Complete guide to Owning your first guinea pig
Your First Guinea Pig
Perfect animals for your first pet and for the whole family, guinea pigs really are inquisitive, friendly, fun, and amazing creatures.
Although they fit under the smaller sized bracket of pets, they still require plenty of love, care and affection, and this is where you as a responsible owner come into the equation.
If you look after your guinea pig properly from day one, they will live a happy and healthy life and the bond between you will be even more rewarding and enjoyable.
So with this in mind, let’s look at some of the most important things you need to consider to look after your pet in the best way possible.
Equipment and Supplies
Be sure to purchase the following items before you bring your guinea pig back to their new home:
- Guinea Pig Cages
- Water bottle
- Guinea Pig Food
- Food dishes/bowls
- Exercise wheel
- Guinea Pig Chew Toys
You may find that you need to buy additional items from the list above, such as two water bottles, but these can be purchased at a later date if required. The main thing is to provide your pet with sufficient living conditions at all times and these items will help to start with.
Living in Comfort
Cages and hutches
Guinea pigs need plenty of space to roam, especially if more than one is being kept in the same cage. It’s entirely up to you if you decide to place them outside in a hutch, but if you do, you must check that it’s both predator and water proof. A hutch and run should also be kept out of direct sunlight as guinea pigs are vulnerable to extreme weather.
Alternatively, if they are going to be kept inside, they need to be housed in a quite area. These animals have sensitive hearing so you shouldn’t leave them in a noisy section of the home. Never put their Cage in the garage if you are using this space to store your car. The fumes from moving your vehicle in and out could kill your pet.
In any cage or hutch, make sure there is a separate sleeping area that’s out of sight. This will allow your guinea pig to get some well-earned rest every now and again. Additional shelter and bedding should also be provided during the colder months. Hay is best for this as it also makes up a large part of their diet too (see Food, Diet and Water for more information).
Within your pet’s cage/hutch you should add the following:
- Bedding – Stick to hay and avoid fluffy bedding as this can get caught around the guinea pigs limbs
- Huts, tunnels and shelters - Great for letting them hide in or underneath to feel safe, protected and comfortable
- Food bowls – Fresh veggies and pellets should be added to food bowls to provide a sufficient and stable diet
- Water bottle/s – Always ensure clean and fresh drinking water is available for your pet to consume via a water bottle
- Chews – Ideal for keeping their teeth in good condition and to stop them chewing other items
- Wheel – Guinea pigs need a regular amount of exercise, so use a wheel to let them run around whenever they wish
- Toys – Stimulate their mind whilst also keeping them active and entertained with a range of different toys
You need to clean your pet’s home on a regular basis to keep it both germ and mould free. With your cleaning gloves on, here’s what you should aim to do on a weekly basis:
- Place your pet in an exercise run or carrier and remove all of the items from the cage
- Dispose of old bedding and hay and wipe down the surfaces with hot soapy water
- As it’s drying, clean all food bowls and bottles and top them up with fresh food and water
- Once dry, place newspaper down before adding an inch of bedding around the whole cage
- Clean any soiled toys and place them back in the cage before putting your guinea pig back inside
Handling Your Pet
Once your pet becomes tamer (with a little love and care of course) they are extremely fun and friendly animals to interact with.
By following the advice below, you’ll learn how to hold them properly and reduce the chances of injuring your pet.
- First of all, try and get the guinea pig to remain still – if you grab them when they’re moving, you could cause pain
- If they are reluctant to stay still, gently move them into a corner of their cage with food or treats
- Next, move your hand slowly into the cage and slide it underneath the guinea pig’s belly
- Your other hand can then be used to create a cup-shape which will support all four legs
- As you bring them towards you, hold them close to your chest so that they feel safe and protected
Remember to stay cautious and alert at all times. If your pet tries to escape, you will have to make sure they don’t fall from a great height. Never place them high up in the air, as a fall from this distance will cause damage and potentially even kill them.
Always be gentle and patient too, remember that it might take time for your pet to feel comfortable with you holding them. Over time they will learn to trust you and recognise your scent.
After a few attempts, your pet will become acclimatised to the situation and be easy to hold in the future.
Integration with other Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are a herd animal, so they won’t have any problems integrating with the same species.
There’s nothing wrong with owning one guinea pig, although this decision is usually based on what’s more suitable for the owner. Having two guinea pigs is usually a result of what’s best for the animal.
If you are going to pair two together, make sure you know which sex they are. Two females or two males will be fine together, but if you have a male/female pairing, you need to make sure that the male is neutered or the female is spayed. This will avoid unwanted pregnancy.
Be aware that if the pair are the same sex and under six months old, then they may not get along. This is normally more apparent during their adolescence.
Adding a second guinea pig
If your cage is big enough to house two pets and you’re thinking about adding a second guinea pig to the family, what do you need to consider?
The easiest choice in this situation is to get a same-sex friend for your guinea pig as you won’t need to worry about getting them neutered or spayed. If you are buying another female, make sure they are not already pregnant, as you could end up with an unexpected amount of little piggies in the cage.
Matching personalities is also a good move too. If you know what kind of personality your existing pet has, then see if you can find a second guinea pig that displays similar traits. This might be tricky to achieve, but remember that no one knows your pet better than you.
