All About Keeping Guinea Pigs as Pets

Selecting a new pet should never be a quick decision, especially since exotic pets require special care to stay healthy and happy.  All pets require significant investment of time and money, plus space within your home.  Often people consider rodents easier than cats and dogs, but they require knowledgeable care to live a full life.  Before you decide to get a guinea pig, decide if they suit your family.

 

Health

Guinea pigs require little veterinary care.  They do require vitamin C supplements in their diet, but otherwise guinea pigs, or cavies, 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 guinea pig health.  It’s important to find a qualified veterinarian before you need one, and have money set aside to cover the bill.  Not all dog-and-cat style veterinarians are capable of treating a guinea pig, so find one that is willing to take good care of your new pets.

If they receive proper care, guinea pigs will live from 5 to 8 years.

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 at least three square feet per pig, and need good bedding.  Depending on your bedding, the guinea pig cage will need deep cleaning at least once a week, and spot cleaning daily.  However, the task is more pleasant than cleaning a cat box and has a much lower odor.  Plus any shavings and waste composts easily.

Guinea pigs are not “upwardly mobile.”  They have super short legs, with heavy bodies, and most can’t even think about climbing.  Guinea pigs can jump, but most won’t.

Social Needs

Guinea pigs require company.  Most guinea pigs benefit by living in pairs or groups.  Make sure to separate males from females as they produce litters several times a year, and carrying litters is risky for female guinea pigs.  The female guinea pig (“sow”) needs her first litter early in order to survive.  An informal poll suggests that up to 20% of guinea pig pregnancies result in the death of the mother.

Guinea pigs make excellent family pets as most would rather escape than bite.  They become attached to their humans and tolerate other pets in the home, so long as the other pets don’t hunt.  Guinea pigs sometimes pee or poop on people who are handling them, but generally do not bite.

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.  Guinea pigs also purr when you scratch just the right spot (ear, or under their chin), whistle, chirp, and 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 or by feeding fresh veggies.  They require timothy hay daily, and guinea pig pellets.  They also must have fresh, uncooked veggies daily, but will happily eat scraps leftover from making dinner.

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 happily 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 when you shop on the bruised rack.

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.  Don’t adopt guinea pigs if dogs and cats in the home routinely hunt mice, rats, or moles, because they will hunt the guinea pigs.
  • All humans in the house will handle the guinea pig gently. Small children must not have unsupervised access to the guinea pigs.  While they are larger than mice or hamsters, guinea pigs are still fragile and defenseless compared to a dog or cat.
  • 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, and bring veggies.
  • 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.

Learn More:

The American Cavy Breeder’s Association is a fantastic resource for new guinea pig owners.  They have a lovely gallery of PDF’s full of information, including extensive health information.

My Guinea Pig Pinterest Board has tons of great content about all things guinea pig.

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