Caring for guinea pigs as pets

caring for guinea pigs as pets

Caring for guinea pigs as pets is easy, low maintenance and anyone can do it. However, before you get your first guinea pig pet, you need to know a number of things about guinea pig care.

Guinea pigs are tailless rodents that are native to South America. They are neither pigs nor come from Guinea. They belong to Cavia porcellus species in the family Rodentia.

Guinea pigs are social animals that make great pets for several reasons. They are docile animals and rarely bite. They enjoy human interaction and love to be petted. Additionally, they are relatively large and slow and are therefore easy to hold.

Generally, guinea pigs live for 5-8 years. They have either long, short or wild hair that comes in a wide range of colors. Guinea pigs are naturally “herd” animals. They therefore enjoy the company of other guinea pigs.

We have prepared this comprehensive care guide to provide you with all the information you need to know about guinea pig care including.

  1. Feeding and nutrition
  2. Housing and environment
  3. Cleaning and grooming
  4. Companionship
  5. Health care

Feeding and nutrition

Guinea pigs are strict herbivores. In the wild they feed on grass and seasonal wild fruits and vegetables. You should therefore feed pet guinea pigs on a diet that is as close to this as possible.

What can I feed my guinea pig?

Grass hay

Grass hay is an important food in the guinea pig diet. This is because it has a number of benefits.

First, guinea pig teeth grow constantly throughout their life. Grass hay is abrasive to the teeth. As a result, grass hay helps to keep the guinea pig teeth short and healthy.

Secondly grass provides most of the nutrients that guinea pigs need.

Additionally, grass contains both digestible and indigestible fibers that are important for guinea pigs. Digestible fibers is used by GI bacteria to produce vitamin B and amino acids. Indigestible fibers help to keep the intestinal tract moving at normal speed.

Provide a constant supply of fresh grass or grass hay such as Timothy, Orchid, Meadow, Oaten, Ryegrass, Wheaten or Pasture grass.

You should avoid legume hays such as alfafa or lucerne because they have too high levels of calories, calcium and proteins for guinea pigs.

Store guinea pig hay in a cool dry place. This avoids growth of mold and mildew that may make your guinea pig sick.

Fruits and vegetables

Feeding guinea pigs
Give 1 cup of fruits and vegetables daily to supplement vitamin C

Guinea pigs cannot produce their own vitamin C. Vitamin C is vital for the normal development and maintenance of skin, joints and mucous membranes.

Guinea pigs need 10 – 50 mg of vitamin C per day. Since they cannot produce their own vitamin C, guinea pigs therefore require an outside source of vitamin C.

Fruits and vegetables are good sources of vitamin C. You should therefore feed your guinea pig on fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Fresh organically grown vegetables and fruits are the best.

There are several vegetables that you can feed your guinea pig including.

  1. Kale
  2. Spinach
  3. Asparagus
  4. Carrot and carrot tops
  5. Broccoli spears
  6. Cauliflower
  7. Green and red bell paper
  8. Tomatoes (not the stem and leaves)
  9. Red leaf lettuce
  10. Romaine lettuce
  11. Peas
  12. Beet greens
  13. Squash
  14. Other dark green leaf veggies

Fruits are a good source of vitamin C. You should however limit the amount of fruits you give your guinea pig. This is because feeding to much of fruit sugar can cause an imbalance in the intestinal bacteria leading to digestive problems such as diarrhea.

There are a number of fruits that you can feed guinea pigs including.

  1. Oranges
  2. Kiwi
  3. Pears
  4. Apples
  5. Strawberries
  6. Blueberries
  7. Papayas
  8. Peaches
  9. Cucumbers

You should not feed more than 1 cup of fruits and vegetables per guinea pig per day. When feeding fruits and vegetables, remember to wash them so as to avoid introducing germs and parasites to your guinea pigs.

Guinea pig pellets

There are several store-bought pellets that are specially formulated for guinea pigs. These provide a balanced nutrition with the ideal volume of vitamin C and other nutrients.

Choose pelleted food that is veterinarian approved. When feeding follow the instructions given on the package as a guide.

Store bought pellets are available in pet stores and online platforms such as Amazon.

Examples of good guinea pig pellets include.

What food should you avoid?

There are so many foods that you should avoid feeding to your guinea pigs for various reasons. Some foods may be poisonous and can kill your guinea pigs. Other foods contain too much sugar, fat or calcium. Others are potential choke hazards. While others have no nutritional value and can cause bloating.

Below is a short list of foods that you should avoid.