Failing this, you can always choose a smaller pet to add to the cage if your current guinea pig is bigger. This will normally help to establish a natural hierarchy. If however the smaller animal is feisty and the bigger one is more relaxed, integration may be harder to achieve.
In any instance where fighting does occur between two animals, they will usually sort out their differences. However, if fighting is extreme and excessive the two animals will need to be separated.
Introducing Children to Your pet
As mentioned, guinea pigs are perfect pets for the whole family, but if young children and their friends wish to interact with them it’s best to set a few ground rules first. This should be done to avoid startling and scaring the animals and to help prevent any injuries.
Teach children do any of the following:
- Scream and shout when they are near to the guinea pig
- Run towards the cage
- Handle them in a rough manner
- Pick them up by their fur
- Lean into the guinea pigs face
If children stick to these rules they will protect both themselves and your guinea pig and enjoy the company of your new pet.
Registering with a Vet
It’s important to register with a local vet at the earliest stage possible. A vet will be able to give you professional advice, undertake health checks and provide vaccinations and injections when required.
If you aren’t registered with one and your guinea pig becomes ill, it will be harder to get the help you need and also more expensive too.
When you take your pet to the vet for routine vaccinations or a check-up, it’s the perfect time to ask them any questions you may have regarding your animal’s well-being.
Speak to other guinea pig owners in your area or alternatively select a vet based on recommendation or ratings where possible.
In addition to registering with a vet, it’s equally as important to make sure you get sufficient insurance in place for your guinea pig.
Insurance will assist you with healthcare costs and without it you will find it difficult to pay for any required treatment. Depending on your policy, it will also protect your guinea pig against the following:
- Death from illness
- Death from injury
When you purchase insurance, remember to think about the excess you will need to pay if you make a claim. Furthermore, check that you are getting the best level of cover for your individual circumstances.
Infections and Symptoms
Check on a regular basis that your pet isn’t suffering from any form of illness or infection. If you do notice a decline in their condition, be sure to seek veterinary advice immediately.
To keep you alert and prepared, here’s a list of some of the more common infections and the applicable symptoms to look out for.
|Ringworm||Bald and crusty patches on the head, eyes, nose, face, ears or back, irritation, and itching.|
|Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)||Crusty eyes, snotty nose, lethargic, lack of appetite.|
|Respiratory disorder||Constant sneezing, discharge from the nose and eyes, difficulty breathing, lethargic and a lack of appetite.|
|Malocclusion (teeth)||Teeth not aligned, ulcers on lips or tongue, difficulty eating.|
|Constipation||Distended stomach, lack of droppings in their cage, lethargic.|
|Lice/mites||Hair loss, scratching, running around in a circular motion.|
|Foot Sores||Red and swollen legs with noticeable hair loss on this area of the body|
As it’s possible that some of these infections can transfer over to humans, you must wash your hands after handling your pet. It’s also advised to change and wash any clothing that they’ve made contact with to be extra safe.
Furthermore, if you own a few guinea pigs and one of them is ill, they need to be kept away from their companions as this will reduce the chances of the infection spreading. This will only be for the short term until the infection or illness has passed and the guinea pig can be reintegrated.
Food, Diet, and Water
Guinea pigs are grazing animals, so they need constant access to quality non-dusty hay to keep their digestive system working.
They will also need a suitable guinea pig mix which can be bought from a pet supplies store alongside small servings of fruit and vegetables. This will offer a decent source of vitamin C and form part of a stable and sufficient diet.
Here’s a quick look at some of the food that you should and should not serve your pet guinea pig.
|Foods your pet should eat||Foods your pet should not eat|
Any new foods that you incorporate as part of your pet’s diet should be introduced gradually over a week or two so that it doesn’t upset their digestive system. Always follow this rule unless your vet has advised you on a particularly feeding regime.
Always ensure that your pet has access to topped-up food bowls as well as clean drinking water. If at any time you notice that water bottles are low, fill these up straight away to avoid dehydration. Bear in mind that if you notice your guinea pig consuming more or less water than usual then this could be an indication of a medical condition. If this is the case, see your vet immediately.
Monitor the amount of food and treats you feed your animal. It’s easy for smaller pets to gain weight quickly and become obese, which can lead to health problems later on.
If you notice that weight is being put on, try and reduce the amount of food you provide and weigh your pet on a weekly basis to observe the changes.
It’s okay to provide treats every now and again, but don’t get in the habit of doing this all the time. Treats that are good for their digestive system and teeth are a better choice compared to sugary treats, which can cause teeth problems and diabetes.
(Ref *9, *10)
Guinea pigs will benefit from additional free running time either within a contained and safe room or an exercise run placed in the garden. This is even more relevant if you are keeping your pet in a smaller cage.
When using an exercise run, always keep a close eye on your pet and make sure you are on standby to ward off any predators. The same rules apply if the exercise run has a roof on it, as you can never be too cautious when they are playing and exercising outside. In this instance, always place the run away from direct sunlight and add plenty of water in a bowl or by clipping a bottle to the side of the cage.
If you are going to let them roam free in a room, make sure there aren’t any cables or wires on display that they could chew through.
You will also need to remove house plants and any foods from the floor. The conservatory might be your best option in this instance as it should be easier to watch your pet without it squeezing into any small gaps.
Try and get your guinea pig to exercise in a larger space away from the cage for an hour per day. If they get a regular amount of exercise they will feel better and be able to stimulate their mind and stay active.
13. References and Resources