Iceberg lettuce to your guinea pig, as it will cause diarrhea. And potato skins can be poisonous!
Hay is a very important part of the guinea pig diet. Your pig should have timothy hay in his cage at all times, in unlimited quantities. Timothy hay will strengthen your pig’s digestive system and keep his entire body running smoothly. Timothy hay is best, as alfalfa hay has little nutritional value.
Guinea pig’s teeth grow continuously throughout their life. They cannot grind down their teeth naturally, so a hardwood branch or block of wood should be placed in the cage for them to chew on.
The best kind of woods are oak, cherry, or apple. Branches seem to be more interesting than blocks of wood, however. Guinea pigs cannot keep their nails trimmed either, and if they grow too long the nails will curl and your pig will have a hard time walking. Nails should be clipped every two to three weeks in order to prevent curling. This can be done with regular people nail clippers or cat nail clippers.
Choosing an appropriate home for your guinea pig is very important. Your guinea pig will get most of her exercise in her cage, so you should provide a large, spacious cage for her home. The cage should be at least 3 feet by 2 feet. It should not have a wire mesh bottom, as guinea pigs can hurt their feet on wire. Only purchase a cage that has a solid bottom.
The cage should also have a few things for the guinea pig to climb on and hide in. Some fun things are: wooden boxes, shoeboxes, plain wicker baskets (not treated with dyes, chemicals, or glues) and empty oatmeal containers. NEVER use cedar shavings in your guinea pigs cage, as they can cause liver disease and respiratory problems in guinea pigs.
Pine shavings can also cause skin problems because they contain high levels of potentially harmful oils. The proper way to set up your cage is to line the bottom with newspaper, then add hay, fun toys and houses. You can also purchase recycled paper pellets or fluff to use as bedding, or use old towels or linens (pillowcases are a perfect size).
You should clean your guinea pig’s cage every day. Guinea pigs do not require any shots from the veterinarian, so one of the best ways to keep them healthy is to keep their cage clean. Any build-up of feces or urine can cause infections inside your guinea pig. Cleaning the cage only takes a few minutes, but it is extremely important for your pig’s health. You can use a mild disinfectant solution of white vinegar and water, or warm soapy water, to clean the cage. Just be sure it is rinsed and dry before putting your piggie back in!
Guinea pigs communicate with humans and other pigs by making noises. It is important to learn your guinea pig’s noises so you can understand how they are feeling. They have 13 basic sounds. For example, if your guinea pig lets out a high-pitched squeal when it is being held, that means that your pig is feeling uncomfortable being held that way. In that case it is best to put them back in their cage for a little while.
If your guinea pig makes purring sound, it generally means that she is very content. It is important to pay close attention to these sounds and to understand what they mean.
Guinea pigs love human companionship. They love to be held and cuddled by people. You should hold your guinea pig for at least one half hour a day. Guinea pigs can be easily handled by children since they do not kick like rabbits, but they can be squirmy when they are uncomfortable. In order to insure the guinea pig’s safety, it is best to have your child sitting down with the pig in his lap, rather than walking around with the pig in his hands.
Your guinea pig needs exercise time outside her cage every day. Make sure the entire area is safe — electrical and telephone wires seem to always attract these little chewers’ interest! You should either keep them blocked off or wrap them in a protective coating, like PVC pipe, to prevent shock and fire. Guinea pigs will often get into places that you might consider out of reach. They will also squeeze into tiny openings including behind radiators and under stoves!