We know that guinea pigs are one of the most lovable pet animals that you can bring home. But before you get entranced by the species and bring a pair of guinea pigs as pets for yourself, there are some crucial things you must understand about guinea pigs and how you should be caring for them.
In this article, we have attempted to create a complete guide to caring for guinea pigs. By the end of this article, we hope that your questions and doubts about how you can love your guinea pig and care for it are answered. Keep reading!
Table of Contents
Characteristics and Domestication of Guinea Pigs
Even though the guinea pig falls under the biological bracket of rodents, they are larger than their counterparts on average.
For example, hamsters and mice are rodents that have been domesticated over the decades, but these animal species are so tiny that they can fit in your palms. Guinea pigs, on the other hand, measure almost double these smaller pet rodents – about 10 inches in length.
Guinea pigs can also grow to be about 3 kilograms and live up to an age of roughly 8 to 9 years.
Because of their deviation in average size, lifespan, and weight, some members of the scientific community all over the world believe that the guinea pig would be better off as a separate class of mammals rather than being restricted to the bracket of rodents.
Guinea pigs are also referred to as cavies. They are essentially a domesticated species as of today, and wild guinea pigs, per se, are only found in the wild as a result of run-aways from domestic settings.
Since its introduction to Europe and North America by European traders in the 16th century, the guinea pig has enjoyed broad acceptance as a pet in Western society.
Guinea pigs have remained a popular household pet due to their docile demeanor, friendly responsiveness to handling and feeding, and relative ease of care. Guinea pig competition breeding organizations have sprung up all over the world.
Breeders choose a variety of specialized breeds with different coat colors and textures. Essentially, breeds of guinea pigs are artificial human creations.
The behavior of these animals is largely influenced by the fact that they are typically domesticated. Guinea pigs are known to be able to remember directions and routes to a particular location for weeks. They are also easily trainable.
The species, as a whole, is also a prey species. One prime example of why this is the case is the fact that guinea pigs are easily scared. When they do get scared, guinea pigs, as pets or in the wild, will either be stunned or will dart for physical cover.
You will also notice that guinea pigs as pets will display or show their happiness or excitation by performing tiny jumps like rabbits.
Guinea pigs, like several other rodents, engage in social grooming and self-grooming on a routine basis. During grooming, a milky-white fluid is released from their eyeballs and massaged into their hair. Boars frequently chew one other’s hair.
However, this is more of a social gesture – a technique of maintaining hierarchy within a group. Biting (particularly of the ears), aggression, piloerection, butting heads with one another, and attacks by jumping at the other guinea pig are also used to assert dominance.
Simulated mounting for dominance that is not sexual is also prevalent among male guinea pigs with other male guinea pigs and female guinea pigs with their female counterparts.
As far as their daily behavioral patterns are concerned, guinea pigs are typically active during sunsets and sunrises. This activity pattern is called the crepuscular pattern. Even hamsters exhibit similar sleeping behavior.
Further, despite sleeping for the larger part of the day, guinea pigs generally rest and stay active in bursts.
You should prefer keeping your guinea pig pet as a solitary pet. Being prey species, guinea pigs are easily stressed by the presence of predatorial species such as dogs. Only if you can train your dog to cohabit with your pet guinea pig should you bring home a pet guinea pig.
Sounds of guinea pigs
Guinea pigs use their voices to communicate with their fellow guinea pigs and with humans. You should be acquainted with the sounds guinea pigs make to understand your pet guinea pigs better!
First and foremost, usually, if your bunny feels happy, you will notice that it makes a whistling noise. Further, like cats, guinea pigs will also purr to express their enjoyment of a particular manner of contact with either a fellow guinea pig or with its human.
Other sounds of guinea pigs include rumbling, whining, chattering of their teeth, and shrieking. Young guinea pigs will also chirp from time to time when they feel hungry or distressed.
When establishing their dominance in a herd of guinea pigs, they will typically make rumbling noises at each other. Shrieking and whining both are sounds of guinea pigs that signify extreme discomfort, stress, or fear.
The chattering of teeth, contrary to popular belief, is not excitement. Rather it is a warning sign.
