Guinea Pig Care Guide
Guinea Pig Care Tips: Everything You Need To Know About Your Pet Guinea Pig
When given the right care, a pet guinea pig can live up to about 10 years, but the average guinea pig lifespan is 7-8 years.
The Natural History of Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are hystricomorph rodents originally from South America. They are also often referred to as a “Cavy” (Cavia porcellus). Wild guinea pigs used to be found in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Peru. In the wild, guinea pigs lived in grasslands, along the edges of forests, in swamps and in rocky areas. While they are no longer found in the wild, relatives to the guinea pigs such as the capybara can still be seen in the wild.
Spanish explorers discovered guinea pigs while exploring South America over 400 years ago. They brought these furry friends back with them to Europe where they were domesticated. But the guinea pig had been domesticated thousands of years earlier by the Inca, who kept guinea pigs as pets. More than 3,000 years ago, cavies were already popular pets throughout South America and people living in the Altiplanos region of Bolivia and Peru still keep guinea pigs as pets today.
Common Guinea Pig Breeds
Common types of guinea pigs include Abyssinian (identified by rough, wiry hair in rosettes or whorls) and Peruvian (long, straight, silky hair). Different breeds of guinea pigs have been cross-bred over the years, resulting in a wide range of coat colors and patterns.
How to Care for Your Pet Guinea Pig
Guinea Pig Cages and Housing
When buying a guinea pig cage, keep in mind that your new pet should not be housed in anything smaller than 30” x 48”. Guinea pig cages can be made of a combination of plastic, metal or wire, but good ventilation is important so you should not house your pet guinea pig in an aquarium.
The walls of your guinea pig cage should be at least 10” tall, but the top does not need to be enclosed since guinea pigs tend to not jump or climb. You may want to use a well-ventilated wire top to keep other pets out of their cage. At LIBEVC, we recommend choosing a cage with solid flooring, which can be padded with appropriate bedding such as soft fleece blankets or towels. Guinea pigs should never be housed with a wire mesh flooring as this is harmful to their feet and legs. They should always have a hiding house available to them.
How to Keep Your Guinea Pig Cage Clean
Since guinea pigs are pretty messy animals, you will want to keep their housing clean. These cute, cuddly guys produce a large amount of not-so-cute feces and guinea pigs often defecate in their food and water dishes, so changing them daily is important. They will turn over any lightweight or unstable containers.
Guinea Pig Substrate: We recommend using CareFresh paper bedding, fleece blankets, or towels as a bedding for guinea pig cages. Change your guinea pig’s bedding daily to prevent high levels of ammonia from urine. Be sure to remove the feces, which can contaminate food and water. When offering a litterbox for your guinea pig, you can also use CareFresh or recycled pellet litter, but be sure to avoid cat litters or anything your guinea pig will eat.
Providing the Right Climate for Your Guinea Pig
Keep your pet guinea pig’s cage in a quiet area out of direct sunlight. The ideal temperature is 65-75°F. Guinea pigs tolerate cool temperatures better than heat and should not be exposed to high temperatures and humidity because of their susceptibility to hyperthermia (over-heating.)
Guinea Pig Diet and Nutrition
What Do Guinea Pigs Eat and Drink?
Water: Use a heavy ceramic or stainless-steel bowl to provide your guinea pig with continual access to drinking water. Clean the bowl daily with soap and water and rinse well. Please note that we do not recommend using sipper bottles for any pets. Make sure that the bowl height is appropriate for your pet guinea pig to easily reach water.
Guinea Pig Food (Pellets, Hay, Veggies & More)
The majority of your guinea pig’s diet should consist of a high-quality hay such as Oxbow hay. Timothy hay is ideal for adult guinea pigs and it should be available at all times. Baby guinea pigs should receive Timothy and alfalfa hay, but plan to wean your pig off alfalfa when he or she is about 6 months old. Keep in mind that hay can easily become moldy. To prolong its freshness, store it in a cool dark area away from all light and keep out moisture using an airtight bag or container.
Guinea pigs eat pellets, which you should serve them daily in a heavy ceramic or stainless steel bowl. We recommend Oxbow guinea pig pellets, choosing adult or baby pellets based on your pet guinea pig’s age. Choose pellets that are fortified with Vitamin C, since guinea pigs can’t produce this nutrient on their own. Pellets also provide a good balance of fiber and protein. Be sure to wash your guinea pig’s food bowl daily with soap and water.
Vegetables and Fruit
You should also feed your pet guinea pig lots of fresh veggies! Guinea pigs enjoy a variety of leafy greens, fruits and vegetables. We recommend feeding your guinea pig a small salad once or twice daily. This salad should consist of mainly leafy greens; a small amount of fruits and veggies can be added to the dish, or chopped up for a treat to use during play or bonding time.
You can refer to our healthy shopping guide for your small mammal to help you choose vegetables and fruits for your pet guinea pig. Always remember that variety is the spice of life, so mix up the menu for your furry friend! In addition to being tasty, a good diet helps guinea pigs maintain appropriate levels of Vitamin C.
Here Are Some Fruits and Vegetables That You Can Feed Your Guinea Pig:
Some fun leafy greens such as dandelion greens, mustard greens, collard greens, kale, beet greens and more. When looking to give your pet guinea pig a tasty treat, some snacks to consider are small pieces of carrot, red peppers, apples, strawberries and more! But remember that treats are just that—treats! They should be given in small quantities and in moderation. A fun way to help your guinea pig maintain appropriate vitamin C levels is to offer a slice of red pepper every day during play time!
