The Ultimate Guinea Pig Care Guide
Want to be a savvy cavy owner? Read below to get in the know when it comes to guinea pig care.
Guinea pigs make wonderful pets for first time small pet owners (or even experienced ones). They are adorable, affectionate and extremely social. Guinea pigs are also great with children as they’re docile creatures and don’t bite often if at all.
When it comes to how to take care of a guinea pig, the main things you want to consider are:
- Picking out a healthy guinea pig
- Purchasing a large enough cage
- Ensuring they get adequate vitamin c
There’s plenty more contained in this guide, but those should be your main focus. Let’s get started 🙂
Is a Guinea Pig Right For You?
One thing that cannot be stressed enough is that guinea pigs are social! It’s common to have more than one, but even with a companion they will still want attention from you. With that said, what does your schedule look like? Will you have at least an hour to devote to playtime and handling?
Another consideration is the costs. Consider these one time costs:
- The guinea pig (budget for two because you know you want to)
- The enclosure
And these ongoing costs:
- Food, supplements and chew toys
- Veterinarian care (very rarely needed)
Guinea pigs can also live around 5-8 years although some can reach into the double digits.
Guinea pigs as pets are an absolute delight.
Choosing Your Guinea Pig
Guinea pigs are most often purchased at a pet store or a breeder, but you can also consider rescuing one from a shelter. Choosing your guinea pig is not a process to rush! Here are some things to think of:
Breed Type – There are many different types of guinea pigs that come in a variety of colors as well as short haired and long haired. If you’ve done your research and have found a look that you absolutely must have, go for it! Long haired will require more maintenance with grooming but maybe you just can’t deny yourself a peruvian or silkie. Or maybe even a curly haired Texel 🙂
Healthy – You want to take notice of a few physical attributes to ensure you get a healthy piggy. Look for ones that have good weight, a well groomed coat and move normally (look for jerky movements or limps). Take close note of the conditions it is being kept in. The eyes should be bright and shiny and the nose and ears should be free from any signs of discharge. Pick up the guinea pig and examine the teeth and feet, making sure that the teeth aren’t overgrown and the feet are in good condition.
Temperament – Try to select a cavy that is calm, but curious. They should be moving around freely and interested in your presence. Don’t be alarmed if they are skittish when you attempt to pick one up as that is the norm.
Gender – If you decide on more than one, make sure they are the same gender. Issues can arise housing separate genders, especially unwanted reproduction. Female guinea pigs mature and can start having babies as early as 2 months old!
Guinea Pig Habitats
Check out our detailed guide on everything you need to know about guinea pig cages. Here are the main things you want to think of:
Enclosure size – Minimum of 7.5 square feet for one adult. Recommended 10 square feet for two.
Enclosure type – Wired cages are the most common. You just want to make sure that you have a tray on the bottom so they aren’t walking on wire. Guinea pigs feet are sensitive.
Play areas – You can setup your cage to lead out to a play area for supervised playtime. There are also some cages that have extensions to build out a palace for your guinea pig.
Location – You want the cage out of direct sunlight and away from where there can be loud noises. Guinea pigs are ultra sensitive to heat and are best kept in areas around 65-75F degrees. Over 80F degrees can cause issues. Excessive loud noises can also stress out your guinea pig.
Bedding – The top choices for bedding are natural paper, aspen or fleece liners. Pro tip – Cover the bottom of the cage with newspaper and then a thick layer of bedding. This will make it easier during cleanup duties.
Food and Water dishes – Guinea pigs drink out of water bottles that you hook to the side of the cage. You can get them a small dish for any pellets and a nice hay feeder (hay makes up most of their diet).
Nest boxes – Nesting boxes are used to give your guinea pig some quiet time if they want to rest or they are stressed.
Toys – Not required, but they can make for some great interaction. Chew toys as well as pet tunnels are some favorites. Please avoid running balls! While those are good for hamsters, guinea pigs spines don’t bend like a hamster and the running ball could cause them to break their back.
Maintenance – Spot clean soiled areas daily and do a deep cleaning of the cage once a week.
