Guinea Pig FAQs
We have provided information that we will hope answer your commonly asked questions on Guinea Pigs. We know this will help build the bond between you and your animal, and we hope it will continue to be a resource for your Guinea Pig’s happiness and health for years to come. Please click on the category you are interested in learning more about:
Before Getting a Guinea Pig
Is a Guinea Pig Right For You?
By: ASPCA Ani-Med
Guess who’s the most docile–and vocal–of all companion rodents? She’s not a pig and she’s not from New Guinea, but she’ll love to sit on your lap, and has been known to squeak with delight when her favorite human enters the room. Could there be room for this cuddlebug in your heart and home?
South American natives, wild guinea pigs were first domesticated by the Indians of Peru, who raised them mainly for food. They’ve been bred for the pet trade, however, in a variety of colors, from brown spotted and black banded to pure golden and snowy white. As for hairstyles, there are shorthaired and fluffy tufted guinea pigs, as well as a breed with long, silky locks that flow to the ground. (The latter, by the way, is known as the Peruvian, and if you opt for this little piggy, he’ll need to be groomed daily.) Guinea pigs can weigh a couple of pounds, and have an average lifespan of 5 to 7 years.
If you’re thinking about getting a guinea pig, it’s smart to start thinking about getting more than one. These social animals love to be with their own kind, and if you keep two or more together, they’ll become great friends. ASPCA experts recommend two females for first-time guinea pig caretakers, as adult males tend to fight. If you want to keep males and females together, please have a veterinarian neuter the male and spay the female. And while it’s an excellent idea to keep more than one guinea pig, please make sure you have enough room for them! These critters require a large cage with a minimum of two square feet per pig.
You may have the space, but have you got the time to properly care for guinea pigs? These aren’t the kind of pets you can feed, water and passively watch through the bars of a cage. Guinea pigs are readily tamed and will need playtime out of the cage every day. They usually haven’t got the excess energy that, say, hamsters do, and may be quite content to sit on your lap during their time out, enjoying just chilling out and being gently stroked. If this sounds good to you, you may have found your perfect pet!
Has this gentle fellow met your criteria so far? A guinea pig may be right for you, but how about the other members of the family? It’s ideal if everyone is involved in the decision-making and caretaking. And if you have children in the family, keep in mind that guinea pigs are excellent starter pets. Their larger size makes them easier to handle than other companion rodents. Also, guinea pigs are not into scratching and clawing, and they rarely bite.
Got your heart set on a pair of piggies? We suggest getting yours from a reputable breeder or, better yet, adopting from a shelter or small-animal rescue group. Search on websites like www.petfinder.com for guinea pigs in need of good homes.
Bringing Your Guinea Pig Home
By: ASPCA Ani- Med
How does it feel to be the proud new caretaker of a guinea pig? Bet you can’t wait to get to know all about your pet—and once he settles in, your furry friend will want to know just what’s up with you, too. He’s a shy guy by nature, but you can easily earn his trust and affection by getting him used to being handled.
Food treats are a surefire way to kick off the getting-to-know-each-other process. Start by simply putting your hand in your pet’s cage and offering small bits of his favorite treats. It’s also important to talk to him during these sessions, and let him get used to your voice. As the days go by, your piggy may approach the door of the cage when you enter the room. Now’s the time to stroke him gently and give him a little scratch.
When your animal companion is comfortable being petted and accepting treats, you’re ready to start handling him. Carefully pick him up, sliding one hand beneath his bottom as you support his head and back with the other. Lift him slowly and, once he’s secure, hold him safely against your body or on your lap. From here, begin stroking his head, ears and back. That was pretty easy, right? Conduct a few brief sessions a couple of times a day for a few weeks. Each time, it should get easier—and downright fun!—for all involved.
Once your guinea pig has been hand-tamed, you can let him exercise out side his cage every day. And once a week, before your play session, you should brush his coat and check his pig’s skin for lumps, bumps or any signs of irritation. If your guinea pig has long hair, you’ll need to groom him a bit more often.
In return for your pet’s cooperation and good nature during handling, you must ensure that he is never picked up by someone who hasn’t mastered the proper technique. A guinea pig should never be squeezed around the middle, nor should his body be allowed to dangle during handling. Such actions could lead to internal injuries. And keep in mind that a fall, even from a few feet, can result in broken bones.
