Guinea pigs make delightful pets for children and adults alike, but they do require some extra care.
Unlike other small rodent pets, like hamsters, mice, and rats, guinea pigs have more demanding requirements. A good comparison to make is to pet rabbits. Like rabbits, a guinea pig requires more room, fresh food, and others of their kind to be happy and healthy.
Guinea pigs are friendly pets that are fun to raise. Like other pets, they form attachments with their guardians and cage-mates, and each has a distinctive personality of their own. Much like the “tribbles” from Star Trek, they make endearing noises and like cuddle with their owners.
Types of Guinea Pigs
There are several breeds of guinea pigs, although the only real difference is the type of hair they have. Guinea pigs breeds are identified by the length and texture of their hair. Some have long hair, either smooth or curly, while others have short hair.
Although they can range in size, their needs and personalities are pretty much the same across the breeds. Some people breed and show guinea pigs, but most who plan to adopt a guinea pig need only focus on the difference in care required.
American/English Guinea Pigs
These short-haired cavies are the easiest to take care of, as they have short, smooth hair that needs little grooming. These are the most popular and common of guinea pigs. They come in a variety of colors: cream, buff, red, gold, saffron, chocolate, black and even lilac, which is a light blue-ish gray. Because they’re so easy to care for, they’re the best choice for children’s pets.
Abyssinian Guinea Pigs
These adorable rodents have a case of cowlicks on an epic scale. They seem to have permanent bed head. Although their hair isn’t really long, they have whirls all over their bodies, which makes it stand up in random patterns. They come in a variety of colors and are also a common and popular type. This type does need to be groomed to stay clean and should be brushed on occasion, which they usually enjoy.
Skinny Guinea Pigs
Not exactly thin, but nearly hairless. These guinea pigs are practically naked!
What husband wants is one of these skinny pigs. Hairless guinea pigs. I can't exactly blame him. I mean, LOOK: pic.twitter.com/iDAYSTOqiz
— sarahdessen (@sarahdessen) July 1, 2017
Teddy Guinea Pigs
The Teddy pig has short, fuzzy hair, giving them the appearance of a Teddy Bear. They do need to be brushed once in a while, but they’re generally easier to care for than the long-haired varieties.
Texel Guinea Pigs
These pigs boast a coat of soft, curly hair all over their bodies. Although much desired by breeders for showing, they require a lot of care. Their curly coats suffer from frequently knotting. They’re also prone to getting dirt embedded in their fur, which means regular baths and comb outs, as well as the need for constant cage cleaning for prevention.
Peruvian Guinea Pigs
These pigs have the longest hair of all, and it can be time-consuming to care for. It needs regular brushing to prevent knots and tends to collect dirt like a dust mop. Their long hair falls over their faces and streams down the sides of their bodies from a central part down the back. You can trim their hair to reduce grooming time and may find yourself cutting out knots once in a while. The Peruvian also comes in a range of colors and patterns.
This Peruvian guinea pig reminds me of someone….must be some other pig. pic.twitter.com/w0p83mRPDb
— Jennifer Valentine (@JenSValentine) December 3, 2017
Silkie Guinea Pigs
Like the Peruvian, they have long, smooth hair on their bodies, though the hair around their faces is quite short. They come in a variety of colors and patterns, and like the Peruvian, are probably not a good choice for small children — or those with no patience for constant grooming.
How to Adopt a Guinea Pig
The stigma against purchasing small mammal pets isn’t as strong as it is for larger companion animals. You can still find guinea pigs for sale at all pet stores. Many animal lovers might be surprised to find that you can also adopt a guinea pig from your local shelter.
Usually lumped in with other rodents, you can often find a guinea pig that needs a home on websites like Petfinder, Petango, and AdoptAPet. In fact, you can often find small pets on your local Craigslist and other classified ad boards.
There are a number of organizations for rescue guinea pigs. Generally, these poor cavies would be in great danger of euthanization without a dedicated rescue or foster home. You can find a rescue pig from Guinea Pig Finder.
Although they might not be featured on your county animal shelter website, they may also have a few adoptable guinea pigs in the facility. Stop by and take a look around, you might be surprised by the variety.
Guinea Pig Care
Guinea pigs are small animals with big care requirements. Unlike other rodent pets, they require a lot of room, warm temperatures, a posse of like-minded fellows, fresh food, and toys to play with.
Guinea Pig Cages
For their size, Guinea Pigs need more space than most people think. If you’ve seen a cavy in a small hamster cage or a glass fish tank, know that those conditions are pretty deplorable. Ideally, guinea pigs need at least 4.5 square feet of space for one pig, or 8 feet for two. In fact, you may as well get two pigs, because a solitary pig is a stressed pig. Guinea pigs are social animals that live in “herds,” and they need others of their kind for optimal health and happiness.
Make a Custom Guinea Pig Cage
Most commercially made cages are fine for hamsters or mice. But, they’re too narrow and too high for guinea pigs. Pigs need square footage to waddle around in, and they don’t climb. Many owners create fantastic guinea pig cages DIY fashion. Cages built with common materials which provide a low, wide, enclosure with room for running laps.
A popular cage configurations is the “C&C” cage, also known as “cubes and coroplast.” These materials provide a wide range of designs with guinea pig needs in mind. The “cubes” are common shelving material made of plastic-covered wire.
Meant to be assembled as storage cubes, they’re also the perfect height for guinea pig cages. The “coroplast” is a plastic corrugated sheeting material that is cheap, durable, and easy to clean. You can find instructions on how to make a C&C cage online, and you can see how easy they are to assemble in the video below.
