Guinea pigs, also known as “cavies”, are prey animals from the rodent family. They are not from Guinea, nor are they pigs, but they are great pets and fun companions for the right pet owner.
These animals are highly social, and must have a cage mate, so if you are considering a guinea pig, make sure you are planning on at least two and have an area large enough for an appropriate habitat. Only adopt more if you have the space, time, and resources to devote to them. Check online for guinea pig rescues, too – your adoption from a rescue could save a life! Make sure you get two of the same sex, and this should be verified by your trusted veterinarian. Ask your vet if you are thinking about breeding, as it is very expensive and contributes to overpopulation.
Many of the guinea pig cages available in pet stores are actually not appropriately sized to maintain a happy, healthy cavy. A good formula for determining proper cage size is seven square feet for the first guinea pig, and 2-4 square feet per additional. Having a correctly sized cage will help prevent obesity, aggression issues, and make your pet feel more comfortable and at ease. Choose a suitable substrate – preferably a paper based bedding or you can research fleece options. Wood shavings are not suitable for guinea pigs, who have very delicate respiratory systems.
Your guinea pig should always have a fresh supply of clean, dry timothy or orchard hay in their habitat at all times. Alfalfa hay should only be fed to cavies less than 6 months of age. Commercially prepared pellets should be fed sparingly, if at all. Guinea pigs, like humans, are not able to synthesize Vitamin C in their own bodies, so it must be supplemented with a colorful diet of fruits and vegetables. Additionally, some of these foods can be dangerous in high amounts, since they may contain high levels of calcium which can contribute to uroliths, or calcified stones in the bladder. Variety is key and, as always, in moderation. Veggies are better than fruits, since most fruits contain large amounts of sugar which may contribute to obesity. Never supplement Vitamin C with drops in the water, as it may discourage drinking.
General Health and Safety Guidelines
- Since they are prey animals, guinea pigs will often hide signs of illness or injury and then decline in condition very quickly. If you notice ANY abnormalities, even small things like sniffles or sneezing, it is imperative that your pet be seen by a vet right away.
- Do not let your pet roam around on any high surfaces. Desks, beds, tables, or counters are a steep fall for a small animal like a cavy – better safe than sorry!
- Never use running wheels or free roam plastic balls with a guinea pig. Their feet are too tender, and use of these dangerous toys also risks injury to their delicate spines.