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How to Care for Your Guinea Pig

If you’ve recently adopted a guinea pig, the folks at PetMD by Chewy have put together a great article for you! Below is some of the most important information, but you can read the full article here.

Guinea pigs, commonly referred to as cavies, can make excellent, fun, and loving pets if given appropriate care and veterinary treatment. The average lifespan of a domesticated guinea pig is 4-5 years.

Guinea pigs are herd animals and not typically happy as solitary creatures. They enjoy living in groups of two or more. Humans are not replacement companions for cavies. While it is best to raise guinea pigs together when they are young, many adults can be successfully introduced. Males and females should not be housed together to prevent unwanted litters.

Guinea Pig Housing

Cage size – bigger is always better! If they spend a lot of time in their cage, it must be even larger. Most store-bought cages are too small, especially with multiple piggies. At minimum, the cage should be 50 inches by 24 inches. For each additional guinea pig, the square footage should be increased by 20%.

Cages should be well ventilated to help prevent respiratory disease, as they have sensitive respiratory tracts. Flooring should be sturdy and solid (not a grate or wire) to avoid damage to their feet. Height is not as big of a factor, but some may enjoy small, safe ramps and multiple levels.

CLEANING – avoid using cleaners with chemicals or antibacterial wipes. Simply using water and a mild dish soap works well.

Guinea Pig Bedding

Carefresh, yesterday’s news, paper towels, and washable fleece are preferred. Spot-clean dirty areas daily, and fully change bedding every 3-4 days. Do not use cedar chips and avoid wood shavings, as these can cause respiratory irritation. Guinea pigs are typically messy and may even relieve themselves in food dishes, so proper hygiene is essential.

*Puppy pads are not safe for guinea pigs.

Guinea Pig Temperature

Never allow them to be in over 80-degree temps, as they have little tolerance for heat and humidity. Guinea pigs can suffer from heat stroke if they get too warm.

Guinea Pigs & Other Pets

Never house them near/with rabbits or other species to prevent the spread of diseases, some of which can be fatal to guinea pigs. While some do learn to enjoy the company of dogs or cats, it is extremely important to remember that as a prey species, these interactions can be very stressful and potentially dangerous to guinea pigs.

Guinea Pig Toy Enrichment

Guinea pigs love a regular rotation of toys to prevent boredom! Exercise and toys will keep your guinea pig healthy and happy. Cavies have a particular need for chewing, exploring, and hiding. Some common favorite items include:

  • Paper bags
  • Cardboard boxes with holes cut out
  • Hideaways
  • Hay stuffed in toys
  • Paper towel rolls
  • Tunnels
  • Other commercially available guinea pig toys

Exercise wheels and balls should be avoided, as they can hurt your guinea pig.

15 Things you should never buy for your guinea pig: https://preciselypets.com/things-never-buy-for-guinea-pig/

Guinea Pig Food

Due to a relatively high metabolic rate, guinea pigs require nearly continuous eating. They are strict herbivores and should never be offered protein.

  • HAY should be offered in unlimited amounts, accounting for approximately 75% of their intake. Grass is their natural diet so hay is the next best alternative. Timothy is one of the most common. Avoid alfalfa. Oxbow is a preferred brand, as it is high quality and veterinarian recommended. Guinea pigs can suffer from many ailments, dental and gastrointestinal, if they aren’t fed hay in unlimited quantities.
  • VEGETABLES should be fed daily, 1 cup per piggy. Introduce new food items slowly to prevent diarrhea. Once your guinea pig is adjusted to multiple types of vegetables, you may offer different varieties – shoot for 2-3 different types each day. This helps ensure they get important vitamins and minerals. Some common favorites include parsley, romaine, leaf lettuce, carrots, clover, kale, and dandelion greens. Green bell pepper is the only veggie safe to give daily.
  • PELLETS is recommended in small quantities as a supplement to their diet and not a main staple. Use high quality Timothy hay pellets and avoid pellets with dried fruits, vegetables, or seeds, as they can lead to obesity and gastrointestinal issues. The most veterinarian recommended brand of high quality pellets is Oxbow.
  • FRUITS AND TREATS should be avoided or offered in very limited quantities. Guinea pigs do enjoy the occasional cantaloupe, apple, carrot tops, or alfalfa cubes as treats, but treats should always be less than 5% of their diet.
  • WATER should always be provided. Most guinea pigs do best with a sipper bottle attached to the side of the cage but inspect it frequently.

Guinea Pig Handling

Properly socialized guinea pigs are easy to handle. However, some may not be accustomed to being held. Use a calm voice and gentle, slow movements when handling. Do not chase, as it may induce fear. When picking up, use one hand to support under their rib cage near the front legs while using the other hand to scoop the rear end. You can then hold them firmly against your body, providing stability. Towels can help during this process, especially at first. They are very vocal and may squeal but should settle down eventually. If not, make sure you are not causing discomfort. The more time your guinea pig spends out of their habitat, the more socialized and happier they will become. Some enjoy napping and cuddling with their owners, as well as exploring outside of their cage. For your cavy’s safety, never let them wander the house alone. Watch for any low cords that could be an electrocution risk. Check for areas they can get stuck or hide. Ideally, each guinea pig should spend at least an hour outside of its cage per day.

Guinea Pig Medical Needs

Guinea pigs tend to freeze when they are scared and hide their symptoms. When they finally show signs of illness, it may be advanced. Healthy cavies are vocal, inquisitive, active, and hungry! They should almost never refuse a treat or greens when offered, although they may be wary of new foods. Be sure to offer a familiar item when assessing appetite and energy levels and do so in a stress-free environment free of loud noises or unfamiliar animals. Like all pets, guinea pigs should visit a veterinarian for wellness exams. Once over 3 years, they are considered seniors and should have bloodwork done.

Common signs of illness include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Eye or nose discharge
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty breathing, coughing, or sneezing
  • Fecal or urinary staining
  • Skin masses, lesions, or hair loss (ringworm)
  • Change in fecal output or consistency (diarrhea)
  • Drooling
  • Bloody urine
  • Difficulty walking
  • Overgrown teeth

The most common illnesses of guinea pigs include signs of low vitamin C (such as bone and teeth issues, bruising and abnormal bleeding), respiratory infection, dental issues, diarrhea, skin rashes and infection, and arthritis. If you think your guinea pig is showing signs of illness or isn’t acting normal, contact an exotic veterinarian immediately.

Guinea Pig Wellness & Maintenance

Nail trimming, brushing, clean food, and water, plenty of space, enrichment activities, etc… are all important for keeping your guinea pig happy and healthy!

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Guinea Pig Care



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