By: ASPCA Ani-Med
Your guinea pig needs a place to call home–and your job as a guinea pig housekeeper is to provide housing that is spacious and sturdy, and as comfortable and clean as possible. A well-made cage and accessories can add up, but they are the most important investments you’ll make for your pet.
When selecting a cage, always heed the golden rule of happy guinea pig housing–the bigger, the better. Your pig’s pad should be at least two square feet. If you’ve got a pair, you’ll need a cage that’s at least four square feet, but more space is always appreciated.
Many guinea pig caretakers sing the praises of metal cages, which are extremely durable and easy to clean. Just make sure the model you select doesn’t have a wire floor, or your pet could get her feet and ankles caught. Avoid aquariums, please, as they don’t provide adequate ventilation and are difficult to clean.
Where to set up your pet’s home? Location is everything! A place that is not too cold, not too noisy and not too bright is just right. Guinea pigs do best in temperatures around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so take care not to place the cage in full sunlight or near a radiator.
Your next step involves a bit of interior decorating. Line the cage with aspen shavings, timothy hay or pelleted bedding make from recycled paper. These materials are clean, non-toxic and easy to clear away and replace. Pass on cedar and pine shavings, which are thought to cause liver and respiratory damage, and cotton wool bedding. Your guinea pig may want to make a cozy nest for napping, so give her some shredded paper towels or straw expressly for this purpose. It’s also important that you designate an area of the cage where your companion can get some privacy. Use a flowerpot, PVC pipe or cardboard box for your piggy hideout.
Guinea pigs just want to have fun, and your little friend’s no exception. She’ll appreciate dish towels and pieces of soft cloth for wrapping up in, PVC pipes for tunneling, and bricks and rocks for climbing. Every now and then, indulge her natural urge to chew with a branch or twig from a non-toxic tree that hasn’t been treated with any chemicals.
To be a good guinea pig housekeeper, you’ll need to remove soiled bedding, uneaten food and droppings every day. Once a week, dump out all the bedding and scrub the cage with hot, soapy water. Be sure to let everything dry before returning your companion to her castle.
Understanding Your Guinea Pig
By: ASPCA Ani-Med
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re a first-time guinea pig caretaker. Congratulations, you’ve got some very special, very expressive new friends. Bet you can’t wait to learn all about these cuddly characters–and if you give them the chance, they’ll have no problem letting you know how they feel. Easily the most vocal of all companion rodents, these charming critters will have you speaking “guinea pig” in no time.
Did you know that your pet’s wild counterparts are highly social and live in large herds? That’s why it’s very important that you keep at least a pair. Two or more guinea pigs housed together will become great friends, but they will also bond with you, too. You’ll need to give each of your pigs some special attention every day. For the more mellow fellows, 30 minutes or so of quietly sitting on your lap may be pure heaven. While most piggies enjoy cuddling with their humans, a few individuals don’t. If yours is in the latter group, take the time to figure out what he likes best. Maybe he’d prefer to tunnel through some of his favorite PVC pipes!
There’s something special about your pets’ teeth, too. Your guinea pigs’ front teeth, like that of all rodents, grow continuously throughout their lives. To help keep their choppers properly shaped and nicely filed, your pets will need to chew–a lot! Check your pet supply store for a variety of safe, appropriate chew toys. Branches and twigs from untreated trees will also fit the bill–AND give your companions something fun to do. Do not give them wood from cedar, apricot, cherry and peach trees, as they are toxic.
Now a few words about your pets’ unique dietary requirements. Unlike other animals, guinea pigs cannot manufacture vitamin C from glucose in their food, so you’ll have to make sure your buddies get enough of this essential vitamin every day. Read our section on NUTRITIONAL NEEDS for the whole scoop. And please do not become alarmed if you notice your pets eating their droppings. This may seem strange to you, but is perfectly normal, and allows them to obtain essential nutrients from their food that they weren’t able to get on the first pass.
Have you figured out yet what your piggies are trying to tell you? These guys are known for their many vocalizations. When you feed or stroke your pets, they may respond with a gurgling sound that’s a little like purring–or grunting, as some people describe it. These sounds of a contented camper can’t easily be confused with the loud teeth chattering of an angry guinea pig. High-pitched squeals are usually requests for food or attention, but a much more intense squeal can indicate fright or dismay.
