Caring for Guinea Pigs

Environment

Outside

Not a lot of people realise that guinea pigs have hair and not fur so need to have a similar temperature to humans.  They cannot cope with excessive sun, wind, rain or draughts.

You will need to position your house (a minimum 5ft hutch) with all this in mind to find a suitable location. You can find covers to fit over the hutch but you must not forget to remove the cover if it is a hot day. We have found at the shelter that putting a layer of vinyl on the floor of the hutch helps to make it a lot easier to clean and it reduces the smell. By adding a thick layer of newspaper with hay on top is perfect. When you clean them out you just roll paper and hay up, brush, disinfect and remake. Simple.

When guineas are on the grass in their pens, they still need protection from the weather and they definitely like to hide away in tunnels, boxes etc, wooden ones not plastic.

Indoors

If you decide to keep your guinea pigs indoors, I would recommend c & c cages. These are relatively cheap to buy and you know they are safe. Make sure you buy the small mesh panels if you are getting babies. This will stop them from escaping. Do not buy any that are under 5ft. You can buy ones with an attic on top or you can add another layer on top giving your pig lots of room to move around. Add lots of toys, tunnels and fleeces and you will have some happy squeakers.

Some families will have their guineas living in with them in winter and then acclimatise them in spring to live outside. This is fine but remember not to put them outside in winter, even if you think it is a nice sunny day. We would not venture outside without wrapping ourselves up with jackets and hats but the poor guineas cannot do that.

Diet

Use a ceramic bowl so the cavy cannot spill the food. A water bowl is better than a bottle. Bottles take a lot of work for a guinea and they can become lazy and not drink enough. Guinea pigs should drink a minimum of 40mls per day.

Guinea pigs need 85% of hay and grass in their diet.
10% of food should consist of leafy greens, herbs and vegetables
5% dry concentrate pellets and not muesli food.
Vitamin c is essential because guinea pigs do not make their own. They can get the vitamin c by buying the concentrate foods as well as the fresh food, which they should have daily. An estimated size of fresh would be a mug a day.

Giving fresh food daily is a delight to your pig but always try to rotate it so they get a different mix every day. Some fruits contain acid which would cause sores if given daily. Others contain a high level of calcium. Too much calcium can lead to kidney stones. Too much cabbage could cause bloat.

Here is a list of delights your pig  will love:

Safe food to give daily by rotation:

cabage
beans
parsnip
melon

celery
lettuce (not iceberg)
cucumber (favorite)

coriander
peppers
broccoli

courgette
tomatoes
apple

Safe food to give once or twice a week:

carrot
dandelion

carrot tops
kale

chicory
parsley

babycorn
spring greens

If you know your guinea pig suffers with stones please avoid all of these foods:

sweet clover hay    
watercress

basil
alfalfa

spinach

swiss chard

Behaviour

Guinea pigs have such a sweet nature, as soon as they become part of your family you fall in love with them. Most are shy and will hide away from you but once you bond with them, they will accept you and make squeaking noises to greet you.  There are a variety of sounds from a cavy, grunts, squeaks, coos and gurgles and you will get to know the difference.

Be aware that teeth chattering is a sign of anger. Do not put your hand near when you hear this as you could accidentally get bitten. Stop stroking a pig’s head if he suddenly lifts up his head fast. He is telling you that he doesn’t want to be stroked there. Try tickling under the chin, most guineas prefer that. Let your pig know when you are going to pick it up by talking to it. Cavies have poor eyesight and will get frightened and may harm themselves if they do not realise what you are about to do.  When putting your pig back into their hutch you must not let your cavy jump from your hand as they have short front legs and will easily break their jaw. Place them back into the enclosure backwards to minimise the risk.

Health

If we re-home a guinea pig to you it should be in good health unless you are told different. Guinea pigs should look bright eyed and their hair should be in good condition.

If you think your guinea pig is unwell it should be taken to a vet. As they are prey animals’ cavies usually hide their symptoms and try to carry on as normal.

Malocclusion

Guinea pigs can suffer with malocclusion which is where the teeth are overgrown and why you need a good diet for them. Wood from fruit trees is ideal and plenty of hay to gnaw on at all times.

Parasites

Parasites can be a common problem a cavy can get. The parasite can be internal as well as on the hair. Most parasites you get are from the hay but guineas must always have a fresh supply of hay to eat. Readi grass is one of the best but mixing the hays gives them a nice variety to eat. They will then choose their favourite type. Make sure the hay smells fresh and that it is not dusty or brown looking. Prevention is the best trick. Bathe your guinea in a small amount of water making sure the pig feels secure. Place a flannel at the bottom of the bowl to stop any slipping. Shampoo with an anti-parasitic one every few months but not in winter. Ensure your guinea is completely dry before returning to the house. Add a snuggle safe to keep warm for a while. You can buy spot on ivermectin if you know your pig does have parasites. This will need to be applied every week for 3 weeks and in between these times shampoo your pig, 3 days after application.

If you think the parasites are internal then seek advice from your guinea pig savvy vet.

Bladder stones are a common problem in guineas and are painful.

A sign of pain in a guinea pig could be sunken eyes, lack of appetite, reluctance to move, walking difficulties, flinching if you touch a certain area.

Somebody recently came up to me saying they thought that their pig had suddenly become lazy because she would not go up for food but wanted to be hand fed, in addition to this, they told me that the guinea pig always wanted to lie down and would eat her hay lying under the hay rack. This guinea pig was in pain and needed to go to the vets straight away. Always remember that if your guinea is suddenly doing things different, why?

Arthritis

As your guinea pig gets older you may notice that he is slowing down, doesn’t jump on top of his stool, is stiff, moves around less often or struggles to get up from a lying down position. These can all be subtle signs but ones you shouldn’t miss. The position of a water bottle may have to be moved because your pig may no longer be able to reach it. Your guinea could be suffering with arthritis and may need daily anti-inflammatories to reduce the pain and inflammation around the joints, thus improving his quality of life.                                                                                                                                        

  Guinea pigs always need a vitamin c supplement and you will need to buy special dry food for this and it helps to feed plenty of fresh grass, red and green peppers also help to provide enough vitamin c.

A pig’s life span is usually 5-7 years

Male guinea pigs can be sexually mature at 3 weeks old and females at 4 weeks.

Gestation is a long time at 59-72 days.

Male is called a boar, female is a sow and babies are called pups.

Company

Guinea pigs are sociable animals and in the wild live in colonies therefore you should have at least two to live together.  Groups of females with one neutered male works very well (lucky male) or a group of females. You cannot get a group of males living together unless they are brothers, and there are no females around that they can smell and even then, it might not work.  You should not let a rabbit and guinea pig live together; the rabbit might bully the pig and they have different diets as well as communicating differently.

This guide is only a very basic one to try and help you through some of the ways you can help to have happy and healthy pigs through their years. If in any doubt find a suitable vet or rodentologist to help you.