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By Kyle P.

September 30th, 2023

An Introduction to Guinea Pig Basics

 

Guinea pigs are a popular household pet around the world. Despite their popularity, there is rampant misinformation about their care online and in pet stores. Here is some basic information that will assist potential owners in beginning research.

Social Interaction

Guinea pigs are herd animals and must be housed in pairs or more. Having a buddy will provide “safety in numbers” and improve physical and emotional health. Cagemates (bonded guinea pigs that live together) must be the same sex to prevent pregnancy, unless one or both are spayed or neutered. Sows (females) can be housed in pairs or more. Boars (males) work best in pairs. Adding more males into the mix is possible, but rarely works out as boars are very hormonal and territorial compared to sows, and are more likely to be dominant and challenge each other. If you plan on adopting a third boar to attempt a trio, be ready to adopt a fourth and keep two separate pairs.

Cages

 

Guinea pigs require large, spacious cages with flat, undivided space.  Lofts, ramps, and tunnels are fun, but do not add to the base cage space, as it can be difficult for some guinea pigs to access!

The bare minimum cage space for two sows is 7.5 square feet, with 10 square feet being a more comfortable cage size. For each additional sow, 2-4 square feet must be added to the cage size.

The bare minimum cage space for two boars is 10 square feet, with 12 square feet being a more comfortable cage size. For each additional boar, if one manages to pull it off, 4 or more square feet must be added to the cage size.

Unfortunately, cages this size are uncommon to find in pet stores. C&C cages are an excellent solution to this problem. They are modular cages made using 14” metal grids and corrugated plastic, allowing for large, easily expandable cages at an affordable price. Brands like Kavee and GuineaPigCagesStore are good options, as are “DIY” C&C cages made using metal storage grids that can be purchased on Amazon and corrugated plastic that can be purchased at your local hardware store.

 

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Diet

A small but important portion of a guinea pig’s diet is pellet. There are many guinea pig pellet brands available on the market, but not just anything will keep your pet healthy. The ideal pellet will be a plain, timothy-based pellet such as those made by Oxbow (the Essentials line), Mazuri, Sherwood, and Science Selective (grain-free version).

 

Adult guinea pigs should be fed ⅛ cup (2 tbsp) of pellets daily. Baby guinea pigs under the age of 6 months as well as pregnant and nursing sows should be fed unlimited alfalfa-based pellets made for young guinea pigs, such as those made by Oxbow (the Essentials line). Foods that contain seeds or animal products are not safe or healthy for any guinea pig.

 

Guinea pigs should also receive ½ to 1 cup of fresh vegetables daily. Fruits can be a great addition, but guinea pigs should only be given 1 tablespoon of fruit per week due to high sugar content. 

 

The largest and most important part of a guinea pig’s diet is hay, which should be unlimited and available at all times. Hay is important for dental health, as well as providing other vital nutrients. Good options that are commonly available include timothy, orchard, meadow, and oaten hays. All hays must be fresh, green, and dust-free. Due to its high calcium content, alfalfa hay (also known as lucerne) is not appropriate for adult guinea pigs. 

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Grooming

Short-haired guinea pig breeds such as the Abyssinian or American will rarely or never need their fur brushed, while long-haired guinea pig breeds like the Peruvian or silkie will require frequent brushing or fur trims. Hairless breeds, such as the Baldwin or skinny, will need their skin oiled with coconut oil weekly or as needed to prevent dry and cracking skin.

 

Guinea pigs should not be bathed unless it is absolutely necessary. Bathing will strip their furs and skins of natural oils and can cause various skin conditions. When possible, trimming fur or wiping with an unscented baby wipe should be done in place of bathing.

 

All guinea pigs will need their nails trimmed at least monthly to prevent overgrowth. Some will need their nails trimmed more frequently, especially if their nails have the tendency to curl inward. See “Further Reading” below for a comprehensive guide to trimming your guinea pig’s nails.

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Vet Care

 

Guinea pigs need to see an experienced exotic vet annually, or more frequently when needed. It is important to find a vet before there is a need for one so that you are sufficiently prepared! 

 

A normal vet checkup for a guinea pig can cost anywhere from $50-$100 USD, and medical issues can send the price into the hundreds. Before adopting guinea pigs, ensure that you will be able to save and pay for vet care, as well as the ability to replenish those funds fairly quickly.

Adoption Options

 

Pet shops are the most common and accessible way to get animals. Unfortunately, pet stores are rarely ethical. Many, especially large chain stores, source animals from breeding mills where animals are produced at quick rates to meet demand, with little to no care about animals’ welfare. While it may feel good to “rescue” animals from these conditions, funding these stores will only cause them to produce more animals to meet the increasing demand. The only way to stop this malicious cycle is to boycott these unethical practices and improve small animal welfare laws.

 

The best option for adopting guinea pigs is to adopt from a small animal rescue. When you do this, you support the rescue of homeless animals, as well as have a near-guarantee that your guinea pigs will be properly sexed and healthy. Dog and cat rescues can also be great places to adopt guinea pigs, but you may need to double-check their sex and health if the rescue staff are not well-versed in guinea pig husbandry. Websites like PetFinder can help you connect with adoptable guinea pigs from rescues.

 

Individual rehomers are also good options for animal adoption. You may also need to double check sexes and health in these situations, but adopting from individual rehomers does not support unethical practices. Websites and apps like Craigslist, GuineaPigFinder, and Facebook rehoming groups can connect you with adoptable guinea pigs from individuals - just be careful. Meet in a public place, and alert a friend of the meeting beforehand to ensure your personal safety!

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