Should we get a guinea pig?

Selecting a new pet should never be a quick decision.  Pets require significant investment of time and money, as well as space within your home.  Often people consider rodents easier than cats and dogs, but they require specialty care to live a full life.  Before you decide to get a guinea pig, decide if they are the best fit for your family.

Health

Guinea pigs require little veterinary care.  They require vitamin C supplements in their diet, but otherwise they are relatively healthy.  Like all small mammals, they require a draft-free environment and consistent temperatures to prevent respiratory infections.  Accidents represent one of the biggest risks to their health.  It’s important to find a qualified veterinarian before you need one, and have money set aside to cover the bill.

Habitat/Cage

Guinea pigs require a rather large space for a rodent, though they do not require as much space as most rabbits.  They should have about three square feet or more per pig, and need good bedding.  The cage must be cleaned thoroughly and regularly.  However, the task is no more unpleasant than cleaning a cat box and has a much lower odor.

Social/Emotional/Intelligence

Guinea pigs require company.  Most guinea pigs benefit by living in pairs or groups.  Make sure to separate males from females as they breed frequently.  However, they are not known for their intelligence, so escapes are rare.  Several years ago, I kept a trio in a kid’s wading pool with no additional barrier.  Also, as they have very short legs, they do not climb.

However, they make excellent family pets as most guinea pigs would rather escape than bite.  They become attached to their humans and tolerate other pets in the home, so long as the other pets are not predatory.  They do sometimes pee or poop on people who are handling them, but are easy to handle.

Finally, they talk.  They quickly learn what food sounds like in your home, and call out if they want food, or even think food might be possible.  They purr when you scratch just the right spot (ear, or under their chin), and certainly develop individual personalities.

Care & Feeding

Guinea pigs require a more specialized diet than some other rodents.  They must receive Vitamin C in their diet, which can be added as drops to their water.  They require timothy hay daily, and guinea pig pellets.  They also must have fresh veggies daily.

Cost

Overall set-up costs can be as low as $15 and upwards of $300, depending on the quality of cage and cost of pigs.  Pet stores charge $30 to $50 per pig, but often people offer them free for adoption.  They can live in cheap Rubbermaid containers, specialized cages, or large custom-built enclosures.  Bedding costs $5 to $30 per month, depending on your choice.  Feed costs, including fresh veggies, about $20 per month per pig, or less.  Emergency veterinary care represents the most expensive portion of their cost.  Having savings is critical in an emergency.  Guinea pigs do not typically require routine veterinary care.

What kind of home suits a guinea pig?

  • Other pets do not hunt the guinea pigs. Cats and dogs are fine IF they respect the pigs.  (Mine did.)  Avoid getting guinea pigs if dogs and cats in the home routinely hunt mice, rats, or moles.  This is not a safe home for a guinea pig.
  • All humans in the house handle the guinea pig gently. Small children must not have unsupervised access to the guinea pigs.
  • The family occasionally wants to go away for a day or two without having to board the pet. Guinea pigs can last a day or two without seeing you—but expect a big racket when you get home.
  • You have space for a large cage in a room that you do not sleep in. They are not as loud as other rodents at night, but a light sleeper would not want them in the same bedroom.

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