Guinea pigs also referred to as Cavies, are a rodent native to South America. They make ideal pets due to their small size, ease of care & quiet nature. Guinea pigs are sociable animals and should not be kept alone. They can be housed in colonies. They often become very used to handling, especially if started at a young age. They can be very vocal animals with a wide range of calls. There are many different breeds of guinea pigs including the short haired Abyssinians and the long haired Peruvians.
Guinea pigs can be housed in a range of cage types, but choose one as large as possible (minimum dimensions for one guinea pig is 1m x 0.5m x 0.25m high) with bedding materials such as shredded paper, hay or straw changed regularly. Their enclosure should be well ventilated and predator proof.
Provide overturned boxes for ‘hiding’ places (at least one per guinea pigs) Use at least 2 dripper type water bottles (in case one becomes blocked), as water bowls are more likely to become soiled.
Guinea pigs are herbivores and their teeth grow continuously throughout life, so they should be offered a constant source of grass or grass hay e.g. Timothy, Oaten, Wheaten, Pasture, Paddock, Meadow or Ryegrass hays (not Lucerne or clover hays as they are too high in protein and calcium) so that they chew for long periods of time
They should also be offered a wide variety of food types from a young age so that they are open to trying new foods. Fresh leafy green vegetables including broccoli, cabbage, celery, endive, beet/carrot tops, brussel sprouts, spinach leaves, Bok Choy, other Asian greens and dark leafed lettuces and herbs should also be fed daily. Some high quality ‘Guinea Pig’ pellets can be offered (min 16% fibre content) in small quantities eg Oxbow Cavy Cuisine.
Guinea pigs require a dietary source of Vitamin C. There is usually enough in the fresh leafy green vegetables but you can supplement with small quantities of vitamin C rich foods such as citrus or kiwi fruit.
They are naturally ‘coprophagic’ meaning that they eat some of their own droppings which is normal and helpful for the bacteria in their intestines.
Some guinea pig coats need regular grooming and their nails may need occasional clipping. Any changes in your guinea pigs food intake, body condition, eyes, ears, mouth, feet and toileting behaviour should be checked out with a veterinarian. Regular health checks are important.
Overgrown cheek teeth (molar teeth) are a very common problem which may be related to poor diet or genetics. Bladder stones are also not uncommon and may also be a result of poor diet. Other often seen problems include food problems from poor housing and skin problems from mites and fungal/bacterial infections.
Guinea pigs do not tolerate heat very well and are vulnerable to heat stress so be careful in placement of their house especially in the warmer months.
Respiratory disease is common in guinea pigs and the signs can include nasal and/or eye discharge, wheezing, coughing and open-mouth breathing. Prevention is best achieved by maintaining good hygiene habits and reducing the potential for stress through avoidance of such things as overcrowding and inadequate diet.
1. Does my Guinea Pig need company?
Yes. Guinea pigs are sociable animals and should not be kept alone. They can be happily housed in colonies just make sure there is enough space for them all to not get stressed (minimum dimensions for one Guinea Pig is 1m x 0.5m x 0.25m high).
2. How do I pick up my Guinea Pig?
Guinea pigs can usually be handled quite easily. Pick them up by placing your hand(s) under them & be sure to support the full length of their body.
3. What healthy treats can I give my Guinea Pigs?
Herbs like parsley, dandelion, coriander, basil, dill, mint are nice and some fruits, especially citrus and Kiwi that are rich in Vitamin C. Never give cereals, grains, nuts, seeds, corn, beans, peas, breads, biscuits, sweets, sugar, breakfast cereals or chocolate.
For more information please consult the RSPCA Knowledge Base.
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