Enjoying Your Guinea Pig: Care Sheet and Tips
Whether you spent some time planning the purchase of your guinea pig or you acquired it on the spur of the moment, you’ve probably got lots of questions about how to take care of your furry new friend!
Your guinea pig’s formal scientific name is the Cavia porcellus, so many people call them cavies. Why not bookmark this guinea pig care sheet so you can easily reference it for guidance on feeding and housing your guinea pig. You will also find advice about breeding them and taking care of them when they are ill.
Where Do They Come From?
Yes, we know you got your pet at the local pet store, from an adoption house or from a friend—but just what are guinea pigs, and where do they come from? If you’re among the many people who think they come from one of the Guineas, in Africa or in the southwest Pacific, you’re wrong! Guinea pigs actually originated in the Andes section of South America, and European traders introduced them to various locations as long ago as the 16th century.
The primitive Indians who kept guinea pigs as long ago as 5000 BC viewed them as having the powers to diagnose and cure ills. From the artwork discovered of that era, we’ve learned that guinea pigs would often be rubbed on people who were ill. Unfortunately, many times the little fellows were then cut open to see if the cure worked. Because of their supposed power, they were exchanged as gifts, representing the giver’s honor of the recipient. Thank goodness times have changed! More information can be found on our What is a Guinea Pig post.
Your Guinea Pig’s New Home
Now you’ve brought your little fellow (or little gal) to your home; so what kind of home must you provide?
For starters, it’s not a good idea to keep guinea pigs of the opposite sex together. The females might become pregnant as young as four weeks, and males as young as three weeks can sire little cavies. But guinea pig breeding is a risky proposition, and it’s best to leave it up to the experts. While they are social animals who will enjoy a pal or two to keep them company, make certain you house your guinea pigs with same-sex roommates. Alternatively, if you choose to keep male and females together, your local small animal vet can have one of them “fixed up” – Getting the male sterilised is a better option, due to less complications.
Creating the Complete Cavy Cage
There are many ways to make your cavy’s home into a comfortable, safe place for him, but no matter what way you go about it remember that he needs about eight square feet (about .75 square meters). If you have two guinea pigs, you don’t have to double the space, but add about two extra square feet per additional cavy.
Never try to convert a gerbil or hamster cage into something for your guinea pig. It’s important to avoid wire flooring or shelving because your pet can catch and injure his feet in the wiring. We do, instead, have great guinea pig cage ideas from other guinea pig owners:
- Buy some C&C, which stands for cubes and Coroplast. Coroplast is a plastic coating on square-foot grids, like corrugated plastic; the grids can be assembled into cages. Choose a thickness between 4mm and 6mm for ease in assembly; more thickness makes it difficult to work with.
- Try using a toddler’s wading pool for your guinea pig. The only disadvantage to this is the lack of a lid or roofing to keep your pet contained and safe from exploration by small children or other pets like dogs or cats in your household.
- You can make a cage from wood if you choose kiln-dried pine (available at your local do-it-yourself store), but other woods such as cedar might even be harmful for your pet. You cannot paint the interior of a wood cage, and you also must protect the floor from absorbing your cavy’s droppings or urine.
- Don’t choose a container with high sides so he cannot see the outside world. Your cavy is curious and social, and he wants to know what’s going on!
- Cavies are intelligent and playful, and your pet will love it if you provide an extra story to his habitat. Just be certain to cover all surfaces, including ramps, so that his feet are protected.
- Remember that your cavy can squeeze a body part through anything bigger than about 1.5 cm.
Your Pet’s Interior Décor
It’s important to emphasize in this guinea pig care sheet that having access to hay is vital for your pet! A shelf or shallow box for hay is a vital component of your pet’s hutch. That certainly does not mean that you can go out and buy a bale of hay—because most often when we see bales, they are made of straw and not hay. What your guinea pig really needs, all day and every day, is access to Timothy hay. Timothy hay is actually a grass, and it’s full of the fiber that your pet needs. The full end will also allow your pet to give his teeth a workout. Affix a shelf in his cage so that he can access it without knocking it over.
Next, consider how you will cover the floor of your guinea pig’s cage. Some people like to use fleece as guinea pig bedding, because it’s soft and warm for your guinea pig. You’ll have to wash it regularly and keep extra pieces on hand.
Many people prefer to buy shavings from the local pet store. Aspen or pine packaged shavings are a good choice, and layer the shavings to a depth of 3.5 to 4 cm.
Don’t forget to install some type of box or plastic bin turned upside down so that he can choose to be in or out. Just like anybody, sometimes he might want some alone time!