Guinea pigs as pets are generally kept in cages or enclosures. However, if you can cultivate a good relationship with your guinea pig and train it well while creating a living space that it can be comfortable and healthy in, then you can opt to simply let them loose in rooms.
However, the reason why cages are preferred is that it is easier to mimic natural surroundings in a small space like a cage rather than in a whole room.
It is crucial to take these factors into consideration before you finalize a living environment for your pet guinea pig.
Their enclosures must be supported by hard and firm flooring and then accompanied by corn cobs, crushed or torn paper, and hardwood shavings. You will also have to make extra effort to clean the space your guinea pig lives in because this species is a messy one.
For example, it is common practice for guinea pigs to mark their own territory or assert dominance over it by spreading their urine with their hind portions.
Further, they can be careless with food and their excreta. All of this leads to unhygienic living conditions unless you can keep your and your guinea pig’s living surroundings spick and span.
What Should you Feed Guinea Pigs as a Pet Owner?
Before we tell you what you should feed your pet guinea pigs, let’s understand some things about how guinea pigs eat and why do they eat what they eat. Guinea pigs were bred to be cattle.
Therefore, one biological characteristic that was preserved in the species is the presence of large molars, similar to herbivorous animals like buffalos and cows. Therefore, logically, you should feed your pet guinea pigs as much grass, hay, and timothy hay as you can.
Their teeth are adept at being able to chew on plants for long amounts of time. Additionally, you can also supplement their staple diet with commercially available food pellets for hamsters.
Guinea pigs also need to eat foods that are high in vitamin C. The reason is that, as humans, but unlike most other mammals, they are unable to produce vitamin C and must receive it from food. Guinea pigs who do not get enough vitamin C can get scurvy, which can be fatal.
Guinea pigs require approximately 10 mg of vitamin C per day, which can be acquired via fresh, raw fruits and vegetables like apples, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, dietary supplements, or even commercially available fresh guinea pig pellets.
Along with healthy amounts of vitamin C, your pet guinea pig’s diet must also contain a balance of micronutrients such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins D, A, and E.
You can check out our articles on what you should feed your pet guinea pig and what foods you should avoid. We have covered these topics in detail for your easy referral!
Bear in mind that if your guinea pig has refused to eat any food, you must throw it away after 10 hours to avoid letting your pet guinea pig ingest harmful bacteria from rotting food.
An interesting point regarding your pet guinea pig’s eating habits is that your guinea pig will also eat its own excreta from time to time. However, you need not worry.
Eating their own excreta or poop is a natural way for them to reuse the nutritional value available in it. Vitamin B, essential fibers, and gut bacteria are usually sourced by them through their own species.
Reproductive and Life Cycles of Guinea Pigs
Regardless of whether you wish to breed guinea pigs or simply be a pet parent to one, you should know about your pet guinea pig’s reproductive and life cycles. Knowing this can help you and equip you to care for your pet guinea pigs at different stages in their lives.
So, first things first, pregnancy in guinea pigs usually lasts for about 59 to 72 days, with an average of 65 days. Typically, a female guinea pig gives birth to a litter of 3 baby guinea pigs, but this number can vary between 1 to 9.
The usual litter size is three, although it can range from one to six baby guinea pigs. A thing to note if your pet female guinea pig is pregnant is that stillbirth is more prevalent in large litters.
Why? Simply because the children or pup cavies miss out on essential nutrition during the course of pregnancy. This prevents them from developing physically, and this, in turn, results in stillbirths.
Now one major point of difference between guinea pigs and other rodents is the difference in the stage of development after which pups are born. When newborn, cavy pups are precocial, meaning they have hair, teeth, claws, and partial vision.
The puppies are mobile right away and begin eating solid food, but they continue to suckle. Rodents, on the other hand, are born underdeveloped and only become mobile after a few weeks of being in their mothers’ care.
After birth, male guinea pigs (known as boars) become sexually mature after about three weeks and can reproduce after this.
Female guinea pigs (also known as sows) can be fertile as early as four weeks old and can carry litters of guinea pig pups before they even reach adulthood. However, breeding them at this age is not advisable.