Your pets speak loud and clear with their body language, too. For example, if one of your piggies tries to touch your nose with hers, be honored–that means she really likes you. Then there’s the trademark guinea pig move known as popcorning, when an animal leaps straight up into the air for seemingly no apparent reason–other than pure piggy happiness! Your little guys will probably have their own special dialects, too, and as you know more about them, you’ll be able to figure out what they’re saying. Have fun!
Taking Care of Your Guinea Pig
Common Health Problems
By: ASPCA Ani-Med
With a good diet, plenty of playtime and a clean environment, your guinea pig should remain fit and healthy. Unfortunately, these little guys are more susceptible to illness than other companion critters. Knowing what to look out for can help you to help your pig should a problem arise.
Did you know that members of your pet’s species are particularly prone to SKIN CONDITIONS? If you notice that your guinea pig is constantly scratching and has bare spots, scabs or a rash on his skin, mites or lice may be the culprit. Don’t delay–head to the veterinarian for treatment.
Some animals may like it hot, but not guinea pigs. These animals do not tolerate extremes in temperature very well, and prefer an environment kept at 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If you allow your pet to get too hot, he can suffer from HEATSTROKE or HEAT EXHAUSTION. Take care that his cage is not in direct sunlight or next to a radiator or other heat source.
An ah-choo or two is par for the course for guinea pigs, but constant sneezing and coughing can indicate a variety of RESPIRATORY PROBLEMS, ranging in severity from the common cold to a very serious case of pneumonia. If these symptoms are accompanied by lethargy, appetite loss and runny nose, move your pet to a warm room and call your vet ASAP. If you have more than one pig, it’s a smart idea to quarantine the infected individual.
DIARRHEA can be an indicator of many illnesses in guinea pigs–from a poor diet to an infectious ailment. No matter the cause, you’ll need to seek immediate veterinary attention. If left untreated, diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which can kill a guinea pig in just a few hours.
The number-one cause of death in guinea pigs, ENTERITIS can be caused by infection, parasites, and even contaminated food. Symptoms of this serious illness include appetite loss, dehydration and a low-grade temperature. Luckily, it responds well to medical treatment–if sought promptly, that is.
To help keep your Guinea Pig healthy, add some of these to their diet:
- Mustard Greens
- Carrot Tops
- Timothy Hay
- Collard Greens
- Use a Vitamin “C” Supplement. You can purchase this at many pet stores, as well as at health food stores.
You should keep them on a pellet diet all the time. Try one of the following:
- Pellet based diets like “OxBow” Guinea Pig Pellets
- Good quality pet store brand pellets
By: ASPCA Ani-Med
What do guinea pigs like to do? Eat, eat, and eat some more! In the wild, these South American mammals spend about six hours a day grazing on grasses, so it’s no wonder that your pet always seems to be nibbling on something. As a responsible caretaker, it’s up to you to provide the ingredients for this daily chow fest. Topping the menu are specially formulated pellets, followed by plenty of hay supplemented with fresh fruits and veggies.
Commercial guinea pig pellets should comprise the bulk of your pet’s diet. Nutritionally complete, they’re available at pet supply stores, and are made from dried plants, seeds and vegetables. Feed your animal companion twice daily, in the morning and the evening. A sturdy, weighted ceramic food bowl will work well, but many guinea pig caretakers sing the praises of the specially designed wire food dispensers that attach to the side of the cage. These dispensers will allow your pet to eat as she pleases, will cut down on waste and minimize the chances of the food becoming contaminated by feces or bedding.
Your guinea pig is a major grazer by nature, so you’ll need to make sure that grass hay is available at all times. Not only will it help keep your pet’s digestive system in good working order, it’ll satisfy her need to chew and keep her teeth in good condition. Timothy hay is your best choice, say ASPCA experts.
Every day, you’ll need to supplement your pet’s diet with fresh foods. She’ll go nuts for fruits and vegetables, such as grapes, cucumbers, corn, peas, carrots and pears. It’s best to gradually introduce fresh foods, as too many, too soon cause cause diarrhea. Be sure to wash all produce well, and never give your pet anything that’s old or spoiled. And remember, the name of the game is MODERATION. Half a handful of veggies and a slice of fresh fruit per piggy is plenty.
