These fascinating little creatures are very intelligent and, when handled correctly, are extremely friendly animals.
Due to their curious nature, Guinea pigs like to see what is going on so they can be housed either indoors or outdoors. However, they do have very sensitive hearing so, unless your home is reasonably quiet, it is best to house them outdoors.
A hutch for a pair of Guinea pigs shouldn’t be any smaller than 1.2m long by 60cm wide and should be weatherproof, draught proof and situated out of direct sunlight. They love grazing, so it is good to provide an outside run for them in the summer so they can nibble on the grass. But ensure it is placed out of direct sunlight.
Whilst they are not usually interested in toys, some do enjoy exploring a small cardboard box or running through a tube or pipe.
Because Guinea pigs are prone to eye problems, it is important to use dust free shavings on the floor of the hutch and dust free bedding in their separate sleeping area.
Food for Thought
They aren’t known for being fussy eaters, but their diet should consist of a good quality Guinea pig food, dust free hay, to keep their digestive system working, and a small quantity of fruit and vegetables. However, be careful not to give them lettuce, as this can give them diarrhoea. Vitamin C is important for Guinea pigs because, like humans, they can’t produce their own Vitamin C and therefore need to get it from the food they eat. You should never give a Rabbit mix either as they have different nutritional requirements.
Their food should be placed in a heavy food bowl, to prevent it being knocked over, and a drinking bottle can be attached to the side of the cage, with fresh water provided daily.
Males are known as Boars and the females as Sows. They live in herds in the wild and prefer company, so it is best to house them in same sex groups or as a pair. However, females reach sexual maturity at around 5 – 6 weeks and the males at around 8 – 9 weeks, so it is very important that when you buy them, from either a breeder or a pet shop, that they are kept in same sex groups and are a minimum of 6 – 7 weeks old. Your pet should only have other Guinea pigs as companions. Never keep them in the same hutch or run as rabbits, as there is a risk the Guinea pigs will be bullied and seriously injured.
A healthy Guinea pig is alert, with bright eyes and a good coat. One of the common health problems that affects them is Bumblefoot. This is where the foot becomes swollen due to a bacterial infection. It is often caused by dirty bedding, so cleaning the hutch regularly is very important. Other conditions to watch out for are mange or itchy skin, dental problems due to a diet that is too low in fibre, and obesity due to being fed too many treats.
But if you are concerned about your pet’s health it is always best to seek your vet’s advice.
Getting to know you
Guinea pigs are friendly and are happy to be handled once they have got used to their new surroundings. Always make sure you use both hands to pick up your Guinea pig. Place one hand across its shoulders with the thumb tucked behind the shoulder and fingers wrapped round the ribs. Hold tightly enough to be secure without squeezing. Put your other hand underneath the hindquarters for support. Hold it close to your body or sit down and place on your lap so it feels secure
Taking on a guinea pig as a pet will be a long term commitment as, on average, they can live to between 4 – 8 years. But they make a great companion for both adults and children as they are active during the day and are very entertaining to watch!
Facts you may not know about Guinea Pigs:
• Guinea pigs live wild in areas of South America.
• A young Guinea pig can run when it is only three hours old!
• Guinea pigs grind their food in a front to back motion as opposed to the rabbit which grinds with a side to side motion.
• The longest living guinea pig was aged 15 years old and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records.
• Many famous people have kept guinea pigs as pets – including Princess Diana.