Guinea pigs are small, sociable, ‘chatty’ rodents and like living in pairs. They have a lifespan of around 5 years of age, and come in a variety of breeds, colours, and sizes. Once fully grown, guinea pigs average an adult size of 20-25 cm in length, and weigh approximately 1 kg.
Guinea pigs are a mammal, belonging to the species of rodent, and the family “cavy” (pronounced “kay-vee”). They are precocial species – meaning that they are born fully furred, with eyes and ears open, and walking within 30-60 minutes after birth. By 3 days old, baby guinea pigs (pups) are able to eat solid food, however still suckle from their mother.
The cage/ hutch should be cleaned out thoroughly at least once a week; if guinea pigs are left in an unclean environment for too long they can get foot problems, like bumble-foot. Ensure your guinea pigs have constant access to safe hiding places where they can escape if they feel afraid, tunnels and hides can be placed in cages/ hutches for your guinea pigs.
Provide your guinea pigs with safe toys to play with and chew, this helps keep their minds stimulated and their teeth from overgrowing – check your guinea pigs teeth and nails weekly, as they are constantly growing, and may need to be clipped if they become overgrown – to prevent health problems (see my post on nail clipping).
Guinea pigs should have at least one hour interaction and handling, daily where possible, as this gets them more used to and more comfortable with their owners. Be quiet and gentle around your guinea pigs; never shout, they are very unlikely to understand and can become more nervous or scared.
Make sure your guinea pigs have opportunities to exercise every day to stay fit and healthy – this can be running indoors (supervised!), ensuring they cannot escape anywhere or do themselves harm, or access electrical wires – or this can be free roaming outdoors (supervised from escape and local predatory pets) or safe in an enclosed run. Ensure there is shelter in outside runs, from both bad and sunny weather.
In warm weather you should check the fur and skin around your guinea pigs rear end daily, as urine staining or droppings that are stuck will attract flies, and can cause ‘fly strike’ (flies lay eggs in the dirty fur, the maggots hatch and eat away at your guinea pig), which is often fatal.
Provide fresh clean drinking water at all times. Check the water supply regularly, more so on hot days and during the summer; make sure the water does not freeze in winter – bottle covers help with this.
Hay should make up the most of your guinea pigs’ diet, and should be available at all times. A fresh portion of guinea pig pellets be available daily. Guinea pigs are grazers – they like to eat little and often – so food should be available as much as possible. Feeding your guinea pig the correct diet will help prevent a lot of common disease. One day a week off from feeding fruit and vegetables should be given as too much can make your guinea pig ill, although fresh grass, fruit and vegetables should be given on a regular basis.
Safe Foods to Feed
- Apple (pips and core removed)
- Brussel sprouts
- Dandelion leaves and flower
- Tomatoes (NOT leaves and stalks)
- Celery (including leaves)
- Corn on the cob
- Pear (pips and core removed)
Foodstuffs to Avoid
- Lettuce (can cause a swollen tummy and the runs)
- Lawnmower clippings (these can upset a guinea pigs tummy and make them ill)
- Foxgloves (flowers)
- Grapes/ raisins
- Privet (plant/ bush)
- Rhubarb (including leaves)
- Anything with artificial additives in it
- Anything cooked
- Anything sugary (including honey)
- Anything stale, wilting, mouldy or otherwise ‘off’ vegetables or fruit