Guinea pig care

Guinea pig and food pellets

Guinea pigs are tail-less rodents with long, short, or sometimes wild hair that ranges in color. When full grown, they weigh around 1-2 pounds and are 8-10 inches long. Guinea pigs typically live for 5-8 years. 

Described as cuddly and comical, guinea pigs love to vocalize with squeals, chirps, squeaks, and whistles. They make wonderful pets for children and can be very social animals. 

Guinea pigs are hardy little animals, and their easy care makes them especially affordable pets!

Medical needs and grooming

While guinea pigs do not require routine vaccinations, an annual exam and parasite check is recommended. Seek out a veterinarian who is experienced in treating guinea pigs and is familiar with medical conditions such as: vitamin C deficiency (scurvy), overgrown teeth, colds and pneumonia, bladder stones, infections, parasites, etc. If a guinea pig seems droopy, has a dull coat and/or is losing hair, eats very little or nothing, has soft droppings or is otherwise acting abnormally, consult a veterinarian immediately. Refrain from using any medications intended for dogs or cats.

Spaying and neutering

Spaying/neutering guinea pigs carries risks and must only be done by a veterinarian with much guinea pig knowledge and experience. If you choose not to sterilize your pet, we discourage pairing male and female guinea pigs together. More information on guinea pig bonding can be found here.

Grooming

Guinea pig grooming involves regular toenail trimming, ear cleaning, combing, and bathing.

Diet 

Guinea pigs require unlimited amounts of fresh green grass hay (usually timothy). Alfalfa hay/alfalfa treats are okay for young guinea pigs and pregnant or malnourished adults, but otherwise should not be given on a regular basis. Most guinea pig pellets are alfalfa based, which is fairly high in calcium. Feeding additional alfalfa hay/alfalfa treats may provide too much calcium and lead to bladder stone problems in some guinea pigs.

Feed pellets made specifically for guinea pigs. Use a heavy bowl that cannot be tipped. Feed approximately ¼ - ½ c. of fresh pellets per animal daily. Avoid brands that contain lots of seeds and nuts, because the fat content of these foods is often too high for adult guinea pigs and they make choke on large or whole seeds. Fresh water must always be available, preferably in an easy-to-reach water bottle. Food bowls and water bottles should be cleaned and refilled with fresh food and water daily.

Guinea pigs require vitamin C on a daily basis. Since the vitamin C in pellets can dissipate over time, vitamin C can be supplemented by adding the proper dose of powdered or liquid vitamin C to the guinea pig's food or water, by giving it orally or by supplementing the diet with high C fruits and veggies (although it is more difficult to supplement the correct amount). The recommended dosage is 30 mg/day per average adult. Liquid C, a human supplement sold at most health/nutrition stores is a pleasant tasting liquid and is easy to administer.

Fresh greens and vegetables can be fed in moderation. Too large a quantity or variety can cause diarrhea or other digestive or nutritional problems. Guinea pigs can be given: parsley, bell peppers, romaine lettuce, live wheat grass (sold at some pet stores), carrot tops, celery leaves, clover, spinach, green alfalfa, chemical-free dandelion leaves and fresh grass, carrots, grapes, apple, cranberry (also dried cranberry), and a little citrus fruit. Vegetables belonging to the cabbage family (kale, broccoli, cauliflower) should also be very limited (or avoided) as they can cause bloat, a serious condition. Fresh foods should always be thoroughly rinsed. Introduce any new food item in small amounts to allow a guinea pig's system to adjust to it gradually.

Housing and temperature

Housing needs

The best guinea pig cages are usually wire cages with a solid bottom (metal or plastic) that are easily removed for cleaning. Wire cage bottoms are not recommended as they can easily injure your pet’s toes/feet. A cage for a single guinea pig should be at least 24” wide x 24” long and at minimum 15” high. For two or more guinea pigs, a minimum 24” x 36” floor size is recommended. Add a small house inside the cage so the guinea pig has a private refuge when stressed or tired. This can be a small cardboard box or a commercially produced house available at your local pet store.

Aquariums and plastic tubs are NOT recommended. They are usually not large enough, do not offer proper ventilation, and isolate the guinea pig from its surroundings by inhibiting sight, sound, and smell. If you are not finding suitable cages at your local pet store, Jack Pine Guinea Pig Rescue* in Stacy, Minnesota can be a good source for more information on where to find an appropriate cage.

Learn how to build your own cage here.

Bedding

To ensure the good health of your guinea pig, bedding must be kept clean. Aspen or kiln-dried pine shavings are good, inexpensive bedding. Hay/straw can be used but is messier to clean and not as absorbent. The recycled pelleted beddings on the market are very nice but more expensive. Cedar bedding and pine bedding NOT kiln-dried is not acceptable, as the oils in the wood pose health risks to guinea pigs.

Temperature

A guinea pig must be an indoor pet except in tropical climates. When providing housing for guinea pigs, keep the cage clean, keep the area dry and free from drafts, and maintain a temperature between 65-79 degrees. A guinea pig’s cage should be in an environment that is well lit (but not exposed to direct sunlight) and offers the guinea pig access to daily human activities.

Playtime, exercise, and handling

Playtime and exercise

A suitably sized cage and play time with you every day will meet your guinea pig's exercise needs. Exercise wheels or balls are not recommended, as guinea pigs usually don't enjoy them and they may even injure your pet's spine, legs or feet.

Handling

When picking up your guinea pig, be sure to support his entire body with two hands. Guinea pigs are easily injured if dropped, and may nip or bite if not properly handled. Children should always be supervised when handling guinea pigs.

Meeting new animal friends

Interactions with dogs, cats, and other pets should always be carefully supervised. Never leave a guinea pig unattended in the presence of a dog, cat, ferret or any other predatory animal.

Guinea pig bonding basics

Guinea pigs are very social creatures and require daily attention from their human friends and/or other guinea pig buddies. If you live in a household where everybody is gone much of the day, please consider having two guinea pigs to keep each other company. Your buddy guinea pigs will be happier and more entertaining pets. Learn how to begin the process.

For caring, compassionate advice and resources to address all your animal concerns.

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