Guinea pigs are rodents native to South America. They live in groups in the long pampas grass and their natural predators are birds of prey. Due to their natural predators hunting from above it is important to provide them with multiple hiding places (at least one per guinea pig) as they feel insecure if exposed above.
They can make ideal pets due to their friendly nature and small size but they do have specific dietary and husbandry needs which have to be provided to allow them to lead happy, healthy lives. They need to be handled correctly form a young age, supporting the whole body.
Guinea pigs should always be kept in pairs or groups, never on their own. Same sex pairs who have been together from a young age are normally best. Male guinea pigs can be castrated to allow mixed sex groups. They have a wide vocabulary and talk to each other a lot. It is not recommended to keep rabbits and guinea pigs together as the guinea pig often gets bullied by the rabbit.
Life expectancy: 5-8 years
Sexual maturity: 2-3 months
Adult body weight: 700-1200g
Provide a cage as large as possible. Minimum size for a pair of guinea pigs is 1.5m x0.75m x 0.25m.
Guinea pigs do not tolerate changes in temperature well. They are prone to heat stress but also do not cope with cold damp weather. Keeping them indoors is a good option. If outdoors make sure they are protected from extremes of weather, and consider keeping them indoors (e.g. in a shed or garage) in winter.
Provide multiple hiding places - minimum 1 per guinea pig, such as upturned boxes, plant pots etc.
Suitable bedding materials include hay, straw and shredded paper. They should not be in a cage with a wire bottom. The whole housing area should be cleaned out at least weekly, with toileting areas done more frequently.
Like humans, guinea pigs are unable to synthesise vitamin C in their body- they therefore need to get it all from their diet. Lack of vitamin C can lead to many health issues including skin, teeth, back leg and immune conditions.
The majority of the diet should be grass, provided in the form of hay or fresh grass if access to a lawn. There are many types of suitable hay available including timothy, oaten, wheaten, pasture, paddock, meadow and ryegrass hay - Lucerne (alfalfa) and clover should be avoided as they are too high in protein and calcium.
Dark leafy greens should be fed every day. These include broccoli, cabbage, spinach, Chinese greens, brussel sprouts. Also herbs such parsley, dandelion, coriander, basil, dill, mint etc. It is important to offer a wide variety of foods early to get them used to them.
Small quantities of Vitamin C rich foods such as citrus and kiwi fruits can be added. Vitamin C / multivitamin supplements added to water are not recommended as the Vitamins will degrade very quickly.
A small quantity of high quality guinea pig pellets eg oxbow cavy cuisine, should be fed each day- not ad lib. They should have a minimum fibre content of 16% and a high level of Vitamin C in the region of 500mg/kg. Avoid cereal based ‘muesli’ diets as they are unsuitable, and remember there is no such thing as rabbit and guinea pig food - so avoid foods that advertise this. If you cannot access a good quality pellet you are best to feed a wide variety of veg and hay only.
Any dietary changes should be made slowly to prevent gastrointestinal upsets.
They should have access to fresh water all the time. Water bottles work best to prevent contamination but consider having two in case the ball valve gets stuck on one.
Health and Veterinary Care
It is important to get any new guinea pig(s) checked by a vet, especially when planning to mix it with others.
Thereafter it is recommended to get them checked at least annually.
Your guinea pigs should be monitored at home daily for food intake, body condition, eyes, ears, mouth, feet, toileting behaviour. If a guinea pig has not eaten or passed faeces for 24hrs it must be seen by a vet as a matter of urgency.
Depending on length of the guinea pig's fur, it may need to be groomed regularly- the longer haired varieties can be prone to matting. They may also need their claws clipped intermittently if not wearing them down naturally.