I’ve seen so many questions about choosing the best “first pet” for a child. Lots of families have a “family dog” and “family cat,” but when we’re talking about a pet that your child will be personally responsible for, a guinea pig is my favorite pick.
Caring for a Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs need just a few special things to stay happy, and all take just a few minutes a day. Otherwise, they don’t require much in the way of attention or care.
Guinea Pig Diet
Guinea pigs only need a few special things in their diet, and this is the extent of their special needs. They need basic pellets, available almost anywhere that sells pet food. They also need timothy hay (not alfalfa!) daily. If your family has storage space, a bale of hay will last months.
Their big requirement is Vitamin C. Guinea pigs require this through their diet, just like people. You can purchase drops for their water, but they lose effectiveness over time and it’s hard to know your guinea pig has taken enough. Provide them with veggies daily, and they’ll get more than enough (as well as other important nutrients). Guinea pigs will eat all your veggie scraps. Don’t feed them too much lettuce, but provide cucumber butts, peppers, zucchini and squash, even broccoli and tomatoes. Mine were especially fond of zucchini.
Guinea Pig Cages
Guinea pigs do take up a bit of space, needing at least four square feet per pig. They also need regular cleaning, but as vegetarians their feces do not smell strongly (unlike the cat!) My handy Guinea Pig Bedding Guide talks about choosing the best bedding for your family.
Most master guinea pig owners choose fleece, because it’s easy to clean and you don’t have to constantly replace it.
Guinea Pig Personality
Guinea pigs have amazing personalities, and make interactive and fun pets. They each have a unique personality, and enjoy interaction with their humans.
Guinea Pigs Rarely Bite
Most guinea pigs will never bite. While they are prey animals with amazingly few defenses, they rarely bite. Most guinea pigs panic when scared, and bolt into their hide-out. But as long as they are handled gently but firmly, they accept handling well, and are usually not grouchy.
Guinea Pigs Like Being Handled
Thinking about a gerbil? You’ll rarely hold a gerbil in your lap. They love to run and are hard to hold. Same for mice. Rats love people, but also love exploring. Guinea pigs are the lap pets of the rodent world. Most guinea pigs will settle right into your kid’s lap, and enjoy being pet and scratched. They even purr when they are especially happy.
Expect that your guinea pig will urinate and defecate in your lap, just like any other rodent. While they occasionally learn to only “go” in their cage, most never reach that level of understanding.
Guinea pigs also need friends, so your child will get to learn about their social interactions. Their interactions make a great starting ground for science fair projects.
Luckily, guinea pigs live for several years when cared for properly and given appropriate veterinary attention.
Their average lifespan of 5-8 years means your child won’t get attached just as the pet reaches old age, and gives them plenty of time to bond.
They do require occasional veterinary attention. Guinea pigs develop respiratory infections (“colds”) but do not bounce back easily and can die from dehydration quickly. Some veterinarians will spay and neuter them, but these surgeries are riskier than with dogs and cats because of their small size.
Use a postage scale to monitor their weight weekly, and make sure to contact a good vet if they seem ill. As prey animals, they go downhill very quickly from initial symptoms.
Does your family have a guinea pig?
Do you agree with my assessment that they make great pets, or have you endured hurdles and road bumps on the way?
Want to learn more?
If you want to learn more about the guinea pig, start with the American Cavy Breeder’s Association. They can connect you with a local breeder who can advise your family on guinea pig care.