Cage – Minimum of 2×3 feet for each guinea pig. Cage bottom should be solid Plexi-glass, hard plastic, or stainless steel. Wire mesh bottoms should NEVER be used for guinea pigs due to the risk of feet becoming trapped and subsequent injury. Cages can be purchased online or in pet stores. Popular and functional chloroplast/cube cages can be seen at www.guineapigcages.com.
Substrate – Bedding should consist of a paper pulp product (e.g. Carefresh, Yesterday’s News), newspaper, computer paper, etc. Some people have had success using fleece or towels as an alternative. We DO NOT recommend using natural substrates (i.e. wood shavings) or granular litters.
Behavior – Guinea pigs generally have social and vivacious personalities. They can be kept in pairs or small groups (similar gender or altered animals to prevent unintentional breeding) or singly with adequate human socialization.
Handling – Always use two hands and be very gentle, supporting the body so your pet feels secure. Avoid excessive noise, needless excitement, and over handling. Only allow children to handle with adult supervision. Have children sit on the floor with the pig in their laps to avoid accidental falls.
Timothy Hay – Offer as much as your pet can eat (free choice). Orchard grass, oat hay, or meadow grass can be offered as alternatives for pickier animals. Avoid alfalfa and other hays high in calcium in animals over 6 months, as these may predispose to development of bladder stones.
Pellets – While not strictly necessary, pellets may be offered to supplement the diet of hay. Use a timothy hay-based pellet, such as CavyCuisine” by Oxbow Hay (www.oxbowhay.com). Avoid pellets mixed with seeds, as many pigs eat the high fat seeds and leave the pellets. Offer no more than about 1/8-1/4 cup pellets total daily.
Fresh greens – Can be offered daily. Good choices include the following: romaine lettuce, red/green leaf lettuce, escarole, watercress, clover, Swiss chard, bok choy, endive, and turnip tops. Avoid dandelion, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, kale, and broccoli due to their high calcium content, which may predispose to development of bladder stones. A good rule of thumb is that darker greens tend to have higher calcium levels and should be avoided. Small pieces of carrot, bell pepper and other high vitamin C foods can be offered as occasional treats in small amounts.
Water – Offer access to fresh water at all times in either a bottle or spill-proof dish/bowl. Change the water daily. Water bottles should be checked often for continued function, as they can easily become jammed or stop working.
Cleaning – Dishes and water bottles should be cleaned with hot, soapy water, dilute bleach (1:30 bleach to water ratio), or in a dishwasher daily to every other day.
Vitamin C Supplement – This is an essential part of every guinea pig’s diet. This can be satisfied by giving liquid oral Vitamin C at a dose of 50-60mg OR one Oxbow Vitamin C tablet daily for life. Do not add the vitamin C to the water, as this promotes bacterial growth and is not a consistent way to dose your pig. Vitamin C also breaks down quickly when exposed to light. Vegetables high in Vitamin C, such as red bell peppers, can be offered as an additional source of Vitamin C, but are inadequate as the sole source.
HEALTH AND PREVENTATIVE MEDICINE: It is recommended that all newly acquired guinea pig receive a complete physical examination by an exotic animal veterinarian. Thereafter, you should have your pet examined by a veterinarian at least once a year. If you notice any changes in appetite, behavior, etc., please contact SEAVS immediately. Early detection and treatment of disease processes is essential to promoting a long and healthy life.
BREEDING COMPLICATIONS: It is extremely important that no female guinea pig be allowed to breed for the first time AFTER 6 months of age. This is when the bones of the pelvis fuse (if the animal has not previously given birth), and the space between the pelvic bones will be narrower. The result is that the animal will not be able to give birth naturally, generally requiring surgical intervention.
We recommend keeping guinea pigs in pairs or small groups if they have been neutered/spayed. Intact males may fight and since there are so many homeless guinea pigs out there, intact male/female pairs should be avoided.
Malocclusion of premolars and molars: This is very common in guinea pigs. Most commonly these pigs become picky about what they eat or stop eating, and may drool or slobber. They may also have drool on their front paws from wiping their mouths. Weight loss is also common. Treatment includes sedation to trim the molars. This is often a recurrent problem.
Vitamin C deficiency: Guinea pigs require vitamin C every day to survive. Symptoms of deficiency may include inappetence, swollen or painful joints and ribs, reluctance to move, poor bone and tooth development, spontaneous bleeding from the gums, crustiness around the eyes and respiratory disease.
Upper respiratory infection/Pneumonia: This is one of the most common bacterial diseases of pet guinea pigs. Symptoms may include labored and/or rapid breathing, discharge from eyes and nostrils, lethargy, inappetence and sometimes sneezing and/or coughing. It is commonly seen in newly acquired guinea pigs. If your pig is exhibiting any of these symptoms, have a vet examine it immediately. Pneumonia develops very quickly and can rapidly lead to death.
Lice and mites: Lice and mites are common skin parasites in newly acquired animals. Symptoms may include itchy and/or red skin, hair loss, and irritability. Treatment for both lice and mites include a monthly topical medication.