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Things to consider before becoming a guinea pig owner:

guinea pig for beginners

Two is company!

You won’t be becoming the owner of one guinea pig — guinea pigs must live in pairs or ideally small groups as they are very sociable animals

Guinea pigs can be expensive to keep

Can you afford a guinea pig? You’ll need to be able to afford accommodation, food, guinea pig insurance, and have funds available to pay for regular health check-ups for your guinea pigs as they can be prone to skin issues.

Guinea pigs may look cute and cuddly, but they have lots of needs — go along to your local animal charity and do lots of research to find out if guinea pigs are suitable for you. 

Do you have the space? 

Guinea pigs need lots of space, and access to grass for grazing is essential. Are you willing to give up your garden? 

Do you have the time to care for your guinea pigs? 

Your guinea pigs will need daily health checks, cleaning out regularly, and socializing so that they are happy to be around humans. It’s a big commitment. 

Who will care for your guinea pigs if you go on holiday? 

You will either need a responsible friend with experience caring for guinea pigs that you can ask to care for yours while away or find a local boarding facility to care for them. This can be challenging and expensive to arrange. 

About the guinea pig

Guinea pigs are small, sociable, gentle-natured, and chatty rodents that originate from South America. Domestic guinea pigs typically live for around five to six years but can live longer.

The guinea pig has a broad head with a short face, and the eyes are bright and large. The ears are petal-shaped and droop, while their bodies are relatively long and rounded, measuring around 20-30cm or more in length.

Guinea pigs are often bought as ideal first pets for children as they rarely bite or scratch. Still, an adult must take responsibility for the guinea pigs to ensure they are being cared for and handled properly, as they have particular healthcare, housing, and dietary needs.

Guinea pigs should never be housed together with rabbits in the same enclosure. Guinea pigs communicate using different squeaks and sounds and will often talk to each other and you!. 

Rabbits will only squeak when in pain, so essentially, guinea pigs and rabbits speak very different languages — this can lead to the guinea pig being bullied and potentially hurt by a large rabbit. Rabbits and guinea pigs also require very different foods — did you know guinea pigs can’t produce their own vitamin C?

Guinea pig breeds

There are more than 40 different guinea pig breeds — here are some of the most common:

Smooth-coated — smooth-coated guinea pigs come in either one solid color (known as ‘self”) or white with one or two other colors. They come in a wide variety of different, colors and each of these colors is referred to as a different breed. The coat is short, smooth, and satin-like, so they are reasonably easy to care for.

Himalayan — Himalayan guinea pigs have point markings similar to a Siamese cat; darker noses, ears, and feet. The feet pads should be darker too. The coat is short, so they are reasonably easy to care for. 

Abyssinian — the coat of an Abyssinian guinea pig, is unique in that it grows from eight rosettes across the body. They come in various colors, including solid or ‘self’ colors, tortoiseshell, roans, and brindles. 

Peruvian — this breed is long-haired, with hair growing continuously all over the guinea pig’s body, even over their eyes and back end. These are the hardest of guinea pigs to groom and care for — their coats will need to be groomed daily and trimmed to stop the coat from becoming matted. There are many varieties of colors, the most popular being tri-color or a mixture of two colors. 

Housing your guinea pig

Guinea Pigs can live happily indoors or outdoors, provided that their living quarters provide everything they’ll need. 

Choosing an outdoor guinea pig hutch

If your guinea pig will live outside, ensure that you choose a robust hutch to stop predators, such as foxes and cats, and is weatherproof. This should be at least 4ft long or five times the length of your guinea pig. 

The floor needs to be solid and raised off the floor to avoid rising damp.

Choose a place in the garden which is reasonably peaceful, out of the wind and direct sunlight, and away from other pets who may cause stress to your guinea pig. 

There should be an enclosed sleeping area filled with appropriate warm bedding material where your guinea pig can rest and take shelter if frightened. If you have two or more guinea pigs living together, ensure ample room for them both to shelter and rest together.

When the weather is poor – you will need to put your guinea pig’s hutch in a shed – or purchase a hutch cover if a shed isn’t available.