What Health Problems do Guinea Pigs Commonly Face?
Keeping your pet guinea pig healthy will be your priority when caring for it. Therefore, being aware of the health issues that the species commonly suffer from will help you take measures to prevent it or at least treat it and attend to it effectively.
Common Health Problems Faced by Guinea Pigs
One thing to remember when dealing with health problems in guinea pigs as pets is that guinea pigs are prey animals in their wild habitats. Therefore, they live their lives with a survival propensity to hide discomfort and symptoms of illness.
As a result, health problems can often go undetected until they are severe or advanced to the point that it becomes difficult for the guinea pig to hide the symptoms any longer.
Therefore, in most cases, veterinary and medical intervention takes place at a stage where intensive treatment is required. But, the great sensitivity of guinea pigs to most antibiotics, including penicillin, makes disease treatment more difficult.
Antibiotics damage the intestinal flora, causing diarrhea and, in some cases, death. This is one of the vital reasons why you should monitor your pet guinea pig’s health and be aware of the problems it may encounter throughout its life.
Because of their sturdy, compact structure, guinea pigs are better suited for colder climates rather than hot ones. Its typical body temperature is 101–104 °F. Therefore, the ideal temperature to keep your pet guinea pig in is between 65–75 °F.
Given the fact that humans also thrive in this temperature range, it is fairly convenient to ensure your guinea pig as a pet stays in the same temperature range as you do.
Bear in mind that conditions like hyperthermia and death have been associated with high temperatures above 90 °F. You have to be doubly careful while caring for pregnant female guinea pigs.
Respiratory tract infections like pneumonia, diarrhea or digestive distress, scurvy caused due to a lack of vitamin C in their diets, infections by parasites such as mites, lice, or even fungus, and abscesses due to infection because of hay stuck in the throat or external scrapes (common causes of pain in the neck) are all common ailments in domestic guinea pigs.
Another issue that can crop up with your pet guinea pig’s health is that of mites and lice. Guinea pigs are pretty fluffy creatures, and therefore, parasites of this sort can create health issues. Not only will they result in excessive itchiness and discomfort, but also hair loss.
Additionally, you will also have to pay attention to your guinea pig’s digestive health. Guinea pigs have a delicate digestive system like their rodent counterparts. Their digestive health is maintained by the presence of healthy gut bacteria.
When their digestive tract is rich in these bacteria, functions like proper digestion and excretion are taken care of. However, healthy bacteria are disrupted or unbalanced.
Unhealthy types of bacteria can overwhelm your pet guinea pig’s health. This, in turn, results in uncomfortable gas, improper or inefficient digestion, damage to the intestines, an increase in toxins, and so on.
All these issues inevitably lead to severe diarrhea and, in some cases, death. Gastrointestinal stasis is the medical term for this condition. Some intestinal parasites, such as Cryptosporidium and coccidia, can cause diarrhea in addition to bacterial infections.
Cage hygiene must not be overlooked either since poor hygiene can lead to a condition called bumblefoot. Bumblefoot is basically a condition in which guinea pigs develop ulcers on the bottoms of their feet as a result of pressure.
It is particularly common in obese animals kept in wire-bottomed or filthy cages, which abrade the feet and expose them to a persistent, deep bacterial infection that causes lameness and agony.
Signs of a Healthy Guinea Pig as a Pet
There are some daily checks you may perform to ensure your guinea pig’s stays and feels healthy! Refer to the list we have created to check for signs of good health in your pet guinea pig!
- With no evidence of stiffness or difficulty, your pet guinea pig will be able to move around with ease.
- No sores or bald areas on this glossy coat.
- Optimistic and alert
- Your guinea pig should be well-covered with fur and flesh rather than being skinny
- There are no indicators of a respiratory problem.
- There are no symptoms of discharge in the eyes, ears, mouth, or nose.
- There are no indicators of dental issues.
- Ensure the bottom is clean.
- There are no lumps or bumps.
Is Your Guinea Pig Fat?