  1. Chocolate
  2. Nuts
  3. Onions
  4. Garlic
  5. Seeds
  6. Potatoes
  7. Rhubarb
  8. Cabbage
  9. Dairy products
  10. Bread
  11. Meat
  12. Mushrooms
  13. Iceberg lettuce
  14. Avocado
  15. Corn kennels
  16. Bok choy
  17. Peanut butter
  18. Chives
  19. Raisins
  20. Coconuts
  21. Grapes

Do not feed guinea pigs on human foods such as fast foods.

How much should I feed my guinea pig?

Guinea pigs do not usually overeat. However, you should ensure that you feed them a proper balance of hay, pellets, fruits and vegetables.

You can feed your guinea pigs on vitamin C fortified pellets supplemented with hay, vegetables and fruits.

Feed 1/8 cup of commercial pellets once daily.

Unlimited amount of fresh grass hay should be made available to guinea pigs daily. Ideally, grass hay should make 70% of the guinea pig diet.

Fresh vegetables and fruits should be made available each day. Feed 1 cup of fresh vegetables and fruits daily to each guinea pig.

What about water?

Guinea pigs require unlimited fresh supply of water daily. Therefore, always provide clean fresh water (chlorine free) to your guinea pigs.

Use sippers such as to provide water to your guinea pigs. Ensure that you clean the sipper bottles daily and check the tubes for obstructions in the tips that could interfere with water flow regularly.

Water bowls are not practical because guinea pigs tend to soil their water and knock over bowls. Therefore, you should avoid water bowls.

Housing and environment

Guinea pigs are social animals that require a lot of exercise. They therefore need to be housed in an environment that is safe, varied, and interesting with plenty of space to exercise.

Guinea pigs need enough room to roam with separate spaces for a nest, bathroom area and food and water.

You therefore should provide a cage that is as large as possible for your guinea pig.

There are several types of cages that you can choose from that you can either use indoors or outdoors.

Guinea pig cage

Guinea pigs are among the largest rodents kept as pets. However, unlike other rodents, guinea pigs do not jump or climb. As a result, they need more floor space unlike other rodents whose cages often utilize vertical space to increase living space.

Here is a guideline to determine how much space you need for your guinea pig(s). Consult with your local humane society to see their recommendation which may defer from the ones here.

Dimensions

The sides of the guinea pig enclosure must be at least 12” high. You may leave the top open if other pets do not have access to it or cover it with a bird proof mesh.

Generally, the guinea pig cage should be as wide and long as is possible so as to allow enough space for the guinea pig to exercise. The ideal size of the cage however dependent on the number of guinea pigs you intend to keep in the enclosure.

Number of guinea pigsMinimumOur recomendation
17.5 sq feet (30” x 36”)75 sq feet or more
27.5 sq feet (30” x 36”)10.5 sq feet (30” x 50”)
310.5 sq feet (30” x 50”)13 sq feet (30” x 62”)
413 sq feet (30” x 62”)16 sq feet (30” x 76”)

Roomier cages have several advantages for your guinea pigs and are therefore preferred.

Material

You can use a cage constructed from glass, plastic, metal or wire. Whichever material you use ensure that you provide enough ventilation for your guinea pig.

If the cage has solid walls, then the roof should be made of wire mesh to allow for plenty of air.

Guinea pigs do not jump hence a lid is not necessary.

Guinea pigs have small feet that easily get injured when walking over wire mesh or other narrow objects. The cage bottom should therefore be smooth without rough rumps, mesh shelves and floor grids. You can provide a small wood or cardboard box as a form of protection and sleeping area.

Environment

Once you have selected the best cage for your guinea pigs, you need to consider where to house them.  There are a number of factors that you need to consider including.

1.       Temperature

Guinea pigs cannot sweat. They are therefore susceptible to heat stroke. Therefore, you should place their houses away from strong sources of heat.

Additionally, place the guinea pig cage in a draft free area of the house (away from windows and doors).

Generally, the ideal temperature range for guinea pigs is 65 – 75 degreed Fahrenheit. When you identify the ideal location for the guinea pig house, you can use a thermometer to monitor the temperature of the cage.

2.       Humidity

Guinea pigs do not do well in humid conditions. This is because dampness promotes growth of molds in guinea pig hay and beddings which can make your guinea pig sick.

Therefore, house guinea pigs away from areas with heavy moisture such as laundry rooms and damp basements.

3.       Substrate and bedding

Guinea pig beddingThere are 2 components of bedding for guinea pigs that you need to consider. The lining and litter materials and the overlay material.

You can use materials such as newspapers or plain newsprint as lining material. These absorb urine and spit water. As litter material, you can use commercial litter that is safe for pigs such as kitty litter or untreated sawdust. Litter materials absorb urine and cover feces.

Overlay material is used in the sleeping areas. You can use either straw, shredded paper or good quality hay as overlay material.

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