During the winter months, your guinea pig will need to come inside, or his hutch or cage should be moved to a garage (not used by cars) or shed (if you have one) to protect him from the extreme cold.

Choosing an indoor guinea pig hutch

You may choose for your guinea pig to live indoors, in which case you’ll need a large cage specifically designed for either guinea pigs or rabbits, with a suitable sheltered area for sleeping. Position the run away from radiators, out of direct sunlight, and away from draughts to avoid overheating or chills. The ideal room temperature is between 17-20 degrees.

Choosing a guinea pig run

In addition to an indoor cage or outdoor hutch, your guinea pig will need access to an outdoor run where he can exercise on grass. Wood Green recommends that the outdoor run is at least 6ft by 4ft long and high enough for your guinea pig to stretch up. While guinea pigs enjoy grazing, they should also have plenty of hides available to bolt into if they feel threatened. 

Enrichment and toys for guinea pigs

Guinea pigs don’t really play with toys, so it’s very much about things for them to run through, hide in and eat from. 

Guinea pigs love their food. You can enrich their environment by making things like hay kebabs using empty toilet rolls, filling plant pots and other items with hay, and their fresh foods. 

You can also plant up pots with different herbs growing in and a willow or fruit tree shrub your guinea pig can hop in and around to eat. Be imaginative, but remember guinea pigs like to roam lots, hide lots and eat lots.” 

Feeding your guinea pig

What do guinea pigs eat?

What can guinea pigs eat? Guinea pigs need a large amount of fiber in their diet as their digestive systems cannot function without it. Marie Channer, head of small animal welfare at Wood Green, says: “Hay makes up 85% of a guinea pig’s diet and is absolutely ubiquitous. 

Buy green hay: Green hay is usually good quality hay because it should be relatively fresh and full of nutrients.”

Scatter hay throughout your guinea pig’s environment by putting it in paper bags, pots, and on top of furniture – you can even use it as bedding for your guinea pig. This avoids the need to buy different products for bedding and is less likely to cause skin irritation to your guinea pig.

Guinea pigs are grass eaters and should always be able to graze while running. 

They also need other fresh vegetables, including parsley, grasses, dandelion leaves, kale, and vegetables – remember to keep a variety of vegetables and greens to avoid boredom. Blackberry and raspberry leaves and even rose heads are also popular.

Wash all greens and vegetables before feeding, and introduce new foods slowly to avoid eating disorders.

Your guinea pig will love eating:

  • Asparagus, 
  • basil, 
  • broccoli, 
  • Brussel sprouts, 
  • cabbage, 
  • cantaloupe melon, 
  • carrots, and carrot tops, 
  • cauliflower leaves and stalks, 
  • celery, 
  • chicory, 
  • Chinese parsley, 
  • coriander, 
  • cucumber, 
  • dill, 
  • garden cress, 
  • grapefruit, 
  • gooseberries, 
  • honeydew melon, 
  • kale, 
  • kiwi fruit, 
  • mangoes, 
  • oranges, 
  • parsley, 
  • parsnips, 
  • peas, 
  • red cabbage, 
  • red chard, 
  • romaine lettuce, 
  • Savoy cabbage, 
  • spinach, 
  • strawberries – guinea pigs love to eat strawberries
  • tangerines, 
  • turnips 
  • watercress. 

These should only be given in small amounts and as a treat. Hay must always make up 85 percent of their diet.

Your guinea pig should never eat:

  • Apples (they can cause severe mouth scabs), 
  • potato and potato tops, 
  • rhubarb and rhubarb leaves
  • tomatoes/tomato leaves.