Maintaining your guinea pig’s weight is vital to its overall good health and longevity of life. While the ideal solution to checking your guinea pig’s weight is to simply weigh it, you can also use physical touch to estimate how healthy your pet guinea pig is.
Typically, if your guinea pig’s belly engulfs its limbs entirely while it’s standing, or if you can’t reach its bones with your fingers, your guinea pig is obese.
At this stage, it would be best for you to consult your veterinary practitioner and seek guidance regarding weight management practices for your guinea pig.
Guinea Pig Breeds
Guinea pigs have a calm and pleasant disposition, which helps to explain why they are so popular among children and adults as first pets.
While you may think of all guinea pigs as adorable and cuddly balls of fur, there are several breeds or types of guinea pigs. Different types of guinea pigs look different and even differ in terms of some behavioral traits.
Despite there being many types of guinea pigs, we have only included the breeds that are officially recognized by most organizations for cavies in the world.
Abyssinian Guinea Pigs
Abyssinian guinea pigs are a colorful breed that excels at being companions because of their affectionate behavior. Moreover, their fur has a unique quality of being twirled or twisted that simply increases how adorable they look.
Sheba Guinea Pigs
Sheba guinea pigs have dense, long hair that almost looks like a gorgeous mane. This is a type of guinea pig breed that you will have to put in the effort to keep clean and pretty due to their wavy and long hair.
A Sheba guinea pig is only suitable for you if you can invest time and effort into grooming and brushing its fur!
White Crested Guinea Pigs
Typically quiet and reserved as a breed, the white-crested guinea pig stays loyal to its name. It sports a white crest of fur on the top of its skull and is quite easy to maintain.
American Guinea Pigs
American guinea pigs are easily one of the most popular types of guinea pigs in the world. They look like the typical image of guinea pigs that people are aware of. Extremely adorable and easy to care for, American Guinea Pigs might just be the ideal rodent for you!
Himalayan Guinea Pigs
The Himalayan guinea pig is distinguished by its snow-white coat. These guinea pigs are almost totally coated in short, white fur, with the exception of brown or black coloring on their ears, paws, and snout.
Because they have sensitive eyes, it’s best to keep them out of direct sunlight. They thrive in environments where they spend the majority of their time indoors, making them an excellent choice for folks who live in apartments or covered quarters.
Rex Guinea Pigs
The Rex guinea pig breed is distinguished by its short, wavy coat, which almost resembles that of a young hedgehog.
These guinea pigs are one of the most popular breeds due to their low-maintenance coat and wool-like texture. They are gregarious, adorable, and you can fit them into your life with ease!
Peruvian Guinea Pigs
You can consider bringing home a Peruvian guinea pig if you have prior experience with caring for guinea pigs as pets.
The reason is that not only is this breed difficult to care for because of its silky and long fur coat but also because of the fact that it is a sociable breed that requires interaction and attention.
Skinny Guinea Pigs
The skinny guinea pig is basically a breed that stands out due to the lack of any substantial amounts of fur on its body. Having said that, skinny guinea pigs also make for ideal cuddling companions since they need warmth in colder climates.
Teddy Guinea Pigs
Teddy guinea pigs are smaller than other types and are known for being friendly and affectionate.
This, along with their short, dense, and springy coat, which requires lesser maintenance than other breeds, is one of the most popular reasons for the breed being preferred by people who wish to bring home a guinea pig pet for the first time!
Sheltie Guinea Pigs
The Sheltie guinea pig breed doesn’t really need any extreme interaction or training to make it suitable for home living, but you will need to thoroughly maintain its coat.
Social behaviors of Guinea Pigs
The fact is that guinea pigs are pretty reserved animals that cling to their instincts as prey animals. Therefore, unless you expose them to the type of social behavior that is expected of them or desirable, they will grow up to be extremely shy animals.
Such pet guinea pigs are unlikely to enjoy your physical touch or physical shows of affection such as cuddling. Training your pet guinea pig correctly will help it become better equipped to deal with and enjoy such situations.
It’s important to remember that some guinea pig breeds and varieties are social creatures by nature. Therefore, these guinea pig pets will be perfectly happy with your cuddles.
