Everything you need to know to raise a guinea pig

Everything you need to know to raise a guinea pig (Photo: Amjith S/Unsplash)

Guinea pigs can be excellent, fun, and loving pets if they receive proper care and veterinary treatment.

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They are docile and friendly members of the rodent family. Guinea pigs do not usually bite, although young, poorly socialized or frightened guinea pigs may bite out of fear. The average life expectancy of a domesticated guinea pig is 4 to 5 years.

Guinea pigs are herd animals with complex communication and vocalizations. They are not typically happy as solitary creatures and like to live in groups of two or more, and unfortunately, humans are no substitute companions for cavies.

While it is best to raise guinea pigs together when they are young, many adults can be successfully introduced. Males can thrive with multiple females. However, care must be taken not to allow them to reproduce if that is not the intention.

Housing for guinea pigs

Bigger is always better when it comes to guinea pig houses. If they spend a lot of time in the cage, it should be even bigger. Most store-bought cages are too small for guinea pigs, especially with multiples.

At a minimum, the cage must be 127cm x 60cm. For each additional guinea pig, the available square footage must be increased by 20%.

Cages should be well ventilated to help prevent respiratory illness, as guinea pigs have sensitive respiratory tracts. The floor must be strong and solid (not a grid or wire) to avoid damage to the feet. Height is not such an important factor, but some guinea pigs may enjoy small, safe ramps and multiple levels.

Substrate, paper towels and washable wool are preferred bedding materials. Clean soiled areas daily and completely change bedding every 3 to 4 days. Do not use cedar shavings and avoid wood shavings in general as they can cause respiratory irritation.

Guinea pigs are often messy and can even relieve themselves on food dishes, so care with proper hygiene is essential.

Guinea pigs have a poor tolerance for heat and humidity. Never allow them to be in temperatures above 80 degrees and keep the relative humidity between 40% and 70%. Guinea pigs can get heat stroke if they get too hot.

  • Families of various species

Guinea pigs should never be housed with rabbits or other rodent species. Clinically normal rabbits can carry certain diseases, such as the Bordetella bacteria, which can be fatal to guinea pigs.

Guinea pigs should only be housed with other cavies. Although some guinea pigs learn to enjoy the company of dogs or cats, it is essential to remember that, as a prey species, these interactions can be very stressful for guinea pigs.

  • enriching activities

Guinea pigs love a regular rotation of toys to avoid boredom. Exercises and toys can provide the enrichment needed to keep your guinea pig happy and healthy.

Many guinea pigs can even learn some simple commands or tips. They have particular needs to chew, explore and hide. Some common favorite enrichment items include:

  • Paper bags;
  • Cardboard boxes with cut holes;
  • hiding places;
  • Paper towel rolls;
  • tunnels;
  • Other guinea pig toys available in the market.

Guinea pigs do not adapt easily to exercise wheels and can be injured if a wheel is placed in their cage, so it is best not to use exercise wheels or balls. Instead, be sure to include at least one guinea pig refuge.

They can sleep in their hiding place and seek refuge when they are afraid. As prey species, hiding places make them feel safe and secure, so all cages should have areas suitable for this natural behavior.

  • Food for guinea pigs

Guinea pigs have a relatively high metabolic rate and require almost continuous feeding. They are strict herbivores and should never be given animal protein.

Hay must be offered in unlimited quantities to all cavies. This is the most important part of your guinea pig’s diet, accounting for approximately 75% of its intake.

A guinea pig’s natural diet is grass, with hay being the second best alternative. Avoid alfalfa in adults as it leads to obesity and excess calcium. Young or pregnant guinea pigs can eat alfalfa, but once adults they should only eat grass hay.

Guinea pigs can suffer from many diseases, mainly dental and gastrointestinal, if they are not fed hay in unlimited amounts.

Guinea pigs should eat approximately one cup of vegetables every day. Introduce any new food slowly so your cavy doesn’t suffer from diarrhea.

Once your guinea pig is adjusted to several types of vegetables, you can offer different varieties, the recommended thing is two or three different types a day. This will help ensure they get important vitamins and minerals.

Some common guinea pig favorite vegetables include: parsley; romaine lettuce; lettuce leaf; carrot; clover and dandelion.

Unlike most mammals, guinea pigs do not have the enzyme to synthesize their own vitamin C and must obtain it from their diet. Hypovitaminosis C can lead to scurvy and other conditions.

Vitamin C pills can be taken as a supplement along with appropriate foods such as guava, red peppers, kale or parsley.

Vitamin C drops can be added to water, but be careful. The water additive must be changed and mixed daily as it degrades quickly and will become ineffective. In addition, the additive may have a strange taste that the cavy may not like.

If the cavy doesn’t like the taste of the water, he may drink less and become dehydrated. Therefore, most vets do not recommend adding vitamin C to your guinea pig’s water bottles.

The average adult guinea pig needs about 10 to 30 milligrams of vitamin C every day. Check with your veterinarian about your own cavy’s individual needs.

In general, avoid fruits and treats or offer them to your guinea pig in very limited quantities. Too many simple carbohydrates can cause diarrhea and bowel problems.

Guinea pigs like the occasional melon, apple, carrot or cubes of alfalfa as treats. Treats should always be less than 5% of your diet.

Water must be provided at all times. Most guinea pigs do best with a water bottle attached to the side of the cage. However, inspect it often because many guinea pigs like to chew on bottles.

Medical needs of guinea pigs

Guinea pigs are a kind of prey. Because of this, they tend to freeze up when they are afraid and hide their symptoms. When guinea pigs finally show signs of illness, it may be advanced.

So, when examining a guinea pig for signs of illness, make sure it is in a stress-free environment, free from loud noises or unfamiliar animals.

Healthy guinea pigs are vocal, curious, active and hungry. They should almost never turn down a treat or vegetables when offered, although they can be wary of new foods.

Be sure to offer a familiar item when assessing appetite and energy levels. Not eating is a warning sign that your guinea pig is sick.

Your guinea pig’s eyes should be open and clear. Breathing should be easy and silent. There should be no areas of hair loss and your pet should move on all fours easily without pain. Your teeth should be in normal alignment, with no bumps or sores around your mouth.

Guinea pigs do not receive vaccines. However, they do require visits to the vet at least every 6 to 12 months to monitor your weight, listen to your heart and lungs, examine your teeth, and check for other abnormalities.

You can also weigh your cavy weekly as part of monitoring its overall health. Once guinea pigs are over 3 years old, they are considered elderly and should also have blood tests at regular vet visits.

Common signs of illness include:

  • Decreased appetite;
  • Eye or nasal discharge;
  • Lethargy;
  • Weight loss;
  • Difficulty breathing, coughing or sneezing;
  • Different faecal or urinary coloration;
  • Skin masses, lesions or hair loss (ringworm);
  • Changes in stool consistency (diarrhea);
  • Excessive salivation;
  • Blood in the urine;
  • Difficulty walking;
  • Swelling and changes in the color of the gums.

Common guinea pig diseases include signs of low vitamin C (such as bone and tooth problems, bruising and abnormal bleeding), respiratory infection, dental problems, diarrhea, rashes and skin infections (such as ringworm), pregnancy-related, and arthritis.

If you think your guinea pig is showing signs of illness or not acting normally, contact a specialist veterinarian immediately.