Other foods for guinea pigs

  • Guinea pigs are biologically unable to make their own vitamin C, so ensure you feed vegetables rich in vitamin C, including curly kale and even the odd orange, to ensure they receive the correct amount. 
  • Fresh leafy greens and vegetables should also be offered every day – vegetables including spring greens, broccoli, and herbs can also be given; remember to keep it varied and exciting. 
  • A small amount (no more than one to two tablespoons) of fruit like grapes can be fed, as can a carrot. These are all relatively high in sugar, so they should be provided in small amounts.
  • You can also buy vitamin C supplements for guinea pigs, which can be added to their food or drinking water. Guinea pigs also need a small handful of pelleted, complete guinea pig food to ensure they receive all the essential vitamins and minerals their body needs. Pelleted food is preferable to muesli types, which guinea pigs can sometimes selectively feed on. 
  • Water is essential and should always be fresh and available. Guinea pigs are often more confident drinking from a heavy-bottomed bowl rather than a gravity-fed drinker as it feels more natural. Ensure that the water is changed and the water bowl cleaned out every day.
  • Providing sticks or logs from natural wood like willow, beach, or hazel will provide entertainment for your guinea pig and help stop his teeth from overgrowing.

How often should I feed my guinea pig?

As foragers, guinea pigs need to be fed twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. You can hide some of the greens and vegetables you are feeding in your guinea pig’s hay to encourage them to forage and provide entertainment for your guinea pig.

When refilling the feed bowl, remove any uneaten food, clean the dish and replace it with fresh food. Make sure you also remove any uneaten vegetables and greens to ensure that the food offered stays fresh and does not rot in the hutch or cage. 

Use heavy-bottomed bowls for feeding, as they are less likely to be knocked over.

How can you tell if your guinea pig’s diet is correct?

It’s all in the poo! Guinea pigs produce two different types of poops or feces. The softer, moist pellets they produce are re-ingested directly from their bottom; this is essential for their digestive process. The second type of droppings, which are hard and dry, are not re-eaten.

Poisonous plants for your guinea pig 

Certain plants are poisonous to guinea pigs; if you are in any way unsure about which plants are harmful to your guinea pig — do not feed them.

Poisonous species include: 

  • anemone, 
  • azalea, 
  • bittersweet, 
  • bryony, 
  • caladium, 
  • cyclamen, 
  • columbine, 
  • dog mercury, 
  • figwort, 
  • deadly nightshade, 
  • woody nightshade, 
  • poppies, 
  • ragwort, 
  • buttercups, 
  • daffodils, 
  • bluebells, 
  • foxglove, 
  • hemlock, 
  • spurges, 
  • kingcup, 
  • marsh marigold, 
  • monkshood, 
  • meadow saffron, 
  • mistletoe, 
  • St. Johns wort, 
  • Leyland cypress, 
  • fools parsley 
  • hellebore.
  • Cultivated plants that are dangerous to your guinea pig: 
  • dahlias, 
  • lupins, 
  • chrysanthemums, 
  • delphinium, 
  • lily of the valley, 
  • tulips, 
  • iris, 
  • morning glory, 
  • antirrhinums, 
  • lobelia, 
  • fig, 
  • Jerusalem cherry, 
  • juniper, 
  • hyacinth, 
  • privet, 
  • yew, 
  • laburnum, 
  • ivy, 
  • philodendron, 
  • rhododendron, 
  • wisteria, 
  • clematis, 
  • holly
  • most evergreen trees.

Can guinea pigs eat lawnmower clippings?

No, do not feed your guinea pig lawnmower clippings, as these can upset a guinea pig’s digestive system and make them ill.

Caring for your guinea pig

What do I need to buy for my guinea pig?

It is crucial to make sure that you are fully prepared before you embark on becoming a new owner of a guinea pig. Ensure that you have all the necessary provisions for your guinea pig in place before he arrives, including:

  • A suitable outdoor hutch or indoor cage should be five times his length, with a closed-off area for sleeping and, if outdoors, a sloped roof.
  • An exercise runs for access to grass.
  • A heavy-bottomed food bowl 
  • Gravity-fed water bowl 
  • Bedding 
  • Hay 
  • Concentrate feed
  • Treats
  • Toys, tunnels, and hiding holes
  • Gnawing sticks
  • Fresh vegetables
  • Cleaning products including bottle brushes and cage disinfectant 
  • Brushes and combs 
  • Also, ensure that you have registered at your local veterinary center. 

