March is “Adopt a Rescued Guinea Pig Month” and in honor of this we are going to talk about having a guinea pig as part of the family. Guinea pigs are social animals and you should consider keeping a same sex pair so they have company. Their life span is 5-7 years but they can live up to 10 which would not be unusual. They need a large cage to live in. They are usually quiet but can call out loudly and can be active both day and night. Guinea pigs make good family pets.
Guinea pigs are approximately 10 inches long and weigh around 2-3 pounds. They have a rounded stout body with no visible tail. There is a variety of breeds such as the American, Abyssinian, and Peruvian. You can find them in a wide variety of colors.
When choosing a guinea pig you have several sources—pet stores, breeders (caviary) and shelters. Make sure the guinea pig(s) are in good health and condition, and well socialized and easy to handle. Sometimes those found in shelters might be skittish if they were not handled when young, but it should not take long for them to settle down in a routine environment.
Some steps in choosing a guinea pig:
- Look for one that relaxes quickly when handled, and does not panic. Be careful if one is overly quiet and calm as this might be a sign of illness.
- Choose one that is alert and active.
- Guinea pigs should not be overly skinny or grossly overweight; the body should be firm and rounded.
- Nose, eyes, ears and rear end should be clean and free of discharge. The coat should be full and soft. Skin should not be flaky or red. Be on the lookout for any signs of parasites such as lice.
- No matter how much time you spend with a guinea pig you can not replace the companionship of another guinea pig. Be ready to bring home two. If you don’t have the space, budget or time to support a pair then it is not the right pick for this stage in your life.
Here are some tips on caring for your guinea pig:
If you get one with sides so they don’t kick out their food and bedding be sure it is kept clean as this type of cage restricts the airflow. Keeping it clean prevents ammonia and odors from building up inside.
Guinea pigs use their bedding as a soft place to sleep and as their bathroom. Shredded paper or pine chips work well.
Food dishes and hay racks need to be checked daily. Water needs changing daily. They should receive daily fresh veggies (dark leafy greens included) and fruits. Have timothy and grass hay available at all times. Guinea pig pellets should be fed in small amounts. Guinea pigs are dependent on high Vitamin C, low-fat low-calcium and low-sugar food choices to maintain good health.
Every other day you should clean food dishes and water bottles with hot water.
Long hair guinea pigs need daily brushing, short haired ones less frequently; all breeds need brushing during shedding season. You want to trim the long hair guinea pigs every few weeks to keep their fur from dragging in their bedding.
Nails need to be trimmed once or twice a month depending on how fast they grow.
An untreated wooden block to chew on will satisfy the guinea pig’s desire to chew and keep its teeth worn down. The teeth continuously grow so this is essential.
Let your guinea pig out of its enclosure to play for exercise and change of scenery. Be sure it is safe! Have large well ventilated rolling ball for them to use but keep them from stairs and direct sunshine.
You can take your guinea pig outside if you have a well fitting harness and leash.
Even if you have two guinea pigs they need daily socializing and snuggling with humans.
Guinea pigs do not require vaccines but preventive care is very important. Dental problems are very common in guinea pigs. Schedule annual wellness visits so the veterinarian can perform a physical and oral exam and to discuss husbandry.