The Guinea Pig Diet
A guinea pigs diet is pretty straightforward. They eat leafy greens, vegetables, fruit and hay. The important considerations to make are their inability to produce vitamin c and teeth that constantly grow.
Water – Plenty of fresh, room-temperature water.
Hay – This should be made available at all times. Timothy Hay is a perfect choice. Hay is fibrous and great for keeping teeth at an acceptable length.
Pellets – About 1/8 a cup daily is fine. Timothy Choice Pellets are a great choice. Please note – These are not a substitute for hay.
Vegetables and fruits – Avoid foods high in calcium (can cause some health issues) and no more than one cup a day. Like pellets, these are not a substitute for hay.
Vitamin C – Pellets have vitamin C, but the potency degrades over time. You have the option of using Vitamin C tablets or using vegetables and leafy greens that are high in vitamin c. These would be – Red peppers, kale, mustard greens, parsley, broccoli and cauliflower.
Handling a Guinea Pig
No matter what type of critter you handle, they have to get used to you. The best advice I can give you is to not chase your guinea pig around, but instead let it come to you. A good way to accomplish this is to place treats on the palm of your hand and let them cover to eat the treats. This will build trust and allow them to become more comfortable around you.
When picking them up, support their entire body. It’s best to stay seated when handling so you can avoid dropping them and hold them close to your body to make them feel more secure.
Here’s the correct process of picking up your cavy:
- Slide one hand underneath their stomach and gently cup your palm. Don’t squeeze or hold too tightly.
- Use the other hand to support the rear end so that you provide support to their spine
- Gently lift off the ground and bring close to your chest
Guinea Pig Healthcare
An important thing when learning how to care for a guinea pig is understanding its healthcare needs. Grooming is very important for your guinea pig’s health. Here are the common grooming techniques:
Brushing – Brush regularly to keep your guinea pig’s coat in top condition. Long haired breeds should be brushed more often.
Hair cuts – Required much more often for the long haired breeds as they can grow their hair long enough to make it difficult for them to move.
Nail Trimming – Trimming about once a month is ideal. Don’t let nails gets so long that they start to curl.
Bathing – Guinea pigs clean themselves so the need for bathing is rare. It may be necessary long haired pigs with a heavily soiled coat. Some ailments like a fungal condition may require that you give your guinea pig a bath.
Ear cleaning – Ear cleaning should be done twice a month or so. You can use a cotton swab and mineral oil. Moisten the cotton swab with the mineral oil and gently rub the inner ear flap. It is very important to not insert the q-tip into the guinea pig’s ear. You just want to clean the flap. Here’s a great video on this.
When it comes to health issues with your guinea pig, it is always advised to seek veterinary care. Some of the common health issues a guinea pig may experience are:
- Heat stroke
- Vitamin C Deficiency
- Skin disease (mange)
Guinea Pig Behaviors
Guinea pigs are quite expressive little creatures. Most of their behaviors fall into two categories: Vocalization and Body Language
Squealing/Whistling – Oftentimes a guinea pig will let out a squeal or whistle which means you did something to excite them. Perhaps they noticed you reached into the treat bag or you simply just walked into the room.
Purring – Believe it or not, a guinea pig purs as well. Long, deep purs usually mean they are relaxed while higher pitched or shorter purs may mean they are annoyed or fearful.
Hissing – Hissing or the sound of chattering teach is a sign that your guinea pig is angry. They may even show their teeth as a sign of aggression.
Popcorning – This is the piggy dance of happiness! They hop into the air and “pop” around like popcorn 🙂
Touching Noses – When two guinea pigs touch noses that usually means a friendly greeting.
Freezing – If a guinea pig is scared or uncertain about something they will stand still.
Tossing their head back – This is a sign of annoyance if they do this when you’re in the middle of petting them.
And That's All Folks!
And there you have it. A guide to guinea pig care that will get you started on the right path.
Guinea pigs are wonderful creatures.
Armed with this knowledge you will now be able to be the perfect guinea pig owner.