Collecting your guinea pig 

A cat carrier is an ideal container to transport your guinea pig as cardboard boxes can become too warm. Ensure that your guinea pig does not overheat while in the car. Place the carrier in a secure, ventilated place where it will not move around. Ensure that this is out of direct sunlight. Try to drive smoothly and sympathetically, avoiding any unnecessary stop-offs on the way home; this is particularly important in hot weather when the temperature inside stationary cars can rise quickly.

Settling your guinea pig

Guinea pigs are naturally timid; their default reaction is to run; as a prey animal, this is their only defense when living wild, and the instinct is very keen. 

As tempting as it may be, avoid handling your guinea pig for the first couple of days. Give your guinea pig some time to get used to and settle into his new surroundings, including the various sights and smells. During this time, sit and talk to your guinea pig in a gentle tone so that he can be accustomed to the sound of your voice. Try to conduct any interaction you have with your guinea pig on his level from a crouching position. 

When he seems to be growing more comfortable in your presence, you can increase your interaction with him. 

Handling your guinea pig

Firstly it’s important to remember that a guinea pig’s body is very fragile — any rough handling of your guinea pig will startle him and potentially cause him injury. From the crouching position, offer him your hand to sniff but try to avoid making any sudden movements; instead, let him continue to get used to your smell. Offering a small suitable food treat may also help to break the ice. 

When you feel ready to pick your guinea pig up; gently place your hand across his shoulders, placing your thumb behind the front legs on one side. Slowly lift him, placing your other hand under his back end. Stand up slowly, keeping his body supported at all times, but do not squeeze him. 

When holding your guinea pig sitting down, let him settle on your lap, keeping a gentle hold of him to ensure that he doesn’t jump free. Initially, keep handling sessions to a minimum to avoid putting undue stress on him. You can then slowly increase the amount of time you are holding him to around ten minutes. 

When you return your guinea pig to his hutch or cage, lower him slowly back down to the floor; do not let him jump from your hand as this may result in injury. Remember at all times to try to stay quiet and avoid any movements that could startle your guinea pig. 

If properly introduced, your guinea pig will become accustomed to regular handling. He may even enjoy it, although to what extent they enjoy being handled will depend on the individual guinea pig. Some guinea pigs will stand on their hind legs to be picked up, while others will never fully relish human handling. 

You must maintain regular handling of your guinea pig so that he will accept handling and so you can regularly conduct a thorough health check.

Children and guinea pigs 

Small children under the age of five should not be allowed to hold a guinea pig; at this age, they may not be able to regulate their grip and could cause harm. 

When letting older children hold a guinea pig ask them to sit, preferably on the floor, before placing the guinea pig on their lap. Ensure that the petting is gentle and that they stroke the guinea pig in the direction of the coat. Every guinea pig will have some areas that they don’t like to be petted. 

Hence, it’s essential to read their behavior and ensure they are comfortable with their attention — some may want to be scratched under their chin. Do not let young children walk around carrying guinea pigs, and always ensure they are quiet when in the guinea pig’s presence. 

Marie Channer, head of small animal welfare at Wood Green, recommends the following: “Guinea pigs can be suitable for handling by children, but they should be supervised at all times. Children must sit on the floor with their legs flat and the guinea pig on their lap. That way, if the guinea pig wants to get off, then they can without being injured.”

Provide food for them, so they have something to nibble on. If done so correctly, a guinea pig will enjoy some handling. 

Do guinea pigs need companions? 

Yes absolutely. Guinea pigs are sociable animals that should live with the company; they should have at least one guinea pig friend to live with, but they can enjoy living in small groups. A group of females or one single castrated male with one or more females will be the best combination. Two male guinea pigs can also live together happily. Male guinea pigs should be castrated when living with females to avoid an unwanted litter. Guinea pigs should not be housed together with rabbits. 

Guinea pig grooming and coat/skincare 

You must pay close attention to the condition of your guinea pig’s coat and skin. Check for running lice, burrowing mites, fur mites, and ringworm. Long-haired guinea pigs will require daily grooming to stop the coat from becoming matted and tangled, while short-haired guinea pigs will benefit from a weekly groom to keep the coat in good condition and help monitor the coat for signs of mites, lice, and ringworm.

