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Guinea pigs as pets
by Barbara Eddy, Veterinary Nurse
Guinea pigs make fantastic pets for children and adults alike as they are very social creatures with loveable personalities, an excellent size for handling and housing in the town house environment.
An adult guinea pig reaches about 1 to 1.2kg in bodyweight and is approx 23- 27cm long. They have a wide range of vocal noises from grunts, squeaks, wheeks and chirrups. Being gentle in nature they are easy to tame with daily handling. If a guinea pig is mishandled they will bite and wiggle sometimes scratching you so an adult should always be there if a child is caring or handling their pet.
Before getting a guinea pig please be aware that unlike most small pocket pets with short life expectancies, these little creatures do live for 5-7 years normally and some have been known to make 8 or 9 years of age. They need daily feeding and fresh hay and cleaning several times a week. If you want your guinea pig to live outside you will also need to check it has enough food, water and shelter (you may need to move their cage several times a day to protect it from the weather).
Being very social creatures it is best to get two guinea pigs. Never put a rabbit in with a guinea pig as they can injury each other and have different diet needs causing one of them to have a deficiency (guinea pigs need more veggies and greens then a rabbit).
Male or Female?
When considering two guinea pigs many people ask if males or females are better together. I find either two females or two males are generally fine together. The biggest thing is personality. Some breeds are more dominant and aggressive then others. If you have two male from the same place they should be fine, but if you have a female in the same house or cage next door it can cause the males to start fighting. Because I have both male and females guinea pigs I keep my males in separate cages but next door to each other that way they have companionship without being able to hurt each other.
If you have a male and female guinea pig you will soon get babies and they will continue to keep having babies. Not only do you have to worry about finding homes for them all, but this isn’t good for the female guinea pig to continually have litter after litter. It takes a lot more work to breed guinea pigs so please do your research before you decide to do this. You will need at least 3 cages so you have one for the mother guinea pig, one for the father guinea pig and one for the baby boys when they are old enough to wean (this is 4 wks of age but they should not go to their new homes till they are 8 wks old (about 400g bodyweight is a good size). Father guinea pigs will sometimes fight their offspring so you can’t assume they will live with their father when weaned).
If you are thinking of breeding your guinea pig please also be aware that female guinea pigs must have their first litter before they are 12 months old as their pelvis bones fuse after this time causing the babies to get stuck inside.
Each time she is pregnant there are huge risks to her. These include:
These are just a few of the possible risks from breeding. There are no benefits from breeding your guinea pig, it doesn’t make them calmer or a better pet. You will not make money from breeding guinea pigs. So if all you want is a nice pet i would get two of the same sex.
Housing in Christchurch should be considered carefully. In the summer a hutch outside is great, they love to eat fresh grass and the exercise is good for them. In the winter the cold damp ground can cause them to get sick so the hutch either needs to be moved to a sheltered area (inside a garage or shed or lifted off the ground. Best of all is to get an indoor cage).
Outdoor cages come in many sizes and designs. Make sure it is strong and weather proof. Locks on doors and lids are priceless in preventing unwanted cats and dogs getting inside the cage. The roof should be sloping so rain will drain off. Small wire on the floor can cut your guinea pigs feet so a solid floor is better.
Many hutches have a solid sleeping area and no wire on the floor of an eating area. Please watch out for uneven lawns- guinea pigs are experts at getting out of their cage to go exploring round the garden. They can be hurt by other animals when outside their cage.
Some hutches are on legs off the ground these are great as they are dry and away from the damp in winter and you don’t have to bend down to clean the cage. Watch out your guinea pig friend doesn’t fall out though when you open the door. In the winter and at night a cover to protect your pet from rain and wind and other animals is a great idea, this can be pulled up or off during the day so your pet has fresh air and sunlight. A hutch may need to be moved during the day to stop it getting to hot from being in fall sunlight or covered if it rains.
Indoor cages are great all year round. They are then safe from animals outside and you don’t have to worry about the weather, and you can interact with them a lot more making them much tamer. A cage about 100cm x 50cm and 30cm tall is the minim size needed for two guinea pigs. They need a a drink bottle or bowl, bowl for pellets and sleeping area (cardboard box with a door cut out or you can buy plastic or wood castles or large tunnels.
Bedding should be a thick layer of newspaper with hay on top to sleep and hide in, they will eat this as well. Wood shavings tend to be dusty so not recommended as bedding.
A water bottle or dish should be present at all times and checked daily they are fill of fresh, clean water. A small bowl for pellets is also needed. These should be given in measured out as many guinea pigs get very fat eating to many of these. Most people feed rabbits pellets. This is fine but make sure they are grass based (not meat meal based) and contain no antibiotics.
Guinea pigs eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. They cannot make their own vitamin C just like humans so this is why fresh greens are needed everyday unlike rabbits. Hard vegetables are great for a guinea pig’s teeth. Their teeth grow continually throughout their life so they need to chew things to keep them worn down. Fruit tree branches or wooden toys can also be provided for chewing.
Some vegetables and fruits they can have are carrots, apples, cabbage, dandelion leaves, cauliflower leaves, pears, tomatoes, broccoli, celery, beetroot (not to many leaves though as this can affect their kidneys), cucumber, lettuce (can cause diarrhoea so don’t feed to much of this), parsley, spinach, silver beet, corn (cob, leaves and stingy bit), oranges, kiwi fruit, banana, watermelon and pumpkin. Please be aware that acidic foods like apples, tomatoes and oranges can cause sores on their mouths so not all guinea pigs can tolerate them.
Hay is very important. It should be clean, mould-free and non- dusty. Hay aids digestion and keeps your guinea pigs healthy and happy. Guinea pigs with no or little hay don’t thrive and can have health problems because of this.
Guinea pigs love grass and if possible provide it every day. It is a source of vitamin C, especially in the spring and summer months. If you are picking grass from outside your property check it is spray-free and not contaminated from dogs, cats and other wild animals.
There are four basic “coat” types in guinea pigs. There are smooth coats, crested, roughcoats and longhairs. The first 3 require very little brushing. Longhairs on the other hand are very different. They need daily brushing to remove knots and hay particles from the coat. Their coats grow about an inch and month (2.5cm). Most pet owners prefer to keep their longhaired pets trimmed to make them easier to manage. A haircut every 4-6 weeks will be required. If the coat becomes dirty (from urine or dirt) then the guinea pig will need to be washed to prevent it from getting sores and becoming fly blown.
Nails need to be trimmed every 6-8 weeks depending on how fast they grow. As your guinea pig becomes older they tend to get twisted nails and may need this done more regularly.
Bathing only needs to be done as needed. Some guinea pigs won’t need a bath ever, others like the longhaired guinea pigs need regular baths to keep them clean. You can get small animal shampoos, but I find the oatmeal varieties for dogs are gentle on their skin and make them feel soft and smell good afterwards. You could also use a puppy/kitten shampoo as these are milder.
After washing your guinea pig make sure it is 100% dry before putting it back outside in its hutch. A wet guinea pig can get chilled in a draughty cold environment. I normally keep my guinea pigs inside overnight in a cat cage and put them outside in the morning.
Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.