Grooming requirements of pet guinea pig fur coats
Owing to the number of guinea pig breeds, you simply can’t have a straightjacket formula for their grooming needs.
Some guinea pigs have long and wavy hair, which requires highly focused maintenance, while others have short fur coats which require minimal grooming.
You must select a breed to bring home based on whether you can dedicate the effort and time to manage its fur coat and grooming needs!
Creating the perfect home settings for your guinea pig pet is essential to their health and overall development. It is also a fairly tricky aspect of caring for guinea pigs. We have highlighted some factors you must consider while investing in housing for your guinea pig.
Cage sizes for guinea pigs
Guinea pigs, despite their small size, require a lot of space to exercise, and the more, the better.
You should offer as much room as possible for a pair of guinea pigs; the minimum measurements for a pair of guinea pigs’ enclosures are 2500 square centimeters of usable floor space for guinea pigs weighing over 450 g, plus an extra 900 square centimeters for each additional guinea pig weighing over 700 g.
The height of the guinea pig cage or enclosure should be at least 25 to 30 cm. A cage for a pair of guinea pigs, for example, may be 2m × 0.5m x 25cm high to provide the bare minimum of room, although it should preferably be larger.
Bedding for guinea pig cages
If guinea pigs are kept on wire or hard flooring, they are more likely to develop painful and serious foot issues. Hence it is critical to provide them with soft floor covering and bedding.
To provide comfort and prevent foot problems, enclosures should be lined with newspaper and then filled with at least 5cm of soft, nontoxic, nonabrasive, inedible, dust-free, and absorbent bedding.
Soft grass hay, fleece cloth, and shredded paper are all good choices for bedding. Sawdust or shavings can irritate the lungs and should be avoided. Straw should also be avoided because it does not absorb urine properly and might cause injuries due to its harsh stalks.
Appropriate cage locations for guinea pigs
As we’ve mentioned earlier, guinea pigs are better suited for cold weather rather than hot weather. However, extreme temperatures conditions at any end of the thermometer are harmful to your guinea pigs.
Therefore, you must pick an ambient temperature for your home and also ensure that you don’t allow that temperature to fluctuate. Doing so can severely affect your guinea pig’s health.
Living spaces for guinea pig pets
Guinea pigs are prey animals. Therefore they need somewhere to hide where they will feel safe, especially when they are worried, terrified, or ill, or when they want to be alone.
You’ll need enough open space that also has a healthy portion reserved for your pet guinea pig’s shelters. Ideally, each guinea pig pet should have separate hiding spots in the enclosure.
In addition, to have its own distinct hiding location, the enclosure you provide your guinea pigs should also have a primary shelter/hiding place large enough for all of your guinea pigs to relax peacefully together within.
Guinea pigs can make for fantastic pet animals especially if you can train them to live comfortably in your living space. They can be excellent cuddling companions as well as great playmates. Hopefully, our complete guide to caring for guinea pigs has equipped you to love your pet guinea pig in the best way possible! You can also check out our other articles that tackle various aspects of keeping your guinea pig healthy in detail.
Are guinea pigs active?
Some types of guinea pigs can be playful, adventurous, and active, while some breeds prefer lazing about.
Are guinea pigs highly social?
You can train your guinea pig pets to be social if you learn to handle it properly since it is young.
Why do guinea pigs need a high fiber diet that is supplemented with vitamin C?
Like their rodent counterpart and plenty of other species of animals, guinea pigs are incapable of naturally creating vitamin C in their body. Therefore, a dietary deficiency can result in scurvy. Further, eating a high fiber diet helps keep their digestive health optimal.
What do guinea pigs eat?
Guinea pigs are herbivorous animals. Therefore, they eat a diet comprising high-quality grass, vegetables, and fruits (with some exceptions) and commercially available guinea pig pellets. Check out our blog dedicated to what you should and shouldn’t feed your guinea pig pet.
How big are guinea pigs on average?
The average size of a guinea pig lies between 20 centimeters to 40 centimeters.
What colors do the coats of guinea pigs come in?
Depending on the breed and type of guinea pigs, they can be colored white, black, cream, golden, browny, lemony, or some other color!