In addition to this, guinea pigs should be bathed four times a year in a special guinea pig shampoo – we do not advise using pet shampoos from your local pet shop, but to contact your local rescue center for advice on the correct products to use to help keep the skin in good condition.

Regular vet check-ups are also needed to ensure that your guinea pig’s coat remains healthy.

Provided that grooming, bathing, and coat checks are introduced from a young age, your guinea pig will get used to the process and should not find it too stressful.

Another cause of guinea pig skin problems is bedding – always avoid wood shavings and choose dust extracted materials that won’t irritate their skin. 

Clipping your guinea pig’s claws

Your guinea pig’s claws will need clipping regularly and should be trimmed every four to six weeks. Claws that grow out of shape or too long will be painful and can ultimately result in muscle wastage if your guinea pig cannot move properly. Guinea pigs have four claws on the front and three on the back. Ask your vet to show you how to cut the claws if you’re not sure.

Here are the best claw clippers for guinea pigs

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Is your guinea pig healthy?

Guinea pigs are sensitive creatures and can commonly suffer from skin disorders or other problems due to their precise dietary requirements. Here are a few things to bear in mind during your daily health checks, but if you have any concerns, you should see your vet immediately.

Guinea pig claws

If claws become overgrown, they should be carefully trimmed back, careful not to cut the ‘quick.’ Owners should be cautious when trimming claws. Unless you are sure of what you are doing, seek veterinary assistance. When trimming dark or black claws, extreme caution should be taken as the quick will be harder to see. 

Guinea pig teeth

The four front teeth (the upper and lower incisors) should be checked regularly to ensure equal and not too long. Providing lots of ]hay and chew toys should ensure teeth are kept at an ideal length. Signs of teeth problems include wearing and breaks, mouth hanging awkwardly, eating at a slow rate, etc.

Cuts, lumps, and bumps on your guinea pig

When handling your guinea pig, make a mental note of any lumps and bumps about his body; that way, if any abscesses form, you will spot them quickly. Check regularly for any cuts, especially if you have a pair of guinea pigs that could fight. Also, check their eyes regularly — they should be large, bright, and shiny — any sign of redness or soreness could suggest a problem. 

Fleas on your guinea pig

Symptoms of fleas include 

  • hair loss, 
  • itching, 
  • small scab formations on particularly irritated skin parts 
  • anemia, in extreme cases. 

Infestations usually occur from contraction from another animal, either a pet or a wild animal. There are treatments available to treat infestations once they have been diagnosed. 

To avoid another bout of fleas, ensure that other animals are kept at a safe distance from your guinea pig (their presence close by is likely to be a stressor anyway). Ensure that other family pets follow a thorough flea prevention routine and try to keep their contact with your pigs to a minimum. 

Regular flea treatment of your house is also recommended. Do not use flea treatments for other species on your guinea pigs, as they could be harmful. 

Lice on your guinea pig

By conducting daily checks of your guinea pig, you will be able to spot any changes in their skin. Lice are mainly found near the head, neck, and rump and visible to the naked eye. Itching and hair loss will typically only occur in severe cases. If you suspect that your piggie has lice visit your vet for treatment immediately. Your guinea pig will need treating with anti-parasitic injections from your vet. His living environment will also need treating, as will all other pets that you have. 

Mites on your guinea pig

Mites cause extreme itching, causing guinea pigs to chew and scratch excessively, making the itching worse. The skin will be raised with red bumps. Mites are typically found on the back, flanks, and shoulders of the guinea pig. 

It is generally caused by direct or indirect contact with infected animals. Your guinea pig will need treating with anti-parasitic injections from your vet. His living environment will also need treating, as will all other pets that you have.

Rattling 

This is an upper or lower respiratory noise occasionally made by guinea pigs. It may just be a nervous reaction, or it could be the first sign of an acute lung infection or an allergy, which may be more serious. 

Compactions 

Compactions around the tailor rectum are most commonly seen in males and are generally hormone-related. Provided that their back ends are regularly cleaned, this should not cause too much of a problem.  