There are three types of bedding used for cages: fleece, paper shreds, and wood shavings.
- Fleece is soft and reusable. It’s also gentle on delicate feet. Start-up costs can seem high, but if washed regularly, it’s cleaner and cheaper over the long-term.
- Paper Shreds: Don’t use shredded newspapers in your cage, as newsprint can be toxic. You can buy clean paper shreds from the pet store that makes low-dust, absorbent bedding.
- Wood shavings: Wood shavings are the oldest choice for small animal bedding. Although they are easy to find, managing the mess and dust of enough wood shavings for the size of a guinea pig cage can be a pain. Pine shavings are safe, but cedar shavings can be toxic, no matter how great they smell.
Guinea Pig Diet
Guinea pigs have similar food needs to their rabbit cousins. Guinea pig pellets made of timothy hay are a good start. Younger pigs or pregnant females also benefit from alfalfa pellets, but they’re too rich for minerals for healthy adults to eat every day. Rabbit pellets lack the necessary vitamin C guinea pigs need, so make sure they’re for guinea pigs. Guinea pigs and primates are two of the few animals that can’t make they’re own vitamin C. “Small animal feed” in the store that contain nuts and seeds are fine for hamsters and gerbils, but unsafe for guineas pigs.
Make sure your guinea pig has a heaping pile of fresh hay at all times. These grazers need dried hay to keep their digestion working and their teeth healthy. You can choose from timothy hay, orchard grass, or bluegrass.
Alfalfa hay is good for very young pigs or pregnant and nursing moms, but has too much calcium for fully grown adult pigs to eat daily. The best part of hay feeding is that guinea pig aficionados have a wide range of hay racks to add to the cage. Some are shaped like balls, so the pigs have to work to get their hay out.
Guinea pigs need fresh vegetables on a daily basis. Leafy greens should make up a large portion of your pig’s diet to get the needed vitamin C. Good choices include dark leafy plants like parsley, cilantro, kale, and romaine lettuce. If you’re a big salad fan, you’ll find your pig friend will help you make the most of your stock. They love celery tops, broccoli leaves, and other trimmings. You can also feed them non-treated lawn plants like dandelion greens and beggartick weeds. Fruits are good, but should be fed sparingly. Avoid iceberg lettuce, cabbage cauliflower, and potatoes, as they cause stomach distress. Spicy veggies like radish and chilies should also be avoided.
Your guinea pig should have access to fresh water at all times. Although most are perfectly fine drinking out of a bowl, most owners find a bottle with a spout is much neater. Clean and refill the bottle daily.
Guinea Pig Health
Many people wonder how long do guinea pigs live when they adopt one. Guinea pigs live from four to eight years. Like most pets, guinea pigs have a few particular health concerns. They’re prone to respiratory infections, particularly pneumonia, so should be kept in a warm, draft-free environment. Young pigs are more likely to develop pneumonia than older ones, and stress can trigger the condition. They also can have sensitive stomachs and are prone to diarrhea, which is why it’s important to make sure they eat correctly.
Proper guinea pig care can stave off other health conditions. They’re social animals and need company. Bored and depressed guinea pigs will chew off their own hair, called “barbering,” which can lead to skin infections. Improper cage care can result in “bumblefoot,” a chronic infection of the feet that causes pain. Grooming is essential to prevent fleas and lice, as well as infections from feces embedded in the fur. Guineas pigs are also prone to Scurvy, just like people, making a menu with fresh vegetables and occasional fruit so important.
Spaying or Neutering Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs should be adopted in pairs. However, make sure you get both of one sex or the other, because neutering guinea pigs isn’t recommended. This procedure only prevents pregnancy, and will not reduce aggressive behavior. Dominant pigs will retain their bossy ways after surgery. Unlike cats and dogs, neutering doesn’t increase a guinea pig’s lifespan or improve their health. The procedure has to be done by an exotic pet specialist, which makes it expensive. Since it’s easy to keep bullying and opposite-sex guinea pigs separate, neutering is often seen as an unnecessary risk by experts.
Guinea Pig Quirks
Guinea pigs have their own appealing quirks that make them unique among animal companions. They’re affectionate and cuddly critters with warm personalities. With all the special care involved, however, some people wonder why cavy fans are as passionate as they are.
Guinea Pig Sounds
The “wheek” of an excited guinea pig is part of life with these critters. Very few pets are as vocally enthusiastic at dinner time as guinea pigs. Their curious pips and squeaks as they take a tour of the floor make them incredibly endearing. This video explains their range of charming noises:
Guinea Pig Popcorns
A popcorning guinea pig is a happy guinea pig. No other sight lifts the hearts of pigger fans than an exuberant and random leap from one of their pets. No one is sure exactly what causes guinea pigs to unexpectedly burst like a popcorn kernel and jump into the air, but most think it’s just an expression happiness. Watch below to see popping pigs.
Although they take more care than other rodents pets, guinea pigs give back equally by being easy to handle and fun to watch and listen to. For an older child, a pair of guinea pigs have a lot to teach about animal care and responsibility, Unlike hamsters and rats, they’re diurnal too, which means they’re active during the day when children can to interact with them. Adults will fall in love with their quirky ways and have fun “wheeking” back and forth with them at dinner time. Guinea pigs make adorable pets for young and old alike.
Feature Image CC by CC0, by Pezibear, via Pixabay