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Guinea Pig Advice

Our advice for caring for Guinea Pigs

Guinea pigs are intelligent, friendly animals that make excellent pets. Guinea pigs must have extra vitamin C in their diet. Their average life span as a pet is 5 to 7 years. Male guinea pigs reach sexual maturity at 9-10 weeks of age. Females reach sexual maturity at 4-6 weeks.

Natural History

The scientific name for guinea pig is “Cavia porcellus” and this explains their other common name of “cavies”. Guinea pigs come from the Andes region of Central and South America. The Andean Indians of Peru domesticated guinea pigs and used them both for food and as sacrificial offerings to the Incan gods. Gainea pigs arrived in Europe in the 18th Century and through selective breeding an array of hair colours and hair types have developed. The most common breeds are:

English – both short and straight haired. Peruvian – long straight hair parted down the back. Abyssinian – coarse hair with rosettes or whorls.

Choosing a Guinea Pig

The best way to buy a guinea pig is from a reputable breeder or a good pet shop. The guinea pig should be at least 6 weeks old. Choose one that is active, friendly and looks healthy.

Guinea pigs are very sociable and they need company of their own kind. It’s best to keep a pair or small group of the same sex. Neutered males and females may get along and often a harem system works well with one male kept with several females. Ideally guinea pigs should not be kept with rabbits because they require different nutrition and may get bullied.

Guinea pigs do not groom each other but tend to interact by standing close together and making noises. These noises are quite recognisable and are an important part of guinea pig communication (see below).

Keeping Guinea Pigs Healthy

Be sure your guinea pig always has fresh water. Make sure your guinea pig is getting enough Vitamin C Keep cages clean, dry and well ventilated. Keep the temperature stable and avoid direct sunlight and radiators. Give your guinea pig plenty of exercise and keep it stimulated. Keep him/her stress free and with somewhere to be quiet and hide. Take your pet to the vet at the first indication that something is wrong and ideally twice a year for a check up for teeth, claws, skin and body weight.

Guinea pigs need a large wooden or wire hutch that is weatherproof and predator-proof, with an open day area and enclosed sleeping area. Position the hutch in a quiet sheltered place away from winds and direct sunlight – guinea pigs are susceptible to chills and heat stroke. Guinea pigs are not very clean and will produce an amazing amount of faeces for such little animals.

Good ventilation is vital so solid sided cages are less good. If this type of cage is used, the bedding should be completely changed twice a week to prevent high ammonia levels from collecting in the cage. The ammonia levels can lead to ‘stress,’ and irritated nostrils, eyes and lungs.

Flooring

The flooring of the cage should be solid. Foot and leg injuries are more likely with wire flooring. An abundant amount of bedding that is clean, absorbent, relatively dust-free and easy to replace should be provided. A layer of newspaper with soft straw on top and plenty of hay on top to eat to eat and burrow in is ideal. Avoid cedar chips and other wood shavings that have natural oils e.g.pine. Hide Box and Cage Furniture Cavies seek ‘visual security’ and need places to hide and feel secure. An upside down cardboard or wooden box with a cut-out door work well. If the boxes get soiled or chewed, they are easily replaced. Although guinea pigs do not climb well, they still like to walk up ramps and climb onto low shelves. They also enjoy rooting and burrowing in hay.

Feeding

Guinea pigs require a constant source of vitamin C. Without enough vitamin C guinea pigs will show signs of illness within a couple of weeks. Young guinea pigs lacking in the vitamin will grow slowly and move reluctantly because of pain in their joints. In adults, a deficiency will increase the likelihood of skin or respiratory disease and also slow the healing of skin wounds. Grass and green vegetables such as kale or cabbage should also be made available each day as these contain vitamin C. During pregnancy vitamin C should be supplemented.

Fibre is important!

Guinea pigs must never be without a constant source of high quality non-dusty hay. This hay is vital for a healthy digestive system and without it they may actually “barber” each other (chewing their companions’ fur as a source of fibre).

The common problems that guinea pigs suffer from are itchy skin, diarrhoea, eye infections and teeth problems. We would recommend a regular 6month health check at the practice.

Cavy Chat

Cooing – a soft sound to reassure other guinea pigs that everything is ok or to show enjoyment when being stroked. Squeak – a high pitched noise can be a sign of fright, pain or excitement such as as feeding times. Chattering – Stay Away! This is a warning to other guinea pigs to keep their distance. Gurgling – a sign of contentment and a happy guinea pig!

Exercise and Making Friends With Your Guinea Pig

Most Guinea Pigs are friendly and rarely scratch or bite. They can become very tame as long as they are handled correctly. To pick one up, slide your hand across its shoulders with your thumb tucked behind its shoulder and fingers rapped around it’s chest. Support the hindquarters with your other hand.

Having fun with your guinea pig means encouraging its favorite pastimes – eating, exploration, and exercise. If you watch your guinea pig’s natural behavior you can come up with new toys and activities that will enrich his life and enhance your experience as a pet owner.

Adding new play objects and rearranging the cage can be fun for both of you. Think of the basic guinea pig enclosure, equipped with soft bedding, water bottle and food dishes, as only a starting point. Keeping in mind that your guinea pig needs ample floor space to run around, you can add cage extras like rocks, bricks, clay flowerpots, 4 inch diameter PVC pipes and fruit tree branches to the cage. Guinea pigs aren’t very good at judging distances or heights so it is best not to allow your guinea pig to climb more than a few inches off the ground as it may have problems getting down safely. A fall can mean broken bones or internal injuries that could prove fatal.

Enjoy watching your guinea pig explore. He’s wearing down his toenails and exercising while he investigates the new setup. Some guinea pigs like bird toys with mirrors or balls with bells inside of them. Just make sure that all objects you put in the cage can withstand chewing. Rodent wheels are not suited to guinea pigs. A large outdoor run made of netting on a timber frame will allow then to graze in safety. If you let them indoors watch out for dangerous things that they could chew such as electric cables.

Breeding

The most important aspect of guinea pig breeding is that the females should be bred first between 4 and 10 months of age. If breeding occurs for the first time after 10 months then serious and often fatal problems associated with delivery can occur.

Practice information

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