Guinea Pig Care
Care of Guinea Pigs
The guinea pig, or cavy, is a docile rodent native to the Andes Mountain area of South America. They were first domesticated by the Andean Indians of Peru, who used them as a food source and as a sacrificial offering to Incan gods. During the 16th century, Dutch explorers introduced guinea pigs to Europe, where they were selectively bred by fanciers. The guinea pig entered the research laboratory in the 18th century, and have since made significant contributions to the scientific community. To the day, the guinea pig remains a favorite pet among children due to the docile behavior, ease of handling, and clean, quiet nature.
Through selective breeding efforts, guinea pigs are found in an array of colors and coat types from which to choose. Five primary varieties are encountered in the pet industry. The Shorthair or English is characterized by having a uniformly short hair coat. The Abyssinian has whorls or rosettes in their short, rough, wiry coat. The Peruvian is recognized by its very long silky hair. These three types are most commonly kept as pets. The Silky and Teddy Bear varieties are encountered less frequently. The Silky is a large variety distinguished by its medium length silky hair. The Teddy Bear has medium length hair of normal consistency.
Good quality guinea pig pellets, fresh vegetables and fruit and free choice grass hay and fresh, clean water must be readily available at all times. A high quality brand is Oxbow Cavy Diet. DO NOT FEED RABBIT PELLETS as a substitute for guinea pig pellets. They are not equivalent in nutritive value. Unlike most mammals, guinea pigs cannot manufacture their own vitamin C, therefore must be available in the diet. Guinea pig diets are uniquely formulated with these requirements in mind, whereas rabbit pellets are not.
Good quality guinea pig pellets contain vitamin C, however, the level may be affected by storage conditions or time. You can provide supplementation with a quarter of an orange or a small amount of kale or cabbage daily to ensure adequate vitamin C intake.
The guinea pig’s diet should be composed of fresh guinea pig pellets, fresh greens or fruit, and good quality timothy grass hay.
Adult guinea pigs: Restrict pellets to 1 tablespoon daily to prevent obesity. Fresh produce with high vitamin C content ½ to 1 cup daily, free choice grass hay
Less than 4 months old: Unlimited pellets, fresh produce with high vitamin C content at ½ to 1 cup daily, free choice grass hay.
Any change in diet should be done gradually due to
their sensitive digestive systems. Guinea pigs do not tolerate changes in their food or environment. Pet owners should avoid making radical changes in the food or water containers as well.
Fresh water should be available by using a water bottle equipped with a “sipper” tube. It is important to clean this daily because guinea pigs tend to contaminate and clog their water bottles by chewing on the end of the sipper tube and “backwashing” food particles into it.
Generally, guinea pigs are docile, non-aggressive animals. They rarely bite or scratch when handled. They usually voice their protest simply by letting out a high pitched squeal. They may struggle when being picked up or restrained. Extreme care should be taken not to injure them during handling. The guinea pig should be approached with both hands. One hand is placed under the pig’s chest and abdomen, the other hand supports it’s hindquarter. Adults and especially pregnant females, should receive careful attention to gentle, yet firm and total support.
Housing accommodations provided for pet guinea pigs are limited only by one’s imagination, ingenuity, and budget. There is no single correct way to house your guinea pig as long as the well-being of your pet is considered. Adequate housing is a major factor in the maintenance of healthy pets.
Guinea pigs can be housed within enclosures made of stainless steel, durable plastic, or glass, with a solid floor. Wire flooring is not recommended since it can cause severe foot and hock injuries that can lead to arthritis. Adequate ventilation is important so be cautious of aquariums. The cage must be escape-proof and free of sharp edges and other potential hazards. The size should allow for normal guinea pig activity and approximately 100 sq. inches of floor area per adult pig is recommended. Larger for breeding animals. The enclosure can remain opened on the top if the sides are at least 12 inches high, and no other pets are a threat to the guinea pig, such as dogs, cats and small children.
Bedding materials must be clean, non-toxic, absorbent, relatively dust-free and easy to replace. Acceptable beddings are aspen wood shavings, shredded paper, processed ground corn cob, hay and commercial pellets and recycled paper products. Cleanliness is very important to the health of your pet. Guinea pigs do well in a dry, cool environment with adequate ventilation. Guinea pigs are very sensitive to ammonia in urine. They are nocturnal so require quiet periods of rest during the day. They also appreciate a hide box or tunnel in which to hide and rest.
An annual physical examination is recommended by your exotic animal veterinarian to keep your guinea pig healthy.
Common conditions to guinea pigs:
- Slobbers/dental malocclusion: watch for decreased eating, drooling and weight loss. Must be taken to your veterinarian and will require regular trimming or filing of teeth.
- Scurvy (Vitamin C deficiency): poor appetite, swollen, painful joints and ribs, reluctance to move. This condition can be fatal especially in young pigs. See your veterinarian immediately.
- Barbering (Hair chewing): occurs commonly in groups of pigs and generally done by the dominant pig.
- Heat Stroke: Guinea pigs are very susceptible to heat stroke. Environmental temperatures above 85 F, high humidity(above 70%), inadequate shade and ventilation, overcrowding can all lead to heat stroke.
- Pneumonia: Watch for difficulty breathing, discharge from nose and eyes, lethargy, and inappetance. Sudden death can occur without any sign. Improper husbandry, stress, and inadequate diet can lead to this disease.
- Bacterial Enteritis (Intestinal Infection): Watch for diarrhea, lethargy and weight loss. Can be caused by contaminated water, greens or vegetables. Consult your veterinarian if this condition occurs.
- Bacterial Pododermatitis (Footpad infection): Severe infections of the foot pads are very common among guinea pigs housed on wire flooring. Watch for swelling of feet, lameness, and reluctancy to move. Improved sanitation and cage floor alterations are important to prevent recurrence.
- External Parasites (Lice and Mites): Watch for excess dander, hair loss, itching and weight loss. Mites can cause serious skin infections and both conditions can be treated by your veterinarian. Guinea pig mites and lice are not known to infect humans
- Keep diet stable and minimize treat variety.
- Provide fresh food and water daily
- Ensure a daily source of vitamin C
- Remove fresh food that is not eaten with a half hour
- Visit your exotic animal veterinarian for an annual exam
- Clip toenails regularly and comb long hair and keep it clean and trimmed
- Check droppings for evidence of illness: abnormally dry feces may indicate dehydration, abnormally soft feces indicate diarrhea
- Be in a quiet part of the house away from sudden noises.
- Be cleaned with a change of bedding every few days
- Be maintained in a ambient temperature between 55-85 F.
- Offer some sunlight as long as shade is available to prevent overheating
- Include a box or tunnel for hiding, resting
- Include items for chewing such as branches from fruit trees
- Be easy to clean
It is important to prevent guinea pigs access to:
- Wire flooring in enclosure
- Tobacco and cigarette smoke
- Electrical cords
- Ingestible plastic
- Dogs, cats, and young children
- Toxic houseplants
- Cedar shavings, pine
- Refined sugars
- Leaded paint and wood varnish
- Galvanized metal