Diarrhea

Cases of diarrhea are most commonly food-related and generally settle down within a day or so. If symptoms persist, consult your vet immediately.

Signs of a healthy guinea pig

It is crucial that you visually monitor your guinea pig’s daily health and perform a more thorough hands-on health check every week. Guinea pigs don’t tend to show physical signs of illness until they are unwell, so it’s important to pay close attention to this. The slightest sign of illness could indicate a huge problem. Check every day that your guinea pig is: 

  • Not sitting hunched and uncomfortably. 
  • Ensure that they are eating the same amount of food as they would typically do. 
  • Ensure that they are not playing with their food; this could indicate a tooth, throat, or digestive issue. 
  • Check that the poop or feces are a regular shape and consistency. 
  • That he is moving about freely
  • Check that his coat is glossy and smooth. 
  • Check the coat for mites, fungal issues, and lice, as these issues are common in guinea pigs. 
  • Check the toenails and regularly trim, every four to six weeks. 
  • Check around the face for grass seeds in the eye. 
  • Check that their eyes are clear. 
  • Teeth are in good condition as these continually grow. 
  • Ensure that there are items in your guinea pig’s environment to chew on to keep his teeth in shape.

FAQS About Guinea Pigs

How long is a guinea pig pregnant? 

Any time between 59-72 days.

At what age can guinea pigs mate? 

As early as six weeks old.

How many piggie babies can a guinea pig have in a litter? 

Guinea pigs can have between 1 and 8 baby guinea pigs, with 4 being the most common number per litter.

At what age can guinea pigs be neutered? 

Neutering is only recommended after four months of age.

How to tell if a guinea pig is pregnant nipples?

Guinea pigs are highly expressive animals. Regardless of their emotions, they will interact through different sounds and body movements to communicate what they are feeling. So, how do you know if your guinea pig is pregnant? How to tell if a guinea pig is pregnant, nipples?

Choose a Y or N for yes and no for each question.

1. Has she been involved with an unneutered male? Y/N?

What is the one thing that can make a guinea pig pregnant? An unneutered male guinea pig! So, what is the first step in finding out if your guinea pig is pregnant? Yes, it is to find out if she has had any interactions with an unneutered male in the last few days.

2. Can you feel any bumps and lumps? Y/N?

After about two to three weeks of pregnancy, you can feel the baby guinea pig’s body. By gently touching your guinea pig’s belly with your hand, you will feel bumps and lumps, which could be due to one of two possible reasons. One, it could be your guinea pig is pregnant. The other? It could be an accumulation of excess metabolites that cause diseases like ovarian cysts.

3. Is she eating more? Y/N?

Another sign is an increase in food intake. Since they are no longer eating just for themselves but also for the piglets inside, they are eating more than usual.

4. Does she smell differently? Y/N?

Another strange and interesting way to spot a pregnant guinea pig is their scent! Males are territorial. So when they mate with females, they mark them with urine! Since each one has a different scent profile, other males won’t approach a marked female!

5. Are the nipples bigger than they used to be? Y/N?

In many other animals, swollen nipples are a sign of pregnancy. If your guinea pig’s nipples look pretty large, then she may be pregnant, especially since your guinea pig has been together with an unneutered male guinea pig. 

If you answered Y to all five questions, then it’s almost sure that your guinea pig is pregnant. Regardless, a visit to the vet should help clear up any doubts or worries you may have, so get on now, to the vet, ya go!

Why is my guinea pig lying on side?

When you notice that your guinea pig is lying on side even for a prolonged duration, do not worry, Guinea pigs lying on side is a good sign. 

It may mean that your guinea pig feels secure enough with you and their environment that they can show some vulnerability and lie on the side

However, sometimes a guinea pig lying on the side can mean they are dealing with some problems too, but usually, it just means they are comfortable and happy to chill without any worries.

There can be many reasons why guinea pigs lie down so much. Some of these reasons are

  1. They are trying to relax.
  2. They are feeling lazy.
  3. They are temporarily bored.

One of the main reasons guinea pigs like to lie on their side is because it gives them a chance to relax.