Guinea Pigs as Pets

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Guinea pigs are great pets and are relatively easy to care for. They are social animals and are therefore best kept in pairs or small groups. They are suitable pets for younger children as long as they are handled regularly and correctly.

Guinea Pig Facts

Life span: 4 – 8 years
Sexual maturity: male 9 – 10 weeks
Female 4 – 6 weeks
Litter size: 1 – 6 (average 3 – 4)
Country of origin: South America
Female: 'Sow'
Male: 'Boar'

Breeds

There are many different breeds of guinea pig, varying in coat texture and coat length. Smooth coated guinea pigs are available in any colour combination including: black, red, cream, white, chocolate and others! There are also pure bred guinea pigs such as Satins, Himalayans, Dutch, Rex, Abyssinian, Peruvian, Texas, Alpacas and many more. Some are smooth or short-coat, others are long-haired, and some have crested coats.

If you are thinking about guinea pigs as pets for the first time, it may be best to consider short haired breeds, as longer coated breeds require regular grooming and therefore require more time to keep clean.

If you wish to keep two guinea pigs together, 2 females will generally get on better with each other. 2 males will sometimes live together, but only if they are kept together from a young age. Obviously, if you wish to keep guineas of different sexes, neutering the males will prevent unwanted litters.

Contrary to popular belief, guinea pigs should not be housed with rabbits, since the latter can harbour diseases which are fatal to guinea pigs. Rabbits will frequently bully guinea pigs also.

Housing

Guinea pigs can be kept outdoors or indoors. If kept outside they should be in a large hutch which should be as weather-proof as possible and provide a solid covered area for shelter. The hutch should be lifted up off the floor and have strong wire netting to prevent cats, dogs or foxes from getting in. Suitable hutches can be found in most pet shops, or you can make your own.

Guinea pig bedding can be made up of a number of things: old newspaper can be laid down first to provide insulation, and then shredded newspaper, straw or hay, to provide bedding. Wood shavings should not be used as they easily get into eyes and nostrils, causing irritation or chest infections.

Hutches should be cleaned out on a weekly basis, removing and replacing all of the bedding. If the guinea pigs use one area as a toilet, then this may require cleaning on a daily basis.

Feeding

As with every animal, it is vital for guinea pigs to have access to clean, fresh water at all times. This should be changed daily. Water should be provided in a water bottle, obtainable from any pet shop.

Guinea pigs are vegetarian, and so do not eat any meat or fish. They are unable to manufacture their own Vitamin C, and rely on it being present in their diet – for this reason they should not be fed rabbit food. The best way to ensure a supply of vitamin C is to feed a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. Most fruit and vegetables can be fed, although guinea pigs tend not to like potatoes and onions. Hay should be available to guinea pigs at all time, to provide roughage and aid digestion. Commercial guinea pig mixes are readily available comprising flakes, pellets and grains, and are supplemented with vitamin C.

Guinea pigs also enjoy grazing on grass and dandelion leaves.

General Care and Common Problems

Diarrhoea
Diarrhoea is usually the result of too much green foodstuffs in the diet. If you notice this, withhold fresh greens and just feed hay and dry mix for 1 – 2 days. Fresh food can then gradually be reintroduced. Consult a vet if diarrhoea persists for more than 48 hours.
   
Overgrown Teeth
Guinea pigs’ front teeth or ‘incisors’, should be worn down naturally when eating hard crunchy foods such as carrots. If not, they can become overgrown, causing difficulty when eating. Guinea pigs also have back teeth or ‘molars’, which can grow into the side of the tongue, causing painful ulcers. Keep a check on the front teeth to ensure they don’t get too long. The back teeth cannot be easily seen, so if you notice any drooling or inappetance, consult a vet straight away.
 
Skin problems
Guinea pigs commonly suffer from fur loss and itchy skin. This may be accompanied by redness or dandruff. One of the commonest causes is mites, which can be so itchy, that the guineas actually tear their own skin whilst scratching. If you suspect a mite infection in your guinea pigs, consult a vet as soon as possible.

Further Information

Peter Gurney's Guinea Pigs

Peter Gurney's Guinea Pig Health Guide

GBH Rescue (Guinea Pig, Bunny and Hamster etc.)