Essential Care Inventory
Having the right supplies, equipment and tools handy is a must for complete and ongoing guinea pig care. Here is what you need for general care and medical emergencies…
- Nail Cutters & Scissors – Your guinea pigs nails will need to be trimmed monthly, Your vet can show you how to perform this correctly.
- Paraffin – This is great for Dry Skin areas
- A Hidey House – Every guinea pig needs a hidey house
- Water Bottle & Ceramic Food Bowl
- 3-4 Old Towels + Dust Pan & Broom
- Electric shaver – Long haired guinea pigs may need to groomed
- Grooming Brush
- Baby Shampoo / Rabbit & Guinea Pig Shampoo – Every 3 months is a good time for a bath
- Critical Care Formula & Feeding syringe – This is fined grain fiber & nutrient mixture, essential for sick piggies.
You should also research the nearest location of a reputable small animal vet. Not all vet’s specialise in guinea pigs, so having this information handy before any problems arise is essential.
For online medical questions, the go to place is…
For any non-medical questions (As we are not qualified vets), feel free to ask a question on our Guinea Pig Care Facebook Page
What’s For Dinner?
No guinea pig care sheet would be complete without some discussion of how to feed your little fellow! Just remember that he is like a little kid in the way he approaches any new food—with curiosity and a little bit of suspicion. And just like a child, there will be some foods he likes and others that he rejects.
- You’ve already read that he needs hay on a daily basis. You can use the Timothy hay that we already discussed, and cavies also enjoy soft bluegrass. If you live near a horse farm, you might ask them to sell you some fresh Timothy hay.
- It’s also important to provide some pelleted food. Look for pellets that are high in Vitamin C. Alfalfa pellets are better than Timothy hay when it comes to this nutrient, so important for your cavy’s teeth and feet. Alfalfa hay should only be given occasionally, but avoid giving it if you are already providing Alfalfa pellets.
- In fact, you can even crush a vitamin C tablet (About 50mgs – which is about an 1/8th of a standard 500mg sugarless tablet) into a fine powder and sprinkle it over his food. Do not put it into his water, however; he’ll be put off by it and possibly become dehydrated.
- Cavies love fresh fruits and vegetables. You can give him a strawberry or a couple grapes almost every day, but withhold fruits that are higher in sugar such as watermelon or apples for special treats only. Wash the rinds if you give him cantaloupe. Carrots can also be given frequently, as well as celery or beans, but chop them up into 1cm sizes or less to eliminate choking on the fibers. Cabbage is not a great choice because it will cause your pet to become bloated.
- If you pull leafy forage from your garden or fields, just be certain it hasn’t been treated with any chemicals such as pesticides.
The pellet bowl should be heavy on the bottom so that he can’t knock it over. Gluing lighter bowls to bricks works well.
Don’t forget the water—but use a feeding tube apparatus, because water bowls are easily spilled.
You will find more in-depth diet & food information on our guinea pig food page.
When Your Piggy Isn’t Well
By now you’ve probably realized that your little guinea pig is a smart, social creature who enjoys your company and likes to look out on the world. He whistles or squeaks to show his happiness.
You’ll be able to tell if he’s feeling a little off. He’ll stay back away from you, possibly inside his little cubbyhole.
If you notice that his eyes or nose are running, or if the fluid around his eyes dries to a crust, it’s time to call the vet. When you see him losing excessive amounts of fur, or whenever you notice that one of his feet has been injured, he needs professional care. Droppings that are small and shaped like tear drops also signify a problem. It is normal, however, to see the green color of the pellets in his droppings.
Weigh your Guinea Pigs weekly and daily if you think there is a problem.
Keep a folder and write each of your piggies weight down (to the gram) each week. Kitchen scales with a guinea pig sized container glued to the surface works well as scales.
Don’t wait until your cavy is sick to search out a vet. Locate a vet who specialises in guinea pigs in your community as soon as you decide to buy a guinea pig.
That way, when trouble strikes, you won’t waste time.
Keeping Your Pet Happy
In the meantime, sit down on the floor with your pet and play with him on a regular basis. You can use a cardboard roll from toilet tissue and hide a piece of fruit inside it. While guinea pigs really don’t have toys, your pet will love chewing on the cardboard roll when he’s done with the fruit. It’s a good idea to cut open the cardboard before you leave it with him.
They are loving creatures, very smart, and very social. His happiness depends not only on the proper food and housing but also on the affectionate treatment you give him.
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With luck and consistent care, you could possibly have your pet for up to 7 years or if you are lucky, even longer! Wishing you a happy pet guinea pig.