A Note About Guinea Pig Treats
Although pet stores and pet websites sell many different types of rodent treats (e.g. yogurt drops), we do not recommend feeding these to your pet guinea pig. The first ingredient is often sugar and this is not good for a guinea pig’s health. Additionally, the fresh vegetables and fruits that you buy at your local market are cheaper and more nutritious for your guinea pig.
AN IMPORTANT DIETARY PRECAUTION: Guinea pigs develop dietary preferences early in life and do not adapt readily to changes in the type, appearance, or presentation of their food or water. It is very important to introduce your guinea pig to a variety of food at a young age. This can prevent potentially dangerous self-imposed fasting by your guinea pig. Cavies have sensitive intestinal tracts and sudden alterations in their diet (or even a change in their pellet brand) may result in serious GI upset and anorexia.
Guinea Pig Behavior
Cavies make good pets, especially for families with children. Cavies are non-aggressive and they often don’t bite or scratch. If frightened, they may run around their enclosure at a very fast speed, which makes them hard to catch.
Do Guinea Pigs Talk?
Find out more in our blog, “What Your Guinea Pig Would Tell You If S/He Could Talk?”
Guinea pigs are social animals who seek physical contact with other guinea pigs when housed together. While of course guinea pigs don’t speak English or Spanish, their varied and diverse vocalizations have been well-characterized. Some common guinea pig call types include; chutt, chutter, whine, tweet, whistle (single or in long bouts), purr, drr, scream, squeal, chirp and grunt.
What Do Guinea Pigs Like to Play?
Guinea pigs love to come out of their cages and run around. This should be done under supervision, in a cordoned off area, particularly because guinea pigs love to chew anything. Wires, outlets and baseboards will be chewed quickly and can be dangerous. The best place to play with your guinea pig is on tile, carpet, linoleum or wood floors without wires and outlets. (This will also make for an easy clean-up!)
Medical Care for Your Pet Guinea Pig
When Should You Bring Your Pet Guinea Pig in for a Checkup?
When you first buy a new guinea pig, we recommend having a specialized guinea pig vet check your new pet. Be sure to bring your guinea pig in for an annual physical exam (including fecal and blood work) to help ensure he or she lives a long and healthy life.
Common Guinea Pig Health Concerns
The following is a list of common guinea pig health concerns. Observing your pet guinea pig and bringing them in for an annual physical will help prevent these ailments or catch them early on, while they can be treated:
Vitamin C deficiency
Parasite & skin problems
How Can You Tell When Your Guinea Pig Is Sick?
These behaviors or symptoms may indicate that your pet guinea pig is sick. If you observe them, schedule an appointment with a guinea pig vet nearby.
Constant scratching or fur loss
Difficulty balancing or walking
Changes in appetite or fecal output
Guinea Pig Emergencies
The following is a list of guinea pig emergencies or signs that your guinea pig might need critical care. If you witness any of these, seek medical care right away:
Not eating, drinking or pooping
Difficulty urinating or blood in the urine
Discharge from the eyes and/or nose
Even if you aren’t sure if your guinea pig needs critical care, your safest bet is to contact your local exotics specialty vet for advice. At Long Island Bird & Exotics, we are on-call 24/hours a day. Contact us about your guinea pig emergencies if you live in the NY area!
An Important Note about CT Scans for Your Pet Guinea Pig
Small exotic patients pose serious diagnostic challenges due to their size. At LIBEVC, we realized long ago that traditional X-rays are not an effective or sensitive enough tool for diagnosing many guinea pig illnesses such as severe ear infections or dental diseases.
Guinea pig owners have often heard through the grapevine that their beloved pets are at a high risk during anesthesia and surgery, or that they are generally difficult to treat as veterinary patients. While this is a partially true myth, we believe the reason for this is that many times veterinarians misdiagnose, or make a diagnosis too late, because of their reliance on conventional X-rays.
At Long Island Bird and Exotics Vet Clinic, we have learned that only CAT (CT) scans provide us with accurate and early information about guinea pigs, pet chinchillas and other small pets. For this reason, we first perform a CAT scan on all guinea pigs who are about to be spayed or neutered. Doing so helps ensure that there are no other conditions that might put them at risk when they go under anesthesia.
We also recommend a CT scan for any guinea pig that is slightly ill. We find that many pigs suffer from subclinical illnesses. This means your pet guinea pig seems “perfectly normal” when examined and is showing few or no signs of being sick, but is actually suffering from something you can’t easily see. One common example is pneumonia; an illness that we often see in guinea pigs, but easily goes undetected without a CT scan. This disease is very treatable when caught on time, so it is important to diagnosis it in the early stages. Additionally, ear disease and dental disease are common in guinea pigs and are often diagnosed too late. CT scans can also detect those diseases early.
Cutting Edge Research on CT Scans in Small Mammals
Here at LIBEVC, we have been studying the value of CT scans in small mammals over the past 18 months. We will be presenting our findings to other veterinarians from around the world at the iCARE veterinary convention in London, May 2019. Our animal hospital is equipped with the latest technology in advanced diagnostic imaging, using the Vimago HD volumetric CAT scan. We are the only hospital in the state of New York with this capability that is dedicated exclusively to the treatment of exotic pets
Here are some scans from guinea pigs we have treated at LIBEVC.
Subtle fracture of the lower jaw.
Severe ear infection. If not treated on time, this pigs are usually presented with an head tilt and other neurological signs.
This guinea pig was going to have a simple procedure and just some slight occasional cough prompted his CT.
At Long Island Birds and Exotic Pets, we offer guinea pig boarding services. We promise to provide your pet guinea pig with lots of TLC, so you can travel stress-free.