Unlike other animals, guinea pigs cannot manufacture vitamin C from glucose in their food, so it’s of utmost importance that your pet gets enough of this essential vitamin every day. You can meet her needs in several ways. For one, be sure to include some fruits and veggies that are high in C to her daily ration of fresh foods. Kale, dandelion greens, brussels sprouts, strawberries and green pepper are all great, as are citrus fruits. A quarter of an orange will satisfy the requirements. Many caretakers choose to add vitamin C to their guinea pig’s water bottle; ask the staff at your pet supply store to recommend a supplement. And finally, be sure that the pellets you feed your pet are fresh. Good-quality pellets do contain C, but this vitamin breaks down quickly–and anything older than 3 months won’t have enough of it.
Don’t forget to fill ‘er up! Fresh, clean water should be available to your pet at all times. We suggest an upside-down bottle with a sipper tube that attaches to the side of the cage. You’ll need to rinse and refill it everyday. Regularly check that the tube isn’t clogged, and be sure the bottle is easily accessible.
And finally, do not become alarmed if you notice your pet eating her droppings. This is perfectly normal, and allows her to obtain essential nutrients from the food that she wasn’t able to get on the first pass.
By: ASPCA Ani-Med
When you became a guinea pig caretaker, you automatically took on the job as your pet’s entertainment director. That means you’ll need to provide safe, appropriate toys and arrange play sessions for your pig in and out of the cage every day. Sound like fun? Well, it should be for the both of you!
The toys you select for your pet should encourage him to do the things that come naturally. A guinea pig’s body isn’t well suited for running on an exercise wheel, for example. These classic toys may be great for other small mammals like hamsters and rats, but not for members your pet’s species. Their use, in fact, has been known to cause spinal and leg injuries. Much more appropriate toys for your pig include PVC pipes for tunneling, and bricks and rocks for climbing. (The latter also will help wear down your pig’s nails!) You can even make your own guinea pig maze using tubes and interconnected cardboard boxes, with your pet’s favorite nibbles waiting at the end.
A toy needn’t be expensive to be effective. Some of the best guinea pig playthings can be found in your own home. Empty oatmeal containers and shoeboxes make great places for your pet to run through and play in. And you’ll be surprised to learn how much fun can be had with a simple brown paper bag, open on its side.
You must make sure there’s always something in the cage for your guinea pig to gnaw on. His teeth grow continuously, like that of all rodents, so he’ll need to chew–and chew!–to keep his choppers filed down and in tip-top condition. Branches and twigs from untreated trees will do the trick–and will also give him something fun to do! Do not give him wood from cedar, apricot, cherry and peach trees, as they are toxic.
Once you’ve hand-tamed your guinea pig, you should let him exercise out of his cage every day. An enclosed room like a bathroom or kitchen is good for starters, until your pet gets used to these play sessions. Once he’s comfortable, you can gradually expand his territory. But you’ll always have to supervise, of course, and take care there’s nothing in the area that’s potentially dangerous for your pig. That means removing electrical wires, as well as anything that your pet could, but shouldn’t, chew. And because guinea pigs always need a place they can go to feel secure and safe, make sure yours has an empty shoebox filled with soft bedding, a paper bag or other secure hidebox for this purpose.
By: ASPCA Ani-Med
When it comes to snacktime, your guinea pig is pretty easy to please. While commercial guinea pig pellets and grass hay should make up the bulk of her diet, she’ll appreciate some daily variety. It’s up to you to offer treats that are both delicious and nutritious.
Every single day, you should treat your piggy to some fresh fruits and vegetables. She’ll probably like apples, melons, peas, radishes, turnips, carrots, cucumbers and broccoli, but you may need to experiment a little to find your pet’s preferences. Wash all produce first, please, and never offer her anything that’s old or spoiled.
Unlike other animals, guinea pigs cannot manufacture vitamin C from glucose in their food, so you will need to make sure that your pet’s daily selection of fresh foods includes a fruit or veggie that’s high in this essential vitamin. A quarter of an orange, for example, will supply her recommended daily allowance. Kale, green pepper and strawberries are also excellent choices.
If you’ve never given your pig fresh foods before, take it easy at first. Too much, too soon can cause diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration. It’s best to introduce fruits and veggies gradually, in small amounts.
Topping the no-no list are nuts, sweets, meat (your pet’s an herbivore, after all!) and seeds. Do avoid commercial guinea pig treats containing yogurt. Too much calcium can really upset your pet’s sensitive digestive system.
What about other healthy treats for your pet? Chew on this! Branches and twigs from untreated trees will help keep your pig’s continuously growing teeth worn down–and give her something fun to do. Do not giver her wood from cedar, apricot, cherry and peach trees, as they are toxic.